Selected Criticism

Neruda, Pablo (1904–1973)
Matteson, John T.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Pablo Neruda (Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto), Chilean poet and winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature, attributed much of his achievement to an early exposure to Whitman. In his Memoirs, Neruda wrote of his own work, "If my poetry has any meaning at all, it is [its] tendency to stretch out in space, without restrictions, and not be happy to stay in one room. . . . I had to be myself, striving to branch out like the very land where I was born. Another poet of this same hemisphere helped me along this road, Walt Whitman, my comrade from Manhattan" (262). Neruda admired Whitman not only for his capacity for breaking through the boundaries of form but also for his depiction of what Neruda termed "the positive hero." Neruda lauded Whitman for bringing this hero, "not without suffering, into the intimacy of our physical life, making him share with us our bread and our dream" (Memoirs 294). Neruda, who wrote Spanish translations of many of Whitman's poems, claimed that Whitman had taught him how to be American.

Whereas Neruda's predecessors on the political left had tended to see Whitman as narrowly nationalistic and even jingoistic, Neruda regarded him as embodying a democratic ideal toward which rising nations and peoples might aspire. Neruda's 1956 Nuevas Odas Elementales includes "Ode to Walt Whitman," which acknowledges Whitman as an early formative influence. Neruda began his posthumously published Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena (Incitation to Nixonicide and Praise for the Chilean Revolution) with the following invocation:

It is as an act of love for my land

That I call on you, necessary brother,

Old Walt Whitman of the gray hand.

("Comienzo" 17).

Although Whitman's influence can be observed virtually throughout Neruda's work, it is especially powerful in Neruda's great evocation of America, Canto general (1950), an epic reminiscent of "Song of Myself." Neruda's great esteem for Whitman can be observed in his 1972 article "We Live in a Whitmanesque Age," in which the poet called himself "the humble servant" of Whitman, "a poet who strode the earth with long, slow paces, pausing everywhere to love, to examine, to learn, to teach and to admire" (37).


Neruda, Pablo. Canto general. Buenos Aires: Losada, 1955.

———. "Comienzo por invocar a Walt Whitman." Incitación al nixonicidio y alabanza de la revolución chilena. Santiago: Editora Nacional Quimantu, 1973. 17–21.

———. Memoirs. Trans. Hardie St. Martin. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.

———. "We Live in a Whitmanesque Age." New York Times 14 Apr. 1972: 37.

Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1994.

Sommer, Doris. "The Bard of Both Americas." Approaches to Teaching Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." Ed. Donald D. Kummings. New York: MLA, 1990. 159–167.


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