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Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) held diplomatic posts in Asian and European countries. After joining the Communist Party, Neruda was elected to the Chilean Senate but was forced to live in exile in Mexico for several years. Eventually he established a permanent home on Isla Negra. In 1970 he was appointed as Chile's ambassador to France; in 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. William O'Daly is one of the most celebrated translators of the poetry of Pablo Neruda. He lives in California.
On his death in September 1973, Chilean Nobel laureate Neruda left eight unpublished manuscripts on his desk, this work among them. Here, as in much of Neruda's poetry, the personal and the political collide, driven by his overriding concern: how does one persona writerchange the world? His poems always plumb the unfathomable ambiguities of life, surfacing, finally, with a kind of balanced appreciation for the knowable as well as the mysterious. Neruda plumbs his own depths, too: ``I face the emptiness I am.'' Yet he is also capable of soaring, of recognizing the connectedness of all things: ``Why describe your truth/ if I lived with them,/ I am everybody and every time. . . .'' Highly recommended for foreign language and contemporary literature collections. Thom Tammaro, Multidisciplinary Studies Dept., Moorhead State Univ., Minn.
The passing reference in ``Gautama Christ'' to Richard Nixon and napalm is a rare reminder of the fate of the Nobel laureate, who died during the 1973 coup in Chile that overthrew President Salvador Allende and brought General Pinochet to power. Otherwise, these poems are elegantly timeless and fresh. A poet torn between the joys of solitude and his sense of duty as a spokesman for humanity, Neruda raises his voice in praise of the ``common virtues,'' modesty, the obscurity and nobility of the unknown citizen: ``It smells good to turn our face/ only in the direction of purity.'' At the same time, few poets in any language have written more moving hymns to Mother Earth and the beauty of her seasons. Although the musicality of Neruda's softly liquid Spanish is ineluctably lost in translation, O'Daly has made a noble effort to retain both the literal sense of the poet's words and his awe-inspiring tone. This is the third in a series of translations of the poet's final eight volumes, which remained unpublished at his death and only now are being brought into English. (December)