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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – Pablo Neruda

Born and raised in rural southern Chile, Pablo Neruda was nonetheless a poet with a wide-ranging and worldly vision. Over the course of his long and storied career Neruda played many roles: sensuous versifier, ambassador, Communist ideologue, and voice of the common man. Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for his poetry in 1971, two years before his death, but his writing had already made him immortal. He remains one of the greatest poets in the Spanish language.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Pablo Neruda.


Published in 1924 when Neruda was just 20 years old, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was his first great work. This cycle contains some of Neruda’s most famous poems. One of them, “Tonight I Can Write”, opens with the famous line: “Tonight I can write the saddest verses” and contains the melancholic pronouncement “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” Neruda’s poetry juxtaposes images of wild, untamed nature with frank eroticism. In “Every Day You Play” Neruda likens a stormy sky to a “net crammed with shadowy fish” but ends the poem by stating “I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees.” The cycle ends with the “The Song of Despair” in which the speaker demonstrates the overwhelming feeling of his love by repeating the line “In you everything sank!”


The fame Neruda brought to his homeland earned him a position as an honorary Chilean consul in Myanmar (then known as Burma). While traveling throughout the Far East in the late 1920s and early 30s, Neruda composed two of the three parts of Residence on Earth. One of the most famous poems of the second section, Alberto Rojas Jiménez Comes Flying, is written in memory of a fellow Chilean poet. The final third of Residence on Earth was written several years after the first two and demonstrates Neruda’s leftward ideological shift in the wake of the Spanish Civil War.


Neruda married his love for Latin America with his communist sympathies in the epic Canto General. The fifteen cantos of this monumental work provide a lyrical, sweeping history of Latin America. The Heights of Macchu Picchu may be the most famous section of the Canto General. Neruda glorifies the ancient Incan city, calling it “Mother of stone, spume of condors.” The scope of Neruda’s vision expands beyond the “fallen kingdom” of the Incas. He extols us to “love, love until the night collapses.”

ELEMENTAL ODES Neruda’s Elemental Odes sought to take things back to the basics. His poems celebrate everyday objects, like chestnuts and conger chowder in simple and direct language. Ode to a Large Tuna in a Market is a standout from the collection. Neruda imbues the fish with martial glory, likening it to a “torpedo”, a “dark bullet”, and a “sea-javelin.” The fish stands out among the market vegetables—memorably called “the earth’s green froth”—even as it navigates “the waters of death.” Neruda would later publish a second collection, New Elemental Odes, which included his frequently referenced “Ode to My Socks”.


Neruda’s leftist politics led to his exile from Chile in 1948. He returned to the country of his birth five years later and proceeded to write some of his most exquisite love poems. Sonnet XVII closes with the lines: “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where/…so close that your hand upon my chest is mine / so close that your eyes close with my dreams.” Sonnet XVIII, Here I Love, has some beautiful lines as well. Your author’s favorite may be: “Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet / Far away the sea sounds and resounds.”


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • The Poetry Foundation is the best place to start if you want to know a poet and their works better.

  • Il Postino is a lovely fictional account about Neruda’s years in exile.

  • Pablo Neruda’s political views got him in hot water more than once.

  • As a poet Neruda was more than a little bit mischievous, so this reading by non other than Loki himself is very appropriate.


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