Always under the overwhelming shadow of Pablo Neruda, with whom he had a mutually hateful relationship – something that really interested the media -, Pablo de Rokha is still a powerful figure of Chilean poetry. Considered as one of the four great poets of our country next to Mistral, Neruda and Huidobro, De Rokha always stood out because of his strong personality and his daring writing.
Loved by some and hated by others, the figure of Pablo de Rokha belongs to the history of our country. One just has to go to Chile’s National Library and read one of the four folders there are in the archives under his name. He was named Chile’s Cultural Ambassador in 1944, reason why he traveled all over America spreading our national literature and getting to know the different literary expressions across the continent.
During the first half of the XXth century, de Rokha wrote about his beloved land. Born in Licantén, Maule Region, the poet grew up in the middle of the countryside’s traditions of labor and celebration, which is printed on every verse of his work, where he proudly defends the customs of the people of the land.
Among his greatest poems we find “Song of the Elder Male”, “Epic Poem of Chile’s Food and Drinks”, “Satan” and “Valparaíso’s Oceania”. He received the National Literature Award on 1965, event on which he declared: “It came too late, almost as a debt and because they thought I wouldn’t bother anymore”.
It’s important to mention that his wife, Winétt de Rokha, was a very influential person in his life and work, sadly she died of cancer in 1951. Moreover, his grief increased after his son Carlos de Rokha, a brilliant poet of the 60’s, committed suicide at age 42. Taking all of these sorrows into account, Pablo decided to take his own life on September 10th, 1968, using a Smith & Wesson revolver in his house in Valladolid 160, Ñuñoa.
Here is his poem “Genius and Figure”, written in 1916 at age 20, translated by Felipe Millán.
I am like the absolute failure of the world, oh, Peoples!
The song, face to face with Satan itself
dialogues with the mighty science of the dead
and my pains spills the city with blood.
Yet my days are the reminders of huge, old furniture;
last night, “God” carried between worlds that go
like this, my lady, alone, and you say: “I love you”
when you talk with “your” Pablo, without ever listening to him.
Men and women smell like tombs;
My body falls over the raw land
Same as the red coffin of the unhappy.
Absolute enemy, I howl through the streets.
a dread more barbaric, more barbaric, more barbaric
than the hiccups of one hundred dogs left to die.
This post is also available in Spanish