Nature and Neruda



“Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet. I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world.” So Chilean Nobel prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda begins his memoirs. As a youth, his environment provided him a place to invent a paradise while surrounded by harsh conditions of poverty. Later in life, he grew his houses as nature grows trees. He wrote his poetry mostly in green ink, the color of nature but also of hope. Nature made him euphoric.

One aspect of nature that Neruda knew a lot about was rain. He spent most of his youth in the most northerly area of Chile Patagonia, in the town of Temuco. It rained endlessly in Temuco. He described it as falling for months and years at a time from skies that never cleared. He loved the howling storms. He gave his home, Isla Negra, a zinc roof to intensify the sound of the downpours, linking him to his roots in rainy Temuco. Today Temuco is called the gateway city to this picturesque region, filled with natural wonders and national parks, major attractions for those who travel to Chile.

In a setting of waterfalls and vistas of magnificent, snow-capped volcanoes, he got to explore the nearby ancient forests during his summers, collecting beetles, bird eggs and other souvenirs of the natural world. The wonder of nature brought him to poetry. He wrote that his explorations of nature made him a poet by the age of ten, not on paper, but in his mind.

Neruda’s father would allow his son to play hooky from school to accompany him as he drove the ballast trains delivering materials for the construction of the expanding railway. Vacationing with his family at Puerto Saavedra on Chile’s seacoast west of Temuco (then called Bajo Imperial), Neruda first saw the sea, a subject that finds its way into so many of Neruda’s poems.

Neruda’s own library contained a large number of books about wildlife species. The many shells he found or purchased, he called the silent occupants of his house, just as they had been when they occupied the sea. He wrote odes to the sea, to rivers, to flowers and many other topics of nature, including one about the Black Panther in which he described the animal’s eyes as “yellow knives.” He wrote of earthquakes in his Canto general collection. Nautical museums and zoos were among Neruda’s favorite destinations. When he visited the zoo in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, he decided that the South American species he most resembled was the tapir.

Neruda said that nature revealed the secrets of life to him. It is why many people travel to Patagonia, what they hope to gain from their Chile tours. To read Neruda’s nature poems after a long day of invigorating Patagonia hiking adds a pleasurable dimension to one’s Chile tours. Neruda’s three houses are today museums where visitors who travel to Chile may see his collections of natural objects and nature’s settings that inspired him.