Pablo Neruda loved many times in his life, emotions and experiences he poured into his poetry. Early on, after some years of learning about love, but mostly lust, he met Laura who married his friend while Neruda was serving as a diplomat in the Far East. Then there was Albertina who married another of Neruda’s friends and with whom Neruda unsuccessfully attempted to rekindle a relationship as his first marriage was disintegrating.
Neruda married three times, first in 1930 to the attractive Maria Antonieta Haagenaar whom he called Maruca, a bank employee with whom he had little in common. Complicating matters, she was part Dutch, part Indonesian, so they did not share a language. They met during a lonely time in Neruda’s life while serving as consul in Java. They returned to Chile when the consulate shut down and moved to Argentina when he took up a new diplomatic post there. They separated in 1936, after the birth of their daughter, born prematurely with Down’s syndrome. By then, he had already begun seeing Delia del Carril, an Argentine painter twenty years his senior who shared his Marxist beliefs. Haagenaar returned to the Netherlands with their daughter who died in 1942 at age eight in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Neruda married del Carril a year later. He remained married to her, though not faithful, for two decades.
Matilde Urrutia was the love of Pablo Neruda’s life. Born in the same region of Chile, she shared common roots though not his interest in politics or literature. Eight years his junior, Matilde had left her provincial home to become a singer and actress, career ambitions that ended when she entered Neruda’s realm. They became serious at the start of Neruda’s years of exile in Europe.
Since divorce was still illegal in Chile, he and his muse hid their relationship for more than a decade, spending time in idyllic, out of the way places such as Capri where they unofficially exchanged vows. On his return to Chile, Neruda separated from del Carril when his relationship with Matilde came out in the open. Neruda received an annulment of his marriage to del Carril on a technicality and married Matilde in 1966.
Neruda had time for one last passion. Out of her sight during a brief trip abroad for a facelift, Neruda fell in love with Alicia Urrutia, Matilde’s thirty-year old niece, who had come to stay at Isla Negra. The relationship wreaked havoc on his marriage, solved only by leaving town. Appointed Ambassador to France, the move to Paris was his salvation. By the time he and Matilde returned the following year, he was ill. Though it was his love of Alicia he describes in La espada endendida (The Flaming Sword), published in 1970, most of his late work dealt with the themes of nature, politics and the memories of friends. His last poem, entitled Final (The End), like many other of his poems, was dedicated to Matilde.
Anyone with an interest in Neruda that extends to his love life may wish to read My Life with Pablo Neruda, the memoirs of Matilde Urrutia, before they travel to Chile. Written ten years after Pablo’s death, the book is an excellent companion for those who include one of Neruda’s three houses in their Chile tours. All three of the homes that he shared with Matilde are open to the public as museums, two of which may be seen on Southern Explorations Chile tours.