The Nobel Prize winning poet died aged 69 in 1973, just days after General Pinochet’s coup in Chile. Rumours have abounded ever since that he was murdered.
Now forensic experts have exhumed his remains to carry out tests to establish whether he died of cancer, as was thought at the time or whether he had been poisoned.
Allegations of poisoning were made by the poet’s driver and personal assistant, Manuel Araya. In 2011, the Chilean authorities began to investigate. Neruda was a staunch supporter of Salvador Allende, the president ousted by Pinochet.
Manuel Araya told a Mexican magazine ‘Proceso’ that he was convinced Neruda had been murdered. Interviewed by El Pais newspaper, he said, “After the September 11 coup, he was planning to go into exile with his wife Matilde. The plan was to try to overthrow the dictator within three months from abroad. He was going to ask the world to help overthrow Pinochet, but before he could board a plane the plotters took advantage of the fact that he had been admitted to a hospital, and that’s where they injected him in his stomach with poison.”
Investigations are also ongoing to investigate the death of Salvador Allende who apparently committed suicide during the coup.
Pablo Neruda was buried originally in the General Cemetery in the Chilean capital, Santiago. His body was moved at the request of his family to Isla Negra, his favourite home, in 1992.
It is known that Neruda had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was being treated in the hospital. Patricio Bustos, director of Legal Medical Services (SML) who are assisting in the identification of the remains said, “Fortunately, this isn’t a case of someone who was arrested and disappeared so there are photographic and video records that document the moment of the burial. We know his identify.But we will also try to answer some of the questions that Judge Carroza has asked: Was the illness the only cause of his death? Did someone inject him with any toxic substance or chemicals? This is why we are working with toxicologists, genetic experts, biochemists and doctors.”
Pablo Neruda was born Ricardo Eliezer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto in Temuco, a small town in southern Chile in 1904. He started using his pseudonym as a teenager.In 1921, he moved to Santiago where the publication of his poems ‘Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada’ (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) marked him out as a great poet. He travelled widely ending up as the Chilean Consul in Spain in 1935. He supported the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War which led to him being forced to leave Spain.
He became devoted to the Communist cause, which is evident in his poetry.He returned to Chile in 1953. In 1971 he was nominated for president of the Chilean Communist Party but turned it down as he had become friends with the Socialist Allende. He was sent to Paris in a diplomatic role by Allende and it was there he received his Nobel Prize for Literature. His health forced him to return to Chile and his sudden death in 1973.
Time will tell whether Pablo Neruda died of cancer or was poisoned but his words live on in the hearts of poetry lovers everywhere.
Death Alone by Pablo Neruda
There are lone cemeteries,
tombs full of soundless bones,
the heart threading a tunnel,
a dark, dark tunnel :
like a wreck we die to the very core,
as if drowning at the heart
or collapsing inwards from skin to soul.
There are corpses,
clammy slabs for feet,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
a bark without its dog,
out of certain bells, certain tombs
swelling in this humidity like lament or rain.
I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.
Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot, a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring, stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo, hushed like a tree.
I do not know, I am ignorant, I hardly see
but it seems to me that its song has the colour of wet violets,
violets well used to the earth,
since the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death green
with the etched moisture of a violet’s leaf
and its grave colour of exasperated winter.
But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
lapping the ground in search of the dead –
death is in the broom,
it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
the needle of death looking for the thread.
Death lies in our beds :
in the lazy mattresses, the black blankets,
lives a full stretch and then suddenly blows,
blows sound unknown filling out the sheets
and there are beds sailing into a harbour
where death is waiting, dressed as an admiral.