Pablo Neruda wrote a total of 225 odes. The number stands as a pledge of alliance with a lyrical form he adored. He was also fond of other poetic forms (the sonnet, for instance), but as a practitioner of verso libre, unrhymed poetry, the ode was unquestionably the closest to his heart. He discovered it in his youth, becoming hypnotized by its fresh, elastic, invigorating freedom. His early readings of Horace, Pindar, Ovid, and Catullus left a deep impression on him. And he admired the way Romantics such as John Keats not only addressed universal themes in their odes but humanized those themes by turning them—Love and Psyche, for instance—into interlocutors. Neruda’s odes are his direct, uncensored dialogues with nature. And they are politically charged.
A long overdue recommendation on literature and poetry. There is a certain purity in poetry which is missing in articles on everyday world.
Another argument against courting danger is that danger doesn’t guarantee an ability to make art. Plenty of people are exposed to very real danger every day, and they aren’t making art out of it—that would require the luxury of time and leisure unavailable to those trying to escape genocide or to survive famine—to name but two of the many ongoing realities in this world. Danger can literally destroy the ability to make art. Much has been written about the relationship between art and mental illness, especially when it comes to poetry, since there have been a fair number of poets who have produced lasting work while wrestling with clinical depression. But so many of those poets also committed suicide eventually. One truth about depression is that it can be fatal for the sufferer to spend extended time with the “demons” that attend it—far from being conducive to the making of art, it can lead to a despair so overwhelming that suicide seems the only right response. Or, if it doesn’t lead to suicide, it can lead to a crippling stasis, an inability to move forward, mentally, and often physically. It’s not uncommon to have poetry students who suffer from depression. And every few years I’ll have a student who wonders if staying on meds is a good idea—do the drugs dull the mind to the harder realities of life, and if we distance ourselves from those realities, aren’t we avoiding the hard wrestling from which art arises? For some people, yes—and those people aren’t likely trying to be poets, which seems a reasonable enough choice in life. For other people, I like to think that medication might provide a certain stability within which reflecting on life’s difficulties can become not only possible but perhaps useful. We don’t have to be mauled by a lion in order to consider its potential for violence, the strange beauty of pure instinct, its power to stop us, sometimes, from looking away . .