Pablo Neruda’s “Canto General” Is the Epic Poem Collection You Didn’t Know About
It’s always been quite surprising and reassuring to see now and again just how united the Spanish-speaking countries are, even as a Latino myself. I guess colonization and genocide by white Europeans helped us realize that we are better off as supportive neighbors, but that’s just one thought. Famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, however, thought of many reasons to honor and ponder on all Latin American issues in his often overlooked Canto General, the epic poem collection you probably have not heard about.
The book was published in 1950, many years after Neruda first started work on its poems, and consists of fifteen titled sections (among them the highly recommended “Alturas de Machu Picchu”) that each addresses unique aspects of Latin American cultural boundaries and shared identity. The collection itself can be viewed as an attempt at encapsulating the whole essence of the region–as an ode to the countries between Mexico and Argentina and all the problems and joys their people face every day.
There is no equal to Neruda when it comes to poetic imagery, flagrant descriptions of the monotone in verse, and an unabashed, inside view of what makes the South American continent so special. Grab the bilingual version, but I recommend you learn Spanish just for this collection (and the other hundreds of great novels out there).