Since planting and harvesting my tomatoes, I have become a true tomato snob. Recently, my friend and colleague Orquídea Sánchez-Azorín sent me the Ode to Tomatoes by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I’m sharing it below as a tribute to the fruit (not Neruda) that I like so much and is one of the main ingredients in my kitchen.
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Neruda, the poet of love
I must confess I doubted whether to talk about Neruda here. He was a poet I grew up admiring. Born in Chile, he was a universal Latin American. I studied him as we look at Latin American writers in our countries. While in college, I read his Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair… and his poetic anthology. Neruda wrote impossible-to-forget verses like those that began: “I like you when you’re silent because you are like absent…” he was the poet of love, but… there is always a but…
Neruda, the communist poet
Neruda was a communist. And he was not a “romantic” communist as Il Postino, Michael Radford‘s film, presented him to us. That’s something communists do very well: to romanticize the horror, the abuse, the oppression in a way people believe, especially those in misery, poverty, and in need of hope. Neruda was a communist who at the time supported Stalin and Stalinism. Nothing less.
After seeing the disgrace in which Venezuela, the country where I was born and grew up, is mired, thanks to the Castro-communist regime led by Hugo Chávez, I don’t want anything to do with the left. And less with the outdated Latin American left… There are lefts of lefts, and I’m not sorry to say, but we got the worst.
Neruda, the poet of the everyday things
But I said to myself, it’s not about canceling anyone. This post is about sharing a beautiful poem, like the ones written to someone or something you love, an ode to something as simple as a tomato. So I left ideology aside and valued that Neruda was a great poet.
Along with the Ode to Tomatoes, my friend Orquídea also sent me an article published in the magazine Cauce in 1978. In this article, its authors: Marina Alonso, Rosario Mora, María José García, María José Lucas and Ana María Velasco, relate that Neruda began to write his odes, thanks to the proposal made by the Venezuelan writer Miguel Otero Silva.
At that time, Otero Silva was the director of the newspaper El Nacional, and he asked Neruda for a weekly collaboration on poetry. Neruda accepted the offer on the condition that his odes would be published in the pages dedicated to the daily chronicles instead of the literary supplement. So it was.
The Ode to Tomatoes is part of the Essential Odes written by Neruda when he was already a mature poet in the 1950s. In them he portrays his vision of the world, taking the simplest things as a starting point: he sings to the trades, the people, the flowers, the fruits, and among them, the tomato.
Communism, the cyanide of freedom of speech
I immediately connected with that story, among other things, because I had the privilege of working at El Nacional, one of the three most influential newspapers in my home country. I was first its New York correspondent between 1994 and 1995. Then, between 1997 and 2000, I was its Chief Economic and Financial editor.
Although I did not know Miguel Otero Silva, I worked directly with his son, Miguel Henrique, for four years. Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998. But when there are dictatorships disguised as democracies, things happen. Personally, the pressures of the Chavez Administration meant that I quit journalism forever in 2000.
A few years later, like many millions of Venezuelans, I had to leave my home country and come to live in the United States. Sadly, El Nacional published its final print edition on 14 December 2018. The cyanide of communism had taken effect.
The dark side of Neruda
Even so, I decided to share the ode that is the subject of this post. Eight years later, in 2018, I learned of the sad scandal of Neruda’s daughter with hydrocephalus. Malva, his only offspring, was the product of his marriage with his first wife Maria Antonia “Maryka” Hagenaar. Despite her condition, Neruda abandoned Malva. Or, put more clearly: due to her hydrocephalic condition, Neruda repudiated her.
Despicable. That’s where Neruda ended for me forever. The scandal of Malva Marina, the only daughter of the Chilean poet to whom the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, is documented in Malva: The unknown story of Pablo Neruda’s only daughter, told from the afterlife, a novel by Dutch writer Hagar Peeters.
Ode to Tomatoes, by Pablo Neruda
If, after reading the above, you still want to read the Ode to Tomatoes, below you’ll find a transcription.