Neruda in Asia, Asia in Neruda : enduring traces of South Asia in the journey through Residencia en la tierra

Sharp, Roanne Leah
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Even the title Residencia en la tierra, one of the early masterworks of Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, suggests a subject who stands alone in a world that is his by happenstance, in which he does not permanently dwell and to which he does not naturally belong. Stylistically and politically, too, among Neruda’s work Residencia seems to stand alone. Before Residencia, Neruda’s poetry was deeply personal and, compared to what came later, profoundly standard for its time and place; after the Residencia poems were completed—though before they had all been published— Neruda’s poetry would take a turn for the political that would remain with him more or less for the duration of his career. Indeed, the series presents a paradox for critics: a pivotal moment in his poetic development—what Emir Rodríguez Monegal calls Neruda’s first truly creative work—but also a work seemingly out of sync with Neruda’s later writings and vehemently rejected by the author himself only a few years after its publication. In sum, it is a work that refuses equally to be incorporated or to be ignored. This essay will attempt to carve out a more stable place for Residencia en la tierra in the critical understanding of Neruda’s poetic trajectory precisely by returning it to the place of its genesis. By retracing Neruda’s experiences in South Asia during his sojourn in Burma [Myanmar] and Ceylon [Sri Lanka] as a diplomat in the laste 1920s, the place where the enduring symbolism and ethical framework of the Residencia series were born, I will suggest new modes of reading Residencia that shed light on both why this book is so different from his others and the ways in which they are profoundly linked.