Next month in Chile they’re going to exhume poet Pablo Neruda. Why exactly?
They want to dig him up to discover the truth, you see. He died in 1973, a mere 12 days after the military coup that ruined the government of Pablo Neruda‘s political patron, Chile’s President Salvador Allende.
Yes, Pablo Neruda is most famous as a Nobel-winning poet, and especially these days for his early love poems. But he spent his life as a diplomat and active political man. Heck, Neruda won the Stalin Prize in 1953, he was considered such an asset to global socialism. It’s somehow not very romantic or sexy, I suppose, to recite Neruda’s poems to your loved one and then coo, “he won the Stalin Prize, you know.”
Pablo Neruda had been an exiled poet for years when Allende came to power in Chile. Allende brought Neruda back into the fold and made him an ambassador to France in 1970. The next year, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for literature.
But back in Chile in 1973, Allende was overthrown in a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, on 11 September. Allende was dead by the end of the day; most of the experts seem to say he shot himself in the presidential palace with a Russian rifle given him by Fidel Castro. There are some who say he was murdered, but Allende was exhumed in 2011 and the official report was, “no, no… he did himself in.“
And minds were changed! Just kidding. People still argue about it.
Pablo Neruda, it was said, died 13 September 1973, from cancer. But an assistant of his maintains Neruda was poisoned. The people in charge of Neruda’s legacy don’t want to pursue it. But a Chilean court has decided to dig up Pablo Neruda so that forensics experts can try and find out precisely why he died.
Is it historically significant? Uh… that’s hard to say. It’s fascinating, that’s for sure. You can read about more famous exhumations in our feature Exhumation Celebration.
But what good will it do to determine that Pablo Neruda was murdered? Especially since the culprit would be, at the highest level, Augusto Pinochet, a globally-condemned war criminal? It’s not as if it’s NEWS that Pinochet killed political opponents.
It’s all grand that modern science can answer some of these long-standing historical questions, but I can sympathize with the British monarchy, who, in the wake of Richard III’s bones making headlines, have stepped forward and said, “hey, wait a sec… where is all this heading?” They’ve made the point that precedent-setting exhumations could be ahead of any kind of real discussion about the actual historical value of whatever’s retrieved.
Our eagerness to find out, “well, just how DID he die?” can make us forget to ask, “does it matter, really?”
I read the news of Pablo Neruda’s exhumation before I read the news of Richard III’s exhumation, so this limerick isn’t quite so timely as it could be:
They’re digging up Pablo Neruda
Could anything be any cruder?
Respected by peers
And dead forty years
What’s next, the corpse of a Tudor?