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“If suddenly you do not exist/ if suddenly you no longer live/I shall life on” (1-3). Pablo Neruda’s beginning words to his celebrated poem “La Muerta” or the “Dead Woman” certainly have lived on as promised. In contrast with the traditional methods of analyzing poems line by line, it is imperative to view “La Muerta” in its totality as one masterpiece to truly understand its meaning allowing readers to embed its essence. According to his biographies, Pablo Neruda was known for his strong ethical and moral sense, his ever-growing desire for helping humanity. He was not a warrior nor did he agree with raising swords, therefore he did not physically fight against oppression, neither was he a rebel burning tires in protests. He chose the most powerful weapon known to mankind and used it to fight injustice: the pen.
The poem is the combination of multiple central ideas, each trying to convince the reader of its importance. Mainly, it is Neruda’s way of taking a public political stand in a free, harmless, yet, an extremely affective way. Pablo Neruda was a man committed to civil disobedience, a man with an unshaking sense of right versus wrong, but his passive and peaceful methods would not allow any physical protests. “La Muerta” is not to be understood as being a physical woman or a long-lost lover. Rather, she is the metaphor for a unique love – the love of freedom and freedom itself. According to Neruda, there exists love so powerful and distinctive that it does not understand man-made boundaries of any kind, whether they are social limitations or territories dividing the global nation. This is the love for humanity: “My love, because you know that I am not only a man/ but all mankind” (34-35).
Neruda begs forgiveness from La Muerta or freedom for not being able to fulfill her wishes. He speaks about the agony of having to carry the heavy burdens of his social duties and how he fails to be responsible: “All the leaves will fall on my breast/ it will rain on my soul night and day” (25-26). However, he realizes that the end is inevitable and changes to a more practical approach knowing that there will be another torch bearer who will carry on the mission and the cycle to perfect humankind and who will provide each person with his due share of freedom that will begin over and over again. These burdens are powerful enough to trigger powerful acts of retaliation when oppressed and repressed repeatedly. When they rip out from the body, this is when freedom dies because it has been forced out into violence. For freedom lovers, torn revolutionary artistic devotees like Neruda, death becomes an inconvenient truth because it stops their diligence and becomes an obstacle in their way to finish their idealistic works of protecting and perfecting freedom, thus the cycle continues from one fighter or lover to another.
Taking one verse at a time will fail to provide justice to understanding the poem and the verses will become out of context. The entire poem must be read and inhaled at once in order to feel the essence and be motivated since Neruda cannot fulfill his dream in this world; he needs to find a way to immortalize it which he has done through the dead woman. The overall tone is melancholic as the poet seems to surrender not with freedom’s death, but with a realization that his death will be the death of freedom. What is meant by this is that, if people like Neruda, the intellectual warriors who desire to change the world for the better are outnumbered, freedom will slowly fade away resulting in a hopeless eternal state. The loss will be unbearable for the world to handle, and eventually a devastating end will arrive.
However, Neruda is swift to accept the truth and realize that the loss is inevitable as neither he nor anyone else is capable of living long enough to see the ideal change. This is simply a matter of time and the clock may not be prolonged, thus providing the greatest challenge in life – to accomplish goals in a certain window of time. Accepting to move on, Neruda encourages the reader to act likewise, an advice applicable to any kind of love or situation. Thus, he makes the end message universal relating to the global audience in its entirety. Whether it is a broken dream, a broken heart, a long lost love, or a dead woman, moving on and staying alive becomes the ultimate goal wiping away all other minor goals. The universal concepts of pride being able to suppress it, love, being able to lose it, and loss being able to accept it are reiterated by the poet, turning the objective of the poem to learn how to live practically and accept the ultimate death of all concepts, goals, and men, and women.
Despite crying over loss and cursing the angel of death every time, he comes knocking at the door; Neruda encourages the readers to accept their fates and move on. However, there is a difference between accepting the loss and willingly joining hands with fate as the latter must never be done. No matter how extreme the oppression is or how tempting the offer made by death seems, dying is the easy way-out as Neruda speaks, “My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping/ but/ I shall stay alive” (29-31). The true heroism and retaliation is standing firmly on one’s feet and facing trials eye to eye never yielding until forced. Real victory is to keep on living and dealing with the truth, no matter how painful it is as the truth that freedom will continue dying.
This concept of facing oppression and retaliating is the result of Pablo Neruda’s frustration about the political circumstances of his time, mainly the Spanish civil war. Being forced to watch people and ultimately freedom die repeatedly around him led the writer to utter these words which are now “La Muerta”. Even though he was greatly disheartened, Neruda decided to take advantage of his life and speak, or rather write against the political struggles. He writes, “For where a man has no voice/ there shall be my voice” boldly standing up to the oppressors and taking responsibility to represent his people in the fight against injustice (8-9).