In his long life as a poet, Pablo Neruda succeeded in becoming what many poets have aspired to but never achieved: a public voice, a voice not just for the people of his country but for his entire continent. Widely translated, he probably reached more readers than any poet in history; justly so, for, as he often said, his 'poet's obligation' was to become a voice for all those who had no voice, an aspiration that stemmed from his long-time commitment to the communist faith. Born in 1904 in the rainy south of Chile, he enjoyed from an early age the luck of attention. One of his first books, "Twenty Love Poems", became a bible for lovers in the Spanish language, and confirmed him in his poet's vocation. At the same time he pursued a lifelong career as a diplomat, serving in a series of consular posts in the Far East and Europe. In 1971, while serving as Chilean ambassador to France, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
In a famous essay, "On Impure Poetry", Neruda calls for 'a poetry as impure as old clothes, as a body with its foodstains and its shame, with wrinkles, observations, dreams, wakefulness, prophesies, declarations of love and hate, stupidities, shocks, idylls, political beliefs, negations, doubts, affirmations, and taxes'.