Two-Thirds Neruda: The Homes of Chile's Beloved Poet

Rebecca Carey
June 20, 2019

Pablo Neruda, author of the internationally-acclaimed Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair and the second Chilean to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, owned three homes in his native Chile. During my summer study abroad with IES Internships, I visited two of them: La Sebastiana in the port city Valparaiso and La Chascona in Santiago’s hipster Bellavista neighborhood. Neruda’s third and final home in Isla Negra is where his body was laid to rest after its initial burial in the General Cemetery of Santiago.

La Sebastiana

This three-story house is strategically placed on the side of the coast in the hilly port city of Valparaiso so that all floors have an unobstructed view of the ocean. The narrow and tall wooden home teems with personal art and figures collected from friends and visits across the world, and Neruda specifically liked the aesthetic of oriental tapestry from China and adorned his bedroom walls with it. He was known for his dinner parties and having eclectic, mismatched colored glassware at the table. It was as if each item was from a different tme, country, or place in the world, making you feel like all are welcome. In the middle of the second-floor living room sat a worn, green leather sitting chair with a faded footstool of the same color. I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside, but on the tired footstool, you could see splatters of dark green ink, Neruda’s favorite editing color.

La Chascona

La Chascona opened up into a courtyard garden. The most immediate room past the entrance to Neruda’s Santiago home was the dining room and kitchen. The low ceilings of the dining room were meant to model that of a ship, as Neruda often felt inspired by the idea of captain-hood. On the wall, in the display cabinet sat two ornate matching jars: one labeled morphine and the other marijuana, as a ‘joke’ to his friends when they visited.

The central courtyard separated the three buildings of La Chascona, with ivy-covered staircases ascending into dark wooden doors of the art gallery and entertaining room above the garden. Glass prints of eyes hung off the trees and bushes.

A garden decoration at La Chascona

 In the entertaining room, I was enamored with a painting of Neruda’s third wife Matilde Urrutia, depicted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera with two heads, featuring the silhouette of Neruda’s profile outlined in the wave of Urrutia’s hair. It’s said that La Chascona itself was named after Urrutia’s fiercely wavy hair; chascona in Spanish means ‘disorderly’. The double-head signifies the duality of Urrutia’s public and private lives, as she was a singer.

La Chascona, Matilde with Two Heads by Diego Riviera

In seeing the insides of Neruda’s homes, I felt like I’d gotten to know him better as a writer. Our spaces are reflections of who we are and how we live. Neruda woke up early and took naps every day. He invited esteemed acquaintances over and was friends with politicians and painters. Neruda was even a politician himself at one point. He was a little unhinged and led a chaotic daily life that was simultaneously steeped in routine.

I’ve always been the type of writer to look towards other writers when feeling lost, like copying their lifestyles will ensure that I create similar writing. Neruda taught me to fill my home with things I love looking at and always be ready to entertain, telling origin stories of your unique pieces from your far-away travels. Stare at the sea like a lover is just over the horizon. Never own matching glassware. To be a poet, live romantically.

Here's a link to Pablo Neruda's Isla Negra museum house website, the home I didn't get the chance to visit. 

Rebecca Carey

<p>Rebecca Carey has been an avid literature and science fiction fan since reading her father’s copy of Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth” as a child. She has been writing professionally for two years and has published prose, poetry, and short fiction in the University of Iowa’s undergraduate literary reviews ‘InkLit,’ ‘Witness,’ and ‘Peripheral’ in 2018 and 2019, and has published poetry translations in the University of Iowa’s undergraduate translation Journal ‘Boundless’ in 2019. She is a Creative Writing and Translation student at the Univerisity of Iowa hoping to pursue a Master’s degree in translation studies after graduation. When she isn’t buried in a book, she’s usually somewhere in between the realm of overthinking, daydreaming, and wishing she was born 500 years in the future so she could have lived on Mars. Favorite novels of hers include Trenton Lee Stwart’s “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihilation,” and William Burrough’s “Naked Lunch.” Some of her favorite Chilean authors are Lina Meruane, Roberto Balaño, and Pablo Neruda.</p>

2019 Summer 1, 2019 Summer 2
Home University:
University of Iowa
Bellville, TX
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