Pablo Neruda on the Passing of Joseph Stalin

by Wibele Escudar

We must be men. That is the law that Joseph Stalin left.
Sincere intensity and concrete clarity are best.
He was the noon of man. Let us from this not be bereft.
Let’s bear these words with pride, all comrade fighting communists.

Though he has died, the light has not; the fire still appears.
Increase the growth of bread and hope. Decrease your shallow fears.
The persecuted rose is on his shoulders, like the dove.
The giant goes back to the land he governed from above.

Speak not of executions, as did Osip Mandelstam.
Speak not of bread crumbs or defeat, like Varlam Shalamov.
Speak not of writers murdered, August 1952,
including poets Markish, Hofstein, Feffer and Kvitko.

Speak not of mass starvation that was planned for the Ukraine.
Speak not of suicides Esenin, Mayakovsky, pain.
Speak not of silenced poets, like Anna Akhmatova,
or those who felt they couldn’t speak more, like Tsvetaeva.

Speak not about the gulag archipelago again,
like Solzhenitsyn did. Don’t speak like that. Do not complain.
Speak not of all the millions killed. And most of all don’t shout.
And if you dare to freely speak, a gag should bind your mouth.

The waves beat down upon the stones, continuing his work.
When Malenkov will take the reins, no duties shall he shirk…
till Khrushchev and Bulganin jerk him from the center stage.
This is the power Stalin had. Invincible his Age.

Wibele Escudar is a poet of southern South America.

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12 Responses

  1. Damian Robin

    Hi Bruce, I can’t match your knowledge of Russian intellectuals, nor the solemnity with which you describe their funeral march. Nor your irony here. But I can have a push at indicating the effort there will be to start anew.

    Ozzie Stalin

    “A lumpen, trunkless, tyrant’s head,”
    A travelling ancient said,
    “Though all-in-one, down-weighed upon
    The space from where he’d gone.

    “And in the city where his feet
    Wore armies on the street
    And marched down millions in a mound,
    Now there’s little sound;

    “Just shuffling, tired pedestrians
    And rails where no noise runs,
    And wires and poles that broke his neck,
    Untidy with the wreck.”

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Bruce, I had to do some background research to understand the biting irony of your painful parody of Neruda’s paeon to Stalin. Actually, I could have said, “your parody of Neruda’s painful paeon,” or “your parody of Neruda’s paeon to the painful Stalin.” It’s all the same. Painful to think that such a man could have been lionized after his death . . . and even more painful to think that there are some who still lionize him today. I remember visiting the then USSR in 1984 and noting a sketch of Stalin placed prominently in the front window of a workers truck in Moscow. In a perverse, yet human, way, Stalin is still seen fondly as the “Strong Man” who united the country in its desperate and devastating defense against the German invasion in WW 2 (or the Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Russia–which did not participate in WW 1). I wrote about Stalin’s legacy in a poem still available in the SCP archives, “One Person Every Minute.” So many nameless people died under Stalin that it is also painful to be reminded that there were real people with real names who were crushed under his evil heel. Thank you for remembering them for us, and reminding us of a past that is all too quickly forgotten.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I think you have expressed yourself badly here. Surely you know that Russia DID participate in World War I? That war was devastating to Russia, and led to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the collapse of the Czarist Empire, and the vicious murder of the Romanov royal family soon after.

      • James A. Tweedie

        You are, of course, correct. In my haste to post the comment I wrongly conflated the 1939 non-aggression pact signed by the USSR and Germany with WW I. Your correction is noted and appreciated.

  3. Wibele Escudar

    What irony there is in the poem comes largely from the difference between Neruda’s lines and the actual events on the ground in Russia; nor is the poem a parody, as I am not imitating his poem for comic exaggeration. I was very much interested in looking at great Russian literary figures of the time, and contrasting their experience in Russia with Neruda’s adulation.

    Mr. Tweedie uses a loose ballad structure for his poem “One Person Every Minute”; but it is an odd concoction of the serious and light-heartedness. It begins and ends with the informal “Joe”, which contrasts from the deadly earnest aspects of the poem. Another problem is its seven quatrains attempt to include too much; the poem bounces all over the place. Of course, looking at those qualities from another vantage, one might say, his flippancy shows a certain distance from his material and his digressions from his opening, could be seen as striving after a larger view.

    Still, on the other hand, I think Mr. Tweedie has a potential poem in his trip to Moscow of 1984, if he can piece together his memories and notes from that trip, and the reasons that he went.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    Bruce, as usual you raise interesting and relevant questions.

    My use of the word “parody” as regards you poem was not related to any overt humor, but to the mockery implicit in using Neruda’s own words to serve as a “picture frame” to display the names of those crushed by the “work” of Stalin he hoped would “continue.”

    My own poem was, in fact, intended to be “an odd concoction of , , , serious and light-heartedness” with the intention of making the horror of Stalin’s crimes against his own people all the more loathsome. The use of the word “Joe” and the the use of a lilting metrical pattern was also intentional. I can’t say whether it was effective in making the point or not. That is up to the reader. If it didn’t work for you, then it didn’t work for you.

    The poem I originally submitted was shorter and more focused. I was encouraged to expand it to address other issues related to suffering and persecution under communism. In a spirit of cooperation I agreed to do this and, as you point out, the internal cohesion of the poem was diluted as a result.

    I would add that I was not conscious of being “flippant” in the writing of my poem. On the contrary, I was being deadly serious about using a contrasting style of poetry to underscore and emphasize the extant of Stalin’s brutality.

    If you felt it was flippant, then that is how you saw it. I won’t argue with that.

  5. Wibele Escudar

    1. Mr. Tweedie’s explanation of the composition of “One Person Every Minute” clarifies why the poem seemed “diluted”.

    2. As for the word “flippant”, I only meant “light-hearted”, not showing a serious attitude where one might be expected, as, for example, contrasting your poem with the communist poems of Leo Yankevich. By the way, I couldn’t help but thinking of his poetry in light of both poems.

    One example of flippant is the Seuss-like line:

    “By “eggs” he meant some heads and necks along with arms and legs.”

    or the phrase “too bad”, with the familiar “Joe”:

    “It was too bad that communism didn’t die with Joe.”

    3. Some of the phrases of “One Person Every Minute”, however, were noteworthy.

    One example suffices:

    “The “workers’ paradise” he sought was swallowed up in screams.

  6. Radice Lebewsu

    Wibele Escudar’s poem “Pablo Neruda on the Passing of Joseph Stalin” is a terse reminder, if one was needed, of the brutality of Joseph Stalin. In his poem, Mr. Escudar contrasts the rhetoric of the Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda in a poem of his from 1953 on the death of Stalin with the writers who had to live through his reign of terror.

    The opening three lines coincide with the basic opening of Neruda’s poem “To Be Men! That Is the Stalinist Law!” Escudar takes the free-verse poem and churns it into six quatrains of iambic heptameter. Throughout Escudar’s poem, time and again phrases are filtered from Neruda’s composition.

    But then the poem changes in stanzas three though five, from the view of Neruda’s poem to a listing of Soviet writers who had to endure the reign of Stalin. Stanza one has an abab rhyme scheme, followed by an aabb rhyme scheme in stanza two. But stanza three breaks down totally, and there really are no rhymes once Escudar begins listing Russian writers. The first couplet could be considered to have a slant rhyme, if one accepts the names Osip Mandelstam and Varlam Shalamov as such; but it is not an easy rhyme; and the second couplet even breaks the meter with Kvitko, one of the four Jewish poets who were murdered in 1952, a year before Neruda’s glorifying poem. The rhymes return to stanzas four and five, as the list fills out further, including those from the gulag, the silenced, and the suicides.

    In stanza six, Escudar returns to Neruda’s poem, but plays off of historical events, noting that even Malenkov, in the last line of Neruda’s poem, would lose power to Khrushchev and Bulganin; and therefore, it is not without some irony when Escudar writes of the invincibilty of Stalin’s time.

    Though the territory of the poem is relatively small, the twenty-eight lines are both longer and more in number than the twenty lines of Neruda’s praise of Stalin; the difference, of course, is those three stanzas, rhetorically united by the word speak, and containing the names of Russians beaten down or murdered by Stalin’s machinations. “That is the power Stalin had”, which Escudar finds horrible indeed.

  7. Wibele Escudar

    I had thought to nestle a few thoughts on poetry here in a strand that seems to have petered out. The thoughts are on poetry generally and on my work specifically.

    1. Although the above stanzas are written in lines of iambic heptameters, and I continue to develop poems in that meter presently, the poems I have written in that meter are likely not even 2% of my total output of poems. When I created the tennos (ten lines of iambic heptameter), I began to work through its possibilities. As a new structure of English literature, I didn’t want to just toss it aside. I wanted to develop its possibilities, as I have done with earlier poetic forms I have created and used. I do admit I am intrigued by the meter, as it draws its life from the basic ballad form of English literature.

    2. When I use the word “haunted” in reference to my syllable counting, I am using the word in a positive light, as did Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey—nothing more.

    3. I like Hemingway’s short, understated sentences, because of their stark profundity. They offer all kinds of possibilities in the development of the tennos. He was, of course, an obvious choice to go to in writing a terse piece of the death of an actual bullfighter; though the sentences in that poem are much longer than the short ones I so admire in Hemingway’s work, particularly in his short stories.

    4. I have noticed the subdued tone of a poem, like “Death in the Afternoon” can mislead casual readers, into thinking that the picture is hysterically funny, despite its relentless metric, its dispassionate observations, its touch upon the quotidian, its deflation of metaphor and rhetoric, and its varying end stops. Ce la vie.

    5. There are more things in mathematics and philosophy than are dreamt of in most poets’ minds; and for that reason I think it behooves New Millennial poets to strive to include as much of those things as is possible in their work. Though I am fairly sure epic writer Frederick Turner does not mean it in the way I do exactly, he has said so much as well, if in a different manner and with a different purpose. My view of poetry is large.

    6. The charichords are simply another invention that I find interesting; because each one of them is merely a rearrangement of the letters of my name, no more. Some writers like to play around with the puzzles of names, like Poe, others, like Pessoa, enjoy the creations of personages, many others, like Eric Blair (George Orwell) like to use pen names, and still other writers, like T. S. Eliot, like to create dramatic monologists. There is a certain freeing attitude, that I as a poetic artist enjoy in letting the letters of my name just whirl around, and I do so for artistic purposes.

    • James a. Tweedie

      Bruce, if nothing else, you are one of a kind and I hope you never change (although I suspect there is not much chance of that happening any time soon!)

      As your down-river neighbor I am hopeful that we can meet in person someday.

      By the way, my name backwards is Samej Eideewt, which qualifies it as as not-too-anonymous pseudonym should I ever join you in the pursuit of either purposeful or compulsive name obfuscation—whichever is a more accurate description of your playful approach to the matter.


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