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The Way Spain Was Questions and Answers

The Way Spain Was Questions and Answers

1. The Structure of the Poem

[Q. Discuss briefly the structure of the poem ‘The Way Spain Was’.]

‘What Spain Was Like’ or ‘The Way Spain Was’ by Pablo Neruda is a three-stanza poem that is separated into one set of twelve lines and two sets of five. Neruda has not chosen to structure this piece with a specific pattern of rhyme. The only moments of repetition in rhyme appear sporadically, such as within lines one and six of stanza one. There are a number of instances of half or slant rhymes though. These are words that are not perfect rhymes but have noticeably similar sounds. A successful example is “thud” in line two and “god” in line twelve of the first stanza. It is important to understand Neruda’s personal history in order to get a full appreciation for what he is trying to do with the text. Neruda was born in Chile but came to love his adopted country of Spain, even fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The poem ‘The Way Spain Was’ seems like a harsh examination of the social and political issues of his day, but it was done from a place of respect and concern for the future. It was not uncommon for Neruda to write about Spain. The country appears in other works and is the source of inspiration for the collection Spain in Our Hearts.

2. Poet’s view ons the Politics of Spain

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[Q. What political angles and perspectives are shown by Neruda in this poem?]

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poetry has been inextricably linked to the politics of Spain, a land which he accepts and loves as his foster-country, and for which he fought in the Spanish Civil War, espousing the Republican cause. His collection of poems titled Spain in Our Hearts, written amidst the bloodstained frenzy of the war, articulated in detail the terrible fate Spain had met with from despotic generals, landlords and clergymen. His lines time and again have exhibited his passionate sympathy with the vast multitudes of people killed, maimed and displaced from their homes as a result of the war.

Neruda’s voice was aimed at being representative of the voice of the working

class, of peasants and factory workers, and of ordinary people whose perspectives are often obliterated from the domain of politics and history. He assumes a duty to communicate his sentiments to the public and make politics accessible to the common man, which is why he chooses to write in simple words, dealing with the varieties of everyday life.

Neruda is associated with Spain not only through his participation in the Civil War, but also through an acute consciousness of belonging to a country colonized by Spanish invaders and a deep understanding of the imprint colonization left on Latin American society and culture. It is through Chile, his mother country that he begins to love and respect Spain and is appreciative of the mixing of cultures and races as a result of Chile’s colonial past.

3. History As A Theme – Poet’s Lamentation

[Q. Discuss the lament that echoes in the poem.]

In his poem ‘The Way Spain Was’ from the Third Residence, he mourns the evanescence of Spain’s rich, glorious past and recounts the tragedy that has befallen its people owing to Fascist forces. Life has been made tedious – “a day’s drum of dull sound”, and the land is now “taut and dry” under the “lashing weather” of conflict and strife. Neruda makes clear to the reader the vulnerable position of Spain and simultaneously asserts his sympathy and solidarity with its “barren soil”, “rough bread” and “stricken people”. Widespread poverty among the farmers and labourers has resulted in harsh circumstances and a lack of food and comfort. According to Neruda, the Spaniard has a bittersweet existence, witnessing on one hand the beauty of Spanish culture, language, art, food and terrain, and on the other, deplorable poverty and violence. It is for this reason that he fuses together “harsh wine and sweet wine”, illustrating the two flavours of Spain and describes its vineyards as both violent and delicate.

Spain has been made to follow a downward trajectory, starting from a point in history where it was rich with mineral deposits which Neruda describes as “bulging like oldsters under the moon”, to the present day where it is “veined with blood and metals”. As critic Ajanta Dutt aptly posits, “The softness and violence always interconnected are most vividly presented in the final image of ‘petals and bullets’ where the incorporation of the word ‘proletariat’ affirms that Neruda is fighting for a cause. Neruda avers his love for the land and promises never to forget the beauty of life that once characterised Spain – “the lost flower of your villages”.

Neruda is unequivocally a chronicler of the Spanish Civil War, a mirror of society, but at the same time understands that reflection alone does not suffice as a political memoir. He is of the belief that to write poetry of political value, he has to, as critic Bleiker claims, “distort visions in order to challenge the entrenched forms of representations that have come to circumscribe our understanding of socio-political

reality”. His task as a poet is to develop new ways of viewing familiar objects, opening up the reader to more possibilities and perspectives. His poetic ambition is to shatter the ideologically naturalised image of the world in order to allow multiplicities to emerge and for poetry to be able to provide new solutions to old dilemmas.

“The Way Spain Was” was written when he was a member of the Communist Party of Chile. He is very much concerned about the common people of the land. Although his mind is burdened with seething social issues, he spoke as simply as possible to communicate his sentiments to the public. He recounts with passion the repeated suffering recorded in the history of Spain.

Neruda is well aware of the necessity of any political communicator to be accessible to the masses if he or she wishes to actively engage in struggles that shape societal dynamics. This is why he sought to write in the language of everyday life. Simultaneously however, he was also conscious of the need to break through existing linguistic habits in order to shock the reader out of complacence, which is why his verses, though simple in language, are fragmented and complex in structure.

Neruda’s poetry is therefore intertwined with the culture and politics of Spain and therefore by extension, that of Latin America as well. He acts as a mediator between complex political thought and the collective consciousness of the general public through simplistic verse which employs relatable themes and images.

4. The Poet’s Nostalgia

[Q. How does the poet turn nostalgic in the poem ‘The Way Spain Was?]

The poet turns nostalgic in the poem ‘The Way Spain Was’and expresses his love for Spain as well as laments for its abjection at the hands of fascist forces. The poem was written several years after the civil war and was a reaction to the war and mass murders in Spain. Spanish civil war was a turning point for Latin American writers. Neruda shows an image of Spain inflicted with pain and monotony.

In stanza 2 he screams that he loves Spain but Spain has become “barren”. It has lost direction and is in confusion and chaos. The people along with the country are meant to be without any sense of direction after the war. The eagle is a symbol for imperial power which has now destroyed Spain. The drumming sound is of war, of disturbance, unhappiness and symbol of destruction over land. The barren soil makes Spain stagnant and shows that it has no future.

Neruda is influenced by leftist ideology; he tries to revive Spanish people- “spirit of resilience”. He makes people remember who they were. Spain is now moving towards a modern age. Last stanza brings serious intention of Neruda as a people’s poet. He is not just an observer but an active part of struggle. He feels his poems should be life for people. The aim of the poem is to bring out something new by going out something new by going beyond politics.

5. Description of the Conditions of Spain

[Q. With reference to these lines explain the condition of Spain. – “……..your harsh wine and your sweet wine. Your violent and delicate vineyards. / Stone of the sun, pure among territories.”]

In spite of the fertility of Spain the poet is more concerned about the inhabited land affected by the civil war and dictatorship. He is very much conscious of the Spanish soil aged by years of sunlight and of regions invaded by various races.

Neruda also mourns for his best friend Garcia Lorca and Miguel Hernandez, who died in the Spanish civil war. “Spain veined with blood and metals, blue and victorious”, this clearly shows the history of “king discoverers” and the tragedy of civil war which made him Republican and he uses his poetry as a weapon to fight against the violence.

The ordinary people of the society i.e, the common people are suppressed and their life’s plight is showcased clearly in the line “proletariat of petals and bullets/ alone alive, somnolent, resounding.” The people of rich fertile land depended on their daily labours; their life is beautiful with the horror of war in it.

Opposition of ideas can be seen in the words “sweet” and “harsh”, in “violent” and “delicate” in “petals and bullets” these words confirm that Neruda is fighting against the suppression of “proletariat”. He writes about a poor, but beautiful Spain, historically rich and glorious in the past, crushed and destroyed in the present. It is a fact that Pablo Neruda openly reacted to the contemporary political events in Spain and his own country that made him summarize his own life as follows: ‘Intense feeling for the colonised people is very much seen along with the reaction to the social and political events in his mother country.’

Neruda admits that the Spaniard did succeed in conquering his undiscovered territory that lay beyond the seas and in ruling over the angry and yellow-coloured people of his land. They also succeeded in giving birth to a new civilisation that slowly and surely supplanted the old one of the native Indians like dropping the excrement (dung) by a sea-eagle that was hovering and circling above the sky.

6. As A Post-colonial Poem

[Q. Discuss Neruda’s work in the context of Post-Colonial literature.]

Postcolonial literature often focuses on the suppression, oppression, identity crisis, alienation, and cultural identity etc, faced by the natives of the colonised land. But the poems of Neruda present the theme of post colonialism in a different way, here though the atrocities of colonisers are portrayed he never hates them, instead celebrates the mingling of culture.

“The Way Spain Was” records the sufferings of people recorded in the history of Spain as a colony through many harsh images. The land blessed with nature’s bounty was destroyed in the civil war. He traces the history of Spain the present invaders were once invaded by many. Through many opposing images the horror of war and the plight of the affected people are portrayed effectively.

7. The Background

[Q. Discuss the background of the poem ‘The Way Spain Was’.]

Before 1930 there was monarchy in Spain. There was an economic crisis in Spain. The people of Spain eradicated monarchy and brought Republic Government. But there was no change in the economic crisis. Then Spain was again divided into two groups. On the one part there were the supporters of the Republic Government and on the other part there were military and church in the leadership of Francisco Franco. The team of Francisco Franco was in favour of capitalism.

On the contrary, the Republic Government was in favour of socialism. The team of Franco was supported by Nazis. Then ultimately, the civil war broke out in 1936.00 It lasted till 1939. Pablo Neruda was in Spain at that time. He was in support of the Republic Government and fought against the military party because he was a staunch communist. In the present poem The Way Spain Was Neruda described the condition of Spain after the civil war.

8. An Estimate

[Q. Give a brief critical interpretation of Neruda’s poem ‘The Way Spain Was’.]

The poem discusses the Spanish civil war which was fought between the left-wing loyalists and right wing nationalists. The poem expresses the pain and suffering afflicted on the natives in those days. IN beginning the poem draws a picture of Spain which was dry since 200 years of monarchy.

‘The Way Spain Was by Neruda being a three stanza poem that’s separated into one set of twelve lines and two sets of 5. Neruda has not chosen to structure this piece with a specific pattern of rhyme. The only moments of repetition in rhyme appear sporadically, like within lines one and 6 of stanza one. There are a number of instances of half or slant rhymes though. These are words that are not perfect rhymes but have noticeably similar sounds. A successful example is “thud” in line two and “god” in line twelve of the first stanza. It was published as a part of Spain in our hearts, the tone of the poem is dramatic as Pablo is not only pinning down the anguish he witnesses in Spain but also acting as a chronicler. He beautifully records Spanish history before and after the civil war.

The poem can be divided into three parts; the first stanza to describe the monotonous fixed regime in Spain, and the second part would be where he shifts to the word I and records his personal attitude towards Spain. The next two stanzas describe the poet’s concern over the glorious past of Spain as well as its sufferings. In the first stanza, the words taut, dull and dry are used to describe the rigidity prevailing in Spain for the past two centuries due to the monarchy, alliteration is also use to mark monotonous rhythm of the time, the following lines gives the hint of coming storm which is symbol for both the natural storm as well as the storming the lives of the people of Spain.

As mentioned above further the poet goes on to express his personal relationship with Spain. His love for Spain is described by the lines’I love your barren soil and your rough bread’

-Rough bread is the staple food which can’t be eliminated from his life. The dictators of civil war afflict the pain and sufferings to the inhabitants of the land which leaves them with no hope for a better future but the poet wishes to see blooming of the impossible within him. He sees that the villagers are not changed and are constantly exploited by the ‘imbecile god’. Here imbecile god is a reference to general Franko. Spain was largely affected by the damage done by him and his nationalists who won the war after 40 years of such exploitation.

The next two stanzas focus of hoe brutally monarchy is affecting the talents and intelligence produced on this land. The contrast in the prevailing conditions is compared with the wine which is both sweet and harsh. referring to vineyards which are violent as well as reflect delicacy.

SHORT QUESTIONS-2

1. What does the poet want to bring out through the poem? 

The poet, in this very poem, has tried to bring out the harsh realities of life through various images. Fresh bloom of life that cannot be found, “the lost flower of your villages” continues to clamour in his mind. He is enraged that an idiot like god is punishing the land that he loves. Through the deep love for Chile he begins to consider Spain as his motherland.

2. How does the poet bring out the harsh realities of life?

When Neruda witnessed the ruins of Machuchu Pichchu, his love for the land became more intense. His mourning for Spain’s glorious past is evident in the words “our stricken people”. Silence and isolation are repeated and cries of “Taut and dry Spain”, this phrase shows the core of his sensibility and the memories of war reminds him of the dull and loud sound of drums.

3. Bring out the sense of “barren soil…..rough bread”.

Neruda often used the metaphor of bread to describe poetry as something that belonged to the people and was accessible to them.

4. What all opposites are used in the poem?

At the last section of the poem words like “harsh wine” Vs “sweet wine” or “violent Vs “delicate” or blood and metals or petals and bullets are some of the textual plays of opposites.

5. What has been conveyed in the first four lines of the poem?

In lines 1-4, Neruda, the speaker, feels great tenderness for Spain. He explains how it once felt. Therefore, the false god is Fascism.

6. Explain the sense of “how in depths of me”.

The poet becomes the site of recuperation, of preserving all that is lost and devoured by the “imbecile God” of tyranny. The poet becomes a central figure in this stanza holding together “in the depths of me” the oppositional images of the poem, of all things that are “timeless.”

7. What is the poet’s message in lines 5 – 18?

In lines 5-18, he describes how he loves Spain, no matter what, barren soil and all. Stricken people and all! He is saying that the fascists love it for another reason for its vineyards and silver mines.

8. What is conveyed in the final lines of the poem (19-22)?

In lines 19-22, he is saying that he understands the political undercurrent of the time; what is coming. He is mourning the loss of Spain as it will never be the same again.

9. What does the poem ‘The Way Spain Was’ signify?

This poem is another example of Neruda’s view of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Clearly this was a time of great unrest. Neruda is pondering the sadness, the loss of life, the horrors he has witnessed.

10. What is the literary device used in the poem ‘The Way Spain Was?

“The Way Spain Was” is in the poetic collection Third Residence, which Neruda had written when he was a member of the Communist Party of Chile. He is very much concerned about the common people of the land. Although his mind is burdened with seething social issues, he spoke as simply as possible to communicate his sentiments to the public. He recounts with passion the repeated suffering recorded in the history of Spain.

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