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The Problem of Patriotism Analysis Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 28th, 2021


The problem of patriotism should be addressed from different and sometimes contradictory perspectives. First of all, it should be taken as a historical category that evolved through a certain period. Secondly, we should handle it as a social phenomenon exemplified by different social groups, movements, and nations in different ways. And, last but not the least, we should recognize that patriotism is an ideological and symbolical phenomenon having to do with human feelings and mindset orientations.

This means that it is important to address the realization of patriotism themes in literature and poetry. The first two tasks are realized in this essay in a general way and the analysis of patriotism themes in literature and poetry is made drawing on the literary heritage of Chilean writer and poet Pablo Neruda. The quotations from his works are used throughout this text.

We may start by saying that there exists no single patriotism but rather a patriotism that significantly differs from each other. The notion of patriotism as we understand it now was something unknown in feudal and aristocratic times when the philosophical category of patriotism was absent and we could only speak only about loyalty to family, monarch, aristocratic circle, honor duties, and social group. The feeling of patriotism as it occurs in Neruda’s poetry is not definite and is combined with fear for the future and the desire of love comfort: “Hide me in your arms//just for this night,//while the rain breaks//against sea and earth//its innumerable mouth’ (Neruda, 2004, 189).

As some researchers of nationalism as Anderson claim, the formation of national states was the main driving force of creating patriotism as ideology (Anderson, 2006). This process was connected with breaking feudal barriers, the political emancipation of people, and the dynamic development of capitalism.

French Revolution and American War for Independence were among the most significant driving forces of forming patriotism sentiments among people. The humankind and Western world in particular hence entered into the era of capitalist patriotism which was centered on defending the nation against external enemies and its a way of development. This nationalism was the main factor in bridging ideological gaps between different social groups and uniting them around the idea of national development. As Urrutia, the Neruda’s wife and the author of memoirs about their joint life observed, one of the driving forces of her husband’s patriotism were his ‘revolutionary sentiments and the rereal-lifeor people which often was stronger than the love for himself.(Urrutia, 2004, 163). As Urrutia notes Neruda was very emotional and impressive and it was one of the main reasons for his early death because of the failure of the socialist project in Chili.

However, this form of patriotism was often premised on chauvinism and racial preeminence against other nations and formed an ideology of civilization difference. It was one of the main reasons for left thinkers such as Lenin to announce patriotism as a repressive and reactionary ideology used by ruling elites to legitimize their power and erase social differences between rich and poor.

Thus, the era of social revolutions in Russian and their attempts in Europe was characterized by a critique of patriotism as it was defined in the liberal tradition. The notion of patriotism is reformulated to include the struggles of suppressed peoples against colonial rule. The notion of patriotism as it was formed by great third world liberators as Gandhi focuses on the unjust world order and the need for the autonomous development of former colonial nations. Patriotism means defending own nation against foreign aggression and imperial intruders. Neruda advocates this point of view when he admits that, ‘I am the tiger//I lie in wait for you among leaves//broad as ingots//of wet mineral (Neruda, 2004, 87). He loves nature and this is also a form of patriotism.

It should be also noted that the notion of patriotism was significantly reformulated by Soviet leaders such as Stalin who opposed the Trotskyite agenda of global revolution and claimed that patriotism should be only socialist to be true. Moreover, the influence of Marxism resulted in borrowing another definition of patriotism as the support for social revolutions and workers’ movements in other counties.

According to this vision, the real patriot of the nation should support every effort to topple repressive authorities in other countries thereby promoting the cause of freedom in the world. There can be no patriotism that supports repressive national orders and those who do this automatically became fascists. This was proved by Hitlerism when German ‘patriotism’ in fact transformed into racial hatred and the sanction for mass killings of other peoples. We see that the notion of patriotism is specific and significantly depends on the ideological position of the subject. This is especially true if we refer to Neruda’s understanding of life as it occurs in his verse from Captain Verses called ‘Insect’ – “From your hips to your feet//I want to make a long journey” (Neruda, 2004, 27).

The abovementioned considerations are especially important in light of patriotism symbols and expression in Neruda’s poetry. There is no denying the importance of the fact, that Neruda drew on the left tradition of patriotism which can be best exemplified by the slogan – ‘Proletarians of all countries – unite’ (Heptonstall, 2005).

As an active supporter of Latin American national movements against neo-colonization and imperial aggression, he thought that patriotism is the struggle of oppressed people against colonial powers and local comprador elites which serve their interests. For Neruda patriotism can not be imagined without socialist revolutionary politics. The patriotism which defends repressive imperial powers is reactionary and should be described as chauvinism and even racism (Magnet, 2004, p. 64).

As every genius poet Neruda had its symbolic representation of patriotism in this poetry. The first deeper layer of Neruda’s representation of patriotism may be described as ‘return to the origins’ which does not mean a conservative retreat to the past but searching in the past the roots for future transformations for the better and understanding the spirit of the land and people which would do it. Neruda’s lyrics devoted to a woman have much in common with the patriotism theme: “I have named you queen.//There are taller ones than you, taller.//There are purer ones than you, purer.//There are lovelier than you, lovelier” (Neruda, 2004, 25).

There is no denying the importance of the fact that this aspect unites Neruda with the romantic epoch in poetry which studied national traditions and spirit to conceptualize patriotism as the common goal and feeling (Mascia, 2001).

The Neruda’s patriotism in its deepest level is represented as his love for Latin American past before colonization when it was a divine land without sin: “Descend to the mineral roots//and in the desolate metal’s veins//reach mankind’s struggle on earth, //beyond the martyrdom that mauls// the hands destined for the light// Don’t renounce the day bestowed on you//by those who died struggling. (Neruda, 2004, 148)

This layer of patriotism in Neruda’s poetry may be characterized as the most abstract and romantic as it involves the description of nature, traditions, and people without necessary reference to historical struggles and future perspectives. However, even in this form, the ideological connotations of revolutionary patriotism are evident, even though they are dressed in another form.

Another essential motive in Neruda’s poetry is the motive of land betrayal, the betrayal of clean and innocent land by imperial predators who seek power, money, and national regional resources. Here, Neruda’s poetry enters its patriot prophetic mode where the national past seems to be the promises of a victorious future (Urrutia, 2004).

This links Neruda’s lyrics with Benjamin’s mysticism. The piece of poetry ‘Victorious people’ which features in his Captain’ Verses shows that Neruda affiliates himself with ordinary people but not an oligarchy. But the people which he refers to are not only his countrymen but oppressed people of the world in general and this makes his patriotism universal.

As Neruda says: My heart’s in this struggle// My people will overcome. All the people will overcome, one by one. // These sorrows// will be wrung like handkerchiefs until//all the tears shed on the desert’s//galleries, on graves, on the steps// of human martyrdom, are squeezed dry. //But the victorious time’s nearby. (Neruda, 2000, 199).

The Captain Verses which were published in 1952 are characterized by great emotional dynamics which combine sadness with glory and sorrow with hope. The patriotic motives are embedded in difficult symbolic fabric which makes them bee uneven and multifaceted. However, Neruda writes hymns and poetic slogans, he spends much effort to make his poetry complex and interesting while maintaining its appeal and ideological reference (Nolan, 1994).

However, this patriotic thrill is separated by the pure lyrics as in the case with these words: “My love, suddenly your hip// is the curve of the wineglass// filled to the brim, // your breast is the cluster//your hair the light of alcohol//your nipples, the grapes //your navel pure seal//stamped on your belly of a barrel//and your love the cascade of unquenchable wine//the brightness that falls on my senses//the earthen splendor of life (Neruda, 2000, 25).

Neruda’s universal socialist patriotism extends to the poetic defense of the Soviet Union as a positive experience in the history of humankind. He associates it with ‘factories and songs’, ‘the wonder of harnessed energy’, and ‘worker’s paradise (261). Such symbols of war against fascism as Stalingrad are extensively used by Neruda. He constructs a positive image of the Soviet Union and uses it as a patriotic symbol for the people of Latin America.

For these people it does not matter that the Soviet Union is taken as the example since their struggle goes in line with the struggles of Soviet people: “The Soviet Union, if we joined//all the blood spilled in your struggle// all that you gave like a mother to the world// that moribund freedom might live//we’d have a new ocean, //greater than any//deeper than any//alive as all the rivers//active as the Araucanian volcanoes’ fire. (Neruda, 2000, 263).

This layer of Neruda’s realization of patriotic ideas in his poetry concerns current political events and social struggles and hence has much emotional potential and ideological appeals if compared to his ‘general patriotism’. These patterns of his poetry, hence are the most popular and interesting in terms of depicting the symbols and ideology of patriotism (Heptonstall, 244).

To sum it up, the analysis of the main historical patterns of patriotism was made, which revealed that throughout history there existed some distinct approaches to the conceptualization of patriotism (Viroli, 1997). Furthermore, the representation of patriotism in Neruda’s poetry was analyzed drawing on the examples from Captain Verses and some other works. We found out, that the representation of patriotism in Neruda differs by poetic forms and artistic goals which Neruda pursues.


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 2006.

Heptonstall, Geoffrey. “A Sober Life of Pablo Neruda.” Contemporary Review 2005: 243-256.

Magnet, Odette. “Neruda: For the Love of Women.” Americas (English Edition) 2004: 64.

Mascia, Mark J. “Pablo Neruda and the Construction of Past and Future Utopias in the Canto General.” Utopian Studies 12.2 (2001): 65-89.

Neruda, Pablo The Captain’s Verses. Translated by Donald D. Walsh. New Directions Publishing Corporation; Bilingual edition, 2004.

Neruda, Pablo. Canto general. Trans. Jack Schmitt. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000.

Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. 1st ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.

Urrutia, Matilde My Life with Pablo Neruda. Stanford General Books, 2004.

Viroli, Maurizio. For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism. Oxford, England: Clarendon, 1997.

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