Reading of a fragment of “Heights of Machu Picchu”

Good afternoon, here I am with the first edition of Song of the Americas, edited by Edición América. It is not the first, but the first edition at least in Chile. And I want to read you a fragment of “Heights of Machu Picchu” written by our great Pablo Neruda and comment on, at least, some of the most important things that in my view are in the text.

The first thing I would like to say before reading it is about the position of the speaker. The speaker or the poet expresses himself in a way of saying things so that he resembles the voice of America. In some way, it is the wonder of being the prophet poet, the Promethean poet, that somehow it tells us that he foresees the future of our America.
Obviously, I am not going to read this text in full, but it links, let us put it this way, the concept of being, and as it says in a verse: the great poet or the great speaker or the great voice that comes to speak through your dead mouth.

Obviously, these verses that were musicalized by “Los Jaivas”, are verses that, in the tone of a song or Venezuelan rhythm, immediately come to our ears:

Arise with me, American love.
Arise to birth with me, my brother.
Give me your hand out of the depths
sown by your sorrows.
You will not return from these stone fastnesses.
You will not emerge from subterranean time.

But I would like to stop at another text that, perhaps, people do not remember as so crucial within this same poem. I am referring to part IX, the fragment IX of this wonderful text, which I insist, comes to take the entire American origin and link it with our own current destiny. I am referring to this text, which I want to highlight and underline, that uses the adjective and the noun in an extraordinary way.

Listen to a wonderful fragment of the “Heights of Machu Picchu”:

Sidereal eagle, vineyard of mist.
Bulwark lost, blind scimitar.
Starred belt, sacred bread.
Torrential ladder, giant eyelid.
Triangled tunic, pollen of stone.
Granite lamp, bread of stone,
Mineral serpent, rose of stone.
Buried ship, wellspring of stone.
Lunar horse, light of stone.
Equinox square, vapor of stone.
Final geometry, book of stone.
Iceberg carved by the squalls.
Coral of sunken time.
Rampart smoothed by fingers.
Rood struck by feathers.
Branching of mirrors, ground of tempests.
Thrones overturned by twining weeds.
Rule of ravenous claw.
Gale sustained on the slope.
Immobile turquoise cataract.
Sleepers’ patriarchal bell.
Collar of subjected snows,
Iron lying on its statues.
Inaccessible storm sealed off.
Puma hands, bloodthirsty rock.
Shading tower, dispute of snow.
Night raised in fingers and roots.
Window in the mist, hardened dove.
Nocturnal plant, statue of thunder.
Root of the cordillera, roof of the sea.
Architecture of lost eagles.
Cord of the sky, bee of the heights.
Bloodstained level, constructed star.
Mineral bubble, moon of quartz.
Andean serpent, brow of amaranth.
Dome of silence, purebred homeland.
Bride of the sea, cathedral tree.
Salt branch, blackwinged cherry tree.
Snowswept teeth, cold thunder.
Scraped moon, menacing stone.
Crest of the cold, pull of the air.
Volcano of hands, dark cataract.
Silver wave, direction of time.

(This poem was translated by John Felstiner in Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu, John Felstiner, Stanford University Press, 1980).

I believe that this small fragment, fragment IX of the Canto General is, without a doubt, one of the finest proofs that a poet can provide of greatness.

I believe, as Pablo Neruda – who was “the enemy” of Vicente Huidobro – said the adjective kills when it does not give life. And here, precisely, is where the adjective gives the greatest life and builds, through the word, a universe that may be lost, but that returns to us in one way or another.

Third Residence Reading (1947)

How are you? Perhaps this is one of Pablo Neruda’s texts that most stirs the conscience of all of us, as it is a text that implies the change from the surrealist writing to the socialist realism writing style. It happens without falling excessively to the communist or the partisan side.

In this book, Neruda draws our attention to the tragedy of a war, the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War. A war that, without a doubt, has a profound significance for me, given that I am the son of one of the exiles who arrived on the ship Winnipeg. This was possible thanks to Pablo Neruda, the Government of Pedro Aguirre Cerda and the government of the Spanish Republic in exile.

And this poem, which many of you probably know, shows why his poetry changes, why he no longer writes in surrealist or in the avant-garde style. He moves forward, explores the condition of the people, the condition of suffering the wounds of the pain of others. The poem is part of “Third Residence”. Here I have the first edition “Editorial Losada” from 1947 and the fragment that I am going to read from this book, which is Spain in the Heart, the great poem that he writes about the Civil War, is the fragment “I explain some things”.

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?’

I’ll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks and trees.

From there you could look out
Over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raúl?
Eh, Rafael?
Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
where the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?

Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Argüelles with its statue
Like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down to the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings –
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
Bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
Bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:

from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!

(This poem was translated by Nathaniel Tarn. From: Pablo Neruda Selected Poems: A Bilingual Edition, Houghton Mifflin / Seymour Lawrence, Boston, 1970)

This extraordinary poem by Neruda evokes the terrible tragedy that can touch us at any moment: Syria, Lebanon, Libya. Any place in the world can be the terrible place where we lose our children, where we lose the blood of our fellow men, where our home is destroyed. That is why the poet changes his style, changes his form, changes his saying to also enter once more into the absolute convulsion of deepest humanity. The terrible tragedy and the wonderful joy of being human.

Doctor of Literature. Professor, University of Chile. Poet.