Pablo Neruda: Let the Railsplitter Awake

2015 is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and, of course, therefore the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  As this is poetry month, I think there is no better way to look at Lincoln, to understand his legacy, than through the lens of the great Pablo Neruda

Neruda 2This is from Canto IX of Pablo Neruda’s Canto General, entitled “Let the Railsplitter Awake.”  Written at the start of the Cold War (1948), Neruda describes, celebrates the varying faces of the working class (“We love your man with his red hands/ of Oregon clay, your black child/ who brought you music born/ in the ivory lands:. . .”), shows how much he would hope for a unity of the peoples of the world against the aggression you can already see in the U.S.  And then he warns about what might happen if the U.S. fulfills its warlike ambitions, concluding with a section that begins “Let none of this come to pass.”

The section up to and including “Let none of this come to pass”  is from the Jack Schmitt translation of Canto General. The remainder is from the translation by Mexican dancer and poet Waldeen, a close friend of Neruda, which seems to me much more lyrical than the Schmitt translation.  To learn more about her click this link, which also discusses the relationship between her and the poet.

But if you arm your hordes, North America,

translators include Jack Hirschman, Stephen Kessler, Robert Haas

translators include Jack Hirschman, Stephen Kessler, Robert Haas

to destroy that pure frontier
and bring the butcher from Chicago
to govern the music and the order
that we love,
we’ll rise from the stones and the air
to bite you:
we’ll rise from the last window
to pour fire on you:
we’ll rise from the deepest waves
to sting you with spines:
we’ll rise from the furrow so that the seed
will pound you like a Colombian fist,

we’ll rise to deny you bread and water,
we’ll rise to burn you in hell.

**************************

Let none of this come to pass.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Let Abe come, let his aged yeast raise

Waldeen Dancing

Waldeen Dancing

the green and gold earth of Illinois,
let him lift up his axe in his own town
against the new slaveholders
against the slave-lash
against the poisoned printing-press
against the bloodied merchandise
they want to sell.
Let them march singing and smiling,
the young white, the young Negro,
against the walls of gold
against the manufacturer of their blood,
let them sing, laugh and conquer.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Peace for the twilights to come,
peace for the bridge, peace for the wine,
peace for the stanzas which pursue me
and in my blood uprise entangling
my earlier songs with earth and loves,
peace for the city in the morning
when bread wakes up, peace for the Mississippi,
source of rivers,
peace for my brother’s shirt,
peace for books like a seal of air,
peace for the great kolkhoz of Kiev,
peace for the ashes of those dead
and of these other dead, peace for the grimy
iron of Brooklyn, peace for the letter-carrier
who from house to house goes like the day,
peace for the choreographer who shouts
through a funnel to the honeysuckle vine,
peace for my own right hand
that wants to write only Rosario,
peace for the Bolivian, secretive
as a lump of tin, peace
so that you may marry, peace for all
the saw-mills of Bio-Bio,
peace for the torn heart of guerilla Spain,
peace for the little museum in Wyoming
where the most lovely thing
is a pillow embroidered with a heart,
peace for the baker and his loaves,
and peace for the flour, peace
for all the wheat to be born,
for all the love which will seek its tasselled shelter,
peace for all those alive: peace
for all lands and all waters.

Here I say farewell, I return
to my house, in my dreams
I return to Patagonia where
the wind rattles the barns
and the ocean spatters ice.
I am nothing more than a poet: I love all of you,
I wander about the world I love;
in my country they gaol miners
and soldiers give orders to judges.
But I love even the roots
in my small cold country,
if I had to die a thousand times over
it is there I would die,
if I had to be born a thousand times over
it is there I would be born
near the tall wild pines
the tempestuous south wind
the newly purchased bells.
Let none think of me.
Let us think of the entire earth
and pound the table with love.
I don’t want blood again
to saturate bread, beans, music: Neruda 3
I wish they would come with me:
the miner, the little girl,
the lawyer, the seaman,
the doll-maker,
to go into a movie and come out
to drink the reddest wine.
I did not come to solve anything.
I came here to sing
and for you to sing with me.

From somewhere in the Americas, May 1948

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