Sunday, June 30, 2013

For the Futaleufú: Neruda's "The Rivers Emerge, Los Ríos Acuden"

The Futaleufú river, at the top of Chile's Patagonia, is one of the most captivating in the world. The valley it runs through is stunning and majestic, a special, sacred place, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, dense forests, glaciated lakes and other roaring rivers. However, as is so often the case in pristine areas such as this, the watershed faces many threats, from hydroelectric interests wanting to dam the wild rivers to the potential construction of contaminating mines, as well as unsustainable development and the entrance of invasive species. 

Fortunately, many locals and concerned individuals and groups from Chile and around the world are working to defend it. The Fundación Futaleufú Riverkeeper is a Chilean foundation leading the fight to protect the watershed and its communities. For their inaugural digital newsletter, they asked me to translate parts of Pablo Neruda's poem, "The Rivers Emerge". It is from Canto General, his epic reinterpretation of the history of the Americas. As a construction worker told me once in Chile, as I was interviewing him for our Neruda documentary,  "The importance of Canto General is that it shows us the history of the Americas from a different point of view, from the point of view of the people themselves, not the history told by the conquerors. Yes, we could call it the “history told by the conquered.” (For more on the documentary featuring that worker please see He, the poem, and much more on Canto General and all that is discussed here in Mark Eisner's new biography, Neruda: The Poet's Calling

The poem "The Rivers Emerge" comes at the beginning of the book, part of Neruda's pre-Colombian Genesis tale, where all is pure and man himself is the earth. Following his mythological vision of the creation of North and South America, this poem tells how the rivers emerged onto the surface of the earth, how intrinsically they and the land are bound together....

Coming of the Rivers

Beloved of rivers, assailed by

blue water and transparent drops,

apparition like a tree of veins,

a dark goddess biting into apples:

then, when you awoke naked,

you were tattooed by rivers,

and on the wet summits your head

filled the world with new-found dew.

Water trembled about your waist.

You were fashioned out of streams

and lakes shimmered on your forehead.

From your dense mists, Mother, you

gathered water as if it were vital tears,

and dragged sources to the sands

across the planetary night,

traversing sharp massive rocks,

crushing in your pathway

all the salt of geology,

felling compact walls of forest,

splitting the muscles of quartz.

Los ríos acuden

Amada de los ríos, combatida

por agua azul y gotas transparentes,

como un árbol de venas es tu espectro

de diosa oscura que muerde manzanas:

al despertar desnuda entonces,

eras tatuada por los ríos,

y en la altura mojada tu cabeza

llenaba el mundo con nuevos rocíos.

Te trepidaba el agua en la cintura

y te brillaban lagos en la frente.

De tu espesura madre recogías

el agua como láfrimas vitales,

y arrastrabas los cuaces a la arena

a través de la noche planetaria,

cruzando ásperas piedras dilitadas,

rompiendo en el camino

todo la sal de la geología,

cortando bosques de compactos muros,

apartando los músculos del cuarzo.      

Translation from the Spanish by Waldeen, as published in Asymptoe Journal's blog

**New decade Jan 5, 2020 edit/update: the original 2013 post featured a translation I rendered somewhat on the fly to get it out for Futaleufú Riverkeepers and others after Leonardo DiCaprio's social media post about the 2016 victories in  Patagonia's wild rivers. I believe I conveyed the meaning well enough, but I did it in haste. Recently, though, I read Jonathan Cohen's excellent piece on the writer and dancer Waldeen von Falkenstein, one of Neruda's first important English language translators. Published in Asymptote, not only does he feature her translation of the poem above, but points out the flaws in my rushed rendition.

Jonathan is a poet-translator and scholar I respect greatly. I also cherish his New Directions collection of William Carlos Williams' translations of Spanish and Latin American verse.

Unfortunately, the translation of mine that he read was hastily written and posted on the blog we had (maybe will still have going at) and in this graphic by Futaleufú Riverkeeper as we were trying to quickly build on Leonardo DiCaprio's shout out about the 2016 victories defending Patagonia's wild rivers. I believe I conveyed the meaning well enough, but by not having the time, and failing more so to go back later to correct it--forgetting how what's posted on the web can stay forever. 
He was correct, and so I have replaced it, with the link to his article in Asymptote Journal with her translation that he has recovered. 
He is correct in writing that, "Unlike Waldeen’s translation, the other translations, though close to the literal meaning of Neruda, are less than faithful to his work’s poetic quality, becoming prosaic." So I've replaced it, and hope you'll follow this link to Asymptote's exclusive first-ever publication of Waldeen's translation, recovered by Mr. Cohen, along with his rich essay about Waldeen's life and translation work, here.

(In my Neruda: The Biography of a Poet, I actually used Waldeen's translation of Neruda's seminal “Let the Rail-Splitter Awake” as it first appeared in English, in an awesome 1950 Masses & Mainstream volume)

-and alas, hopefully needing no translation, my gratitude again to people like Mr. Cohen selflessly working to recover and defend the richness of the legacy of the verse we have all inherited, along with those working to recover, preserve the wild living poetic powers of the rivers that Neruda sung about, Futaleufú Riverkeeper, Patagonia Sin Represas, Bernardo Reyes (and the NRDC) Patrick J. Lynch, Rocio Gonzalez, among, of course, so many others, and for that resonating shout-out and everything else he does for the earth, Leonardo DiCaprio.

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