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:

The Rivers Emerge

Adored by the rivers, assailed
by blue water and transparent drops,
your spectrum of a dark goddess is
like a tree of veins which bites apples:
so then, at your awakening, naked
you were tattooed by the rivers,
and in the wet heights your forehead
filled the world with fresh dew.
The water trembled at your waist.
You were shaped by springs
and lakes shined on your face.
With your maternal vegetation you gathered
the water like vital tears,
you pulled the river beds to the sand
throughout the planetary night,
traversing rough dilated stones,
through the path smashing
all of geology’s salt,
cutting the compact walls of forests,
dislodging quartz’s muscles.

(translation (c) Mark Eisner)

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.      

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