Canto General (General Song) is Pablo Neruda's tenth book of poems. It was first published in Mexico in 1950, by Talleres Gráficos de la Nación. Neruda began to compose it in 1938. It consists of 15 sections, 231 poems, and more than 15,000 lines. This work attempts to be a history or encyclopedia of the whole continent of Hispanic America.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes translated by Jack Schmitt
Canto I: A Lamp on Earth
- No one could
remember them afterward: the wind
forgot them, the language of water
was buried, the keys were lost
or flooded with silence or blood.
Life was not lost, pastoral brothers.
But like a wild rose
a red rop fell into the dense growth,
and a lamp of earth was extinguished.
- Amor America (1400), st. 3-4
- To the lands without name
the wind blew down from other domains,
the rain brought celestial threads,
and the god of the impregnated altars
restored flowers and lives.
- Vegetation, st. 1
- It was the twilight of the iguana.
- Some Beasts, st. 1
Canto II: Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu (The Heights of Macchu Picchu)
- I put my brow amid the deep waves,
descended like a drop amid the sulphurous peace,
and, like a blind man, returned to the jasmine
of spent human springtime.
- I, st. 4
- How many times in the wintry streetsof a city or in
a bus or a boat at dusk, or in the deepest
loneliness, a night or revelry beneath the sound
of shadows and bells, in the very grotto of human pleasure
I've tried to stop and seek the eternal unfathomable lode
that I touched before on stone or in the lightning unleashed by a kiss.
- II, st. 3
- Mighty death invited me many times:
it was like the invisible salt in the waves,
and what its invisible taste disseminated
was like halves of sinking and rising
or vast structures of wind and glacier.
- IV, st. 1
- I want to know, salt of the roads,
show me the spoon - architecture, let me
scratch at the stamens of stone with a little stick,
ascend the rungs of the air up to the void,
scrape the innards until I touch mankind.
- X, st. 2
- Through the hazy splendor,
through the stone night, let me plunge my hand,
and let the aged heart of the forsaken beat in me
like a bird captive for a thousand years!
- XI, st. 1
- Rise up to be born with me, my brother.
- XII, st. 1
- Give me silence, water, hope.
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.
Cling to my body like magnets.
Hasten to my veins and to my mouth.
Speak through my words and my blood.
- XII, st. 3
Canto III: The Conquistadors
- In Cholula the youths wear
their finest cloth, gold, and plumes.
Aorned for the festival,
they question the invader.
Death has answered them.
- Cholula, st. 1
- Everything abounded with death
and over the bottomless agony
of their ill-starred children,
in the territory (gnawed
to the bone by rats),
they clutched their entrails
before killing and being killed.
- The Wars, st. 2
- Sphere that slowly destroys the night, water, ice,
extension assailed by weather and time,
with their violent mark, with the blue end
of the wild rainbow,
my country's feet sink in your shadow
and the crushed rose shrieks its dying breath.
- Only Destruction Prevails
Canto IV: The Liberators
- Here comes the tree, thr tree
of the storm, the tree of the people.
Its heroes rise up from the earth
as leaves from the sap,
and the wind spangles the whispering
until the seed falls
again from the bread to the earth.
- The Liberators, st. 1
- Aprendió el alfabeto del relámpago.
- He learned the alphabet of the lightning
- Educación del Cacique (Education of a Chieftain), st. 3, trans. Anthony Kerrigan in Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda [Houghton Mifflin, 1990, ISBN 0-395-54418-1] (p. 215)
- Our land - wide land, wilderness -
was filled with murmurs, arms, mouths.
A mute syllable kept burning,
congregating the clandestine rose,
until the meadows shook,
trampled by metals and gallops.
Truth was as hard as a ploughshare.
It broke the earth, established desire,
sank in its germinal propaganda,
and was born in the secret springtime.
- Insurgent America (1800)
- Hunger and pain were the silica
of your ancestral sands
and a muted tumult, entwined
to your peoples' roots,
gave the world's freedom
an eternity of lightning,
of dongs and warriors.
- Mina (1817), st. 6, regarding Martín Javier Mina y Larrea
- In our struggle, in our land
his crystal was bled,
fighting for freedom<br indivisible and banished.
In Mexico they impounded the water
of the Spanish headsprings.
And his abundant transparency
remained motionless and mute.
- Mina (1817), st. 10-11
- You were the first to say Freedom,
when the whisper passed from stone to stone,
hidden in the patios, humiliated.
You were the first to say Freedom.
You freed the slave's child.
The merchantsmoved like shadows
selling blood from foreign seas.
You freed the slave's child.
- José Miguel Carrera (1810), st. 1-2