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<i> From</i> . . .Canto General by PABLO NERUDA

“Canto General” (University of California Press: $35), from which this stanza is an excerpt, is Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda’s epic song to Latin America; in it he speaks of the continent’s mythic past, its bloody history and its destiny, and the poet’s place in it. Neruda died in 1973. The translation (the first complete publication of “Canto” in English) is by Jack Schmitt. “Canto General” Fundacion Pablo Neruda; translation 1991 by The Regents of the University of California. Reprinted with permission.

Like dazzling pheasants

the priests ascended

the Aztec steps.

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Triangular stones

sustained the infinite

lightning of their vestments.

And the august pyramid,

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stone upon stone, agony upon air,

within its domineering structure,

tended like an almond

a sacrificed heart.

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In a thundering cry

blood ran down

the sacred stairway.

But thronging multitudes

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wove fiber, nurtured

the promise of the crops,

plaited feathered splendor,

coaxed the turquoise,

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and in textile vines

expressed the world’s light.


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