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“Mother of Stone and Sperm of Condors”

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has, in his The Heights of Macchu Picchu, written with exquisite feeling about those Inca forebears who gave all South Americans a metaphor that unites the disparate strains of their pasts. The following is the sixth poem in the sequence:

Then up the ladder of the earth I climbed
through the barbed jungle’s thickets
until I reached you Macchu Picchu.

Tall city of stepped stone,
home at long last of whatever earth
had never hidden in her sleeping clothes.
In you two lineages had run parallel
met where the cradle both of man and light
rocked in a wind of thorns.

Mother of stone and sperm of condors.

High reef of the human dawn.

Spade buried in primordial sand.

This was the habitation, this is the site:
here the fat grains of maize grew high
to fall again like red hail.

The fleece of the vicuña was carded here
to clothe men’s loves in gold, their tombs and mothers,
the king, the prayers, the warriors.

Up here men’s feet found rest at night
near eagles’ talons in the high
meat-stuffed eyries. And in the dawn
with thunder steps they trod the thinning mists,
touching the earth and stones that they might recognize
that touch come night, come death.

Neruda’s Macchu Picchu

Neruda’s Macchu Picchu

I gaze at clothes and hands,
traces of water in the booming cistern,
a wall burnished by the touch of a face
that witnessed with my eyes the earth’s carpet of tapers,
oiled with my hands the vanished wood:
for everything, apparel, skin, pots, words,
wine, loaves, has disappeared,
fallen to earth.

And the air came in with lemon blossom fingers
to touch those sleeping faces:
a thousand years of air, months, weeks of air,
blue wind and iron cordilleras—
these came with gentle footstep hurricanes
cleansing the lonely precinct of the stone.

For some reason, Neruda always spelled the ruins “Macchu Picchu” rather than “Machu Picchu,” as it is called today. That’s okay. He’s a poet and can call the place whatever he wants. For all intents and purposes, it’s his creation.