Pablo Neruda, or the reconstruction of a city

Chetumal, Mexico. EVTh
Chetumal, Mexico. EVTh 2012

Pablo Neruda, the poet, wrote:

“In the middle of the street, I wonder, Where is the city?

It´s gone, has not come back.

Perhaps this one is the same -it has houses, it has walls, but I can´t find it […]”

The city is there, but it is not there. Contrary to the common place, a city is not made out of its people, but made out of smells, landscapes, dust, sky, water, dawns:

“[…] time then does exist, I realize it. I know it exists, but I cannot understand

how the city which had warm blood, which had sky enough for all,

and whose midmorning smile spread like a basketful of plums,

those houses with a forest smell, wood newly cut at dawn with the saw,

the city that always sang at the water´s edge of sawmills in the mountains,

all that was yours and mine of the city and its clarity,

wrapped itself up in love, secretly, and let itself fall into forgetfulness”

There are new lives, yes, different dwellers, but the city is lost:

“Now where it once was there are other lives, a different way of being, another hardness.

All is well enough, but why does it not exist?

Why is its old aroma now asleep?

Why did all those bells fall still, and why did the wooden tower say goodbye […] ?

The end of the poem is, rather than passive, a  claim, a declaration of action, the possible reconstruction of the utopia :

“[…] I will ask leave of myself to enter, to return to the missing city.

Inside myself I should find the absent ones, that smell from the lumberyard;

perhaps the wheat that rippled on the slopes still goes on growing, but only within me,

and it is in myself I must travel to find

that woman the rain bore off, and there is no other way.

Nothing can last in any other way.

I am the one who must attend those

streets and somehow or other decide where the trees should be planted, all over again.”

Fragments of the poem: “The Wanderer Returned” // “Regresó el caminante”

Author: Pablo Neruda

Translation from Spanish: Alastair Reid

Comments: Ernesto Valero Thomas

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