Pablo Neruda’s political views and activities throughout his life, as a Communist Party supporter and promoter, earned him a number of fairly lengthy periods of exile from his homeland, Chile, which went through many episodes of authoritarian, sometimes military government. But exile was followed by return, and this poem, from the late 1950s, deals with his return to the south of Chile by train, and reveals a deep affection for the landscapes of his homeland, but a sense of loss that the people and the villages he knew well when young are no longer there, because of migration to urban centres, changing patterns of rural life, or perhaps because the experience of belonging that he once had is no longer available to him, as an exile or wanderer.
Cautin is a province in the southern half of Chile.
ESCRITO EN EL TREN CERCA DE CAUTIN, EN 1958
Otra vez, otra mil vez retorno
al Sur y voy viajando
la larga línea dura,
la interminable patria custodiada
por la estatua infinita de la nieve,
hacia el huraño Sur donde hace años
me esperaban las manos y la miel.
nadie en los pueblos de madera. Bajo
la lluvia tan tenaz como la yedra,
no hay ojos para mí, ni aquella boca,,
aquella boca en que nacio mi sangre.
Y a no hay más techo, mesa, copa, muros,
para mí en la que fue mi geografía,
y eso se llama irse, no es un viaje.
Irse es volver cuando sólo la lluvia,
sólo la lluvia espera.
Y ya no hay puerta, ya no hay pan. No hay nadie.
Pablo Neruda – Navegaciones y regresos
The first stanza depicts the poet returning once again to the south by an interminably long rail journey, the harsh and magnificent landscapes unfolding before his eyes , and his eagerness to reconnect with the world of his youth when he was surrounded here by hands and honey – human solidarity and sustenance, for the body and the soul.
The second stanza reveals his disappointment and disillusion when he sees that the villages are empty, and the buildings, people and all that was important to his sense of belonging are no longer there.
The poem finishes with three isolated lines, reinforcing his final solitude. There is only the rain which awaits him, no welcoming door, no bread, nobody. The hands and honey of his memory have become a barren environment.
I think this reflects Neruda’s state of mid just as much as a real experience – he must have often wondered whether it was worth it to have become rootless and drifting, rather than remain anchored to his origins.
But we have many fine poems which came out of this.
The Poetry Dude