Canto General 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.
"Canto General" ("General Song") consists of 15 sections, 231 poems, and more than 15,000 lines. This work attempts to be a history or encyclopedia of the entire American Western Hemisphere, or New World, from a Hispanic American perspective.
The XV Cantos
- First Canto. A Lamp on Earth.
- Second Canto. The Heights of Macchu Picchu
- Third Canto. The Conquistadors
- Fourth Canto. The Liberators
- Fifth Canto. The Sand Betrayed
- Sixth Canto. America, I Do Not Invoke Your Name in Vain
- Seventh Canto. Canto General of Chile
- Eighth Canto. The Earth’s Name is Juan
- Ninth Canto. Let the Woodcutter Awaken
- Tenth Canto. The Fugitive
- Eleventh Canto. The Flower of Punitaqui
- Twelfth Canto. The Rivers of Song
- Thirteenth Canto. New Year’s Chorale for the Country in Darkness
- Fourteenth Canto. The Great Ocean
- Fifteenth Canto. I Am
The Heights of Macchu Picchu
"'The Heights of Macchu Picchu" (Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu) is Canto II of the Canto General. The twelve poems that comprise this section of the epic work have been translated into English regularly since even before its initial publication in Spanish in 1950, beginning with a 1948 translation by Hoffman Reynolds Hays in The Tiger's Eye, a journal of arts and literature published out of New York from 1947–1949, and followed closely by a translation by Waldeen in 1950 in a pamphlet called Let the Rail Splitter Awake and Other Poems for a Marxist publishing house in New York. The first mass-marketed commercial publication of the piece did not come until 1966 with Nathanial Tarn's translation, followed by John Felstiner's translation alongside a book on the translation process, Translating Neruda in 1980. Following that is Jack Schmitt's full translation of Canto General—the first to appear in English—in 1993. In recent years there have been several partial or full new translations: Stephen Kessler in 2001 for a photo/journey book on the ancient ruins (Machu Picchu edited by Barry Brukoff) and Mark Eisner's re-translation of seven of the twelve poems (Cantos I, IV, VI, VIII, X, XI, and XII) for an anthology celebrating the centennial of Neruda's birth in 2004, The Essential Neruda.
- “Heights of Macchu Picchu,” Trans. by H. R. Hays. The Tiger’s Eye, 1.5, (1948). New York : Tiger’s Eye Publishing Co., 1947-1949. (112-122)
- Let the Rail Splitter Awake and Other Poems, 1950. Trans. Waldeen. Note by Samuel Sillen. New York: Masses & Mainstream.
- “Summits of Macchu Picchu,” Trans. by Ángel Flores, in Whit Burnett, ed., 105 Greatest Living Authors Present the World's Best Stories, Humor, Drama, Biography, History, Essays, Poetry New York: Dial Press, 1950. (356-367)
- The Heights of Macchu Picchu, 1966. Trans. Nathanial Tarn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- The Heights of Macchu Picchu, trans. by Hower Zimmon, et al. Iowa City: Seamark Press, 1971.
- “The Heights of Macchu Picchu,” trans. Tom Raworth, in E. Cariacciolo-Tejo, ed., The Penguin Book of Latin American verse Baltimore: Penguin, 1971.
- “Heights of Macchu Picchu,” trans. John Felstiner, in John Felstiner, Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1980.
- The Heights of Macchu Picchu, trans. David Young. Baldon, Or.: Songs Before Zero Press, 1986.
- Machu Picchu, trans. Stephen Kessler. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 2001.
- several poems from "The Heights of Macchu Picchu", trans. Mark Eisner in "The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems". San Francisco : City Lights, 2004.
- The Heights of Macchu Picchu, trans. by Tomás Q. Morín, Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 2015.
The "Canto General" has been set to music by several musicians.
- The best-known musical setting is by Mikis Theodorakis, a composer and politician from Greece. He completed four movements in 1973, recording these the following year. In 1975 and 1981, he expanded the work to seven and thirteen movements, respectively, recording the complete "oratorio" live in Munich in 1981. Vocals, in Spanish, on the incomplete 1974 recording are by Maria Farantouri and Petros Pandis.
- Canto General (Theodorakis) (1970–1981), oratorio by Mikis Theodorakis, recorded various times:
- Canto General (1974 album), studio recording following the 1974 Paris première, incomplete (4 movements)
- Canto General (1975 album), live recording from Piraeus and Athens, complete recording of the then-valid form of the oratorio (7 movements)
- Canto General (1980 album), live recording from East-Berlin (7 movements)
- Canto General (1981 album), live recording from Munich, first recording of the complete oratorio (13 movements)
- Canto General (1985 album), performed by the Hamburger Sängerhaufen (9 movements)
- Canto General (1988 album), live recording from St. Paul, Minnesota (USA), first recording of the complete oratorio in the United States, conducted by Mikis Theodorakis and Stefan Sköld, soloists Mary Preus and Petros Pandis, produced by Patricia Porter and recorded by Ralph Karsten, from the July 27, 1986 performance in the O'Shaughnessy Auditorium of the College of St. Catherine (13 movements)
- Canto General (1989 album), studio recording for a ballet performance, conducted by Loukas Karytinos (13 movements) in Berlin 1989 (Wergo 2CD)
- Orquestra de nuestra Terra and Chor der EÖ under Leopold Griessler 2014 (Gramola 2CD).
Pablo Neruda’s poem The Heights of Macchu Picchu was inspired by his 1943 visit to the ancient Inca city of Macchu Picchu in Peru. Built in the mountains near Cuzco, Macchu Picchu is said to have been a retreat for Inca royalty. As he climbed the pyramids of this magnificent city, Neruda was impressed by the sheer majesty of the spectacular pre-Columbian ruin, which inspired him to write this poem. He later included it in his epic collection of poetry Canto general (1950; partial translation in Let the Rail Splitter Awake, and Other Poems, 1951; full translation as Canto General, 1991). This anthology represents Neruda’s best and most recognized poems and focuses on the geography, flora, and fauna of the Inca people. It vividly describes the struggles of the people of South America against poverty and national and international oppression. Canto General comprises fifteen sections, or cantos, and not only depicts the history of Spanish America but also is a potent commemoration of pre-Columbian culture.
The Heights of Macchu Picchu is the second canto of Canto General, is written in free verse, and consists of twelve poems, or sections, which in their totality represent the protests and cries of the oppressed masses. Neruda, in this epic poem, reverently describes the sacred city of Macchu Picchu, eliciting its spirituality, its splendor, its past, and the fate of its dead and humble constructors. The poet seamlessly connects the past to the present and vows to serve as the voice of the subjugated, thereby acknowledging his role as the spokesperson for those who are unable to represent themselves.
In the first poem, the writer wanders through the ruins of the hallowed and ancient city of Macchu Picchu, searching for the meaning of his existence. He uses the image of an empty net, which gathers nothing, and describes his past experiences as unfocused and devoid of any philosophical meaning. The poet symbolically seeks the depth of the universe in his feverish quest for an iconic sign that will reveal to him some sense of optimism and hope, a “vein of gold.” Not finding this positive signal, the poet searches aloft and below, through the waves of a metaphorical sea, in a sightless exploratory attempt mentally to locate and recoup the human spirit.
In the second poem, Neruda contrasts nature’s permanence with the fleeting and temporary characteristics of mortals. The poet suggests that eternal truths are not found in urban settings but are encountered in nature’s eternalness. Neruda laments that urban dwellers do not enjoy a meaningful existence and instead are reduced to mechanical interactions dictated by their artificial environment. The poet indicates that the philosophical search for truth should be humankind’s principal objective but that this process is a slow and humbling progression.
Neruda continues his exploration and search for truth in the third poem, as he ponders and questions the purpose of humanity’s existence, which he says is transient and impermanent. He condemns those who live in the cities who, in his opinion, experience a minute death every day as they adhere to their nine-to-six routine. He compares the transitory nature of the daily habit of urban inhabitants to a black cup whose contents...
(The entire section is 1361 words.)