Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1361 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Heights of Macchu Picchu Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Neruda wrote The Heights of Macchu Picchu following his visit to the spectacular Incan ruins high in the Peruvian Andes in 1943. The experience affected him deeply and caused him to alter his plans from a projected long poem on Chile to an epic concerning all of Latin America. The ruins testify to the sophistication of pre-Columbian culture. Symbolically in the poem, the ruins represent the junction of the human and the natural, of time and eternity, and of life and death.
In the twelve cantos the first-person speaker undertakes a quest that leads to a conversion of sorts. In the first two cantos he reviews his past life, which he depicts as aimless: “From air to air, like an empty net,/ I went on through streets and thin air.” He sees himself in a descent, wrapped up in the trivial passions of urban life. The soul is pictured sitting “among clothes and smoke, on the broken table,” where “man kills and tortures it with paper and hate,/ stuffs it each day under rugs.”
In cantos 3-5, Neruda surveys the dismal life of contemporary man: “each day a petty death, dust, worm, a lamp/ snuffed out in suburban mud.” The speaker, however, feels drawn by “the mightiest death,” and he sees himself taken “to the iron edge . . . / to the stellar emptiness of the final steps/ and dizzying spiral highway.” This foreshadowing of his eventual ascent of Macchu Picchu is a desire that is frustrated as he roams around “dying of my...
(The entire section is 700 words.)