The Heights of Macchu Picchu

by Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In "The Heights of Macchu Picchu," Pablo Neruda explores the difference between nature and humanity in twelve different poems that are written around a poet's journey to Macchu Picchu, Peru. As the poet explores the remains of the city, he finds a kind of immortality in the ruins and a connection to the indigenous people who lived there.

At the beginning of the poem, the poet is disconnected and seems despondent. He talks about gathering experience with a net and gaining nothing from it. He seems to want to die at various points, too. As he moves through Peru and Macchu Picchu, however, he becomes more connected with the indigenous people and more interested in what's around him and not just in living but in being reborn. That connection makes him and the world around him more vital.

Nature is something the poet sees as immortal. He admires it, whereas he reviles the way people live in cities and die slowly each day. The poet finds beauty and permanence in nature. This is something he sees in the remaining structures of Macchu Picchu. Long after the people who built them are gone, the stone structures remain standing. It's a testament to the permanence of nature and the temporary nature of humanity.

By the end of the poem, the poet is encouraging and asking the spirits of the laborers and people who lived in Macchu Picchu to be reborn through him. His words and his life can act as the conduit through which they live eternally—much in the same way the stones that make up the foundation of Macchu Picchu continue to be in the world long after everyone is gone.

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