“The Hunter in the Forest” is the opening poem of the fourth section of Isla Negra: A Notebook, Neruda’s deeply introspective autobiography in verse. The section title, “Hunter of Roots,” indicates the necessity for humankind to seek its proper connection with the earth. Only in the natural process of decay and regeneration, Neruda argues, can the fear of death and meaningless disintegration be overcome.
The welcome solitude (as opposed to the earlier sense of alienation) is implicit in the later poems, as the speaker goes into the beloved forests (Neruda grew up in Chile’s woodlands) in order to communicate with the earth, which he finds to be “mute.” The mature poet recognizes that the earth will be silent until he begins to be “dead and living matter.” The earth itself is a vast and secret language that gives birth but that also thrives on death: “Whatever dies, it gathers in/ like an ancient, hungry creature.”
Even the sun “rots/ and the broken gold/ it sheds/ falls into the sack of the jungle” where it is transformed into flour. Although the poet enters the forest “with my roots,” he goes “to look for my roots” in a deeper sense. Parting from the social and political vision of the Canto General, Neruda is alone in this quest for the root that nourishes his blood. In the deep silence that root “creeps on, devouring,” and it drinks water, passing up through the tree the “secret command” of life. The poem ends with the sort of surreal or “deep” image common to the best of Neruda’s writing: “Dark is the work/ that makes the stars green.” The process that makes life, that resurrects and regenerates, is mysterious (dark), but the fact that the stars themselves are green, the color associated with life on earth, suggests that life itself is of the highest value.