CAUPOLICAN: Es algo formidable que vio la vieja raza: robusto tronco de arbol al hombro de un campeon salvaje y aguerrido, cuya fornida maza
blandiera el brazo de Hercules, o el brazo de Sanson.
Por casco sus cabellos, su pecho por coraza
pudiera tal guerrero, de Arauco en la region,
lancero de los bosques, Nemrod que todo caza,
desjarretar un toro, o estrangular un leon.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. Le vio la luz del dia,
le vio la tarde palida, le vio la noche fria,
y siempre el tronco de arbol a cuestas del titan.
<<El Toqui, el Toqui!>> clama la conmovida casta.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. La Aurora dijo: <<Basta>>
e iruiose la alta frente del gran Capulican
Ruben Dario, Nicaraguan poet, written in 1888. This is from his American Sonnets, first appeared alongside poems “Chinampa” and “Song of the Inca” in a Santiago newspaper.
The poem refers to Indian heroes, myths and legends such as Arauco, the Chilean Indian warrior chieftain and resistance leader against Spanish imperialism; the mythical hero Caupolican with his strength, alongside Hellenist and Biblical references to Samson, Hercules and King Nimrod, and a mass of people chanting bird-like “El Toqui,” our Toqui, meaning a king or chieftain acclaimed by an Indian nation of this provinicial region of Nicaragua where Ruben Dario, purportedly himself part Indian of mixture, was born and raised, beginning his career of writing poetry in the provinces until he was able to by way of success live, write and publish in the Latin American metropolises of Buenos Aires and Santiago as well Paris where he somehow reconciled being a Latin American patriot with being a Francophile and Germanophile intellectual as he contributed political columns to Santiago newspapers opposing “Yankee” USA imperialism.
Ruben Dario wrote many political collumns next to his poetry. What is most remarkable and yet unsurprising is that his poems are politically much more radical. The political vision of his poetry are those of a philosopher of the kind Nietzsche would have praised in his Twilight of the Idols, a genuine anarchist, a utopian.
His political collumns are almost dissapointingly conservative documents in their patriotism, their praise of an imagined solidarity between Iberian culture alongside Indian as if to ignore the inherent oppression and genocide, the unfreedom and repressive morality brought by the Iberian presence to the Americas of Indians.
His poetry’s politics are Pythagorean, Pre-Socratic, ancient, full of dynamism and passion of the revolutionary romantic age in Europe and the Americas; while his newspaper articles’ political theory is that of a well-meaning patriotic liberalism of the South, Platonic.
In Caupolican, despite the equally abundant references to Biblical and Hellenic heroes, I would argue the Indian mythology is the most important because it is the entire framework of the poem: it tells of the legendary warrior Caupolican.
What follows is my translation. As I know only enough of translation to know it is interpretation, taking liberties with adding new language to emphasize what is otherwise untranslateable in the concepts and the frame of referential symbol systems that is omitted in a poem of a certain language, I have added a line here and there to make the overall context of the poem as a tall tale of an Indian warrior, an equivalent to Samson, Hercules, or the Persian Rostan (I recently shaw a show by the Iranian-Dutch performing artist Sahand Sahebdivani about the stories of the strong-armed Rostam from the Persian Book of Kings) evident to the reader who is unable to read Spanish. Sadly I do not believe I can with such this simple translation capture the aura of legend and the heroic passion of Dario’s Spanish CAUPOLICAN:
who the old race saw take a blow to his shoulder
with a treetrunk they struck him in a wrestling match
Rugged and wild hero
whose beast-like anatomy dwarfs the arm of a Hercules, of a Samson.
His hairs a helm, his naked breast a metal pantzer-vest,
such a warrior who you could call the Aurauco of this region,
jouster of the jungles, our King Nimrod
who hunts all beasts, and women,
he can pin down a bull, strangle lion.
He sauntered, he sauntered, and he sauntered.
The daylight crowned his face,
pale afternoon was fortunate enough
to catch a glimpse of his passage in ruffled shadows,
Cold Night, sailing, could not help but notice
her own passage over his forehead,
and always the bark of the birchwood tree
wears sad impression of the Titan’s back-blade.
“The Toqui, the Toqui, Toqui!
Our Chieftain, Lord!” shouted the confounded caste.
He marched and he marched, he marched.
Then didst the Aurora of the Southern sky
moved its lips of wind, speaking to him thusly:
“Enough hast thou wandered!” and lifted up high
Countenance of that great Indian Lord, washed him,
with mercy set straight his tortured back.”
Hercules and Samson, King Nimrod: these non-Indians from the Mediterranean are all mentioned
yet pushed outwards to the frame of Dario’s poem written originally in Spanish, the Latin-Arab-hybrid language of the colonizing group over the America’s which extirpated and massacred much of the Indian civilization.
One would think reading this that Dario is concerned mostly with the cause of the Indians, sadly that was not the case. As a politician Dario was a Latin patriot, Latin in the sense of championing an early ideological myth, the vision of a subcontinent that despite its ambivalences was most characerterized by a fictitious unity: a courageous mixture of the Spanish, the Indian and other ethnic elements which all came harmoniously and lovingly together as a baroque tapestry.
Perhaps this new baroque tapestry, we can hope, was Dario’s vision for the future of Latin America and not his account of the social and ethno-economic reality of his day, but we would probably be hoping this in vain of Dario, whose early poems in Azul from his youthful days in the Nicaraguan provinces lovingly mention countless “torres de Ivor” towers of Ivory, and “castillos celestes” celestial, skyflung castles.
Ruben Dario despite being an epic poet of Latin American opposition to US imperialism, was not free from what seems the social malady affecting most mestizos: a conformity and exagerrated gratitude towards the European element in his society, too often willingly overlooking the continued resonance of the murder of Indian man. He stood apart in his century as a great artist and radical thinker. But he was also, tragically like many mestizos then and in the century after his, distinctly more conformist to the new social order, much more so than the more lawless truly Indian who did not mix as much either in terms of child-rearing with whites or in attempts at assimiliation into the class society provided by the old colonial Europeanist order in which mestizos systematically lived more and more sedentarized existences. In official religion the mestizo identified as Christian despite the persistance of an Indian-agrarian folklore, loyalty to an Iberian or German jesuit priest come as a missionary, and political humility before the subcontinental elites.
His innocence and gratitude were however genuine as is clear in his writing: he was a young genius and poet from the provinces, we can understand to an extent his gratitude, that his talent was recognized and that he was lucky enough to be brought to spend years in Paris in that day, where he learned French and read and encountered the prose of Victor Hugo who would become one of his heroes along with the German Goethe.
TO BE CONTINUED SOON, KEEP CHECKING El BLOGO.