Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
Oda Salvaje
By José Santos Chocano
From “Peruvian Poems”

Translated by John Pierrepont Rice

FOREST of my fathers, deity
To whom the Incas and the Aztecs bowed,
I stand and greet you from the trembling sea,
That like some white-haired slave before a queen,
With all its shining foam, fawns at your feet.        5
I greet you from the sea above whose combers
Your heavy perfumes break upon the wind.
Behind them tower your mutilated trunks
And beckon me to the Americas.
I greet you from the sea that woos you still        10
Like some wild chieftan with dishevelled locks
Knowing that deep in your inviolate heart
Is born the hollow ship that scars its face
And mocks its depths with straining keel and sail.
O forest of my fathers, deity        15
To whom the Incas and the Aztecs bowed,
I stand and greet you from the shining sea.
I turn to you and feel my soul set free.
Behind me lies the stress of modern ways:
I have become, for very sight of you,        20
Like one of your wise tribal patriarchs,
Who slept of old upon your tender grass,
And drank the milk of goats, and ate their bread
Sweetened with honey of the forest bee.
I look on you and I am comforted,        25
For the thick ranks of all your tufted trees
Recall to me how centuries ago,
With twice ten thousand archers at my heels,
I led the way whither the mountains smoke
And lift their craters from the shores of lakes;        30
And how at length I wandered to the realm
Of the great Inca Yupanqui, and went,
Following him upon the mountain-tops,
Down to Arauco and its peaceful slopes,
And rested in a tent of condors’ wings.        35
I look on you and I am comforted,
Because the centuries have marked me out
To be your poet, and to raise the hymns
Of joy and grief that in heroic dawns
The Cuzco smote upon his lyre of stone:        40
Legends of Aztec emperors, and songs
Of bold Palenkes and Tahuantisuyos,
Vanished like Babylon from off this earth.
Here in your presence, with your savage spell
Leaping in all my veins, the centuries        45
Lift like a vision from the abyss of time
And pass before me in unfading youth.
So I evoke the ages still unformed
That saw your first tree burst its bonds of stone,
And all the others headlong on its track,        50
With the ordained disorder of the stars.
So I evoke the endless chain of time,
Of creeping growth and slow monotony,
That passed before your roots were fired with sap,
And all your trunks took form beneath their bark;        55
And all the knots of every branch were loosed,
To join the hymn of your primeval Spring.
And now your flowering branches are a cage
For singing birds—fantastic orchestra—
Above whose din the fickle mocking-bird        60
Pours its strange song; and only one is mute—
The solemn quetzal, that in silence flaunts
His rainbow plumage with heraldic pomp
Above the tombs of a departed race.
Your countless blue and rosy butterflies        65
Flutter and fan themselves coquettishly;
Your buzzing insects glitter in the sun,
Glimmer and glow like gems and talismans
Encrusted in the hilts of ancient swords.
Your crickets scold, and when the day is spent        70
And fire-flies light your depths where beasts of prey
Stalk in the gloom, as through a nightmare gleam
The sulphurous pupils of satanic eyes.
Yours is the tapir, that in mountain pools
Mirrors the shape of his deformity,        75
And rends the jungle with his monstrous head;
Yours the lithe jaguar, nimble acrobat,
That from the branches darts upon his prey;
And yours the tiger-cat, sly strategist,
With gums of plush and alabaster fang.        80
The crocodile is yours, that venerable
Amphibious guardian of crops and streams,
Whose emerald eyes peer from the oozy caves;
And yours the boa, that seems a mighty arm
Hewn from the shadow by a giant axe.        85
But like a sponge, into your labyrinth
Of tropic growth you suck each living thing—
The strength of muscles and the blood of veins—
There to beget in your exuberance
The warlike plumes of your imperial palms,        90
Whose milky fruits refreshed in by-gone day
The tribes grown weary with long pilgrimage.
And there the patriarchal ceiba tree
Offered its canopy to pondering chiefs
Counselling war or peace beneath its boughs.        95
And there is Pindar’s oak, and there the tree
Of Lebanon, and the mahogany,
Whose fragrant wood in European courts
The cunning craftsman polishes and shapes
To thrones of kings and marriage-beds of queens.        100
Forest of my fathers, deity,
To whom the Incas and the Aztecs bowed,
I greet you from the sea, and breathe this prayer:
That with the night—the close approaching night—
You may entomb me in your sacred dusk        105
Like some dim spectre of forgotten cults;
And that—to fire my eyes with savage light
And wild reflection of your revelry—
Burning upon the tip of every tree
That points into the night, you set a star!        110

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