Poem: Let the Rail Splitter Awake

Written on the threshold of the Cold War, as hostilities between the US and the USSR emerged, two countries who had once been strong allies in the war against fascism, the preceding section of this poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda spoke of the danger of a third World War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Here, Neruda, a supporter of the Soviet Union, speaks of the resurrection of an American president from Illinois who identified with American workers and farmers and who had led the struggle against slavery capitalism. For Neruda the parallels to his modern times were striking. Still, today.

From Let the Railsplitter Awake by Pablo Neruda, 1948


Let none of this happen. Let the Rail Splitter awake. Let Abe come with axe and his wooden plate to eat with the farmers. Let his head like tree-bark, his eye like those in wooden planks and oak-tree boles, turn to look on the world rising above the foliage higher than the sequoias. Let him buy something in a drugstore let him take a bus to Tampa let him bite into a yellow apple and enter a moviehouse to converse with all the simple people.

Let the Rail Splitter awake

Let Abe come, let his aged yeast rise the green and gold earth of Illinois, let him lift up his axe in his own town against the new slaveholders against the slave-lash against the poisoned printing-press against the bloodied merchandise they want to sell. Let them march singing and smiling the young white, the young Negro against the walls of gold against the manufacturer of hate against the merchant of their blood let them sing, laugh and conquer.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Peace for the twilights to come peace for the bridge, peace for the wine, peace for the stanzas which pursue me and in my blood uprise entangling my earlier songs with earth and loves, peace for the city in the morning when bread wakes up, peace for the Mississippi, source of rivers, peace for my brothers' shirt, peace for books like a seal of air, peace for the great kholkoz of Kiev, peace for the ashes for those dead and of these other dead, peace for the grimy iron of Brooklyn, peace for the letter carrier, who from house to house goes like the day, peace for the choreographer who shouts through a funnel to the honeysuckle vine, peace for my own right hand that wants to write only Rosario, peace for the Bolivian, secretive as a lump of tin, peace so that you may marry, peace for all the saw-mills of the Bio-Bio, peace for the torn heart of guerrilla Spain, peace for the little museum in Wyoming where the most lovely thing is a pillow embroidered with a heart, peace for the baker and his loaves, and peace for the flour, peace for all the wheat to be born, for all the love which will seek its tasselled shelter, peace for all those alive: peace for all lands and all waters.

Here I say farewell, I return to my house, in my dreams i return to Patagonia where the wind rattles the barns and the ocean spatters ice. I am nothing more than a poet: I love all of you, I wander about the world I love; in my country they gaol miners and soldiers give orders to judges. Bu tI love even the roots in my small cold country, if I had to die a thousand times over it is there I would die, if I had to be born a thousand times over it is there I would be born near the tall wild pines the tempestuous south wind the new;y-purchased bells. Let none think of me. Let us think of the entire earth and pound the table with love. I don't want blood again to saturate bread, beans, music: I wish they would come with me: the miner, the little girl, the lawyer, the seaman, the doll-maker, to go into a movie and come out to drink the reddest wine. I did not come to solve anything. I came here to sing and for you to sing with me.

--Pablo Neruda From somewhere in the Americas, May 1948 Let the Rail Splitter Awake and other poems New York, International Publishers, 1970 [2001]