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By Bruce Chatwin

Anselmo told me to go and see the poet. ”The Maestro”, he said.

The poet lived along a lonely stretch of river, in overgrown orchards of apricots, alone in a two-roomed hut. He had been a teacher of literature in Buenos Aires. He came down to Patagonia forty years back and stayed.

I knocked on the door and he woke. It was drizzling and while he dressed, I sheltered under the porch and watched his colony of pet toads.

“She casts her spell. An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never let’s go”.

His fingers gripped my arm. He fixed me with an intense and luminous stare.
Patagonia!’ he cried. ‘She is a hard mistress. She casts her spell. An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never lets go.’

The rain drummed on the tin roof. For the next two hours he was my Patagonia.
The room was dark and dusty. At the back, shelves made of planks and packing cases bent under the weight of books, mineral specimens, Indian artefacts and fossil oysters. On the walls were a cuckoo clock, a lithograph of Pampas Indians, and another of the Gaucho Martín Fierro.

“The Indians rode better than the gauchos,’ he said. “Brown limbs! Naked on horseback! Their children learned to ride before they walked. They were one with their horses. Ah! Mi Indio!’

Chinese space station in Patagonia

His desk was littered with broken almond shells and his favourite books; Ovid’s Tristia, The Georgics, Walden, Pigafetta’s Voyage of Magellan, Leaves of Grass, The Poem of Martín Fierro, The Purple Land and Blake’s Songs of Innocence, of which he was especially fond.

Smacking it free of dust, he gave me a copy of his Canto on the Last Flooding of the Chubut River, privately printed in Trelew, which combined, in Alexandrines, his vision of the Deluge and a paean of raise for the engineers of the new dam.

He had published two volumes of poetry in his life, Voices of the Earth and Rolling Stones, the last named after the layer of glacier-rolled pebbles that cover the Patagonian pampas. The scope of his verse was cosmic; technically it was astonishing. He managed to squeeze the extinction of the dinosaurs into rhymed couplets using Spanish and Linnaean Latin.

He gave me a sticky apéritif of his own manufacture, sat me in a chair, and read, with gestures and clattering of false teeth, weighty stanzas that described the geological transformations of Patagonia.

I asked him what he was writing at present. He cackled humorously.
‘My production is limited. As T. S. Eliot once said: “The poem can wait.”’

In Patagonia Bruce Chatwin

Excerpted from In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin. First published by Jonathan Cape. Mr. Chatwin, a passionate Travel writer began the journey which resulted in this book in 1974. He died in 1989.

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