The Soldier (El soldado)

Song by:
Rafael Alberti (lyrics), Ángel Parra (music)
Testimony by:
Alfonso Padilla Silva
Experience in:

During Christmas 1973, approximately 660 men and 100 women were held as prisoners in the Concepción Regional Stadium. Concentration camp officials allowed us to celebrate Christmas on the pitch. We were in a corner of the pitch and we used the pole vault pit as a stage. Two professional radio broadcasters were excellent masters of ceremony, combining veiled messages with other more candid ones, all with a hefty dose of humour and good taste. They also recited poems.

Father Camilo Vial, who was later appointed bishop, was an important champion of the political prisoners’ rights given the horrible conditions we were in, and he gave us an excellent Spanish guitar. Many men and women political prisoners sung alone, in pairs or in groups, accompanied by that guitar. One prisoner sang "El soldado", a poem by Rafael Alberti set to music by Ángel Parra.

The experience of prisoners in many concentration camps and jails throughout the country shows that engaging in cultural and artistic activity - whether it be creating and performing theatre, writing poems and stories, as well as essays, and producing crafts or music - was of vital importance in strengthening our personal and collective moral, an attitude of resistance and the sense of unity among political prisoners. Each time we engaged in artistic activity – with all the difficulties and limitations imposed by our difficult circumstance – it was an affirmation of humanity and life. Each accomplishment represented a small victory over the dictatorship.

Published on: 15 December 2014

The soldier dreamed that the soldier
inland was thinking: if we triumph
I will bring her to see the orange trees
to touch the ocean that she has never seen
and to fill her heart with boats.

But when peace came it was an olive tree
with ceaseless bleeding in the fields.

And if I return I will give her a grapefruit
and a pottery pitcher
like those that her breasts resemble
leaping from one tree to another.

That never-ending scent of death
of nameless soldiers without families
giving the ant piles of the earth
what may have been their best suit of clothes.

But when peace came it was an olive tree
with ceaseless bleeding in the fields.