Masaccio_expulsion_dtl_jpg_470x784_q85 Roberto Bolaño in the NYRB:

To be exiled is not to disappear but to shrink, to slowly or quickly get smaller and smaller until we reach our real height, the true height of the self. Swift, master of exile, knew this. For him exile was the secret word for journey. Many of the exiled, freighted with more suffering than reasons to leave, would reject this statement.

All literature carries exile within it, whether the writer has had to pick up and go at the age of twenty or has never left home.

Probably the first exiles on record were Adam and Eve. This is indisputable and it raises a few questions: can it be that we’re all exiles? Is it possible that all of us are wandering strange lands?

The concept of “strange lands” (like that of “home ground”) has some holes in it, presents new questions. Are “strange lands” an objective geographic reality, or a mental construct in constant flux?

Let’s recall Alonso de Ercilla.

After a few trips through Europe, Ercilla, soldier and nobleman, travels to Chile and fights the Araucanians under Alderete. In 1561, when he’s not yet thirty, he returns and settles in Madrid. Twenty years later he publishes La Araucana, the best epic poem of his age, in which he relates the clash between Araucanians and Spaniards, with clear sympathy for the former. Was Ercilla in exile during his American ramblings through the lands of Chile and Peru? Or did he feel exiled when he returned to court, and is La Araucana the fruit of that morbus melancholicus, of his keen awareness of a kingdom lost? And if this is so, which I can’t say for sure, what has Ercilla lost in 1589, just five years before his death, but youth? And with his youth, the arduous journeys, the human experience of being exposed to the elements of an enormous and unknown continent, the long rides on horseback, the skirmishes with the Indians, the battles, the shadows of Lautaro and Caupolicán that, as time passes, loom large and speak to him, to Ercilla, the only poet and the only survivor of something that, when set down on paper, will be a poem, but that in the memory of the old poet is just a life or many lives, which amounts to the same thing.