#41 A palm-grove of Mauritia flexuosa on the island Pautinga in the archipelago of Para
Latin translation by Ben Hennelly
Whereas the immediately preceding etching displays a narrow straight between thick, varied vegetation, here you see only broad waters and just one plant, grouped into a simple wood -- and yet, only one day's journey separates the two places. For when you have passed out of the labyrinth of islands, heading from the southern shore of the island Marajo toward the west, boundless open waters receive you. This is the sea of fresh water that the powerful river, Tocantins, creates at its mouth. The eastern shore of this enormous river basin is called Bahia de Marapata, and the opposite, western shore Bahia do Limoeiro. You do not, however, see the full extent of these low-lying shores, as there are many islands, large (like Uararahy) and small, in the way. To pass from one shore to the other, you need the full space of one tide; and so the crossing should not be dared unless the sky is friendly, so that you are not cast onto the shoals or sands frequent there. Thus, we crossed cautiously over the space of two tides, pulling the boat up along the small island Pautinga. Consequently, we had the opportunity to study the peculiar nature of the place, which we have endeavored to represent in etching #41. The flat, low-lying, sandy island iscovered with a thick, remarkably tall forest composed of the palm Miriti, Mauritia flexuosa. (1)
This regal tree occupies the soil here with almost all other plants removed, so that the little island offers an appearance of frightful solitude. The tree's white, smoothly polished trunks, 1.5 - 2 feet in diameter, which raise aloft a very full crown of huge, fanshaped leaves, were set so close together that they often seemed, in the manner of stakes, to imitate enormous fortifications. Their foliated tops, when stirred by the air the stream puts in motion, sounded together in an extraordinary harmony: you would have thought a chorus of Dryads present, singing grave verses. Over this sound, only the murmurs of the waving stream could be heard, and numerous Araras (Macrocerci hyacinthini), which nest in those trees, were croaking together. The solitude of the deserted island and the strangeness of the birds that alone inhabit it, then the great expanse you might call an ocean of fresh water -- all these things are arranged here in such a way that a primitive force of nature itself shows forth, which reigns over all with invincible power.
Where this force predominates, mortal-kind recedes a little or scatters altogether, so that other forces productive in the nature of things, in mutual contest and tireless strife, might progress more freely, and that those things destined by hidden divine will and eternal law might be brought to prosperous completion. This stirring of the spirit is increased, if you at the same time look upon the crowds of trunks that the river's force has uprooted and raised up in the form of a towering line of palisades. Behold! Even these trees of exceeding strength, such as seem to conquer the centuries, are swept away in an hour's time like small beasts of a day!
Sophocles once said,"Great, measureless time brings to light everything hidden, and into obscurity forces everything seen."(3)
Etching commentary 41