An Anthology of New Poems From Spain and Latin America

Edited by Michael Smith

Translated by Michael Smith , Valentino Gianuzzi, Luis Ingelmo, and Beatriz White

 

 

Xavier Villaurrutia (1903-1950)
Translated by Michael Smith

Villaurrutia was a poet, critic, playwright and he wrote one novel (Dama de corazones (1928). He was born and died in the city of Mexico. With Salvador Novo he established the magazine Ulises (1927-1828). He was a member of a group of writers connected with the magazine Contemporaneos (1928-1931). Of this group he was the most original and discerning critic of art and literature. His books of poetry are Reflejos (1926), Nocturnos (1933), Nostalgía de la muerte (1938) and Cantos a la primavera y otros poemas, some plays, and he also translated work by Chekov, William Blake and Gide, among others. Close to surrealism, in his poems there is a desolate landscape through which death blows subtly without having an explicit presence. Octavio Paz has said that ‘the poetry of Villaurrutia seems to have been written in some other country, but in a place beyond geography and history, beyond myth and legend, a nowhere that “occupies no place in space”, in which time has stopped.’

 

Nocture

Everything night
sketches with its shadowy
hand;
the pleasure it reveals,
the vice it outstrips.

Everything shadow
makes heard with the hard
stroke of its silence:
the unexpected voices
it inflames at random,
the scream of the blood,
the sound of lost
footsteps.

Everything silence
makes flee from things:
the reek of desire,
the sweat of earth,
the indefinable perfume
of skin.

Everything desire
smears on my lips:
the dreamt sweetness
of a contact,
the recognized savour
of saliva.

And everything that sleep
makes palpable:
the mouth of a wound,
the shape of an entrail,
the fever of a daring
hand.

Everything!
circulates through every branch
of my veins,
caresses my thighs,
floods my ears,
lives in my dead eyes,
dies on my hard lips.

 

 

Fear Nocture

Everything at night lives a secret doubt:
silence and noise, time and place.
Motionless sleepers or wide-awake somnambulists,
we are helpless against secret anxiety.

And it is not enough to close our eyes in the darkness
or sink them in sleep to see no more,        
for in the hard darkness and in the cavern of sleep
the same nocturnal light still keeps us awake.

Then, with the tread of an awake sleeper,
aimless and pointless we begin to walk.
Night pours over us its mystery,
and something tells that us to die is to awake.

And who among the shadows of a deserted street,
in the wall, a livid mirror of solitude,
one has not seen coming and going to his encounter
and has not felt fear, pain, mortal doubt?

The fear of being nothing but an empty body
that someone, myself or any other, can occupy,
and the pain of being outside oneself, alive,
and the doubt of being or not being real.

 

 

Scream Nocturne

I am afraid of my voice
and I search for my shadow in vain.

Will it be mind, that bodiless
shadow that passes by?
And mine, the lost voice
that goes setting the street on fire?

What voice, what shadow, what dream
have I not dreamt while awake
will be the voice and the shadow
and the dream that have robbed me?

To hear the blood spurting
from my striated heart,
shall I place my ear on my chest
like my hand on my pulse?

My chest will be empty
and I disheartened,
and my hands will be hard
pulses of frozen marble.

 

 

Nocture of the Statue

                                           To Agustín Lazo

To dream, to dream the night, the street, the stairs
and the scream of the statue unbending the corner.

To run to the statue and find only the scream,
to want to touch the scream and find only its echo,
to want to grasp the echo and meet only the wall
and to run to the wall and to touch a mirror.
To find in the mirror the murdered statue,
to draw it out of the blood of its shadow,
to dress it in a closing of eyes,
to caress it like an unexpected sister
and to play with the chips of its fingers
and to count in its ear hundred of times
until you hear it say: ‘I am dead with dreaming.’

 

             

Nocturne in Which Nothing is Heard

In the middle of a  silence deserted like a street
                                                before a crime
without even breathing so that nothing disturbs
                                                               my death
in this solitude without walls
at the time when angles have fled
I leave my bloodless statue on the tomb of my bed
to go out in a moment so slow
in an endless descent
without arms to stretch out
without fingers to reach the scale that falls from an  invisible piano
with no more than a look and a voice
that do not recall having left their eyes and lips
What are lips? What are looks that are lips?
and my voice is not now mine
inside water that does not wet
inside air of glass
inside the livid fire that cleaves like a cry
and in the anguished play of one mirror before another
my voice falls
and my voice that matures
and my voice that burns
and my wood that matures
and my voice that burns hard
like the ice of glass
like the cry of ice
here in the snail of my ear

the beat of a sea in which I know nothing
in which I know nothing
because I have left feet and arms on the shore
I feel falling outside of me the net of my nerves
but everything flees like the fish that knows
until I feel on the pulse of my brow
a mute telegram to which no one replies
because sleep and death have now nothing to say.

 

Sleep Nocturne
                       To Jules Supervielle

Sleep opened
its deep halls
and thin voices
currents of air
penetrated

Down the ship’s sky
of ruled paper
the score fell
through which my body
descended

The sky on the ground
as in a mirror
the restless street
rounded my words
Dense shadow
stole my shadow
Calm with silence
I heard my footsteps
passing

Cold steel
armed my blind hand
Death was waiting
to kill me

And turning the corner
in a lengthy second
my steely hand
found my back
Without a drop of blood
noiseless and weightless
my body came
on nailed feet

I took it in my arms
I carried it to my bed
Sleep folded
its immeasurable wings

 

 

Prisoner Nocturne

Prisoner of my head
dream desires to escape
and outside of me to prove
to all that it is innocent.
I hear its impatient voice,
I see its gesture and its condition
menacing and furious.
It is not known that I am the dream
of another: if I were its master
I would already have set it free.  

 

 

Love Nocturne
                   To Manuel Rodríguez Lozano

The nothing that is heard in this cistern of shadow
I don’t know how my arms are not hurting
I pursue in your breathing  the pain of the crime
and you fall into the net that dream stretches out
You keep the name of your accomplice in your eyes
but I find your eyelashes harder than silence
and rather than share it you would kill the pleasure
of handing yourself over to sleep with closed eyes
I suffer feeling the pleasure with which your body searches
for a body that conquers you more than sleep
and I compare the fever of you hands
to my hands of ice
and the throbbing of your temples to my lost pulse
and the plaster of my thighs to the skin of yours
that shadow corrodes with incurable leprosy
I now know the sex of your mouth
and what the avarice of your armpit holds
and I curse the rumour that floods the labyrinth of your ear
on the pillow of froth
on the hard page of snow
Not the blood that flees from me as the arrow flies from the bow
but anger circulates through my arteries
yellow with fire half of the night
and all the words in the prison of my mouth
and a thirst that quenches in the mirror’s water
an identical thirst
From what night do I wake to this naked
night long and cruel night no longer night
beside your body deader than dead
that is not your body but its void
because the absence of your dream has killed death
and my coldness is so great that with a new heat
it opens my eyes where shadow is harder
and clearer and brighter than light itself
and it renews in me what has not been
and it is an unexpected pain even colder and more fiery
not being but that statue that awakens
in the bedroom of the world where everything has died.

 

Solo Nocturne

Solitude, boredom,
vast vain silence,
liquid shadow in which I sink,
emptiness of thought.
And not even the accent
of an indefinable voice
that reaches the impossible
corner of an infinite sea
to illuminate with its scream
this invisible shipwreck.

 

Eternal Nocturne

When men straighten up their shoulders and pass by
or when they let their names fall away
until shadow astonishes

when a dust finer even than smoke
adheres to the crystals of the voice
and to the skin of the face and of things

when the eyes close their windows
to the beam of the prodigal sun and they prefer
blindness to pardon and silence to solitude

when life or what we vainly call life
and that comes with nothing but an unnamable name
undresses to jump into bed
and drown in alcohol or burn in snow

when I see it when the vine [?] when life
cowardly longs to yield to darkness
without telling us even the price of its name

when in the solitude of a dead sky
forgotten stars shine
and the silence of silence is so vast
we suddenly wish it to speak

or when from a non-existent mouth
emerges an inaudible scream
that throws on our face its vivid light
and it goes out and leaves us a blind deafness

or when everything has died
so hard and so slowly it makes us afraid
to raise our voice and ask , ‘who is alive’

I doubt I should reply
to the mute question with a scream
for fear of knowing I no longer exist

for perhaps neither does the voice exist
except only as a memory in my throat
and the night is nothing but blindness
that fills our eyes with shadow

and because perhaps the scream is the presence
of an ancient word
opaque and mute that suddenly screams

because life silence skin and mouth
and solitude memory sky and smoke
are nothing but shadows of words
that appear to us with the passage of night [?]
like a bandage on the sick arm of a sick man
and then let it permeate me like the cold silence
the helpless and dead body of a dead man

Then a deaf noise, blue and numerous,
a prisoner in the shell of my sleeping ear,
and my voice that drowns in that sea of fear
ever thinner and more inflames.

Who will measure the space, who will tell me the moment
in which the ice of my body will melt and consume
my still heart like a cold flame?

The earth made intangible silent silence
opaque solitude and dark ash
will fall on my eyes and affront my brow.

 

Nocturne

Finally night came with its long silences
with its damp shadows that dull everything.
The slightest noise suddenly increases and then
dies painlessly.

One’s hearing sharpens to thread a distant
echo, or the murmur of voices that leave,
as they pass, a trail of lost vowels.

Finally night came laying out ashen
carpets, putting out lights, the last windows!

For silence stretches out show shadowy hands.
The shadow is silent, so silent we do not know
where it begins or ends, or if it begins or ends.

And it is useless to light a lamp at my side:
the light deepens further the mine of silence
and I descend, motionless, from myself.

Finally night came to awake distant
words, obsolete, proper, faded:
darkness, heart, mystery, a full moon …

Finally night came, solitude, the waiting!

For night is always the sea of an ancient dream,
of a cold and hollow dream in which nothing remains
of the sea but the remains of a shipwreck of the forgotten.

For night draws in its low tide
painful memories, frozen fears,
the thirst for something that, trembling, we end one day,
and the bitterness of what we no longer remember.

Finally night came to flood my ears
with an unexpected silent tide,
to place on my eyes dead  eyelids,
to leave in my hands an empty message.

 

Nocturne in Which Death Speaks

If death were to come here, with me, to New Haven,
concealed in a hollow of my clothes in my suitcase,
in the pockets of one of my suits,
among the pages of a book
like a mark that  no longer reminds me of anything;
if my own death were awaiting
a date, an instant that only it knew
to tell me: ‘Here I am.
I have followed you like your shadow
that can never be left at home;
like a little bit of warm and invisible air
mixed with the hard cold air you breathe;
like the memory of what you most desire;
like oblivion, yes, like the oblivion
you have let fall on things
you don’t want to remember now.
And it’s useless to turn your head to  look for me:
I am so close you cannot see me,
I am outside you and at the same time inside.
Nothing is the sea that, like a god, you wanted
to put between the two of us;
Nothing is the land men can measure
and for which they kill and die;
nor the dream in which you would like to believe you live
without me, when I myself sketch it and erase it;
nor days that you count
now and again at every hour,
nor the hours that you kill with your pride
without thinking they are reborn apart from you.
These things are nothing, neither the countless
snares you lay out for,
nor the childish sophistries with which you wished to leave me
deceived, forgotten.
Here I am. Do you not feel me?
Open your eyes. Close them if you like.’

And I ask myself now,
if no one entered the next room,
who cautiously closed the door?
What mysterious force of gravity
let that leaf of paper fall from the table?
Why is there, suddenly, without my invitation,
the voice of a woman who speaks in the street?

And pressing down the pen
something like blood throbs and circulates in it,
and I feel that the uneven letters
I write now,
smaller, more trembling, fainter,
are now not only the work of my hand.

 

 

Nocturne of the Angels

                          To Agustín J. Fink

It could be said that the streets flow sweetly through the night.
The lights are not so bright that they manage to unveil the secret,
the secret the men who come and go know,
because they are all in on the secret
and it would not matter to divide it into thousands of pieces
if, on the contrary, it is so sweet to keep it
and share it only with the chosen person.

If everyone were to say at a given moment
in only one word, what one thinks,
the five letters of DESIRE would form a huge luminous scar,
a constellation more ancient, more alive than the others.
And that constellation would be like a burning sex
in the deep body of night,
or, better still, like Gemini, that for the first time in life
look look at each other eye-to-eye, and embracing
forever.

Suddenly the river of the street is peopled with thirsty beings,
they walk, they stop, they continue.
They exchange glances, they risk smiles,
they form unlikely couples …

There are shadowy bends and benches,
shores of deep indefinable forms
and abrupt hollows of blinding light
and doors that yield to the slightest pressure.

The river of the street stays deserted a minute,
then seems to rise from itself
eager to start again.
It stays a paralysed moment, mute, panting
like the heart between two spasms.

But a new pulse, a new throbbing
cast new thirsty beings on the river of the street.
They cross, they crisscross, they ascend.
They fly along at ground level.
They swim standing, so miraculously
no one would dare say they are not really walking.

They are Angels!
They have come down to earth
on invisible ladders.
They come from the sea that mirrors the sky,
in ships of smoke and shadow,
to fuse and be confused with mortals,
to yield their foreheads to the thighs of women,
to let other hands feverishly feel their bodies,
and let other bodies seek theirs until they are found
like lips closing on the mouth itself,
to exhaust their mouth so long inactive,
to set free their tongues of fire,
to speak songs, swearings, bad words
in which men concentrate the ancient mystery
of flesh, blood and desire.

They have assumed names, divinely simple.
They are called Dick or John or Marvin or Louis.
In nothing but beauty are they distinguishable from mortals.

They walk, they stop, they go on.
They exchange glances, they risk smiles.
They form unlikely couples.

They smile maliciously when they ascend hotel lifts
where still a slow and vertical flight is practiced.
On their naked bodies there are heavenly traces:
signs, stars and blue letters.
They let themselves fall on their beds, they sink into their pillows
that make them think a moment of clouds.
But they close their eyes to hand themselves over all the better to the pleasures of their mysterious incarnation,
and, when they sleep, they dream not of angels but of mortals.

                                              Los Angeles, California, 1936

 

Rose Nocturne

                           To José Gorostiza

I, too, speak of the rose.
But my rose is not the cold rose
nor the rose of a child’s skin,
nor the rose that winds
so slowly that its motion
is a mysterious stillness.

It is not the thirsty rose,
nor the gory wound,
nor the rose crowned with thorns,
nor the rose of resurrection.

It is not the nose of naked petals,
not the waxen rose,
nor the flame of silk
not the blazing rose.

Nor is it the weathervane rose,
the secret ulcer,
nor the punctual rose that gives the hour
not the marine compass rose.

No, it is not the rose rose,
but the uncreated rose,
the sunken rose,
the night rose
the immaterial rose,
the empty rose
It is the rose of touch in the dark,
it is the rose that comes on inflamed,
the rose of rosy finger-nails,
the rosebud of eager fingers,
the digital rose,
the blind rose.

It is the rose molding of the ear,
the rose ear,
the spiral of sound,
the rose shell ever abandoned
on the highest froth of the pillow.

It is the flesh rose of the mouth,
the rose that speaks awake
as if it were asleep.
It is the half-opened rose
from which shadow rises,
the intimate rose
that folds up and expands
evoked, invoked, seized in the mouth,
it is the labial rose,
the wounded rose.

It is the rose that opens the eyelids,
the vigilant, sleepless rose,
the strained-eyed rose of insomnia.
It is the rose of smoke,
the rose of ash,
the black rose of diamond coal
that silently pierces the dark
and occupies no place in space.

Februrary 24, 1937

 

 

Sea Nocturne

                          To Salvador Novo

Not your hard crystal silence of hard rock,
nor the cold of the hand you stretch towards me,
nor your dry words, without season or colour,
nor my name, not even my name
you dictate as a code devoid of sense;

nor the deep wound, not the blood
that flows out of its lips, throbbing,
not the distance ever colder
sheet snow of a winter hospital
stretched between the two like doubt;

nothing, nothing could be more bitter
than the sea I carry inside alone and blind,
the ancient Oedipal sea that passes through me by touch
from all the centuries,
when my blood was not yet my blood,
when my skin grew on the skin of another body,
when someone not yet born was breathing through me.
The sea that rises mutely to my lips,
the sea that soaks
with the mortal poison that does not kill
that prolongs life and hurts more than pain.
The sea that does its work slowly slowly
forging in the cavity of my chest
the furious fist of my heart.

Sea windless and skyless,
waveless and desolate,
nocturnal sea without froth on its lips,
nocturnal sea without anger, happy
to lap that walls that imprison it,
and a slave that does not breach its banks
and a blind man seeks the light they robbed of it
and a lover that loves only its lack of love.

Sea that drags only silent spoils,
oblivious oblivions and desires,
syllables of memories and rancors,
drowned dreams of the recently born,
mutilated profiles and perfumes,
strands of light and shipwrecked hair.

Bitter nocturnal sea
that circulates through the narrow corridors
of arterial corals and roots
and veins and capillary jellyfish.

Sea that waves in its shadow its floating texture,
with blue needles threaded
with strings of nerves and tightenedd tendons.

Bitter nocturnal sea
that wets my tongue with tardy saliva,
that makes my fingernails grow with the force
of its dark tide.

My ear follows its secret murmur,
I hear its rocks and plants grow
that extend more and more its finger lips.

I carry it inside me like a regret,
another’s sin and a mysterious dream
and I lull it and put it to sleep
and I hide it and mind it and keep its secret.

                                                   February 12, 1937

 

Bedroom Nocturne

Death always takes the form of the bedroom
that contains us.
It is concave and dark and tepid and silent,
it folds in the curtains in which shadow nestles,
it is hard in the mirror and tense and stiff,
deep in the pillows and, in the sheets, white.

The two of us know that death takes
the form of the bedroom, and that in the bedroom
it is the cold space that raises a wall
between us, a crystal, a silence.

Then only I know that death
is the hollow you leave in the bed
when suddenly and without reason
you sit up or stand up.

It is the noise of the burnt-up leaves
that your bare feet make as they sink in the carpet.

It is the sweat that dampens our thighs
that embrace and struggle and, then, yield.
And the sentence you let fall, interrupted.
And the question of mine that you do not hear,
that you do not understand or answer.
And the silence that falls and buries you
when I guard your dream and inquire of it.

And alone I only know that death
is your cut-off word, your strange moans
and your dark involuntary movements
when in your sleep you contend with the angel of sleep.

Death is all this, and more, that surrounds us,
and unites us and separates us alternately,
and leaves us confused, aghast, suspended,
with a wound from which no blood issues.

Then, only then, the two of us alone, know
that it is not love but dark death
makes us see ourselves face to face in the eye,
and unites us and grasps us, more than ever alone and shipwrecked,
still more, and ever more, still.

 

 

When in the Evening

When the evening closes its remote windows,
its invisible doors,
so that the dust, the smoke, the ash,
impalpable, dark,
show up as the work of death
in the body of a child,
they start to grow;
when the evening , finally, has picked up
the last flash of light, the last cloud,
the reflection forgotten and the noise interrupted,
night silently looms
from secret grooves,
from hidden corners,
from half-opened mouths,
from insomniac eyes.

Night looms up with dense smoke
of cigarette and chimney.

Night looms up enveloped in its mantle of dust.
The dust rises, slowly.
And from an impassive sky
ever nearer and more compact,
its rains ash.

When the night of smoke, of dust, of ash
envelops the city, men stay
suspended an instant,
because in them, with night, desire had been born.

 

 

Nocturnal Stanzas

Somnambulant, asleep and equally awake,
silently I traverse the submerged city.
And I doubt. I do not dare ask myself if it is
waking from a dream or if my life is a dream.

In the night resounds, like a hollow world,
the noise of my drawn-out footsteps, distant.
I am afraid that it may be no more than the echo
of another’s footsteps that passed long before.

I am afraid of being nothing more than a shred of
someone’s dream – God’s? – that dreams in this bitter world.
I am afraid that someone may wake – God? – the master
of a dream ever deeper and longer.

Star, you emerge, trembling and awake,
a shy apparition in the impassive sky,
you, like me – centuries ago – are frozen and dead,
but by your own light you continue to be visible,

I will be dust and oblivion in oblivion!
But someone, in the anguish of an empty night,
with his knowing it or my knowing it, someone not yet born
will speak his nocturnal pain with my words.

 

 

Death in the Cold

When I have lost all faith in miracles,
when hope has already let fall its last note
and an interminable silences resounds, concave and hard;

when the winter sky is no more than the ash
of something burnt many, many centuries ago;

when I find myself so alone, so alone,
that I search for myself in my room
as one searches, sometimes, for a lost object,
a crumpled letter, in corners;

when I close my eyes thinking in vain
that I will be farther away
from here, from me, from all that
accuses me of being no more than a dead man,

I feel that I am in cold winter,
in the eternal winter
that freezes the blood in the arteries,
that dries up the yellow words,
that paralyses dream,
that puts a pump in our mouth
and sketches things with a hard line.

I feel I am living my death here,
my own present death,
      my death that I cannot share or lament,
my death for which I will never console myself.

And I understand as never again
the climate of silence
where death is nourished and purifies without consuming like fire.

And in the silence I hear inside me the work
of a minute army of workers who strike
with their diminutive hammers my lymph and my shuddering flesh;
I feel how they kiss each other
and link forever their shores
the islands that float in my body;

how water and blood
are once more the same marine water,
and how first it freezes
and then turns to crystal
and then hard marble,
and immobilizing me in the most painful and slow time,
with the secret, mute and imperceptible life
of a mineral, of a tree trunk, of a statue.

 

 

Nostalgia for Snow

Night falls on the snow!

We have all thought at some time
or someone – I myself – think it now
for those who do not know that one day they thought it,
that the shadows that form the night of every day
fall silent, furtive, hiding themselves
behind themselves, from the sky:
snowflakes of shadow.
Because shadow is dark snow,
unthinkable quiet black snow.

Snow falls on the night!

What light of incredible evening,
made of the finest dust,
full of mysterious coolness,
announces the apparition of snow.
Then, invisible
or loose threads like a mane of hair
descend in the air,
feathery flakes, flakes of froth.

And something of sweet dream,
and a dream without throes,
childish, tender, a light
unremembered pleasure
assumes the miraculous for of night and its fall of
white silent shadows of snow.

 

 

Graveyard Under Snow

Nothing compares to a graveyard under snow.
How to name whiteness on white?
The sky has dropped unfeeling stones of snow on the tombs,
and now there is nothing but snow on snow
like a hand eternally poised over itself.

The birds prefer to cross the sky,
to cut unseen corridors of  air,
to leave  the snow alone,
leaving it untouched,
leaving it snow.

For it is not enough to say that a graveyard under snow
is like a dreamless sleep
or like eyes glazed over.

If it is partly like an unfeeling and sleeping body,
like the fall of a silence upon another
and like the white persistence  of oblivion,
yet nothing compares with a graveyard under snow!

For snow is above all silent,
more silent even on the bloodless tombstones,
lips that now cannot say a word.

 

 

North Caroline Blues

                                 To Langston Hughes

In North Carolina
the nocturnal air
is made of human skin.
When I caress it
it leaves me, suddenly,
on my fingers,
the sweat of a drop of water.

                                    In North Carolina

The vertical tree trunk swaying,
from the plants of its feet
to the palms of its hands,
man is a tree once again.

                                      In North Carolina

If the black man laughs
he shows granadine gums
and snowy fruits.
But if the black man is mute
his mouth is a red
entrail.

                                     In North Carolina

 

How does one say
that a black man grows dark?

                                    In North Carolina

A black man speaks:
 --No one would understand me
 if I were to say there are white shadows
 in broad daylight.

                                   In North Carolina

In different waiting-rooms
coloured passengers
and whites in first class
await the same death.

                                 In North Carolina

Nocturnal hotels:
invisible couples arrive,
alone they climb the stairs,
the corridors flow along,
the doors retreat,
eyes close the windows.
A bodiless hand
writes and erases black
names on the blackboard.

                                In North Carolina

 

Bodies and lips
blended,
I would not dare
to say in the shadow:
This mouth is mine.

                                In North Carolina

 

 

Paradox of Fear

How to think , even for an instant,
that mortal man lives!
Man is dead with fear,
with mortal fear of death.

Fear accompanies him like his body’s shadow,
it assails him in the darkness,
it is revealed in his dream,
it takes, at times, the form of courage.

And yet fear exists, greater fear,
greater even than the fear of death,
a fear more fearful still:
fear of madness,
the indescribable fear
that lasts the eternity of a spasm
and produces the same grievous pleasure;
fear of ceasing to be oneself
forever,
sinking into a world
in which words and acts
do not have the sense we usually give them;
in a world in which no one,
not even ourselves,
can know us;
‘Is this me!’
‘his is not me, it is not you!’
Or the fear of becoming oneself
so directly and deeply
that neither the years, not consumption nor leprosy,
nothing or no one
distracts us an instant
from our full attention to ourselves,
making us feel our growth,
an irreversible paralysis.

How many times have we surprised ourselves exclaiming
from the recondite well of our being
and with the mouth of our strange wounds:

‘But if I’m not mad!’
‘Maybe you think I’m dead!’

And yet that fear,
that mortal fear of death,
we have all felt it,
sometimes or other,
drawing us like the void,
like danger, like the friction
that goes straight to the spasm,
to the spasm that is death alone
the beast and man know and pursue.
And what would be the life of a man
who did not face, even once,
the precise sensation of death,
and then its memory,
                                and then nostalgia?

If the lasting substance of man
is nothing other than fear;
and if life is an inevitable
mortal fear of death,
since one cannot now feel fear,
since one cannot now die,
only a dead man, deeply and bravely
can ready himself to die.

 

 

Returning

Returning to a distant country,
returning to a forgotten country,
obscurely deformed
by exile in this land.
Leaving the air that encloses me!
And anchoring once more in nothing.
Night is my mother and my sister,
nothing is my distant country,
nothing full of silence,
nothing full of emptiness,
nothing without time or cold,
nothing in which nothing happens.

 

 

Dead Décima

            To Ricardo de Alcázar

I

What proof of existence
can be greater than the fate
of being alive without seeing you
and dying in your presence!
Thus lucid consciousness
of loving what is never seen
and of waiting for the unexpected;
this falling without landing is the anguish of thinking
that since I die, I live.

 

II

If you are everywhere,
in water and on land,
in the air that encloses me
and in voracious fire;
and if you go everywhere
with me in my thoughts,
in the sough of my breath,
and in my confused blood,
will you not be, Death, in my life,
water, fire, dust and wind?

III

If you have hands, let them be
of subtle and smooth touch,
scarcely sensitive when
they create me anaesthetised;
let your eyes seem
without looking at me, in such a way
that nothing troubles you
neither your voice nor your touch
so I will not feel a pleasure
or a pain with you, Death.

IV

Along unknown roads,
along secret rifts,
along mysterious grains
of newly cut tree trunks,
my closed eyes see you
entering my dark bedroom
to transform my worldly wrapping,
opaque, feverish, mutable,
into a diamond material,
luminous, eternal and pure.

V

I do not sleep so as not to see you
arrive and spent,
to hear your hesitant voice
that spills out silences,
to touch the nothing
that wraps your rigid body,
so that your abandoned smell
can, without the shadow of sleep,
know that I am your master,
feel that I die awake.

VI

The water of the pump
will traverse its quadrant,
everything will finish in an instant
of true space
that broad, deep and alone
will elastic to your footstep
in an way that certain time
will prolong our embrace and it will be possible, perhaps,
to live even after death.

VII

In the friction, in the touch,
in the ineffable pleasure
of the supreme caress
that disgorges in the act,
there is a mysterious pact
in the delirious spasm
in which an hallucinatory sky
and a hell of deat5h-throes
are fused when you are mine
and in an instant I am yours.

VIII

Even absent you are alive!
Because I find you in the hollow
of a form and in the echo
of a fugitive note;
because in my own saliva
you fuse your shadowy taste,
and in exchange for what is mine
you leave me only the fear
of finding even in taste
the presence of emptiness.

IX

If I keep you imprisoned
and I caress you and hide you;
if I feed you in the depths
of my most secret wound;
if my death gives you life
and my frenzy delights you,
what will come of you, Death,
when I leave the world,
the deep knot unbound,
you will have to leave me.

X

In vain, you threaten, Death,
to close the mouth of my wound
and put an end to my life
with an inert word.
What can I think on seeing you,
if, in my actual death-throes,
I had to violate the waiting;
if in view of our tardiness
to fulfill my hope
there is not time when I am not dying.

 

 

 

Vicente Huidobro (1893-1947)
Translated by Michael Smith

Vicente Huidobro was born in Santiago de Chile in January 1893; he died, of a brain hemorrhage,  in Cartagena during the Christmas of 1947 a few days before his fifty fifth birthday.

Huidobro came from a wealthy patrician family. Unlike many youths of his age and class who devoted themselves to amusements, Huidobro dedicated himself to literature. 'At the age of seventeen,' he was to write in 1926, 'I said to myself: "I must be the first poet of America"; then, as the years passed, I said: "I must be the first poet of my language"; finally, my ambitions soared and I said to myself: "I have to be the first poet of my century".' Modesty was not one of Huidobro's characteristics.

After some literary success and the publication of a number of books, Huidobro left Chile for Paris in 1916 where he threw himself into the artistic avant-garde, founding a Cubist magazine with Reverdy and Max Jacob and establishing friendships with Juan Gris, Picasso and Lipchitz. In July of 1918 he moved to Madrid where he participating in the tertulia of Gómez de la Serna in the Café Pombo and he came into contact with young writers such as Guillermo de Torre, Isaac de Vando Villar, Humberto Rivas, Eugenio Montes, Marcio Bacarisse.

In 1918 Huidobro was obliged to return to Chile for his sister's wedding. He hoped to take literary Santiago by storm, but instead he met with the blank wall of conservatism. He went back to Paris in 1920 and in 1921 he published a collection of his own work, Saisons Choises, with a statement of his own aesthetic principles, La Création Pure. But Huidobro's Creationism was soon overtaken by Surrealism and its automatic writing, which he rejected as 'the reduction of poetry to a simple, after-dinner, family pastime'.

In 1925 political changes in Chile attracted his attention and Huidobro, always thinking in the grandest terms, saw an opportunity to become the political leader of a new Chile. Even his mother contemplated her extraordinary son as King Vicente I of Chile. The dreaam of an Huidobro monarchy, however,  was not to be realised.

Huidobro had married early, one Manuela Portales Bello, an aristocratic Chilean with whom he had four children and from whom he later separated to form a new and scandalous relationship with a fifteen-year old, Jimena Amunátegui, with whom he would later have a fifth child. This relationship obliged Huidobro to leave Chile, first for Paris, then for New York in 1927 where he involved himself in the film business.

There he met Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson. He even won a prize of 10,000 dollars for his direction of the film Cagliostro. When in 1928, Jimena reached her majority, Huidobro left New York and travelled secretly to Chile where he snatched Jimena from her school and the couple fled to Argentina. Within a few  months the couple reappeared in Paris where they were married in accordance with Muslim custom, the only procedure that would 'legalise' their situation. In Paris in the following years Huidobro wrote his two major works, Temblor de cielo and Altazor.

In 1932 family affairs necessitated Huidobro's return to Chile. Politically at this time, he was a man of the Left (in the late forties he would become a militant anti-Communist). At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Huidobro organised Chilean intellectuals in support of the Republic and in 1937 he was in Spain,  with Líster's troop on the Aragón Front and taking part in literary conferences in Madrid and Valentia.

By the end of the Thirties, however, Huidobro was thoroughly disillusioned with politics which he described as 'the art of lying, of concealing, of falsifying, of dirtying life, of buying and selling consciences'.  Nevertheless he was to go to France in 1944 as a war correspondent and he was with the Allied troops in Germany and broadcast  from Paris on The Voice of America. During the War Huidobro was wounded twice and he was obliged to go to London for medical attention. When at last in 1945 he returned to Chile it was with a new girlfriend, Raquel Señoret, the young  daughter of the Chilean Ambassador to England. There he and Raquel set up home in Cartagena. In the couple of years left to him, he took little interest in contemporary Chilean poetry.

The above summary of Huidobro's life does little justice to one of the most flamboyant, gifted and relentlessly innovative poets of the Twentieth Century. His literary theories are best presented as expounded by himself in the two manifestoes appended to this small selection of his work. Like Shelley, he had the grandest notion of the function of the poet, and he did his best to live up to it. His literary presence is still felt in South American poetry, and, as with Vallejo, there is a growing appreciation of his work in the English-speaking world.  His poetry is wonderfully experimental and still constitutes a good antidote to the boring domesticity that deadens so much contemporary poetry.

 

 

Temblor de cielo: Sky Quake

    Above all one must know how many times we must abandon our beloved and flee from sex to sex to the ends of the earth.
    There where space passes its violin arch over the horizon and man is transformed into a bird and the angel into a precious stone.
    The Eternal Father is manufacturing darkness in his laboratory and is working to turn the deaf  blind. He has an eye in his hand and doesn’t know in whom to put it. And in a jar he has an ear mating with another eye.
    We are faraway, at the end of ends, where a man suspended by the feet from a star swings himself in space with his head downward. The wind that bends the trees gently tosses his hair.
   Flying creeks alight in the new forests where the birds curse the dawn of so many useless flowers.
    How rightly they insult the pulsations of those dark things.
    If one were attempting only to behead the captain of the flowers and to make his heart of superfluous feeling bleed, the heart full of secrets and bits of the universe.
     The mouth of a loved man on a drum.
    The breasts of the unforgettable girl nailed on the same tree where the nightingales pecked them.
    The statue of the hero at the Pole.
    To destroy everything, everything, with bullet and knife.
    The idols duel under the water.
    Isolde, Isolde, how many kilometers separate us, how many sexes between you and me.
    You well know that God plucks out the eyes of flowers since his mania is blindness.
    And he transforms the spirit into a parcel of feathers and he transforms the beloveds sitting on roses into pianola serpents, into sister serpents of the flute, of the same flute that is kissed on nights of snow and that summons from far away.
    But you do not know for what reason the blackbird tears apart the tree under his bloody fingers.
    And this is the mystery.
    Forty days and forty nights climbing from branch to branch as in the Deluge. Forty days and forty nights of mystery among rocks and peaks.
    I could fall from destiny to destiny but always I’ll keep the memory of heaven.
   Are you acquainted with the visions of the heights? Have you seen the heart of light? Sometimes I transform myself into an immense forest and traverse worlds like an army.
    Look at the entrance of rivers.
    The sea may just be my theatre some evenings.
    The street of dreams has no trees, nor a woman crucified on a flower, nor a ship passing the pages of the sea.
    The street of dreams has an immense navel from where a bottle sticks out. Inside of the bottle there is a dead bishop who changes colour every time the bottle moves.
    There are four candles that light up and go out following succeeding turns. Sometimes a bolt of lightning makes us see in the sky a torn-up woman who has been falling for the last hundred and forty years.
    The sky hides her mystery.
    On all the scales one assumes a hidden murderer. Cardiac singers die just by thinking about it.
    Just so the sickly butterflies will return to their state of worms, out of which they should never have come. The ear will relapse into infancy and will be filled with marine echoes and those algae that float in the eyes of some birds.
    Only Isolde knows the mystery. But she traverses the rainbow with trembling fingers in search of a special sound.
    And if a blackbird should peck her eye, she would let it drink all the water  it wants with that very smile of hers that attracts herds of buffalo.
   On what heart distended with bitterness would you float on all the oceans, on any sea?
    For you must know that gripping to a heart as to a buoy is dangerous on account of the marine grottos that attract them and where the octopuses are knots of snakes and elephant trumpets that forever close off their exit.
   Be aware of what a mountain is with arms raised begging pardon and realize that it is less dangerous than seas and more  amenable to friendship.
    Nevertheless, your fate is to love what is dangerous, the dangerous that is inside you and outside you, to kiss the lips of the abyss relying on occult aids for the final victory of all your
undertakings and your dreams covered in dew at dawn.
    Otherwise be grateful and withdraw to the depth of the memory of men.
    Isolde, Isolde, in the ice age bears were flowers. When the thaw came they were freed from themselves and they came out running in every direction.
    Ponder the resurrection.
    You alone must know the miracle. You have seen the miracle occurring before a hundred marvellous harps and all the cannons pointing at the horizon.
    There was then a file of sailors before a king in a distant country. The waves were awaiting patiently the return of their’s. Meanwhile the sea applauded.
    The thermometer was slowly descending because the blackbird had ceased singing and thought of jumping out of a trapeze into the middle of the world.
    Now I am afraid of only one thing and that is that you will emerge from a lamp or from some vase and speak to me in eloquent terms as magnolias speak in the evening. The room would be filled with agonising dragonflies and I would have to sit down so as not to fall unconscious on the floor.
   The dead woman would be thought itself.
   Reflected wherever eyes turn.
   Over the castle the general’s skeleton was a signal like a semaphore. We will count the skulls that are dragged through the country tied by an endless rope to the tail of a somnambulant horse, which no one recognises as his.
    The black male slaves will applaud over the womb of the female slaves as drunk as themselves without realising that the wind is a ghost and that the trees there in the distance are floating over a graveyard.
    Who has counted all the dead?
    And if all the windows were opened and if all the lamps begin to sing and if the cemetery is set on fire?
    For every bird of the sky there will be a hunter on land.
    The clarions will sound and the flags will become Bengal lights. Faith died, all the birds of prey died that were picking your heart.
    Migratory statues pass in flight.
    On the immense plain one hears the ordeal of  idols among the songs of the trees.
    The frightened flowers flee.
    The doors of an unknown music open and the years of the magician will emerge  who in his death throes stays seated with his hands on his chest.  
    How many things have died inside of us. How much death are we carrying inside of us. Why bind ourselves to our dead? Why do we insist on resurrecting our dead? They stop us from seeing the idea that is born. We are afraid at the onsetting new light, to which we are not yet accustomed like our dead motionless and stripped of all and dangerous surprises One must leave the dead thing for the living one.
    Isolde, bury all your dead.
    Think, remember, forget. Let your memory forget your memories, let your oblivion remember its oblivions. Take care not to die before your death.
    How to bestow a little grandeur on this present beast that only bends its knees in exhaustion at these high hours when the moon comes flying and places itself up ahead.
    And, nevertheless, we live waiting on chance, the forming of a sidereal sign in that expiatory beyond which will not reach arrival nor the sound of our bells.
    Just so, waiting for the great chance.
    Let the North Pole fly off like the greeting hat.
    Let that continent arrive  we are awaiting so many years ago, here sitting behind the bars of the horizon.
    Let the murderer run past , uncontrollably firing bullets at his pursuers.
    Let it be known why that girl was born and not the boy promised by dreams and announced so often.
    Let the corpse yawning and stretching under the earth be seen.
    Let the glorious ghost as it walks through heaven’s groves be seen.
    Let all the rivers suddenly stop at a single voice of command.
    Let the sky change place.
    Let the seas rise up in a great pyramid higher than all the Babels dreamt up by ambition.
    Let the wind beat in despair and put out the stars.
    Let a luminous finger write a word on the nightsky.
    Let the house up ahead collapse.
    For this we live, believe me, for this we live and for nothing else. For this we have voice and for this we have a network in our voice.
    For this we have that painful racing inside our veins and that gallop of an animal wounded in the chest.
    For this the flesh martyred by words blushes and thought grows watered by subterranean rivers.
    For this the howl of  shock inherited from the most tragic grandfather.
    Cut off the head of the monster that roars the door of dream. And then let no one forbid anything.
    Someone speaks and a poppy is born on the summit of voice before the opiate of future gaze shines.
--Peace on earth to the sailor of night.
    The silent explorers raise their head and adventure is stripped of its golden dress.
    Here is the feeling of sunset.
    Perhaps sunset will take note of us and then you will have understood the signals of  night. You will have understood the inventions of silence. The gaze of dream. The threshold of the abyss. The mountains’ journey.
    The cruise of  night.
    Isolde, Isolde, I am following my destiny.
    Where have you hidden the oasis you promised me so often?
    The light got tired of walking.
     Tell me, where do you carry that ladder that comes out of your eyes and is lost in the air?
    Do you know it’s my destiny to walk? Do you know the vanity of the explorer and the ghost of adventure?
    It is a question of blood and bones in front of a special magnet. It is the irrevocable destiny of a fabled meteor.
    It is not a question of love in the flesh, it is a question of life, a question of a wandering spirit, of a nomadic bird.
    All those women are trees or stones, perhaps unnecessary, lying on the road.
    Bottles of water and barrels of drunkenness usually without proper light. They are like cathedrals that follow a musical principle. Every chord has its correspondent and everything consists in knowing how to touch the spot of the echo that must answer. It is easy to make fabrics of sound and to build a true roof or magnificent domes for days of rain.
    If fate allows it, we can take shelter for a time and count the fingers of her who holds out her arms to us.
    Then the phantom will make us be again on our way.  We shall leap over the beating breasts that are her cupolas, because she, stretched out on her back, imitates temples. Rather, temples imitate her, with their towers like breasts, their central cupola like a head and their door that desires to imitate sex through which life that pulsates in the womb comes out afterwards.        
    But we must not accept a similar imitation, nor can we believe in such a life. In that life that emerges with the eyes bandaged and goes crashing into the trees of the countryside. We shall only believe in the flowers that are cradles of giants, although we know that inside of every cocoon a dwarf sleeps.
    And far back the mountains of live rock sweetly smile.
    The mountains smile because a blind man is seated upon them to hear the volcano’s drums roll. But what happens on the plains is more important still, since the trees of the forest have become serpents and rhythmically fight by reason of a special flute.
I forgot to tell you that there is also a lake and that this lake distances itself according to the direction of the wind. Sometimes it manages to lose from view, sometimes it spends
long years absent to come back its colour changed. Sometimes it is hungry and curses the men who are not shipwrecked at the due hour. At other times it journeys on four paws and gnaws for hours and hours on the spoils of so much tragedy, piled up on its shores or the mirages of one who knows what secret times.
    If the eye’s bird falls into the lake, a geyser leaps up in the mountain. A beautiful geyser like a tree with a woman swinging on its top.
    The lake also can also swing on the top of the tree. Everything depends on my will and on the drum that rolls in time.
    All those spies concealed behind the trees are not waiting for the miracle like those who would gladly have us believe, but the nude, blind woman coming out every evening to take her lost statue for a stroll and dashing into them.
    You are wasting time.
    Look, look, there is a fire in the moon.
    Dressed in white Isolde came like a cloud. Then the moon began to fall enveloped in flames. On the beaches a fiery reflection was dancing.
    Spectres emerge one by one from every rising wave.
   You who are concealed there, the hour of trembling arrived before the voracity of death.
The setting sun makes an aureole over the head of the last shipwrecked man who floats on the drift without hearing any longer the songs of the shore.
    Wolves go strolling with their eyes glittering through the night’s branches, closely interlocked and weeping with o precise cause.
    That man, bigger than the others, opens his mouth in the middle of the garden and begins to swallow glowworms for entire hours.
    The trees are twisted because of a strange pain. And a quantity of meteors that fall from the sky form a spiral in our atmosphere as if they were stones in the water.
    A dense smoke comes out from all sides. Now only the eyes of the wolves glitter and the man full of glowworms. All else is shadows.
    The mountain opens its doors and the blind man enters with outstretched arms.
    A tree, a big tree that writhes in the fire of twilight.
    Above God a recently born planet is swaying.
    Una isla de palmeras surge del mar para los novios que se pasean enlazados.
    Aueroles fall on the earth. One after another  hundreds of aureoles are falling on the earth, some over certain heads ... And nothing else?

*    *    *

An island of palm trees rises up from the sea for the lovers who stroll clasped in each other’s arms.
    Some day one of them will find the head that has been lost, inert in the very place where he lost it.
    When? Where? Which of them?
    See, Isolda, the torment behind the mountain. See the torment.
    The migratory forests will not come so faraway.
    There is a lone sandal in the middle of the earth.
    The progress of the passing evening is felt in the depths of the sea. At the moment when all things turn brilliant with intoxication.
   There is a hat beyond at the height of the head.
    There is a stick stuck in the ground and at the height of a hand.
    And there is nothing else. Because none of you can see the ghost that smiles at the dog at this instant.
    No one knows why the curtains behind the bed moved.
    Nor why Isolde’s cheeks blushed like the two curtains that are embarrassed.
    And why did her feet tremble like the two curtains that part.
    I would be capable of weeping at dawn to see you smiling.
    I would be capable of begging the greeting of the spectre that solemnly journeys towards the Stone Age.
    You know it well, for you I will pass like a reflection from forest to forest. What more do you want?
    Two bodies entwined domesticate eternity. 
    It is necessary to bend the knees.
    Then the castle turns into a flower, an eye turns into a river full of boats and every kind of fish.
    The piano becomes a mountain, the sea a small artichoke that turns like a windmill.
    The nerves become a tree full of tremblings and its tremblings spread in the night at intervals into infinity.
    The brain rolls down the body and goes off no one knows where. At the same time the forests flee in disorder.
    The torment of the bones begins, with their sack of clouds on their back, descending from of the silent womb, sad like a witch’s bird, like the night-threatened-flower.

*    *    *

    Prepared by solitude, everything is possible. Right at the start, a woman hanging from each lamp swings in the air we breathe. A music comes out of every picture in the wall, since we know every landscape is a musical instrument. And behind every door is a skeleton impatiently waiting.
    Completely abandoned, the night weeps in its retreat. Night ausculates your heart. Night, remember? When the curtains took the shape of ears and the form of eyelids with eyelashes of silence. Then I bent over your body as over a dissecting table, sank my lips into you and looked at you; your womb like a living wound and your eyes like the end of the world.
   Dragged along by solitude, Isolda, we submerge sink in the night that waits for us at the foot of the house.

*    *    *

    We have walked a great deal. The searchlights desperately rummaged in the night, raced this way , crossed one another in the infinite, greeted and parted forever. Suddenly a hand emerged out of the mid-sky, a hand as of someone shipwrecked and crushed under its fingers the head of a bird that fell, without any protest from its lips, slowly on to the earth.
    We were on the shore of the sea. A wave came racing and fished up the dead bird and carried it off.   
    The shore’ s mountain had a small chill, then from its cetacean back spouted a spurt of fresh and crystal water that seemed inside a distant showcase.
    Thus returned the hour of serenity drawn by the hand of a comet that no one knew how to christen and the children called, it was never known why, Eloisa’s mane.
    One can still see in the nights the eye that floats like a desolate almond.
    One can still see the ship that passes through the air with its nets spread out.
    One can still see the drowned man floating with his luminous body between two waters.
    One can still see the sailing ship like a cross on its endless Golgotha.
    One can still see the pirates clinging to the floating keel and the captain hanging from the main mast on the high sea.
    One can still see in the flash of lightning the pale helmsman with his beard to the wind.
    One can still see the flash of lightning the naked dead woman with her swollen breasts.
    One can still see by the flash of lightning a rapist horse disappear in the distance.
    One can still see on moonlit nights the floating hand.
    But the sirens’ fish with their hair in entwined in the nets are not see again and we have vainly waited.
    We have greeted all the waves, we have looked attentively, we have waved our hats and our kerchiefs, we have gambled their breasts at dice on the deck of thousands of ships. All useless. The accomplices of dawn heard the flowers on their way, they heard the progress of the polar light and once more the progress of the hero toward the Stone Age.
    But no one will see the torment of the sirens.
    In vain you raise your fingers pointing at every fold of the sea and every trembling of the clouds.
    I am telling you,  she is more dangerous than the night.
    A bird as solitary as the seas moves off slowly perhaps because of your shouts.
    It moves off slowly, as I said, towards the marvels of its own dream. The sense of the evening moves off slowly.
    The panorama of this budding secret is not for you.
    What do you know of encounters in eternity? I tell you again, she is more hidden than the night at midday.
    No use rigging up for this happy exploration. Nor for the unmoved catches of fish scarcely lit up by the internal light of the sea, scarcely rocked by silence or solitude.

*    *    *

    Who was the murderer?
    Before the judge is the corpse of the woman like the mummy of the most beautiful  pharaoh queen.
    Shout, accusers.
    No use the judge to scrutinise the eyes of the bystanders. The shape of no present eye corresponds to the shape of the wound that is still seen blood soaked on the naked breast.
    A violent squall closes all the eyelids.
    Gentlemen, who heard the shot?
    Did no one see a shadow fleeing through the window? Did no one see a light in the middle of the night?
    All eyes turn towards the big man who was eating the glowworms in the garden.
    Through the transparency of his body one can see something like a dagger or a lily concealed, but the tranquility of the presumed criminal sows doubt in his accusers.
    Two tears roll down his cheeks.
    ‘It’s him, it’s him,’ some shout.
    ‘It’s not him, it’s not him,’ others shout.
    The roll of drums comes down through the sky as if a rain of stones were falling on the moon.
    The accused remains imperturbable. With his big eyes fixed not twinkling, even at the moment in he feels a crown start to form around his brow.
    Everyone looks towards the streets. The cortege that sprang out of the triumphal explosion is crossing. The flags unfurled as the wind. Everyone looks but he doesn’t move an eye.
    ‘The criminal. The criminal.’
    When the mob rushed on, a thousand fists went to smash into a marble statue that stared at the horizon.
    Then on the horizon a comet appeared with a long gown of glowworms and began to rise up over the sky that received it with open arms.
    In a few minutes in the depth of the same horizon a window opened and the beloved showed up with beautiful sleepy eyes looking at the comet and trying to guess the presage, perhaps painful, its presence among men was announcing. What magical signs does the beloved make with her hands white as heaven? She has in her hand a perfect diamond out of which a fountain of waters starts to spring slowly gently towards us.
    Suddenly a deafening shriek rises in the air.
    ‘To the guillotine. The guillotine. The guillotine.
    Moments later, when before the bloodthirsty mob, the fatal knife severed the marble head of the accused, a huge jet of light endlessly spurted from the neck.
    In the same instant there was a frightful tremor in the sky. Stars shattered into a thousand pieces, planets burst into flame, bits of the moon went flying, the burnt coals of the volcanoes of other heavenly bodies leaped up and sometimes they came squeaking to cleave to the bulging eyes of men.
    The mob fled in terror. Some hid themselves seeking relief under the earth, others fell on their knees beating their breast and with arms raised to the heaven imploring forgiveness.
    The jet of light went on oozing out of the neck of the executed man on the platform of death.

*    *    *

    In the middle of the catastrophe and the general confusion some arms more powerful than a hundred seas clutching to my neck.
    ‘Isolde, Isolde, is it you?’
    ‘How many years away one from the other?’
    ‘A similar hecatomb was needed for us to meet again.’
    ‘You, tree of wisdom, with mature eyes in the gate of sleep and that elephant walk with idol feet.’
    ‘Give me  your breasts to kiss. Show me your breasts.’
    ‘Always waiting for the age of marvels like the magician’s dove.’
    ‘Let me kiss your breasts.’
    The captive angel  breaks his chains and flies through the air, pursued, in vain, by some inept shots.
    The powerful and solitary night falls again. The serpents lit up by the storm race in bounds after the liberated angel impossible to catch.
    Isolde clings to me, is enchased in my arms.
    In the forge of lightnings one can hear the hammerings with which the storm fashions the crown for my kingly head.
    How many people this all-too-shining crown made blind? Countless are those who look at the man and see the ultimate vision of their life. The handsome giant dying upon the sea, only asks to see it so as to return to life or to die in peace..
    Many are the visions engraved on it as on a frieze. On it one sees the body of a woman burning in the fire that rises from her own flesh and there is no way to extinguish the flames.
     And so many other visions. Like that of the dwarfs who pass flying carrying on their shoulders the coffin of a Titan.
    And that of the island plucked out by the wind that falls on city.
    And that of the lightning interwoven with the rain of the storm.
    And that of the palm trees bent under the wheels of the hurricane.
        And that of the cloud mountain that halts so long that a sweet vegetation begins to grow in it.
    And that of the bitter night when we ourselves shall be dying.  I think the moment is here to think about the night when we shall all be dying.
      ‘Isolde, I love you and through all the others I have only sought to love you more.’
    Bitter is the night and profound the abyss where your arms flung me. Twitching I am falling, my hands in despair, like a Niagara irremissibly lost.  
    The foam will spray my face before reaching the bottom. Noise stuns the ears, it bounces off my brain before my body shatters in the depths.
    Nevertheless, I still smile waiting from one moment to another that my body may feel  lighter than air.
    O let a lasso fall from who knows what star, and catch me and raise me up before hitting the ground.   
    ‘Isolde, see the attitude of the perfect man.’
    The wind sways from side to side. Below, the gazes of men bind me to their earthly terror on a doleful plain on which a solitary house is seen in the distance and a cloud of smoke that tries to raise the house to the sky. 
     The house of the crime will never be free of its bit of region. Yet, despite the fact of the show
becoming more wretched than ever, the night is more brilliant than ever, there is no free place in all the sky. And this, to see what?
    The throat of the beautiful woman has the form of a song.
    And she will sing, she will sing assured that I have not yet died. She will sing despite the season too far advanced, despite the night that rolls from the mountains, despite the difficulties of the terrain. She will sing.
    And the child will stop crying over his small white ship. And the finest star will come out on top of its head, at the back of the alcove, beyond the sensitive pillows, on the true reefs of his ultimate sleep.
    Perhaps we shall hear the voice mingled with an enormous song because the sea is stretched over several pianolas and sometimes abandons itself to its own instincts.
    Then the hour of transfiguration arrives. The sea sweats and writhes in an intimate pain. Every wave becomes an angel and flies.
    Woe is he who dared to raise his hand above the sea!
    You do not know and therefore I am telling you:   On the nights when no one sees it, the sea becomes
a great monument and they say that on its edge its own statue solemn on its feet.    No one will ever know what the truth is or the number of mistakes in all the instincts of his life.
    On what amount of errors are all of man’s discoveries made?
    Those discoveries lovelier than an electric spark and than the legs of a woman. Here all the wise men bow, here the prophets kneel, here the cock crows and where his song ends a scene is born as you all know. Then only the hands of the shipwrecked are visible, bound to the waves and a bottle that floats and moves on to tell the story of so much grief.
    Isolde, if you only knew!
    The sky has changed seven times. And it will change again because of the sea. Because the sea has turned into a globe and  unfastened its moorings and set off through the sky.
    What’s the idea of pointing your cannons and tolling the bells?
    On the horizon, the setting sun stretches out its hand and looked at us just through its five fingers separated like the spokes of a wheel. What can we do?
    Over the lonely field there falls the egg of an eagle as it flew not knowing where to direct its flight. This will be the field of fertility for some years and perhaps on that very spot a great capital might arise.
    Telescopes rise up and are lost in eternity. The sky undresses. Aerolites and lightnings cross past the Milky Way, the ceremonial cortege of comets moves by and no one now fears the wrath of God.
    The sky undresses and the agonizing eyes of everything it believed are seen.
    The sky undresses and one can see the deathlike eyes of him who created everything..
    The sky undresses and one can see the nocturnal ghost that brings daily nourishment to the heavenly bodies.
    The shy undresses and one can see the cave of candelabras in whose center sleeps the woman of flesh we all know, enveloped in her hair.
    The sleepwalking zebras gallop by and the windows and one can be see the windows that open into darkness, stuck to the night like parasites.   
    Ah, if only you knew! I am hidden away inside your shadow. I am the newborn tree inside your eyes. I am the child of naked feet like a statue that shouts in the shipwreck among the impassible reflections.
    I am the spectre that moves off in the distance guided by its doves, those doves full of wisdom that are nourished on the light of the flickering streetlamps.
    Here I am exhausted and terrible, more terrible than the drifting ship that goes off howling through the sky and dies gently like a man or like a dog when he feels for the first time the weight of his skeleton under his flesh.
   Ah, if you saw! When the maternal womb opens like a cage and a woman raise her arms to the infinite, offering all future flights.
    If you saw! The trembling rooftops before rising up forever. The roofs that will set off who knows whither with their cargo of clouds.
    If you saw now the insect that leaps to the contact of two vindictive ropes and that can even take the form of a man for the eyes that look attentively.
    And the unconsciousness of night surrounded by a deep canal; the unconsciousness of trees, their frequent fights. How many times have I seen them insult each other, pull each other by the hair over a bird.   
    Before such mysteries, before such hidden forces, the unconsciousness of the sea that could suddenly split in half, an incredible thing.
    But you know that the day will come on which they will be touched by grace like the mountains and then each one will have an aureole around it.
    Then we shall see the girls who come out of school, in a light flight of their tresses to the wind heading towards  the mountebank who awaits them at the entrance of the volcano.
    We shall see the statue that strolls above the houses, washed by the rain like the wounds of the warrior. We shall see the transformation of silence and the ecstasies of whoever ponders the games of sunset and later on the star winking in the current of air.
    But only the man who agonises will see a flower stirring the hands inside the womb of the beloved woman. And then death will be drunk in a gulp.
    The woman will move away barricading her life with her skirts, she will wait naked above the night, with all her beauty free.
    She will be able to show herself on the balcony of her beauty, she will be able to stroll with her white back full of nocturnals without it being important to her that the rain falls on her bones, the rain where rarely the hanged can be hung. But she smells the sadness, she hears the voice of the tombs and opens her mouth to chew death.
   The man who approaches her has his eyes bound and raises a hymn or aquatic plant in his hand.
    All the bridges collapse and the queen cannot pass, the queen with her brain perfumed by its thoughts, the queen with blue eyes smelling of the sea.
    Fever escapes through her pores and her five senses die at the same door of mystery.
    Only the breast of the heart goes on living, surrounded by its vassals, with all its statutory myths. It goes on living and gazing, looking like a bulging eye, without obeying the orders of the Creator who thunders from the depths of his sleep.
    How many sacks of gold does the greedy man pile up in a cavern to buy that breast that will float toward the end of the centuries in their large barrel full of memories!
    Perhaps a naïve child with his lips poisoned with chimeras is going to chew him now that so many hands stretch towards him. Perhaps he is going to free an embodied battle, beyond his years.
By the sex that is guessed, strolling under the clothes of shadow.
   She is the ghost of transparent skin that has no face, but an empty roundness between her hair and neck.
Flee, delicate child, with your crown of caresses in her head. Flee, I tell you, to the caverns of the Pole and sing while legendary beauty listens to the sound of the bullets that race through it.

*    *    *

    The net stretched from breast to breast others have been able to wait for.
    During the night, the precious trembling hides in the marine caverns. There the pearl-diver goes down, and sometimes he has found stretched out of the waters a legendary young girl with bound arms. Then he climbs the scale again that hangs from the night and is lost in the zone of the birds-of-ill-omen.
    From the highest peak he can throw a rope to the woman who is crucified in her spoils and raise her to the summit of the trees to which those still bearing the Deluge’s memory climb.
    Run to dry yourselves in the mouth of the volcano that will soon raise its flags in a sign of triumph.
    Earthly child, when you try to reconcile the wings with your humid eyes, forgotten the fluorescences of the internal labyrinth, you forget the luminous cavern of the possessed.
    The volcano will know how to remind you of what you forgot and will throw a flower at your memory and then you will see passing before you the whole universe as the native erect upon the mountain sees the hurricane passing and the river full of torn-down trees.
    The woman we all know will go away from you along the edge of the wandering heavenly bodies, with the load of your mane on their backs, she will go off under the moon that is swollen with gluttony or perhaps by the periodic rain of the eternal snows. The woman will go off with a precious corpse under her arm and she will see coming towards her suddenly an island of violent colours.
    Her majestic hair will fall on the sea amid the milennia-old algae. She will be dressed in madness with all her own light and she will be like a silk screen that the dying man gazes at.
    Meanwhile, the other, in his prison of wisdom, will not be able to raise his eyes without seeing above each book, above each microscope the statue of the enormous breasts and a polished womb that enlivens its own heart.
    That is the statue of living alcohol that spurts from the pores and falls in a cascade to fettered feet.
    And the game you believed was the game of life, is in fact the game of death.
     Here is the man above the woman from the beginning of the world. The man on the woman eternally like the stone on the tomb.
    You are no other than death on death. See the spasmodic gesture of her who dies in death.
    Just so, you cross the life locked inside of death.
    ‘Isolde, in vain you sigh in the night, in vain you shout my name when now I don’t hear, when a sweat of blood covers my ears, when the sky voids itself into my retina. Every man is a coward. Don’t believe in the exceptions that the dream, fallen from other heavenly bodies less palpable paints for you. The mystic is the man of terror, he is the man who does not wish to be alone, it is he who wishes he were two out of fear of being alone.’
    Ah, if only you knew!
    What would I not give to silence them with their bluish voice and break their forms and the colours
of their eternal or transient feeling, always sweet, too sweet for the palate of an infinite shipwrecked man.
    The events are above the human voice. The portent now condensed in a marble flag matters far more than all your arts, your tricks, your ploys.

 

   
    The staved paper is a mastic without destiny. Future forests will not sprout from there, look at it and you will see that it scarcely marks a momentary vineyard.
    The sea brings you the sensitive coffin up to the door of your house, even up to your very bedside so that you don’t lock yourself in with your precious hysteria and with your shrieks, those filthy shrieks, filthy as the tears of the algebraic demonstration of pain.
    Lock yourself up in it and let no seed issue from  your womb, that could be a piano with sunset microbes, a piano of a turbulent soul that leaps up like champagne.
    Raise up your arms, woman, and ask pardon of the creature that sways between your legs and wishes to know nothing of the light of your small domestic lamps.
    Blow, blow and put out those chimerical lights with a magic word. Blow and put out the statue now about to ask the way, now anxious to know tomorrow’s weather.
    Lower the finger with which you were going to point out the proffered destiny, your experience of darkness, while a ship is being shipwrecked and leaps from downpour to downpour, from abyss to abyss under the black sky.
    Use your time better in waving your hair like a simple sea that listens to its smooth birds as it traverses evening.
    Keep your night lectures for the crowd in a hollow fiesta when all lean on the port railings. Keep for it the ceremonial of your breasts no longer capable of steadying themselves.
    Then the king’s coach must carry you with your womb and your legs, with your comet gaze through the throng that applauds you. What more do you want?
    The palace has staircases that end no one knows where, the columns support the ojives from planet to planet to planet and in all the vases there are severed heads.
    Through the grille one sees eternity asleep with an indescribable placidity. What more do you want?
    That is your destiny. Leave everyone the liberty they have, at its the flight’s start or its close as a branch or a port. And be quiet now.
    The dying man purses his lips so  the definitive bird will not flee to sing its ballad on other rocks.
    Everything obeys the cadence of a voice that no one knows where it falls from.
    See the destiny of the magnetic butterfly.
   See the skeleton patiently awaiting its hour, hidden in the shadows. The final skeleton that will play chess under its earthen house, while its hats live in the streets of others.
    And you can weep because the tree’s horoscope is similar.
    Hide your caresses in the caverns of the polar birds in which man sticks stalactites in his eyes and woman runs leaping among the icebergs.
    ‘Isolde,’ now the hurricane comes destroying the graveyard of gazes, now the hurricane comes with the speed of planets hurled out to destiny.
    Let us hide in the deepest catacombs and there let us engrave our name on the sensitive stones next to the niche in which we must rest for eternity.
    The forehead of Time bleeds in the darkness without repose of night,  shattered it bleeds by mountains of thorns.
    What does it matter!
    On the terrace of the ultimate peak my throat was gulping all the thunders of the sky and my fingers caressed the back of the lightnings, while the sun behind the night regrouped its armies and prepares for attack on the following day.
   Do you hear the noise of the waves crashing in the night?   
   

 

     Don’t fear. Let’s go. It is the sailboat of death. The beloved monster approaches and comes to lick our hands.
    The earth is gentle and smooth like the mattress of eternity.
    The wife invites us to the fiesta of her entrails. Her kiss tastes like God’s lips and must bring us farther than a man can reckon.
    Now you pass and I see inside your illuminated heart the geological arborescences that mark your age on the earth.
    Do you hear the noise of the waves that crash in the night? Do you hear the noise of the waves smashing their head?
    Now you pass and lose yourself in landscapes yesterday unassailable, and you leave by the roads ever alive and as equivocal as ever.
    Soon you will meet the ghost that shouts: Everyone for himself, and throws its feelings and memories overboard  to make it lighter.
    You will also find the man who throws out his years like the ballast of a balloon and then chants his thoughtlessness with the voice of a lover enchained and satisfied.
    You will meet the man who knows everything, the repellent man who overlooks nothing, who always has a ready reply, a man who has studied the innards of the flower, who knows the past, the present and the future and the genealogy of every wave.
    Despite everything, the Mystery will present itself dressed in luxury clothing. The delicate happiness of its pulsing breast or the pain of its eyes just anxious to be free, must not fear such a match.
    Woman, look at my eyes, these eyes condemned to life imprisonment.
    And you think I can enter into God like the diver into the sea.   
    But there is no God sufficiently profound for my heart, for the anguish of this heart accustomed to
the greatest waves and the heart prefers to vegetate in its port and to rot among the algae.
    Don’t believe that I am afraid.
    Nor does a trembling shake me when my big eyes open and see what one sees at the moment of death. Because I have seen what you will see only then.

*    *    *

     I am not afraid. I only tremble when sometimes I find my voice in a man of long ago.
    ‘Isolda, look at me in the battle, look at me in the most desperate instant, when all is lost. Then indeed I am me and I certainly see myself more handsome than a ship fighting to the death against the sea.’
   Thus I say and prepare myself to be root, while the earth flees roaring through the sky … While the moon looks out of the corner of its eye and the air loses its own limits.
    What are you doing there dressed in black? You are at the door of my house awaiting my burial with crowns and festive laurels. And if I command that my corpse should be thrown to the dogs?

*    *    *

 
    Every burden is useless and memory only slows progress and bends backs.
    From our necks hang so many arms and breasts and eyes of legendary virgins that our lips take the form of an obsessed flower.

 

    The crime is compulsory if you wish to fly again. A rhythmic gymnastic murder or the confidence trick of the juggler who knows how to extinguish the flashes in the womb or their changing place at the precise moment, making them rise in the violin of the most careless. Thence they will rise in delicate scales to the ultimate peaks.
   Enveloped in loops of fire, he who can dance will be the preferred one and only he will know how to how to enfold the legendary maiden in serpent spirals. There he will stay haunted until the end of time.
    And you must know that the weight of the howl will not break the luminous circles when the macabre season arrives and the spectre’s march to the Pole is seen.
    Later will come the fiesta of mothers and the fiesta of brides erect on top of the tower with their eyes full of intimate ceremonies, their eyes open so that the four cardinal points may be born and that they may grow limitlessly and overbrim the world.
    Ah, if you only knew! The hands of the monologue are raised to the forehead and shade the eyes to see further.
    Everything is for what? Soon the tears will come and a death to choose in variety selected by the centuries.
    Do you hear the nocturnal coffin being nailed? Do you see the beautiful nude in her aquarium of death?
    The circumference of sighing in which we believe all that past is being buried can be people with a tropical vegetation and a vertiginous fauna.
    Flowers will grown under the aquarium, flowers will grow under the grounds of the cemetery and one day there will appear above the earth the oldest coffin raised in the arms of  odours like robust stems.
    ‘Isolde, the weight of your tears cannot break the marble. But see what the miracle of muscular memory did.
    Do you hear the nocturnal coffin being nailed?
    You are the horse that the night mounts for its longest journeys.
    Yet you will never reach the end. You will travel the whole history of men and you will not find what you have been  looking for.
   The physical culture of gravediggers makes the world lighter and the spectacle tolerable. We know that the rain of the earth will be eternal, we know that autumn will be an always living fountain of leaves, an endless cascade among the branches, we know that the winter will extend its Pole to our eyes when sprays of water turn into statues in the middle of plains whiter than the moon.
   We know that beyond the boundary of winter the eyes of him who waits will see in vain and has forgotten that the fault was hers or at least she should have split it in two.
    The winter will fly again stirring the heavy wings of someone who knows what unknown metal and it only because you knew how to seek forgiveness.
    The legendary caravans that have no more title of nobility than their own antiquity will cross again, their indisputable experience similar to the pyramids or the seat of the mandarin who has seen past the music of so many centuries with no destiny apparent, forever fixed upon the naked breasts of the tortured, twisting beauty stretched out on infernal slabs.   
    Sometimes before the desired end a hospital appears open and ordered in its whiteness like a restaurant with its tables awaiting the equality of feeling.
    The unexpected train departs to the satisfaction of its desires. Everywhere the gun in the trembling hand holds its breath.

 

   
    Sometimes the ambush travels towards us, sometimes it moves off in other directions and seems not to have seen us or rather to have forgotten us.
    Sometimes the thief flees, bearing the hand and the severed breasts of the legendary beauty stuffed in his pockets, other times the doctor flees with his bag in which he hid the eyes of the unforgettable beloved hidden in his bag.
    Straight ahead the road continues and is only cut off in the sea. There the boats are waiting supported on the railings of twilight. At the moment of definitive parting the young traveller appears with her head surrounded by seven rainbows, hauling in her progress the chorus of supplicants who feed on her lovely breath.
    She wants all that live to worry about her telling eyes, her lace-encircled neck, her shoulders wrapped in magnetic furs and her rainbow hat.
    She, when she sees our light-pierced, takes fright, her bones tremble beneath her catastrophe-trained flesh.
    The instruments of torture are all similar in the inner base of the their raison d’etre. Even the doves that fly from sky to sky know this from their tenderest infancy.
   The legendary beauty bound to her breasts lives in the innocence of her volatile hair. She has never seen one swallow desperate in its pitcher of air, nor other similar birds that wish to break the terrestrial atmosphere and to flee forever from our side.
    She bows her head under the tattoos of the sky and sees nothing. It can scarcely be said that she feels the bonds of her womb.
    And do you know why this is? Because there is always some dead woman lacerated by the daggers of the ghost hidden behind the curtains, that might finally make the gesture of refusal and naturally turn her face.
    All brides sleep on the same couch.
    There they are sleeping crossed by the same dream with their aquatic eyes swimming amid the same submarine algae. From the beginning of the world the leaves of virginity are falling outside their own autumn, without any reason.
    The lamp that keeps vigil is like a jellyfish with wounded eyes. And they don’t understand.
     In the open window, the skeleton tenders its fingers so it lures birds it would irremediably loose to their migratory trends or to the forest’s magnets. And they don’t understand.
    The birds choking on their own musical instrument die, that instrument at whose rhythmic sound grow our vertebrae and the sap rises to the peak of the brain to nourish the luminaries with due pressure. And they don’t understand.
    Outside the throngs swarm and squabble fiercely over the stair-steps of the miraculous sanctuary. They rise from their knees through the scales of their hymns and try to kiss the claws of the convulsed dragon.
    The captain of lilies defends the rights of his caste and will continue perfuming, while it lives and the triumph is his. For her part, the naked woman is flung with blows from above and goes lashing her breasts on the steps, her laments breaking there.
   Thus one day she will suddenly fall into the advisory chamber when the king is in conversation with his minions. She will be the key to the mystery, because truth escapes with the blood of her wounds.
    There is the light, the light the monks do not want to see, concerned only with gathering as much manna as possible and with responding to the greetings of the dragon.   
    Blinded by the lightning bolts of God, they were worshipping, they were turned into a statue. That was an end that befitted them since the sphinx does not pay visits nor open its eyes to see the cataclysm.

     Flee from here. Cross the immense river with the hooded crow on your shoulder, the river speeding by like a train and sustaining its pace to infinity.
    Cross the river that flows between palm trees and storks, palm trees bigger than the eyes of the beloved, the river you do not know, the one I’m pointing at, that which in the night is filled with magic lanterns and sleeps under its own awning if the indifferent shepherdess knows how to sing to its ear.
    ‘Isolde, what is your voice and what should it be? Where is your voice and where should it be?
    You will make a harp with branches and frighten the bees. You will stay alone in the middle of the spectres you knew how to lure with your charms. Your delicate fingers will draw their best melodies out of the trembling leaves and your eyes up there will look at the world as the host within the monstrance. 
    Don’t let the moon strip you, not allow them to hang you from some star the same that those hanged for beautiful crimes, the hanged who swing over eternity.
    What does it matter to you if the groom jumps down from the tower and loses his eyesight on the way?
    Leave him in peace. You will say that his eyes knew how to die with a modest heroism. Without failure, someone will gather the songs of the volcanic lover, will light a candle in his memory or will place a menacing crown on his defunct head where only the eyes still keep a certain life and all mornings rise to go on tiptoe sowing worries in your hardened breast.
    You sing (O, mindless one!) while your serpent arms die like those of the oriental temple dancers.
    The waves are slow to die out..
    Do you hear the sea’s coffin being nailed?
    ‘Isolde, that other, also died. He, the guilty, paces away his last road accompanied by his crimes.
    They all died. They were disembarking their statues at different stations.
    With her bound smile, that one remained in the middle of the fields. But there is one, there is one
who ran aground on the sands of my memory and feeds on my cells.
    One day we flew linked above the effervescent peaks. We rolled down the boundless abyss and raised sex soceries to a rite of a defenceless shipwreck. 
     For five months my head went to sleep on your belly. That knot of arteries and bones made our luck even from our luminous meeting. Since then I live accompanying its funeral procession.
    I am descending the ladder of her memory that each day grows longer and each hour more propitious, interwoven with the stars that gave her all their light, before dying, that fled for awaiting no reward.
    ‘Isolde, sometimes I would like to drown in an ocean of women.’
    Night reins on the two banks of your gaze and I stroll through the world, I stroll in silence, I stroll like the solitude of a dead man.
    I stroll through the world without seeing the world, I stroll through the world without hearing the world, I stroll like the dignity of a dead man.
    Do you hear? They are nailing my coffin. Do you hear how they are nailing my coffin? How they are
locking up the night in my coffin, the night that will be mine until the end of the centuries.
    I am slow, slow at dying.
    I don’t fear nothingness nor would I fear it even if I I were not assured to survive in my echo, to endure intangible while rolling from echo to echo.   
    ‘Isolde, you are bound to meet me still many a time me even on many a roads of eternity.’
    Some of you will also find me bearing guilty eyes, held in handcuffs and struggling to break them.
   Look at the dead man who rises up on the high seas. Hear the voice of the dead man who stands erect amid his shroud of waves.
    Look at the dead man who rises on the peak of the mountain.
    Hear, hear the voice of the dead.
    The great voices of the grandparents, the black voice that has its root in the profundity of the earth and takes years and centuries reaching the surface and more years and centuries in finding a ready throat.
    The powerful throat that may be like a trumpet. The trumpet of the ages, the trumpet of all those who have suffered, of all those who have trembled in sweats of blood over terror and dejection, the trumpet of all those griefs, of all those hatreds, of
all the vengeances. The trumpet of all the frightful roots.
    Listen, listen to the voice of the darkness. Through my throat the darkness returns to light.
    Enter your own vertiginous cavern, descend without chloroform your intimate profundities. The blood has its own light and bones give off sparks for a feverish match like an electric contact.
    Ladies and gentlemen: There is a dead man who flattens his hair under his head inside his coffin. You have beautiful teeth to speak beautiful words.
    Ladies and gentlemen: There is a bird that opens out in full flight and hurls eternity at us. It hurls at us blood and bowels like excrement    The bird foretold by the heavenly bodies knows all their secrets.
    Ladies and gentlemen: There is a dead man who is becoming a skeleton in his coffin. The emanations of his flesh tear at the timber and make the stone doors oscillate.
    You heard the tomb’s door creak and you thought that at two metres deep there is a city of placid skeletons and biting skulls. There is a city of wax faces and wax hands. The dust of your bones suffers hardens the nights and falls like time in your
internal sand-clock because your shadow has the form of the night and is a small night in progress.
    You are there in that interminable position in which you remain after having drunk the infinite glass that distils emptiness and that converts you into respectable ashes of the immemorial ancestor. Out of all these ashes, chance  can make a new heavenly body.
    And I tell you, dear listeners, that the unfortunate skeleton that is your guest will never see the light since the coffin will pass from your flesh to the coffin of burial. Thus, you bear a prisoner bound to your wandering, pitiless gaol. It is bad luck being shouldered by a frame bound to revenge it and only lying in wait for the opportune moment.
    The prisoner’s thirsty temperature equals that of an ardent sister, it feels heavenly deliriums in its innards, it wishes to leave that constant evening, to leap in a wild cawing as the volcano leaps from the depths of the earth and does not stop until it reaches the light, as the fright foretold sprouts from the breast and rises to the lips and the eyes converted into sores of silence. Your bones, drunk with solitude, feel the dew rustle in the blood and foretell that they are the last music, the final whistle after the end of the world only like the siren of a
shipwrecked ship that would sound suddenly in the depths of the sea.
    And when the bones, ladies and gentlemen, break the bonds that bind them together like constellations, their bang will be a fabled one, as the bang of catastrophe to attuned ears, mightier than that of distance set free and galloping off. Such is the greed of the fugitive prisoner who makes the roads howl and frightens the heartless, while his gestures encompass the universe.

  
     Ladies and Gentlemen: the shipwreck’s snake chews its tail and gets bigger, it grows to infinity. Inside its coils we are sucked in by the abyss of the onsetting corruption, pus spurting through our eyes  as the scum of bays. Meantime inner landscapes feel the flight of trees, our ears come to hear, before they peel off and fall like leaves, the whirlwind of corn ears that get deeper. There is no hope of repose. In vain the skeleton behind its glass takes the hieratic attitude of one who about to sing. The planet’s inner doors of the planet violently stop their ears like the carer of the sick who hears the shrieks of the terrible adventure of the last frontier. Nothing is gained by thinking that perhaps the voluptuous zone of astonishment stretches behind the abstract wall.    No, you will not find the old
man sitting, on the rocks of the eternal snowfall, smiling gently and surrounded by meditative heroes like palm trees.
    Two words more, my friends, before finishing: Our struggles and debates are futile, our phosphorescence vain, both of our swords and of our words. Only the coffin is right. Victory is the cemetery’s. Triumph only flourishes in the mysterious sown land.
    Such was the speech you have called macabre without any reason, the beautiful speech of the presenter of nothingness.
    Move on. Go your ways as I myself do.
    I am slow at dying.
    Nevertheless, Isolde, prepare your tears. Distant affectionate one as a piano of remorse, prepare your best tears.
    I am slow dying. The statue strolls above the sea and the wind closes my eyelids as a sign of a penetrating glory.
    A mountain occupies half of my breast.
    I bear a heart too big for you. You have measured your mountains, you have known that the Gaurizankar is 8,000 metres high, but you do not know nor will you ever know the height of my
heart. Nevertheless, tomorrow in the depth of the earth I will hear, your footsteps.
    Who will disturb the silence? Quieten that insolent noise.
    It’s my ancestors who dance on my grave. They are my grandparents who sound the alarm to awaken me.
    Hubo también entonces un derrumbe en el cielo.
    It is the chief of the tribe you find feeling lonely and weeping.
    Quieten your useless shouts.
    See us finally asleep in the sex of the earth.
    Since then the cataclysm of cities is alive. Walls and roofs fall allowing us to see entire villages naked in different attitudes, mostly imploring mercy.
    Arms and legs stick out amid rubble.
    Then there comes also a collapse of the sky.    How many birds died crushed.
    Days later people strolled looking at the ruins. There was not a smile standing. Ghost went by howling with covered eyes, and a crazed man leaped from head to head with a dagger in his hand in search of a guilty god.
    Sweat, slaves, raise up future cities. Meanwhile I look at the career  of forests. I contemplate the pirate of sunset and his slow plea.
    Measure the earth to know how many miracles fit. Adorn the volcanoes, bedeck with flags the rivers, pierce the mountains. You will tell me tomorrow how many gods can be buried still with all their dreams.
    ‘Wake up, Isolda, before the final turn revolt comes and your bed is riddled with bullets because no one believes in your truth.
    It will be necessary, I tell you, that your grace rise amid the cadavers, your grace chosen in the wheels of revolt, while fire destroy everything and begins to lick the horizon and to climb through the sky.
 Towers bend under the boundless rain. Roofs fly burning.
    Everything must pass.
   From brow to brow the world is in silence. But there is something that keeps looking for us everywhere.
     Plough the earth to sow prodigies. Throw ladder through all chasms.
    Do tell me, what use is hope? The sailboats move off in the endless Golgotha, for fear of the storm. Everything stays behind.
    The canoe that must perish is climbing the last wave.
    The sky  slow at dying.
    Do you hear the heaven’s coffin being nailed?

 

 

 

Valle-Inclán (1866-1936)
Translated by Michael Smith

Two Rose Sonnets

Valle-Inclán's dates are 1866-1936. His life thus spans a period of terrific upheavals in Spanish cultural identity: revolution, loss of colonial empire, the First Republic, civil wars, restoration of the monarchy, ideological strife and class struggle, dictatorship, the Second Republic. Valle-Inclán chose to scourge, flog and expose humanity. He prefers the grimacing caricature of farce and mime to conventional portraiture, the swift and scathing sketch to the elaborate mechanics of narrative and stagecraft. His medium is a prodigiously refined Spanish of his own peculiarly personal coinage. In diction and image, his poetry is flamboyantly varied. The detachment of the Parnassian enables him to create dazzling poetic effects.

 

 

Eastern Rose

A feline grace is hers when walking,
profound echoes fill her form,
her dark mouth with Moorish fraud
lisps such tales as of Aladdin.

Her eyes are black, sultry, wily,
her smile is sad with ancient lore,
her flowery skirt's a sough of spells
of Indian and of sacred store.

In an Eastern garden her hand plucked
the apple of the sanctioned tree,
and the Serpent, coiling round her breasts,
bestows on lust a sacred sense.
In the limpid darkness of her eyes
the light is a sibilation.

 

Rose of Melancholy

Once I was a shepherd of stars
and life itself was like a lucid song.
The loveliest things for me became a symbol:
the rose, the prickly thistle, a young girl.

A blue wave breaking on a golden
beach was the world's harmonious voice
singing the hidden influence of the moon
upon the destinies of the human choir.

Epicurus gave to me his brimful flagons,
a faun bestowed on me his earthly pleasure,
an Arcadian shepherd the honey of his hives.

But as one day I sailed into the dream
I heard the Sirens' song from faraway
and then my soul fell sick with melancholy.

 

 

 

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)
Translated by Michael Smith

Two Moon Sonnets

Unamuno came to the writing of poetry late in life. Born in 1864, his first Poesías did not appear until 1907. Despite this late start, Unamuno crafted his poems with utter care: what he wished to say through the medium of poetry, he could not say in any other way. His poetry is harsh, intense, in keeping with all of Unamuno's works in which the lively sweep of his personality embraces collective experience without yielding anything of its own identity.

In Spain, Miguel de Unamuno was called 'a universal Basque'; and indeed he passionately loved the Basque language and culture which he expounded with great competence. Unamuno, however, was no mere local genius. Rather, his thirst for knowledge and his mastery of European modernity transformed him into an international figure, and his intellectual sway was acknowledged throughout the whole Spanish-speaking world. While the native Basque is omnipresent in his writings, Unamuno is generally associated with Salamanca where he began to teach Greek at the university in 1891, and where later, in 1901, he became the university's rector. He died in 1936.

In a collection that appeared in 1920, containing accounts of his travels, there is the story of a journey made by Unamuno to Peña de Francia, south of Salamanca. The story highlights a memory which originated in the setting of a lake called del Cristo de la Laguna because of its proximity to a sanctuary. This memory, Unamuno writes, 'was impressed on me forever; of an evening, after sunset, passing over a ridge of earth, I suddenly saw the oaks as though mirrored in the sky which seemed spread out at their feet.' It was this experience that provided the occasion for the first of these two sonnet. The other sonnet has as its setting a small island of the Canaries to which Unamuno was confined in 1924 by the Dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera.

 

 

Sonnet I

At Aldehuela de Yeltes
by the Lake of El Cristo
a night of full moon.

White night wherein the crystal water
sleeps still on its lake bed
while a round full moon
that guides a host of stars

keeps watch, and in the terse
mirror a round ilex is mirrored,
white night wherein the water
cradles the highest, deepest counsel.

It is a shred of heaven Nature
holds embraced in its arms,
a shred of heaven that came to rest
and in the night's silence prays
the prayer the lover says who yields
but to that love, his only wealth.

Sonnet II

When on a lake of clouds the moon
wandering sails above the sea,
a beam of livid counsel reaches
to my soul, a fleeting cloud.
Thus gliding and adrift,
that lunar boat's a sickle mowing
clouds of hopes. O sad endeavour,
where fault piles up on fault!

You rise and wax, mysterious moon,
wane and die, a meagre light,
pallid mirror of mortal fate;

sad, you show us ever the one face,
and even in this nook your cradle rocks,
water that laps the Sahara's feet.

 

 

To Federico García Lorca

 

Spaniard, Spaniard,
chest out and into the sun!

On your back carry your home;
    what passes is lived
what’s left is to come;

tomorrow’s another day,
each day has its joy,
with its own pang of pain;
each morning
has its holiest desire
to sing.

Who can steal what we’ve lived,
in the breast of oblivion
the comfort of dreaming.

                              August 23, 1934

 

 

Gerardo Diego
Translated by Michael Smith

Naked Sleep

In the Spain of 1927, Luis de Góngora experienced a great renewal of interest through the efforts of a new generation of poets, the so-called generación de 27. This group included Gerardo Diego.

Of Diego one may perhaps say that by contrast with his contemporaries, he did not give poetic form to any credo, though there can be little doubt that existentially he possessed one. There is, however, abundant proof of his creative talent and his poetic virtuosity, even before 1922 when Antonio Machado first took note of him.

Diego demonstrated consummate mastery of all styles. He emulated and excelled his contemporaries at games of their own devising. Nonetheless, although he declared himself a creacionista, for reasons now only to be conjectured, Diego did not express in his creacionismo, even within its multiplicity, any unified vision with which he may be identified. Instead, with each new poem, not to say any group of poems, he initiates us into a different vision, an almost invariably dazzling one.

 

 

Naked Sleep

You and your naked sleep. You don't know.
You sleep. No. You don't know. I, awake,
and you, innocent, sleeping beneath the sky.
You in your sleep, and boats through the sea.

In prisons of space, keys made of air
close, lock up, rob you from me. Ice,
crystal of air in a thousand blades. No.
No flight can raise to you the wings of birds.

Knowing you sleep, constant and safe
-- faithful channel of trust, pure line --,
so close to my fettered hands.
What terrible island bondage!
I insomniac, mad, on my cliffs:
boats through the sea, you in your sleep!

 

 

 

Jorge Carrera Andrade
Translated by Michael Smith

Poet, essayist, and diplomat Jorge Carrera Andrade was born in Quito, Ecuador, on September 18, 1902. He was the son of Abelardo Carrera Andrade and Carmen Vaca Andrade. Carrera Andrade was educated at Juan Montalvo Normal Institute, Mejía National Institute, and Faculty of Law of the University of Quito, Ecuador; Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Barcelona, Spain; Faculty of Philosophy, Aix-en-Provence, France. He earned a bachelor's degree and licentiate in social sciences. Carrera Andrade composed brief, imagistic poems noted for a sympathetic understanding of the human condition. He also translated the works of other writers into Spanish and adapted Japanese haiku into Spanish in a form called micrograma. Jorge Carrera Andrade died on November 7, 1978.

Three Poems

The Stroke of One

From the dark tower which is a ship's mast
the stroke of One
drops into the night like the body of a drowned man.

On the blackboard the stroke of One
inscribes its scrawl.
Houses with glassy eyes plunge into the night.

Tail between their legs, the vagrant dogs
at the stroke of One
howl as at a dead man.

 

Klare Von Reuter

With the preserved fruit of your voice
the elevator's crystal box
climbs to the fifth floor.

The underground train
transports the orange light of your skin
through spacious tunnels.
Along the avenue
the bus scatters its lashes of wheat
before the emerald sickle of your eyes.
A glass booklet, the revolving door
reveals the Ex-Libris of your body
on its final page.

 

On the Great Black Door

On the great black door of the night
twelve knocks resound.

Men sit up:
fear, with its icy scales, brushes against them.
Who could it be? Through the houses
terror walks on barefeet.

Men see their lamps
extinguished by the din of the knocking:

the unknown guest is calling,
and a tiny blue flame darts between their eyelids.

 

 

Rafael Alberti  (1902-1999)
Translated by Michael Smith

    Born in the small fishing village of Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) - the source of many of his finest short lyrics - Alberti moved with his family to Madrid in 1917. There he studied painting and hoped to achieve fame in that medium. Although he did have an exhibition in the Ateneo in Madrid in 1922, and although he continued to paint throughout his life, it was poetry that was to be his main preoccupation and in which he would ultimately achieve fame.

    Poor health and the suspicion of tuberculosis obliged Alberti to leave Madrid and stay in a sanatorium in the Sierra de Guadarrama outside Madrid. While there he produced the playful, graceful lyrics that went into his first book in 1924, Marinero en tierra, ('Sailor on Land'). In these poems he evokes memories of the boats and waves of the bay of Cádiz of his childhood. While playful, they are tinged with melancholy, the landlocked poet feels the loss of his childhood world.

    The playfulness of Marinero en tierra is continued into Alberti's second book El alba del alhelí  (1927; 'The Dawn of the Wallflower'), but this playfulness startling gives way to the desperate craziness of Alberti's best known book, Sobre los ángeles (1929; 'Concerning Angels'). The poems in this book are riven, technically and thematically, by a major crisis in the poet's life. It is the equivalent of Lorca's Poeta en Nueva York. 'To go to hell,' Alberti wrote, 'there is no need to change position or posture.'

    When the Civil War broke out, Alberti vociferously committed himself as a poet and intellectual to the Republic. In the manner of many Russian poets, he read explicitly propagandist poems to large groups. A good deal of this work, as indeed a good deal of the later work, has not well survived the passage of time.
    With the fall of the Republic in 1939, Alberti fled to Buenos Aires where he worked for the publishing company, Losado, as well as continuing his experiments in art and design. His autobiography, La arboleda perdida ('The Lost Grove') appeared in 1959 and it contains a record of the poet's many years of exile. Previously, in 1952, he published a fine book of poems inspired by painting, A la pintura ('On Painting').
    From Buenos Aires, in 1961, Alberti moved to Italy where he lived, with some periods spent in other countries, until 1977 when he finally and permanently returned to Spain after the death of Franco. He again became active in politics, taking a seat in Parliament for the Communist Party. He made some contribution to healing the rift between the left and right factions, necessary to enable Spain to make its transition from dictatorship to democracy. Wearying of politics, however, he resumed his interest in writing.

    For all the astonishing multiplicity of his talents, Alberti did not have Lorca's intense, instinctive self-assurance as a poet, and too much of his work is a hit-or-miss affair. He will probably be best remembered for the beautifully crafted short lyrics, such as the following, which are to be found throughout his work:

 

 

Lover

Sleep, my love.
On the lost orchard of the sea
your comb plies back and forth
through a green mermaid's hair ...

A little green mermaid
who combs her hair by the sea
as the shore swings back and forth.

Sleep, my love.
Back and forth it swings.

 

Paradise Lost

Throughout the ages,
through the world's void,
I, sleepless, searching for you.

Behind me, unnoticed,
shoulders unbrushed,
my angel, dead, a scout.
                                       
Where have you been,
Paradise, shadow?
Question locked in silence.

Unresponsive cities,
speechless rivers, peaks
echoless, seas mute.

No one knows. Glum birds,
petrified songs,
route entranced,

blind. They know nothing.
Sunless, ancient winds,
inert, over leagues

to be walked, rising
ash-turned, falling
backwards, say little.

Diluted, formlessly
they hide the truth,
the skies flee from me.

Now at the Earth's end,
on the last ridge,
the eyes gliding,

hope dead within me,
down the black chasms
I search for the green portico.

O gaping darkness!
The world's boiler!
What a melting of epochs!

Retreat, retreat! The fright
of voiceless gloom!
My soul lost, lost!

- Dead angel, awake!
Where are you? Light up
the return with your beam.

Silence. More silence.
The throbbing endlessness
of night arrested.

Paradise lost!
Lost in my search for you;
I, lightless forever.

(A través de los siglos …)

 

 

Gabriel Celaya
Translated by Michael Smith

Gabriel Celaya, a poet and essayist was a leader of literary protest against the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. Mr. Celaya was born in 1911 in the Basque town of Hernani. He worked as an industrial engineer in his family business before publishing his first book of poems in 1935, "Tide of Silence." Originally known for his lyric poetry, he gained fame as a leader of protest poets in the 1950's and 60's. His essays also strongly influenced younger poets, especially his key work, "An Exploration of Poetry," in 1964.

 

 

October's Grey Dahlia

 

Eyelids of mist,
                      October's
grey dahlia, soft
drizzle: the dead sameness.

October's grey dahlia.

And above, below,
quiet, infinite,
perilous, adorable,
grey dahlia, drizzle.

O this impalpable love!

 

 

 

Federico García Lorca
Translated by Michael Smith

A towering figure in twentieth-century Spanish letters, Federico García Lorca (June 5, 1898 – August 19, 1936) was a Spanish poet and dramatist, also remembered as a painter, pianist, and composer. An emblematic member of the Generation of '27, he was killed by Nationalist partisans at the age of 38 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

 

Two Norms

           Dedicated to the great poet Jorge Guillén

 

Sketch of the Moon

 

Yesterday's norm met
over my present night.
Adolescent radiance
that opposes a snowfall.
My twin pupils, sealed,
moon-tanned, suspended,
cannot lodge you
with an open heart.

 

 

Sketch of the Sun

Norm of breast and hip
under the jutting bough,
springtime vigour,
old yet newly born.
Now this nude of mine would
be your dahlia's fate,
bee,  murmur or wine
of your number and madness;
but my love seeks a pure
madness of breeze and trill.

 

 

Carousel

Fiesta days
spin by on wheels.
The carousel brings them
and carries them away.

Blue Corpus Christi.
White Christmas Eve.

The days shed
their skin like snakes
except for
fiesta days.

These are the same days
of our old mothers.
Their evenings are long trains
of moiré and sequins.

The carousel spins
hanging from a star.
A tulip of the five
parts of the earth.

On ponies
disguised as panthers
the children eat the moon
as if it were a cherry.

Rage on, rage on, Marco Polo!
On a fantastic wheel,
the children see horizons
unknown to the earth.

Blue Corpus Christi.
White Christmas Eve.

 

Horseman's Song

Córdoba,
far off and lonely.
Black mare, large moon,
olives in my saddle-bags;
although I know the roads
I'll never get to Córdoba.

Across the plain, into the wind.
Black mare, red moon.
Death is watching me
from the towers of Córdoba.

This never-ending journey.
This steadfast mare.
And death awaiting me
before I reach Córdoba.

Córdoba,
far off and lonely.

 

Adam

A reticule of blood bedews the morning
where after childbirth a woman groans.
Her voice leaves shards upon the wound
and in the window a chart of bone.

Meanwhile the coming light locks and strikes
white destinies of a tale that shuns
the veins' tumult, itself in flight
towards the apple's troubled cool.

Adam, in the fever of clay, dreams
a child approaching at the trot
down both his quivering cheeks.

But there's another Adam, dark, dreaming
a sexless, seedless moon of stone
where the child of light will burn.

 

 

Juan Ramón Jiménez
Translated by Michael Smith

Juan Ramón Jiménez (24 December 1881 – 29 May 1958) was a Spanish poet. One of his most important contributions to modern poetry was the idea of "poesia pura" (pure poetry). A prolific writer, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature 1956.

 

Selected Poems

I.

Nymphs

I.  Somnolence

                   for José Durban Orozco

The evening is falling with doleful mystery …
flooded with weeping my sleeping eyes,
remembering painfully lost loves,
I discern in the mist a fatal cemetery …

The dead sun spills out purple glows
flooding with mists the green density …
A gentle harmonious rhythm of vague bitterness
wakens me … The flowers fall asleep at my side …

In silence I follow my path of thorns
and my eyes ponder the blue distance …
Faraway … very faraway … is my happiness,
driving its livid eyes into mine.

Ah, delirium, delirium …! Through a branch
a slight golden shadow moves;
a shadow with the face of lilies and snow,
that offers me its lips and calls me mournfully …

And it moves off weeping with doleful mystery.
Flooded with weeping my sleeping eyes,
remembering painfully lost loves,
I walk through the shadow towards the fatal cemetery.

(Va cayendo la tarde con triste misterio …) page 107

 

Pure Elegies

1

O roses, in the shadow of the abandoned wall
you open again, weeping, your blood-red petals;
though you open in lament, though you open in red,
open yourselves again in my ruined heart.

Fragrance sweetens the shadow, and I have lost
that clarity which one day adorned me …
a rose to my soul is a kiss to oblivion,
roses, reward my melancholy.

Roses of blood, roses of lament, but roses
that evoke, heart,  your doleful royalty …
The illusion will turn, like butterflies,
and I'll perfume my lugubrious beauty

 (Oh rosas, que, en la sombra del muro abandonado …)

 

 

Elegies of Lament III

9

Oh! garder a jamais l'heure élue entre toutes … Samain

 

Schumann's in my soul, and the evening gold
has spellbound, on my path, the doleful landscape …
Leave me … I don't want water,  or bread,  or wine,
or to see those women, or to change my suit.

The eternal, in me, has opened with treasure-warmth
and, on the bitterness of daily fear,
it showers its blue, rose and gold clarities;
it makes the extinct bloom and the distant draw near.

The undying light inside of me burns
like a spring of rainbowed dreams …
Ah, to prolong indefinitely this gentle afternoon,
or to die now, among these bright-lit flowers.

 

(Traigo en el alma a Schumann, y el oro vespertino …)

 

 

Spiritual Sonnets

1. Love

Wall With Rose

Without you, what will I be? A hedge with no rose,
what is it to spring? Burning, hard
love; it takes root, firmly, in this wall
of my devoured and ruined flesh.

I will nourish your mysterious fragrances
on the abundance of my dark memory,
and my last blood will be the pure
primary colour of your glorious ascent.

Yes, come to me, clutch and toss
the innocent profession of your branches
with the black hollow of my griefs!

And let April, meeting me, find me
enchained, a prisoner of your green flames,
all covered with your fresh flowers.

 (Sin ti, ¿qué seré yo? Tapia sin rosa ...

 

 

Nada

To your abandonment I oppose the elevated
tower of my divine thought;
having climbed it, the bloodied heart
will behold the sea, empurpled by it.

In my shadow I will construct the dawn,
I will guard my lyre from vain winds,
I will seek my subsistence in my innards ...
But, ah, if this peace be nothing!

Nothing, yes, nothing, nothing! -
Or if my heart fall to the water, and thus
the world be a cold and empty castle.

You are you, human spring,
earth, air, water, fire, everything!
... and I am only my own thought.

(A tu abandono opongo le elevada ...)

 

III. Emotional Memories

I was beside my table
and among my flowers, reading
the sad and bitter book
of the poet of my dreams.

She approached me silently
and said, If you prefer
your verses to my lips
I will never give you a kiss.

Will you come with me? The afternoon
is so beautiful! I love to go
through the jasmines to the garden
before the fall of night.

Let's go if you wish; and while
you pick jasmines, I'll read
from the sad and bitter book
of the poet of my dreams.

She looked at me sadly; her eyes,
full of love, said no to me.
Will you not? I am going alone ...
Then I carried on reading.

With slow step the poor girl
went away, suffering in silence;
she went  to the garden to pick the jasmines...
I stayed with my verses.

She was dressed in white.
Later my eyes saw her
weeping and picking flowers
far off in the garden's shade.

 

(Yo estaba junto a mi mesa ...)

 

II. Nocturnes 

4


Who's crossing my garden
while I  sleep? In moonbeams
voices filled with tears
reach my soul.

Many nights I have gazed
from my balcony, and the branches
have stirred, and by the fountain
I have seen white chimeras.

And I have gone down silently ...
and across the delicate acacias
I have heard a laugh, a name
full of love and homesickness.

And later, quiet, silence,
stars, breezes, fragrances ...
the pale and sad moon
leaving light on the water.

 (¿Quién pasará mientras duermo ...)

 

5

Any night when,
alone in the garden, by the trees
I have seen a man in mourning
who ceaselessly looks at me.

He smiles at me and, slowly,
I don't know how, he approaches,
and his tranquil eyes have
a strange attractive brightness.

I have fled, and  from my room,
behind the window panes,
I have seen him up in a tree
staring at me unceasingly.
 
(Alguna noche que he oido ...)

 

Rimas

1

That evening, on telling her
that I was moving away from the village,
she looked at me sadly, very sadly,
vaguely smiling.
She said to me, Why are you going?
I told her, Because the silence
of these valleys shrouds me
as if I were a corpse.
'Why are you going?' I have felt
that my breast wants to shout,
and in these silent valleys
I am going to shout and cannot.

And she said to me, Where are you going?
And I said to her, Where the sky
is higher and so many bright stars
do not shine on me.

The poor girl sank her gaze
there in the deserted valleys
and she stayed mute and sad,
vaguely smiling.

(Aquella tarde, al decirle …)





Eternities

1

Intelligence, give
the exact name of things!
Let my word be
the thing itself,
created anew by my soul.
Let all who do not know them
go through me to things;
let all who forget them
go through me to things;
let all who themselves love them
go through me to things ...
Intelligence, give me
the exact name, and yours,
and theirs, and mine, of all things!

(Inteligencia, dame ...)

2

When you are alight, lighthouse of my soul,
tower of my dream,
and you catch all of life in your light,
- this double silence, sea and beach -,
how beautiful you are!

Then how sad,
daytime lighthouse,
bare brick tower!

(Cuando te enciendes, faro de me alma ...)

3

Don't run, take your time,
where you have to go is to yourself alone!
Take your time, don't run,
the child of your I, just born
eternal,
cannot follow you!

 (¡No corras, ve despacio ...)

4

All of these I's forgotten
that once I believed eternal!

What an infinite treasure of living I's!

(¡Olvidos de estos yos ...)

 

5

My feet! How deep in the earth
My wings! How high in the sky!
- And what grief
of my wrought heart!

(¡Mis pies! ¡qué hondos en la tierra!)

6

Joy of the dream
where no certain happiness came!

- And what sad daily
joy, this
with which we content ourselves, forgetting
the other, the other, the other;
that which knows, each day, that it is no more
than a vain seed of the flower of the dream! -

(¡Alegría del sueño ...)

 

7

Every day, the sky
lives in my eyes, but it is almost
never God.

Every day, I am
I, but how few days
I am I!
Every day you speak to me
but how rarely I hear
your voice!

(Todos los diás, el cielo ...)


8

The sky falls on me!
Nobody? Nobody!!

                       With what sad tragic pains
I took to  half-place - sad roof - its dawn
of hale and wind and gold,
half-nailed on the hollow pillars!

Ah, the sky falls,
man that I am!

(¡Que se me cae el cielo! ...)

 

9

What hatred of my yesterday's self!
What disgust for that tomorrow
in which I must hate myself today!

O what a heap of withered flowers
all this life!

(¡Qué odio al mí de ayer! ...)

10

Such a good fit,
my soul in my body
- like a unique idea
in its perfect verse -'
and that the soul
must go and leave the body
- like verse in a rhetorician -
vain and stiff.

(¡Tan bien como se encuentra ...)

 

11

 

Universe

Your body: jealousies of the sky.
My soul: jealousies of the sea.
- My soul thinks of another sky.
Your body dreams of another sea.

(Tu cuerpo: celos del cielo ...)

 

 

12

Eternal

 

I live, free,
in the centre
of myself.
An infinite moment
surrounds me, with everything  - nameless
still or now -.
                            Eternal!

(Vivo, libre ...)

 

13

I am my own God and father and mother,
I am making myself, night and day, anew
and to my satisfaction.

I will be more myself, because I make myself
with myself,
with myself alone,
son also and brother, at the same time
mother and father and God.

                                   I will be everything,
since my soul is infinite;
and I will never die, since I am everything.

What glory, what delight, what joy,
what oblivion of things,
in this new will,
in this making of my own eternal self!

(Yo solo Dios y padre y madre míos ...)

 

14

Don't let a day go by
without robbing it of one secret, big or small.
Let your alert life be
a daily discovery.

For each crumb of stale bread
which God gives you, give him
the freshest diamond of your soul.

(No dejes ir un día ...)

 

15

Come. Give me your presence,
you die if you die
in me ... and I forget you!
Come, come to me, that I may give you life
with my memory, while I am dying.

(Ven. Dame tu presencia ...)

16

Sleep

The moon, which grew, big and golden,
put us to sleep fully
in the landscape of spring.

- The world was that sleep.
It was everything else
open and vain -.
                              How respectful
those who were passing saw!
They stayed ecstatic
- unable to attain to their own -
in our deep sleep, which the moon
festooned with gold and pearl.
Looking at us asleep,
they saw in things
what they never saw before.
Their  lips turned gentle,
and their eyes became infinite.

- The stars plucked by us,
in whose clear brow
we were sleeping,
trembled in their souls
blinded by the moon -.

                     We were sleeping, we were sleeping
so they could see.
 
(La luna, que nacía, grande y oro ...)

17

I am not I.

               I am the one
that goes to my side whom I  don't see:
whom sometimes I am about to see,
and whom, sometimes, I forget.
He is silent, serene, when I speak,
he pardons, gentle, when I hate,
he strolls where I do not,
who stays on when I am dead.

(Yo no soy yo ....)

18

O yes; to break the cup
of nature with my forehead;
to gain more light for thought;
to define it within the limits
of what satiates! ...

                      And let the infinite
that stays outside be
for me, like
this street, which on Sundays
leaves my soul
deserted, silent and boring,
before my flaring eyes.

(¡Oh, sí; romper la copa ...)

19

My heart is now so pure,
that it's all the same whether it dies
or sings.

It can fill the book of life,
or the book of death,
the two blank for it
that thinks and dreams.

It will find equal eternity in both.

Heart, it's all the same:  dying or dreaming.

(Está tan puro ya mi corazón...)

20

Eternal word of mine!
O what supreme living
- now in nothing my mouth's tongue -
O divine living
of stemless and rootless flower,
nourished, by the light, with my memory
alone and fresh in the air of life!

(¡Palabra mía eterna! ...)

 

 

 

Luis Cernuda (1902-1963)
Translated by Michael Smith

Luis Cernuda was born in Seville in 1902. His father, Bernardo Cernuda Bousa, was a Puerto Rican settled in Seville, a commander of an Engineering Regiment; his mother, Amparo Bidon y Cuéllar, was a Sevillian of middle-class background. The poet had two sisters, Amparo and Ana. The father was a disciplinarian whose strictness was supported by the mother. The domestic ambiance was very traditional and claustrophobically restrictive. Cernuda's homosexuality seems to have manifested itself early in his life, even if not clearly to Cernuda himself until he was about fourteen. His confusion about his sexual orientation was a least a major cause of him retiring into himself, and his early life, in particular his teens, seems to have been lonely and even tormented.

After finishing his secondary schooling, Cernuda entered the University of Seville where he began the study of Law. There he met Pedro Salinas who had recently taken up the Chair of Spanish Language and Literature. Cernuda attended Salinas's courses and became friendly with him. Salinas encouraged his literary efforts, invited him to his home and put him in touch with modern French poetry, with Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Reverdy, etc. Later on, the reading of Gide would have a profound influence on Cernuda, helping him to reconcile himself to his homosexuality.

Although his father died in 1920, Cernuda continued his university studies for two more years, without achieving any distinction - this was at least partially due to his then timid character. From 1920 to 1924 he did his military service and then began writing the short poems of his first book, Perfil del aire ('Profile of the Air'). He came to know Juan Ramón Jiménez. Also around this time he became a dandy, dressing with ostentatious finesse. He established relationships with Lorca and Aleixandre.

On the death of his mother in 1928, Cernuda decided to abandon his native Seville. He sold the family house and, assisted by Salinas, he obtained a lectureship in Spanish Language and Literature in the University of Toulouse. But in 1929 he returned to Madrid and was again confronted with the need to earn a living. He managed, however, to find decent employment in the bookshop of León Sánchez Cuesta.

In 1934 he collaborated in the magazines Héroe and Octubre: an Organ of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Art during which he became a member of the Communist Party for the Defence of Culture, a magazine founded by Alberti, in which he published poems and prose. This period marks Cernuda's short-lived political engagement during which he became a member of the Communist Party. He travelled throughout Spain on behalf of the Republican Government, giving lectures and writing for Heraldo de Madrid.

In 1935 he made what was for him the great discovery of the poetry of Hölderlin, and with the help of a German poet-friend, Hans Gebser, he managed to read the great German in the original and even to translate some of his poems which were published later on in 1936 in Cruz y Raya whose editor, José Bergamín, published in the same year all the poetry which Cernuda had written up till then, to be collected in book form later and issued as La Realidad y el Deseo. On the occasion of the book's publication, Lorca dedicated an homenaje to Cernuda which was attended by the most important members of the Generation of '27. This can be said to mark first phase of Cernuda's career. The next stage is that of exile without return, exilio sin vuelta.

In 1936 Cernuda went to Paris as secretary to Álvaro de Albornoz who was taking up his appointment as Spanish Ambassador in the French capital. Later in the same year, however, he returned to Madrid where he stayed until the beginning of 1937. From there he moved to Valencia at the eruption of the Civil War. In Valencia he established with Alberti, Juan Gil-Albert and other poets, the magazine Hora de España. In February of 1938 he left again for Paris, and from there, with the help of his friend Stanley Richardson he made his way to England on the pretext of giving some lectures there. Cernuda would never return to Spain.

Cernuda stayed in Britain (in Surrey, in Glasgow, in Cambridge and finally in London) until 1947 when he accepted an invitation from his friend Concha de Albornoz to take up a teaching position in Mount Holyoke, Mass. He worked hard there as a teacher and made a relatively good living. Then, in 1949, he made his first trip to Mexico on his summer holidays and immediately fell in love with the people and the country (reminding him of his native Seville). Every summer he returned to Mexico on his holidays.  There, in 1951, when Cernuda was 49, he fell in love with a young man, and in the first great outburst of erotic love he wrote Poemas para un cuerpo. In 1952 he decided to leave Mount Holyoke and live in Mexico permanently, taking up residence in the home of Concha Méndez, the estranged wife of Manuel Altolaguirre.

Financially pressed, Cernuda returned to the United States in 1960 as a teacher and lecturer, this time in Los Angeles.  In 1963 he returned finally to Mexico. He was now embittered, disillusioned and alone - as indeed he mostly had been throughout his adult life.  He died suddenly in the same year.
Although not so well known to readers of modern poetry in Spanish as other members of the Generation of '27, Cernuda, as a poet if not as a person, has always been highly esteemed. His poetry is unabashedly direct. In a sense, almost all his poetry can be read as a soliloquy, even when the speaker seems to be addressing others. A maniacally self-absorbed individual, Cernuda wrote to discover himself, to justify himself and to console himself. He derived some consolation from the beauty of the natural world and from music and painting. He was a profoundly alienated character, alienated socially and, in a sense, alienated even from his own body. He was haunted by the image of a lost childhood paradise, a paradise from which he was cast out by his sexual orientation and by a concomitant introversion. The moments of epiphanic transcendence which occur in his poems are of reunion with a whole, uninhibited self.

All in all, Cernuda was a man who was ill-at-ease with the world in which he found himself. His prickly aloofness and irascibility were devices to shield an acute sense of his own vulnerability. He was not, by all account, a very lovable man. No doubt his upbringing explains a lot, as does his tormented homosexuality. But more positively, I would say, and as a warning not to read his poetry in a reductively homosexual context, his poetry speaks poignantly of the loneliness of the human condition, and it offers the reader a deeply human, if painfully frank companionship.

Note on the Generation of '27 to which Cernuda belonged:

At its crudest, the label Generación de 27 refers to the year in which a group of young Spanish poets and literary figures, most notably, Gerardo Diego, Lorca, Dámaso Alonso, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, Jorge Guillén, Chabás, José Bergamín, Manuel Altolaguirre, came together to celebrate the third centenary of the great Spanish baroque poet Luis de Góngora in the Ateneo of Seville under the patronage of the rich and cultured torero Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Although  many of them were close friends, they did not constitute an homogeneous group with a common agenda. Many of them were associated with the progressive educational institute in Madrid, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza and its associated school, the Residencia de Estudiantes. In general it may be said that they were against the old repressively traditional Spain dominated by the oligarchy of Church, landed gentry and the high bourgeoisie. They ranged from free-thinking liberals like Dámaso Alonso and José Bello to political extremists Alberti and devil-may-care rebels like Buñuel and Dalí. They were forward-looking and non-dogmatic. It seemed to them that a new Spain was in the making and they were enthusiastic about that. An entertaining and very personal account of what it was like to be part of the Generation of '27 was recently given in an interview which José Bello gave to Javier Rioyo in the cultural supplement to El País (El País Semanal, Numero 1.251, Domingo 17 de septiembre de 2000).

 

Selected Poems

Ancient Garden

To  go  again to the sealed garden
that hides, behind a mud wall
and arches, among magnolias,
lemon trees, its waters' charm.

To hear again in the silence,
alive with birdsong and leaves,
the cool sighing of the wind
where old souls are floating.

To see again faraway
the deep sky, the slender tower,
such a flower of light on the palms:
all things always beautiful.

To feel again, as then,
the sharp thorn of desire,
while past youth
returns. Dream of a timeless god.

 

(Ir de nuevo al jardín cerrado …)

 

Impression of Exile

It was last spring,
almost a year ago now,
in a lounge in the old Temple, in London,
with old furniture. The windows looked out,
over the old buildings, into the distance,
among the grass, the grey sheen of the river.
Everything was grey and exhausted
like the iris of a sick pearl.
They were old gentlemen, old ladies,
dusty feathers in their hats;
a whisper of voices there in the corners,
beside tables with yellow tulips,
family portraits and empty teapots.
The shadow that fell
with an odour of cat
awakened noises in the kitchens.

A silent man was
near me. I saw
at times the shadow of his long profile
appearing abstracted at the rim of the cup,
with the same weariness
of the dead man who might return
from the tomb to a worldly party.

On someone's lips,
there in the corners
where the old were whispering together,
heavy as a falling tear,
a word suddenly burst out: Spain.
An indefinable exhaustion
went round in my head.
They lit the lights. We left.

After long stairs almost in darkness
I found myself then in the street,
and at my side, on turning round,
once more I saw that silent man,
who said something vague
in a strange  accent,
a child's accent in an agéd voice.

Walking on he followed me
as if he were alone under an invisible weight,
dragging the stone of his tomb;
but then he stopped.
'Spain?' he said. 'A name.
Spain has died.' There was
an abrupt corner on the street.
I saw him fading into the damp shadow.

 

( Fue la pasada primavera)

 

Child Behind a Window

At the fall of evening, absorbed
behind the window pane, the child looks
at the rain. The light lit
in a lamp forms a contrast
of the white rain with the dark air.

The lonely room
gently envelops him,
and the lace curtain, veiling
the window pane, like a cloud,
whispers a lunar charm to him.

The college becomes distant. It is now
truce time, with the book
of stories and engravings
under the lamp, the night,
sleep, the endless hours.

He is living in the breast of his tender strength,
without desire still, without memory -
the child - and without presage
that, outside, time with life
is waiting in ambush.

The pearl is hardening in his shadow.

(Al caer la tarde, absorto)



Autumn Feeling

Autumn is raining still green as then
      above the old marbles,
with an empty fragrance, opening dreams,
      And the body becomes abandoned.

There are transparent shapes in the valley,     
     daze in the fountains,
and amid the vast pallid air now shine
      some heavenly wings.
Behind the fresh voices the virginal
      halo of death remains,
nothing counts won or lost.
      Memory stirs languidly.

Everything is true save hatred, inert
      like that grey film of cloud
vainly passing above the gold,
      turned irate shadow.

 (Llueve el otoño aún verde como entonces)

 

Farewell

The street, lonely at midnight,
echoes your footstep.
The corner reached, it was the moment;
quick weapon, space.

It was you who left,
you were the first to break,
just so the soul breaks alone,
terrified to be free.

And night, its vacant vastness,
the stuff you're made of,
entered you, stripped you of such
a cherished body  as was one with you.

 (La calle, sola a medianoche)

 

For You. For No One

Since memory is inept,
while there is time still,

someone who departs
turns his head back,

or the one now gone
seeks in a small possession,
 
a letter, a portrait,
the material traits,
the loyal presence
with earthly reality,

and I, this unknown
Luis Cernuda, who lasts

just the brief spell
of a hopeful of love,

before life's decline
I turn

towards your image  so dear
here, in thought,

and though you shall not see them,
to speak with your absence

I write these lines
only to be with you.

(Pues no basta el recuerdo)



Shadow of Myself

I well know that this image
forever fixed in my mind
is not you, but a shadow
of the love that exists in me
before time finishes.

Thus you seem to me visibly my love,
endowed by me with that same grace
that makes me suffer, weep, despair
sometimes of everything, other times
it raises me to the sky in our life,
sensing the sweetnesses that are kept
only for the chosen beyond the world.

And though I know that, then I think
that without you, without the rare
chance you gave me,
my love, come forward in all tenderness,
would stay inside me even today
asleep waiting for
someone who, at his call,
would make him finally pulsate with pleasure.
Then I thank you and say to you:
for this I came into the world, to wait for you;
to live for you, as you live
for me, though you don't know it,
for this deep love I bear for you.

 (Bien sé yo que esta imagen)

 

The Lover Waits

And how much I plague you,
Lord, beseeching you to give me back
what is lost, lost ever again before
and retrieved by you for me, so that it seems
impossible to keep it.

                                            Once more
I call on your compassion, since it is
the only thing I love well, and you are
the only help I can count on.

                                            But beseeching you
so, I know it is a sin,
an occasion of sin that I seek,
and yet I will not hush,
nor bow to final resignation.

So many years lived
in loneliness and tedium, in tedium and poverty,
brought after them this blessing,
so deep for me that I can now
justify the past with it.
And so I insist, Lord, so I come
again to you fearful and even sure
that if I blaspheme you will pardon me.
Give me back, Lord, what I have lost,
the only being for whom I wish to live.

 (Y cuánto te importuno)

 

Málibu

Malibu,
waves with rain;
air of music.

Malibu,
entrapped water,
marine grotto.

Malibu,
fairy name,
spellbound force.

Malibu,
howling wind,
witches' wood.

Malibu, A word,
and in it, magic.

(Málibu)

 

Once More, With Feeling

I did not believe that memory
would once more invoke your ancient friendship,
that a whole tribe, strange to you
and no less strange to me perhaps,
had taken possession of you.

                                  But one of that tribe,
a professor and, according to himself and others
from over there (how fallen our country is!),
a poet, has called you 'my prince'.

Academic vacuity? Vacuity commonly occurs
in his writings. But his rapt rhetoric
does not make clear to our understanding
what is secret in your work, though they also call
our contemporary a critic of poetry.

The appropriation of you who were nothing
or wished to be nothing to him while you lived,
is what has awakened my amazement.
You, prince of a toad? Is it not enough
that your countrymen murdered you?

Now stupidity follows the crime.

(Ya no creí que más invocaría)


Farewell

Boys
who were never companions of my life,
Goodbye.
Boys
who will never be companions of my life,
Goodbye.

A lifetime separates us
insurmountably:
on one side youth free and smiling;
on the other side old age humiliating and inhospitable.

When young I didn't know
how to see beauty, to desire it, to possess it;
as an old man I have learnt
and I see beauty, but I desire it in vain.
An old man's hand stains
the young body if it tries to caress it.
In solitary dignity the old man
must spend a long time in slow temptation.

Kissed lips are fresh and desirable,
more fresh an desirable seem lips never kissed.
What solution, friends? What solution?
I well know: there is none.

How sweet it would be
to live for a time in your company:
to bathe together in the waters of a warm beach,
to share drink and food at a table.
to laugh, to chat, to stroll,
to look close up, in your eyes, at that light and that music.

Go on, go on so, so carelessly
attracting love, attracting desire.
Don't mind about the wound your beauty and grace open
in this passer-by seemingly immune to them.

Goodbye, goodbye, clusters of graces and charms.
Since soon I must go, confident,
to where, the broken thread tied, I may say and do
what is lacking here, what once I didn't know how to say or do.

Goodbye, goodbye, impossible companions.
Only just now I am learning
to die, desiring
to see you again equally beautiful
in some other life.

(Muchachos)

 

The Second of November

Today the bells
toll ominously:
still early, the air,
steel cold, reaches

Your blood inside.
You recall those
who went this year
leaving you alone.

Now you maintain
only the memory:
the remote hearth,
familiar shadows,

everything fated
with you to oblivion.
The blue of the sky,
promises, so clear,

a gentle air later.
And in the market,
where the flowers are
in abundant bunches,

you breathe a smell,
a smell, but not an aroma,
of earth, of a beauty
ancient and comforting.

Despite the weather,
substance and senses,
as always, relieve
the soul, in life.

(Las campanas hoy)

 

Yankee Night

The lamp and the curtain
shut out the outside world with their shade.
Dream now,
if you can, if you are contented
with dreams, as you lack
realities.
You are here, on you return
from the world, yesterday alive, today
a body in pain.
Crazily waiting,
around you, friends
and their voices.

Be quiet and listen. No. You hear
nothing except your blood,
its tireless
pulsing, fearful;
and you note something else
that disturbs.

It is the timber, that creaks;
it is the radiator, that whistles.
A yawn
pauses. And you check the clock:
still early
for you to go to bed.

You pick up a book. But you think
you have read too much
for your eyes,
and at your age it makes better
reading to remember
some old books,
but in a new sense.

What to do? Because there is time.
it's early.
The whole of winter is waiting for you,
and then the spring.
You have time.
A lot? How much? And how much time
has a man got to last him?
'No. It's late,
It's late,' someone inside you,
who is not you, repeats.
And you sigh.

Life is alive in time,
your eternity is now,
because later
there will be time
for nothing.
Time winds out. But when?
Someone said:
'Time and I for two
Others.' Which two? Tomorrow's
two readers?
But your readers, if they appear,
and your time, do not coincide.
You are alone
before time, with your life
without living.

                          Regret.
You were young,
but you never knew
until today that the bird
had fled
from your hand.

Youth hurts inside,
you its vengeful victim,
knowing
that since this face won't go away
nor the white hair, delay
is useless.

Work relieves others
of what cannot be cured,
as they say.
How many years
have you worked. twenty or more
roughly speaking.
It was work that did not buy you
relative
independence.
The world,
generous as always,
demands of you
another necessity.

And you declare, then, earning
your living, not with effort,
but fastidiously.
No one teaches what matters,
one has to learn it
oneself.

The best  you have been,
the best of your existence, you gave
to a shadow:
to the desire of making yourself worthy,
to the desire of excelling yourself.
Waiting
always for another morning
which, though late, would justify
your presumption.

It's a fact that you tried
for the love
of a creature,
A youthful myth, seeking
as always, and serving it,
to be who you are.

And you found what you were.
But is the truth of man
for himself alone
like a useless secret?
Why not put life
to another purpose?

Whoever you are, it was your life;
you are not one without the other;
you know that
and it is an effort to follow, then,
even the lost mirage,
until the day
the story ends,
at least for you.

                      And you think
that thus you will return
to where you were at the start
of the soliloquy: with yourself
and nobody.
kill the light, and to bed.

(La lámpara y la cortina)

 

Birds of the Night

The French government, or was the English government         
put  a   plaque
on that house of 8 Great College Street, Camden Town, London,
where in a room Rimbaud and Verlaine, a strange couple,
lived, drank, worked, fornicated,
for a few brief tormented weeks.

The inaugural act was doubtless attended by the ambassador and the mayor,
all those who were the enemies of Verlaine and Rimbaud        
when they were alive.

The house is sad and poor, like the district,
with the sordid sadness that accompanies what is poor,
not the funereal sadness of what is rich but spiritless.
When evening falls, as in their time,
above the pavement, the air humid and grey, an organ-grinder
sounds, and the neighbours, returning from work,
some, the young, dance, the others go to the pub.

Short was the extraordinary friendship of Verlaine the drunkard
and Rimbaud the waif, quarreling at length,
but we can think that perhaps there was a good moment
for the two of them, at least if they remembered
that they had left behind, in one case an unbearable mother, in the other, a bored wife.
But freedom is not of this world, and the libertines,
breaking with everything, had to pay a high price.
Yes, they were there, the plaque says, behind the wall.

Prisoners of their fate: the impossible friendship, the bitterness
of the separation, then the scandal; and for one of them
the trial, prison for two years, thanks to their practices
which society and the law condemn, today at least; for that alone
to wander from one corner of the earth to another,
fleeing from our world and its renowned progress.

The silence of the one and the banal madness of the other
compensated them: Rimbaud rejected the hand that oppressed
his life; Verlaine kissed it, accepting his punishment.
One draws from his belt that gold he has earned; the other
wastes it on [ajenjo] and women [mujerzuelas]. But both
always in doubt about the authorities, about the people
who get rich and come out on top on the work of others.

Then even the black prostitute was right to insult them;
Today, since time has passed, as it passes in the world,
a life on the edge of everything, sodomy, drunkenness, corporal verses,
are not important to them, and France uses both names and both works
for the greater glory of France and its logical art.
Their acts and their steps are investigated, giving to the public
intimate details of their lives. No one is shocked now, or protests.

'Verlaine? Yes, my friend, a satyr, a true satyr
when dealing with women; well the man was normal.
The same as you and I. Rimbaud? A sincere Catholic, as demonstrated?'

And bits of 'Drunken Boat' are recited and of the sonnet to 'Vowels'.
But nothing of Verlaine's is recited because it is not as fashionable
as that of the other, of which false texts in luxury editions are produced;
young poets of all countries speak a lot about him in their provinces.

Do the dead hear what the living say after them?
They hear nothing: that endless silence must be a relief
for those who lived for the word and died for it,
like Rimbaud and Verlaine. But the silence there does not prevent
this loathsome eulogistic farce. Once someone wished
that humanity had a single head so as to be able to cut it off.
Perhaps he was exaggerating: if it were only a handful, crush it.

 

 

 

Vicente Aleixandre
Translated by Michael Smith

Spanish poet, a member of the Generation of 1927, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1977. He was strongly influenced by the Surrealist technique of poetic composition.

Aleixandre was considered a master of free verse, the style that appears in his first major book, La destrucción o el amor (1935; “Destruction or Love”), which was awarded the National Prize for Literature. In this work the poet explored the theme of human identification with the physical cosmos. Similar themes appear in Sombra del paraíso (1944; “Shadow of Paradise”). A greater emphasis upon human life is found in Historia del corazón (1954; “History of the Heart”) and En un vasto dominio (1962; “In a Vast Domain”), works that deal with time, death, and human solidarity.

Aleixandre's later poetry is of a metaphysical nature; he explores death, knowledge, and experience in Poemas de la consumación (1968; “Poems of Consummation”) and Diálogos del conocimiento (1974; “Dialogues of Insight”). In addition to writing poetry of great originality and depth,      Aleixandre also published the prose work Los encuentros (1958; “The Meetings”), a book of fond sketches of his fellow writers.

 

Mine

Be quiet. Quiet. I am not the sea, I am not the sky,
nor the world you live in.
I am the unnameable heat, advancing over the cold stones,
over the sands where a pang of regret left its imprint,
over the face that sleeps as flowers sleep
when in their dreams they perceive they were never iron.

I am the sun that struggles underground to break her
like a solitary arm finally pushing ajar
the door to its prison
to rise clamorously as the birds flee.

I am this threat to the skies with a clenched fist,
dream of a mountain or a sea no one transported
and escapes one night light the lightest of seas.

I am the brightness of fish on the sea, feigning a mesh of desires,
a mirror in which the moon
ponders herself with a shiver,
the brightness of eyes that might shatter
when the night or cloud close as a fist.

Then leave me, you who understand that iron is the substance of life,
that iron is the shining born of itself
longing for the one soft earth only
to wound as death.
Leave me to raise a pick and split the rock,
the immutable mask the waters don't touch.

Here by the shore, while the deep blue is almost black,
while the lightnings pass ... or the dirge ... or, say, mirrors,
leave me to let the light shatter over the steel,
wrath, whether of love or death, will stab into this stone,
this mouth, or teeth that will spring with no moon.
Let me, yes, let me dig, dig without pause,
dig till I reach that cosy nest or tepid feather,
that sweet flesh where birds slumber,
the loves of a day with the sunshine out side.

 

 

José Hierro
Translated by Michael Smith

Although there are political and social dimensions to Heirro’s work, basically, he is grappling with the  fundamentals of existence. He feels he has penetrated the armour-plating but with gentleness, not with brute force. His poetry is straightforward, almost conversational in tone and diction. While he celebrates the ordinary, he nonetheless is probing for something of redemptive.

 

Selected Poems

 

A  Life Certificate

I know the winter's here,
behind that door. I know
if I went outside now
I'd find everything dead,
struggling to be reborn.
I know if I look for a branch
I'll not find it.
I know if I look for a hand
to save me from oblivion
I'll not find it.
I know if I seek what I was
I'll not find it.

But I'm here. I move,
I'm alive. My name is José
Hierro. Joy. (Joy
flat at my feet.)
Nothing in order. Everything broken,
at the point of non-being.
But I touch joy;
for though everything's dead,
I am alive and I know it.

 

Through Sorrow

Through sorrow I came to joy.
Through sorrow I came to know there's sorrow.
Through sorrow, far away in my sad kingdom,
a mysterious sun dawned.

The cold morning was joy
and the assailing, wild and cold wind.
(Soul that clads spring green
was shattered in wonderment).
So I feel this the more. I point to the sky
and it responds to my wound
with pain after pain when I ask.
And while my head is illumined
I pray to the divinities of life
for him whose being has been in sadness.

 

Hallucination

Dawn breaks. Unshod, I've left to tread the roads,
to feel the hoar-frost on my bare flesh.
So much light! So much life! So green the singing of grass!
So happy a creation raised to the highest peak!
I feel time passing and being lost and so ha;ting
                                  just outside of  me.
And it seems the universe is under a spell, touched by grace.
So much light! So much life! Such a fragile silence!
So many eternal things that hack their tragic sword in time!
So much light! So many open roads!
So much light avoiding the ages and ordering its magic in a
day!

If the flower, if the stone, if the tree, if the bird;
if  scent,  hardness,  green soughing,  flight between sky and                                  
                                    branch.
If all these owe their life to me, if at my expense, at the cost of
my
                                     death, their life is possible,
at my expense, at the cost of my daily death ...                             
                           
So much light! The heartbeat of the grass so distant ...!           
(Unshod, I've left to feel the hoar-frost on my bare flesh).
So much light! So dark a question!
So dark and difficult a word!
So perplexing and difficult to seek, trying to understand and
accept,
and to halt what never halts ...

 

 

Life Witness

I know winter is here
behind this door. I know
that if I went out now
I'd find everything dead,
trying to be reborn.
I know if I look for a hand
to save me from oblivion
I won't find it.
I know if I look for who I was
I won't find him.

But here I am. I move,
I live. My name is José
Hierro. Joy. (That joy
prostrate at my feet).
Nothing's in order.
Everything shattered,
at the point of unbeing.

Still, I touch joy
because though everything's dead
I am still alive and I know it.

(Sé que el invierno está aquí …)

 

 

Reason

Maybe because drunk we sing of life
you believe it's what you call good.
You may approach, you may touch the wound
filled to the brim with  bitterness and blood.

We have won joy under a sombre sky
while caught in nets of depression.
We have been sleepy, have felt cold,
been on our own in the four walls.

We are alive … Richest beauty fills the soul.
Flowers grow even in foggy lands.
After bitterness and after grief,
that's when life yields its finest colours.

(Tal vez porque cantamos embriagados la vida …)

 

 

Clouds

You ask in vain.
Your eyes look at the sky.
You seek, behind the clouds,
traces the wind brought.

You seek the warm hands,
the faces of those who once were,
the circle where they wander
playing their instruments.

Clouds that were rhythm, song
without beginning or end,
bells of pale froth
tolling their secret,

marble palms, creatures
wheeling to the beat of time,
mimicking life's
perpetual movement.

You ask in vain
out of you blind eyelids.
What are you doing, José Hierro,
looking at the clouds.

(Inútilmente  interrogas …)

 

 

Joy

                      To joy through pain.

I came to joy through pain.
Through pain I knew the soul exists.
Through pain, beyond my sad kingdom,
a mysterious sun was rising.

The morning cold was joy,
and so too the charging, mad, hot wind.
(A soul clad in the greens of spring
was erupting marvellously.

So I feel it all the more. I fix on the sky
and when I ask, it answers
with pain after pain to my wound.

And while light floods my head
I pray to life's divinities
for him I was in pain.

(Llegué  por el dolor a la alegría …)

 

Autumn Wind

We have seen, joy, the wind give
final glory to the golden leaves,
the hills, tragic and blood-drenched,
burn, melt in sunset flares.

Thought, spin, rise, rave.
Today autumn unleashes its herds.
Can't you hear their distant trodding?
They go by leaving behind a yellowy field.

Because we still feel
music and wind and leaves, so, joy!
By the pain holding us captive,

by the blood gushing from the wound.
Joy in the name of life!
We are joyful because we are alive.

(Hemos visto, ¡alegría!, dar el viento …)

 

 

Autumn Gentleman

                       Musa del Septentrión, melancolía.

                                               Amós  De Escalante

He arrives, sits among us,
and no one knows him,
nor why, when he says clouds,
we are filled with eternity.

He speaks to us in grave words,
and as he speaks
off his head fall dry leaves
that come and go in the wind.

We play with his cold beard.
He leaves us fruits. He's on his way
with slow, steady paces
as if untouched by age.

He bids farewell. Goodbye! We
feel the urge to cry.

(Viene, se sienta entre nosotros …)

 

 

 

León Felipe
Translated by Michael Smith

Born in 1884, Felipe fought in the Republican Civil War for the Republican Army. In 1938, he left Spain for Mexico, where he died in 1968.

 

Selected Poems

 

No One Went Yesterday

No one went yesterday,
nor is going today,
nor will go tomorrow
towards God
along this same path
I'm going.
The sun keeps a new ray of light
for everyone ...
and God
a virgin path.

(Nadie fue ayer ...) 

 

Poetry

Poetry,
deep sadness and the soul's aspiration.
When will you give yourself
                                                    ... to everyone,
to prince and pariah,
to everyone ...
without rhythm and without words!

(Poesía ...)  

 

Unmake That Verse

Unmake that verse.
Cut off the curlicues of rhyme,
the metre, the cadence
and even the idea itself.
Winnow the words
and if there's anything left
that
will be poetry.
Who cares
if the star
is far
and the rose spoiled? ...
We'll still have both glow and scent.

(Deshace ese verse ...)  

 

Just A Pilgrim

          To Emilio Madariaga

Being a pilgrim
in life,
just a pilgrim who walks by
always on new roads;
being a pilgrim
in life,
jobless, nameless
and homeless ...
being a pilgrim
in life ... a pilgrim ... just a pilgrim.
Let nothing harden the skin
either in one's soul or one's body ...
go over things once,
just once and quickly, ever so quickly.

But don't let the foot get used
to treading the same ground,
whether the stage of a theatre
or the flagstones of a temple,
so we never say
our prayers
as the sexton,
nor may we recite
our lines
as would an old
comic.
The hand of little employment
hath the daintier sense
Hamlet said to Horatio,
on watching
a
gravedigger
dig a grave.
-  Unapprenticed
to a craft
we'll
attempt it
with respect -.
To give the dead
a worthy burial
all are fit, all ...
except the gravedigger.
We all can mete out dues for a day;
as well as did the Hebrew King,
did Sancho
the squire
and the commoner
Pedro Crespo ...
Don't let things harden the skin
either in one's soul or one's body ...
Go over a thing once,
just once and quickly, fast, always fast.

Bending
to all winds
and under
all skies,
Poets,
let's not sing
always the life
of just one people,
nor just one orchard's flower ...
Let all
peoples
and all
orchards be ours.

 

It Isn't This Wayfaring

It isn't this wayfaring
that's now taxing me.
Just one round
will tax no one.
Pushing the waterwheel
all day long,
hour after hour,
every day of the year,
every year of a life,
that's what's taxing me.

(No es lo que me trae cansado ...)  

 

 

Let The Heart Stay Just So

Let the heart stay just so
- leave it bare and void - .
Why clothe it again,
lavish fresh love on it,
when, like a thief, once more
time will come and take all?

(Que se quede así ya ...) 

 

What's The Difference

What's the difference
between being a king
and a door-to-door beggar?
What does misery gain
over misery?

(Qué más da ser Rey ...)

 

Don't Go Wandering

Don't go wandering ...
but seek out your path.
- Leave me - .
A strong wind will come
that brings me to my place.

(No andes errante ...) 

 

 

What Do I Care

      To Fabián de Diego

What do I care
if earth's paths are effaced
by the water
the storm  brought?
I pine
that such black clouds
have effaced
the stars.
What do I care
that the ancient
and modern
schools
of philosophy
fall
one by one and stone by stone? ...
I suffer
to see
the upright tower
of my chimeras
fall to the ground.

(¡Qué me importa se borren ...

 

 

All I Want

     To Arturo Cuyás

All I want is the pilgrim's staff.
To you I leave the rod of justice,
the herald's wand,
the crozier
and the sceptre.
Let the pilgrim's staff be mine ...
I
want
a white
endless
road.
To you
I leave
the life of villages:
the chain
for the neck,
the iron
chain
and the barking
of dogs.

(Para mí el bordón ...

 

 

Poet

Poet,
neither out of your heart,
nor out of your thought,
nor out of Vulcan's divine furnace
have your wings come.
They were forged by all men
and they were driven by all men
into the bones of your ribs.
The humblest of hands
thrust into you
a dream ...
a quill of love in your side.

(Ni de tu corazón ...) 

 

System, Poet, System

System, poet, system.
Begin by counting stones,
then you'll count stars.
 
(Sistema, poeta, sistema ...

 

 

A Caption For Velázquez's El Niño de Vallecas

          To Harriet de Onís

Barber's Basin, Helmet ... Halo ...
        this is the order, Sancho.
No one leaves here.

Here no one leaves,
not the mystic and not the suicide,
while El Niño de Vallecas
displays a cracked head.

This wrong must first be righted,
this riddle must first be solved.
And all must help solve it,
and it must be solved fearlessly,
not fleeing on taffeta wings
or boring a hole
in the dais.
No one leaves here. No one.
Not the mystic and not the suicide.

And any flight is useless,
useless,
(whether down
or up).
You always come back. Always.
At last, one day (any day!)
Mambrino's helmet
- now a halo, no longer
                             helmet or barber's basin --
will sit on Sancho's brow
and one yours and mine
just right,
as if made to measure.
Then we shall all go
up the stage curtains:
You and I, and Sancho, and El Niño de Vallecas,
and the mystic and the suicide.

(De aquí no se va nadie ...

 

Prayer

        To Angel Flores

A mouse is a miracle enough to stagger
six trillions of infidels.

Lord,
I love you
because you play fair:
not cheating - no miracles - ;
because step by step,
free of ploys -  of utopias -  ;
card by card,
not switching,
you let
your grand solitary
close.

(Señor ...

 

Simpler

       To Jorge Portnoff

Simpler ... simpler.
No embellishments,
no accessories or trimmings,
let the beams appear
naked,
naked
and stand out plain.
Arms embracing the Earth,
shaft targeting heaven.

Not one ornament
to confuse this signal,
this human balance
of both commandments.
Simpler ... simpler;
make a simple cross, carpenter.

(Más sencilla ... más sencilla ...

 

They Flee

They flee. You can see them flee,
turning their backs on the earth.
We haven's yet seen
the eyes of a star.
To find what we look for
(my ring, where has it got to?)
a match is plenty, and gaslight
and marvellous electricity ...
We haven't yet seen
the eyes of a star.

(Huyen ... Se ve que huyen ...

 

 

From The Book Or For the Book
Of A Poet Of The Year ... 3000? ... 30000? ... 30000000?

          To Fernando de los Ríos

Do not requite my loving you,
for should I not hope as I do,
I would love you then as now.

                          Anonymous Sonnet.

 

... But there is the work of helping life in its struggle upward.
              G.B. Shaw, Man and Superman

We know there is no promised land,
no promised stars.
We know it, Lord, we know it
and we go on working with you.

We know our cart will halt
a thousand times and a thousand times again
and that a thousand and again
a thousand times we'll set up
the old scaffolding.
We know it will earn us
neither ration nor wages.
We know it, Lord, we know it
and we go on working with you.
And we know
that on this scaffolding,
a thousand and still
a thousand times we must enact
the same old farcical trick
unpraised and unapplauded.
We know it, Lord, we know it
and we go on working with you.
And you know, Lord, that we know it.
That we All know it. All!
                                (Where is the Devil?)
That nowadays you can no longer bet on anyone
better even than you on Job and Faust.

(Sabemos que no hay tierra ...)

 

 

 

Dame Death And Sir Love

    To M.J.Benardette

Dame Death and Sir Love,
it behoves us to act as the Devil
who has long shed
the costume of Medieval Moralities.
A cheap rough overall is now
what befits those who,
like you, engage in hard labour.
And you needn't scare me
with the scythe and the bow;
this has been for a long time
a joint venture of us four:
Dame Death and Sir Love,
you two, the Devil and I
must draw this cart
towards the Sun.

(Doña Muerte y Don Amor ...)

 

Here He Came

To Enrique Díez-Canedo

And leave, holy Shepherd,
    your flock in this dark, deep valley ...
                                 Fray Luis de León
Here he came
and went away.
He came ... , he assigned us our task
and he went away.

Maybe behind that cloud
there is someone at work
the same as ourselves,
and maybe the stars
are no more than a factory's
lighted windows
where God also
must assign tasks.

Here he came and went away.
He came ... he filled our strongbox
with countless millions of centuries,
left us some tool ...
and went away.

He, who knows everything,
knows that being alone,
without gods overseeing us,
we work better.

There is no one behind you. No one.
Neither teacher, nor master, nor patron.
But time is yours.
Time and that gouge
with which God started creation.

(Aquí vino ...)

 

The Machine

(Labour-Saving Machine)

         To Gabriel G. Maroto

It is neither a dragon
nor a toy, Martha.
It's a religious gift,
the Lord's last present.

So you won't get too lost
in the bustle of housekeeping;
so you won't say again,
duty before devotion.
And so you won't be distracted in church
thinking about the oven, the distaff,
and the lazy slave.

(Ni es un dragón ...)

 

And The Moon

They kept it in the well.

So it wouldn't be stolen
they kept it in the well
- like an ounce in a purse -
those fierce romantics.

And all night
two cypresses watched.
A century's whole night
two cypresses watched.
But it was in vain, in vain,
all that watching was in vain.
At break of dawn
the Sun raised its arms
and showed its face,
swollen in laughter,
and it shouted:
They stole it, they stole it, they stole it.
                         
(En el pozo la guardaron ...

 

Revolution

    To Daniel Cosío Villegas

Mexican Song

(With Valentine Music)

There will always be proud snow
to drape the mountain in ermine,
and humble water toiling
in the dam that feeds the mill.
And there'll always be a Sun, too,
- both a gentle and a harsh Sun -
to turn the snow into tears
and the river into cloud.

(Siempre habrá nieve altanera ...)

 

Christ

You came to glorify tears ...
not to wipe them away ...
You came to open wounds ...
not to close them ...
You came to light fires ...
not to put them out ...
You came to say:
Let tears,
blood
and fire, run ...
like water.

(Viniste a glorificar las lágrimas ...

 

 

Elegy

In memory of Héctor Marqués, a captain of the Spanish
Merchant Fleet, who died at sea and was buried in New York.

                                                 ... foreign earth
           fell on your adventurous flesh.

                                           José del Río Sáinz

Sailors,
why did you give the earth what is not its own,
rob the sea of it?
Why, sailors, did you inter him
who was the sea's soldier?
His inflamed brow, a lighthouse;
his eyes, iodine, salt and flesh.
He died above on the bridge,
with the wind-rose in his hand,
plucking the lode-star. Why did you bury him, sailors?
And in a land without seashells! On a black beach! ... There,
on the sinister shore
of the other sea!
New York!
- a storm of stone, concrete and iron -.
Where the cyclopean eye of the great lighthouse
that searches for the drowned, cannot reach,
where one cannot see
the proud froth of the skyscrapers,
in the wreckage of the squalid streets
that break into the last slum,
where the shadowy snake of the elevated trains turns
to get into the city again ...
There, the opaque clay of the cemetery, sailors ...
There you buried your captain!
Why did you bury him, sailors?
Why did you bury him,
if he died like the best captain
and his soul - wind, froth and sparkle -
is here, between the night and the sea? ...

(Marineros ...)

 

Drop A Star

Where is the star of Births?
Prancing earth stands still in the wind.
And the eyes of the sailors don't see.
That fish - follow it!
That fish - follow it!
Dancing, it carries away
the polar star.

The world is a slot-machine,
with a slit in the sky's forehead,
on the head of the sea.
(The machine stands still,
the spring has unwound).
The world's a thing works
like a bar's mechanical piano.
(The spring has unwound,
the machine stands still).
              Sailor,
you have a star in your pocket ...
                Drop a star!
Light with your hand the world's new music,
tomorrow's sea-song,
the future hymn of men ...
                Drop a star!
Move again, sailor, this stranded ship.
You have a star in your pocket ...
a new star of platinum, of sulphur and magnet.

(¡Dónde está la estrella de los Nacimientos ...

 

 

 

Juan Antonio Villacañas (1922-2001)
Translated by Michael Smith and Beatriz White

Born in Toledo where he spent most of his life and was a city to which he felt deeply attached, Juan Antonio Villacañas was a prolific poet whose work was very favourably received and anthologized during much of his life. A profoundly spiritual man he yet always stayed in touch with the mundanities of ordinary humanity. His poetry was neglected during his later years, and now an almost complete silence has descended on it, at least so far as the present Spanish literary establishment is concerned. This silence, unwarranted in my judgement, has a great deal to do with the Spanish literary politics and with general cultural changes that have taken place since the era of Franco. In their hunger to compensate for their past poverty and enforced religiosity, Spaniards in general seem to have abandoned their spiritual and idealistic preoccupations in favour of consumerism and the acquisition of wealth. Thus a poetry such as that of Juan Antonio Villacañas which has as its primary concern the possibility of transcendence and is permeated with metaphysical ponderings, runs against current poetry trends in Spain. Nevertheless, in being just that – spiritual and idealistic – it is a poetry with deep roots in Spanish literature. A revival of interest in his poetry is long overdue.

A large selection of his poetry is to be found in La poesía de Juan Antonio Villacañas, edited by his daughter Beatriz Villacañas, and published by the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla--La Mancha (2003).

 

After Being Whipped

When night brings the first stones
to a window from which I see time passing in total darkness,
somebody strikes my forehead with the blow of a stone.
Then I rebel against my blind eyes,
against my stoned intelligence,
which is what, easily, kills man.

Ah, reality, unhurried graveyard,
caustic unction of the body,
that yields to me gradually, that winds
around my neck. And strangles me, but not enough
to deprive me of words leaping to my tongue.

I saw myself being born.
         I revolted. My cry was of rage,
sad, desperate, rebellious.
And yet my family laughed in jubilation
because I was alive,
                           bruised and feet-first.
Now, when I think of night,
God comes with me,
like any other star,
but become flesh.
                 And I spend my life not knowing where I am.

 

Revolt of a Newly Born

God borders my incredulity
constantly. And my incredulity is so much God, that I am almost sure
to adore him.
men tell me their stories,
poor, sad, insignificant …
Children are born
as somehow spiders are born.
Children and spiders extend their webs to God.
But God does not concede,
cannot fall into their trap.
And he continues treading upon webs and children
with the levity of air,
with the levity of air of a God Father.
And he continues treading upon children and webs with a hurricane wind,
a worthy son of the air.

But if it reaches men – as it does men –
humanity then becomes God’s swing.
And God does swing. And burns. And God swings. And burns. And …
Who knows, if begging forgiveness now
of any man I come across in the street,
God will cease to burn in my incredulity.



Who knows!

 

Fountain

Today I come out of the deepest of rivers. I am monster of that lake
where a swan awaits me.
I’ve got peace drowned in a drop of water,
in that salt which flows, sometimes, from the eyes. In the blood
which flows and overflows and turns trees into fountains.
I have an immensity which shivers in the oceans,
being, as I am, only a little fountain, small as an eye.

 

 

Cremation

         To Eladio Cabañero

As always, evening; as always, night or morning;
as always, man awakes
and says, suddenly: ‘all is daytime today’.
For man calls day the twenty four hours
he has invented
to know he is existing,
or to say they don’t exist any longer
those who died strangled by that same time,
as always so punctual.

‘They will be ashes, but they will have sense.’
But I can’t believe it.
Poets don’t know what they say.
Morning, evening, night and death, anywhere.
(‘But they will have sense.’)
It’s stranger still. It’s become stranger than sense.
Poets don’t know what they say
when they say love or when they say death.
Your average man in love knows love much more than they do.
And any dead man knows more than they about death.
So, I say, what do poets know
about a liver colic?
What do they know about that breast the woman can’t find,
touch with her hand in satisfaction, with no nipple for her child?
Cancer knows that.
Poor pain, that has never pained the poet in his verses!
Poor thinking ashes!
Enamoured dusts, where are you?
Tell me, you messengers of death, tell me what I have to do
upon this flesh that takes me to and fro,
alone, counting the days,
                           as always.

 

Nobody

Not even your father, nor the clock, nor a thousand devils,
nor a hungering convict,
nor the Promethean angel,
will pronounce my name.
Only your mouth, palace of your tongue,
can open, suddenly, and devour me later.
Although I carry with me the murderous dogs,
enraged,
I tell you there is no man on earth who can find me
in this new and ancient forest of words.
Your heart, eternity, cannot hold me;
you are invisible as my thought.
I am stained. No doubt. And I shudder
alive,
bound to the lactating breasts of night.
The sockets of blue-eyed space
draw from my existence
and blacken my flesh.
When they speak of love, I flee from myself.
And I smile.
There are virginal creatures, with a thirst for life, who yield
                  their bodies
to any hope,
in their blind adventure.
Not even your father, son of rapine
engorged with your blood,
will find my name in this graveyard.
Only in your mouth, wind, shall I be eternally,
though eternity
will not restrain me.

 

 

With Closed Eyes

I recall when I rose up amid the wheat.
And I went to the town one morning very early,
so no one would see me.
My father was clamouring in the square.
His shouts rained down on me like musical boxes.
I was soaked to the bones,
and the sea raised itself in my hands.
And here were the stains, every day bigger,
old, multi-coloured. My flesh, like a canvas
in the deepest abstraction,
my useless surface toying with all.
The town was not mine. It was never so.
                                  It didn’t
belong to me. And my father went on shouting
in distress,
clamouring in a thousand deserts, shouting to his prodigal son.

The dead know me,
my most intimate friends. They give me the bread hidden
from death
and I savour it with a hunger more dead
than all those angels, who, folded on their wings,
died suddenly.
The countryside stayed lonely, burying that town,
and a stain of time stayed above
its infinite and drying tomb.
Later, three gravediggers appeared.
                                  And a voice,
persistent, still calling me, and shouting at me …

 

A Look Around

Who came to tell me that darkness is darkness,
as if I didn’t know?
To break its heart was always my longing. To enter
bombarding its adamantine breast
with nuclear weapons
simply ingenuous.

Take my song, you, the dead,
who listen to me!
                          Everything for you:
I have no more reason to kill.
We, the poor, are meek, cowardly, fearful,
almost bereft of love and strength.
Useless youths within ancient wealth, which orders us
to wheel and rebound in the supermarkets
and smash our noses against shop-windows or against literature,
with what God dresses and feeds us.
Truth is sad today:
and lying lives ending its dance
around bread
and around hunger-satisfying rice.
Man is as he always was, each time he finds me
and I don’t recognise him.
And I become human later, and I forget the darkness
with which I began to sing.

 

Breath

From the wizened sighs of flesh, solitude is born,
the solitude that crosses our face from faraway.
God is a paradise that encircles our dreams,
and lets us die
inevitably,
though he may let us dream again,
with death in our eyes and a cross on our back.

 

I Am Resurrecting

It is a little of music or a little of wind;
I don’t know for sure.
Something touches my flesh. A light, a star?
I am alone, sitting within my thought,
and I even speak and listen to myself,
and I touch myself. I myself
don’t know how to explain these things to people.
If I am resurrecting, somebody will tell me.

 

Futile Promise

Tomorrow I’ll go down through the desert of my flesh
towards your heart.
                  I will descend to your entrails,
                                      mother,
as the bucket into the well.
And nobody will be able to see me
return to you in this way, so much mine.
So much ours, personal and incomprehensible.

I  give you back my life,
although you gave it to me indefinitely …
I revolt with you.
I distract you from your continuous shape,
while my hands fall with the force of the wind,
alone,
like two leaves
from the tree you planted
in the insistent breath of an autumn
that is not an autumn song,
nor a yellow sun’s autumn,
but the autumn of a tomb
beyond the earth,
an autumn you know well
ten years from your death. Years through which I passed
a thousand times while you held me
in your arms.
                But I still promise you to go down every morning,
forfeiting in the air the life you gave me,
the breathed dream and an infinite nothing.

 

 

Claudio Rodríguez
Translated by Michael Smith and Luis Ingelmo

Born on January 30, 1934, Claudio Rodríguez is one of the most personal and attractive Spanish poets of the mid‑20th century generation, and his work Don de la ebriedad (The Gift of Inebriation), 1953, ('poetry—adolescence—as a gift; inebriation as a state of enthusiasm, in the platonic sense of inspiration, rapture, ecstasy, or, in Christian terms, fervour') he felt the channels through which there would have to course later his poetry and that of other friends from his generation.

In 1951 he moved to Madrid to study Philosophy and Letters, and graduated in Romance Philology with a dissertation entitled El elemento mágico en las canciones infantiles de corro castellanas (The magic element in Castilian children's street songs). In fact, his biographers remark that his youthful personality possessed two characteristics: to be very childlike, dedicated to observing and recreating children's games and songs, and, on the other hand, dedicated to walking and strolling: rambling through Zamora and along the banks of the Duero and other Castilian cities and villages, which were, in a way, the very pulse of his writing.

In Madrid, he strengthened his relationship with Vicente Aleixandre, the celebrated poet of the Generation of 27 and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, in whose house he met all the young poets of the period, with their manuscripts under their arms to show to the master poet.

Despite its extraordinary brevity, the poetic trajectory of Claudio Rodríguez, which was completed with four books of rare beauty, Conjuros (Conjurings), Alianza y condena (Alliance and Condemnation), El vuelo de la celebración (The Flight of Celebration) and Casi una leyenda (Almost A Legend), one of his best and most accomplished demonstrations, conceived and realized as a way of knowing.

His great capacity to observe, his natural sense of rhythm and his quotidian and concrete language, and at the same time transcendent, come together in the most beautiful lyric work from which issue three essential values: solidarity, simplicity and joy.

He expressed an intense activity as a teacher and lecturer. Thus, he was a Reader in Spanish in the Universities of Nottingham and Cambridge (England), between 1958 and 1964, and a teacher of Spanish Literature in several North‑American centres in Spain. He was equally distinguished as a translator to Spanish of the work of T.S. Eliot.

Claudio Rodríguez won a number of the most important prizes of Spanish Literature, such as the Adonáis Prize for Poetry (1953), the Critics Association Prize (1965) and the National Prize for Poetry (1983). He was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Letters, and five days later the Queen Sofía Prize for Latin‑American Poetry, announced by the National Heritage and the University of Salamanca. He was a member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Language from 1987. He died in Madrid on July 22, 1999. A substantial Selected Poems by Claudio Rodríguez is now being translated by Michael Smith and Luis Ingelmo.

 

Eternal Harvest

And any day the land will rise up.
See that it is always on the point
and it awaits only a good footstep.
Right now, tread it,
that it’s rising, that the milk
is boiling over, the hope
of man, since it cooks            
the simple meal of life! But       
no, never so. Tread
with faith, let the simple foot
be a gentle arm of purity!       
We, the servants of the company,      
the clients of heaven,
what more are we going to do? And, nothing,
there will be nothing under the earth that will not 
come to light, and become well aware, despite us,    
how the hour of threshing comes
and the unthreshed corn is spread out,          
thus the month of August will come to us     
with bountiful cartage,           
and it will break to the sun our faithful grain
because some day the earth will rise up.                    
Who with his eternal hand
sows us thinly and gathers us densely?         
What other season but his garners
our harvest? What fierceness is beginning       
to give flavour to our fruit? That one,                       
stop that one, me, let’s all stop:         
our seed to the wind!
But what does it matter. See, see our furrow
advancing like a wave,
see it breaking against the immense reef
of time! What does it matter. To the earth,   
to this badly fecund woman, let us
give our health, the water
of man’s health! Let us feel thus
as her children, let her feel us
kneading painlessly her womb without harm!
And now more than ever,
in this hour of the day in which I sing this,
he who doesn’t realise                                   
that he’s breathing, and won’t leave home.   
At his door the breath            
of life, his street
the best verbena! Take great care:                  
step on the line and you pay the fine.
The slightest gesture from today is sacred.
Can you not hear something like the sound               
of an immense remote sheepfold? Quick,
the morning cool is coming and we are still               
in the open air! Listen to me, I know a place …
Let’s go, we have to go there, waste no time,           
don’t wait to take out all your clothes,
what you have on is enough!
It’s getting late, let’s go, the hour                  
of the earth is coming and our irrigation
 isn’t soaking in yet;
the great work of man is nearly over
and man is not there!
But what does it matter now. The fault is ours
and who would say it, but see it:
look at our feet the earth high.                                   

 

November

Once again November arrives, the month I love best
because I know its secret, because it gives me more life. 
The quality of its air, which is song,
almost revelation,
and its mornings so renewing,
its avaricious tenderness,       
its intimate solitude.
And to find a street in a mouth,
a house in a body while, so perishable,          
with that tune of lost ambition,
the chestnuts and the cobwebs fall.

These chestnuts, of yellowish ochre,
safe, half-open, giving me freedom
beside the shadowy tremor of their shell.                  
The cobwebs, with their geometry     
so cautious and sticky, and                                        
also with their silence,
with their dark throbbing
like that of coral or the more tender
of sponge, or that of the opened
pineapple,
or that of the heart with its untyrannous beat, when
it revives and is cleansed.                              
After so much loveless time, this morning
what a saviour. What
light so intimate. It enters me and gives me music    
without pauses
the very moment that I love you,
when I yield myself to you happily
tremblingly and impatiently,
without looking at that door where farewell calls.

Once more November arrived. Far-off the days
of small dreams remain, of withered kisses.
You are the month I love. May your avaricious forgetful crimson light                   
not leave me in darkness        
while winter arrives.

Secreta

You didn’t know that death is beautiful
and that it was made in your body. You didn’t know          
that the family, generous streets,
were lies.        

But not that rain of childhood,
and not the savour of disappointment,          
the shadowless sheet and the unknown
caress.                                     

The light never forgets and does not forgive,            
more dangerous with your clarity
so innocent that it says it all:
revelation.                              

And now I can’t even live your life,              
and now I can’t even live my life
with open hands this evening
wretched and clear.

Now what has been lost is saved
with love’s sacrifice, the heaven’s
incest, and with grief, remorse,                      
serene grace.

And if the spring is true?
Now I don’t know what to say. I’m going away happy.
You didn’t know that death is beautiful,
sad maiden.                

 

What is not a Dream

Let me speak to you, at this time
of grief, with happy   
words. It is now known         
that the scorpion, the leech, the louse,
sometimes cure. But listen, you, let me
say to you that despite
so many deplorable lives, indeed,      
despite and even now
that we are defeated, never under control,    
grief is the cloud;
happiness, space;
grief is the guest;
happiness, home.
Grief is the honey,
symbol of death, and happiness
is bitter, dry, new,
the only thing that has           
true meaning.                         
Let me, with an old    
wisdom, say:
in spite, in spite
of everything              
and though it may be very painful, and though
it may at times be revolting, always, always  
the deepest truth is happiness.
The one that from a turbid river         
produces clean water,
who makes me say to you      
these words so unworthy now,
who reaches us                       
as night and morning reach us,
as the wave reaches                            
the shore:
irremediably.

 

Agathas' Dance 

I see that you don’t want to dance with me
and that’s fine. If until now
I’ve done nothing but step on you, if until now          
I didn’t move these lame feet to your beat.
Always such a fine dancer, you, dear heart.
Get into the fiesta; quickly,
before you are left without a partner.
There’s no school today! First of all,
a wash in the river,
as one must be clean when the time comes!
They’re here already, they’re already coming
by rail in the sunshine of hope,
men from all over the world.
Now they are
testifying to their deployment of happiness.
Who didn’t wait for the fiesta?
Who didn’t spend the days of the year
keeping his clothes in good order
for this day? And it has come now.
How many fine cloaks, how many white socks,
how many flannel petticoats, how many         
short trousers! Full of life, just
as that girl wears her kerchief,           
let your soul be so, full of life.
I miss those times now   
when men joined in their fiestas
like whey with cheese.
Then, indeed, they gave
their life to the sun, their breath to the air, then
they were indeed incarnate in the earth.
But why remember. I am in the middle
of the fiesta and almost already         
the early February night congeals.     
And still not dancing: I’m all alone.
Come, dance with me, for I can hold
a waist well, I can match
my steps to your lovely air!
Agathas, little agathas,
tell them to let me
dance with them, that I’m from the village,
I’m a close neighbour, tell them all      
that I’ve waited for this day
all my life! Listen.
Listen to me, you who are now
passing at my side and one moment              
without noticing, you look up
and there goes down into your heart
the endless dance of the Agathas of the world,         
listen to me, you who know
the fiesta is finishing and that you can’t
keep it at home like a clean set of tools,                    
and it’s moving off, and now never…
you, who tread the earth
and grasp your partner, and dance, dance.

Solvet Seclum

I don’t know why I’ve lived so long.
I’m not going away as if in flight
because right now I am beside those at my table.
It’s the water, it’s the water, the energy
and speed of the dark scherzo
with a throbbing dawned in a fireside,
and the erosion, the sedimentation,   
the brownish mud of fine clay
as night comes on, and its colour,
in its luminous way, spritely
penetrates the earth,
in horizons of mother rock                 
and becomes almost blue,
a clear and warm green
like a musical valley.

It’s the dissolution, the oxidation,     
the forgotten miracle
when a snow-flake burned a calyx
and the poverty of the night leaf,
and the roots and the springs,
the corrosion in full
divination                                           
and the annihilation in full creation,
amid delirium and science.    

The country plain, gently sloping,      
bold with vineyards…           
How the sun enters the grape
and trembles, becomes light in it,
and they ripen and come away,
yielding beauty and opening              
to their future death…
                             It’s all perfectly clear
before dawn!

The skeleton amid lime and silica
and the ash of cowardice,
the servitude of the speaking flesh,
on the wing,
of the bone about to be a flute,
and the brain a honeycomb or wicker            
beside the worm’s violins,
the burgeoning melody of the woodworm,
the gnawed and crystalline petal,
the golden tooth in the living ossuary,
and the waves and the wind
with the incense of its swell
and the saltiness of high-tide,
the deep-sea liturgy of the body in the hour
of the supremacy of a flash of light,
of a vault in flame, spaceless
with the putrefaction that is pure love,
where death is already nameless…

It’s the ultimate breath. Limpid ovaries!
And can you hear the nightingale?                
Where the new vine,  
where the palpating ferment                          
of meditation,
far from futile thought, from life
that one must never await                                          
but be ripe                                          
for receiving, from offspring                         
to offspring, in the dawn
of pollen?

 

The Morning of the Owl

There are mornings
it’s best not to go out. And where to?
The naked seed, here, in the center
of the pupil in full
rotation
toward so much unexpected whiteness
of this windowless wave
near the wall of the dream between high-tide
and low-tide,
where does it bring me?
What I see indeed is the invisible, it is pure  
illumination,
it is the origin of presentiment!
It is the autumn of timber and echoes
of olive and birch tree
with the rapacity of the slow wing
swaying and turning,
with an old avaricious flight of night,
with an equilibrium of nightmare,
with the waxless beak, without milk and without oil,
and the smokeless plumage, the foam that softens
saliva, salt, the excrement
of the nest… There is a sound
of height, moulded
in figures, in eucalyptus
fume. I don’t see, I don't possess.
And that lark, that tendril
so innocent in the vineyard now,
and the swift of the firewood and the spasm,
and the capture of the hare, the mother-of-pearl
of dawn and the transparency
in an orange high-tide of contemplation?

And is everything invisible? This
dawn-filled moment is clear!
I will never see this moment
No one will see this morning             
because it is not created,
this morning that draws me closer
to the spire and the nest.        
And this flapping of wings without fear or wind,
the epidemic, the mastiff and the chrysalis
with tableland light?
How May sang on the January night.
Beside the relief and the chisel, the file
and the burin there is the city,
handiwork and secrecy in every crevice
of prayer and redemption,
and the temperature of the stone
pointed toward the east
with a science of polished erosion,                            
of quietness of a wave in suspense, of adventure
that enters and leaves at once. Here the scenes         
of history, theology, fauna, myths
and the law of granite, pore by pore,
their scar in every ochre seam,
the rite of the tear
in cold and crystalline risk in rain
and with the sunflower now washed
between the owl and the virgin.
This is neither space nor time: the sacrament
of matter.

And how will I know if perhaps tomorrow
is a new day?
How much presence that is rebirth,
and renunciation, and is an anchor
of the pious shipwreck
of my illusion of liberty, my flight…
supposition, almost thought                           
beside the deep dew
of the dust of light, of the mystery that lights up
this secure air,
this health of new timber
and arrives germinating
as far as the nectar without haste, well carved
in the burnt spear of the rock-rose.                       
It is the grace, it is the grace, the vision,      
the colour of the oracle of dream,                  
the nervation of the laurel leaf,                      
the madness of contemplation
and so often malediction, childhood,
sounding on every wing without surprise.
The early fount and the bright star
of morning!
And the pleasure, the lust, the vile shelter
of disillusionment, the friction
of my heavy wings, so caressing,
almost half-open now
when there is no fleeing or even knowledge
before the endless crimson sky                                  
comes now… Day
that will never be mine and that is entering
into my ascent toward obscurity!
Shall I live the movement, the images
never in repose
of this morning forever autumnless?  

 

 

Raúl Deustua
Translated by Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi

Raúl Deustua was born in Lima in 1921. He was an active member in the Peruvian literary scene during the 50s, sharing the pages of literary magazines with fellow poets Javier Sologuren and Jorge Eduardo Eielson. In 1955 he published Arquitectura del poema (The Poem’s Architecture), a chapbook of prose poems. In the late 40s he moved to New York and then to Europe, settling in Italy, where he worked as a translator. For some forty years he disappeared almost completely from the literary world, publishing only a few poems in magazines. The publication of Un mar apenas (Nothing But a Sea, 1997), a slim collection of poems dating from the 1950s to the 1980s, marked his return to print and he was acknowledged as one of the most important poets of his generation. He died in Rome in 2004.

A Word Tries to Define the Sphere

                  1

A word tries to define
the sphere, the clepsydra, the time,
a vertical word, useless, beautiful,
surrounded by itself
                          turned to the world
like the reverse of a glove.
                             Or rather syllables
agglutinating, simple phonemes
that a man invents, but the sphere exists,
it is transparent and we are lost
in its arbitrary architecture.
For us, arbitrary and dead
for we don’t know the cipher’s root,
the seal, the symbol, the very sign
hiding in its matter.

           
                  2

Harsh the verb that passes,
          wrong the time:
           “we know that nothingness
           is balance during wakefulness,
           rupture if the night reveals to us
           the sphere’s centre, unattainable
           in its mercury tension, hermetic
           place only the dream knows”.

 

                  3

Place where shadow is light again,
            a shadow’s reverse, light containing
            the return to the immutable.

 The sphere is steel-clad but close
            to perpetual quietness, to the being
            that is inventing the name,
            the labyrinth where the thread
            leads —always— to luminous solitude.

 

                  4

If everything I touch is a sign of other times,
            the word is enclosed within silence
            and returns to the millenary nucleus.
There, in that sphere, the verb lives
            calcinated by the tender
            virtue of the unsubmissive.
                                               What remains
is the virtual anchor, the imponderable
matter of dreams remaining
when all matter is already nothingness.

 

                  5

There’s the uninhabited voyage
            the ardent image that is a sign
            of the unlived.
                               The shipwreck’s remains
are the voice of barren time, man’s
solitude of every night,
his journey through the sphere
multiplies silence and smears it,
transmutes it and gold is the unmovable seal,
perishable shape of being
where everything is the luminous centre,
the dwelling of hiding and adventure.
           

 

Bruno at the Stake

Giordano Bruno opened the sky for us
and roamed amid galaxies,
the stake was his home, for his mistake
—according to Mother Church—
was to talk of the infinite world.
More cautious, good Descartes said
that only God was infinite
and the universe unlimited.
And among words and concepts Bruno,
who in his passion burned, burnt at the stake,
but his ashes are crying out at time
that infinite time without stakes.
Blanca Varela (1926)

 

Puerto Supe

                      To J. B.

My childhood lies on this shore,
under the sky so high,
a sky like no other, a sky, swift shadow,
clouds of fright, dark whirlwind of wings,
blue houses on the horizon.

By the great windowless dwelling,
by the blind cows,
by the muddy liqueur and the carnivorous bird.

Oh, everyday sea,
mountain sea,
rainy mouth of the cold shore!

There I destroy with shiny stones
my parent’s house,
there I destroy the cage of the small birds,
uncork the bottles and a black smoke escapes
and tenderly tarnishes the air and its gardens.

My hours lie alongside the dried-river,
amid the dust and its throbbing leaves,
in the burning eyes of this earth
at which the sea hurls its white dart.
Just one season, one sole time
of dripping fingers and fish’s breath.
A whole long night amid the sand.

I love the shore, that dead mirror
where the air spins like crazy,
that wave of fire razing corridors,
shadow circles and perfect crystals.

Here on the shore I climb a black well,
I go from night toward deep night,
I go toward the blind wind that scans
shiny and empty pupils,
or I dwell inside a dead fruit,
the choking silk, that heavy space
peopled by water and pale corollas.
In this shore I am he who wakes
amid the foliage of dusky wings,
the one perched on the empty branch,
he who has no wish to see the night.

Here on the shore I have roots,
flawed hands,
a burning bed in which I cry alone.

 

So It Shall Be

The day stays behind,
scarcely spent and already useless.
The great light commences,
all the doors open before
a sleeping man,
time is a tree incessantly growing.

Time,
the great half-open door,
the blinding star.

It is not with eyes one sees the birth
of that drop of light that will be,
that was a day.

Sing, bee, unhurried,
traverse the illumined labyrinth,
on a party.

Breathe and sing.
Where everything ends spread your wings.
You are the sun,
the morning’s sting,
the sea kissing the mountains,
the total clarity,
the dream. 

 

Family Secret

i dreamt of a dog
of a flayed dog
its body sang its red body hissed
i asked the other one
the one who turns the light out on the butcher
what has happened
why are we in the dark

it’s a dream you are alone
there’s no other
light does not exist
you are the dog you are the barking flower
sharpen sweetly your tongue
your sweet black four-legged tongue

the man’s skin chars with the dream
the human skin fades burns
only the dog’s red pulp is clean
the true light dwells in its blur
you are the dog
you are the flayed dog of every night
dream of yourself and that’s enough

 

Magic Powers

it doesn’t matter the hour or the day
your eyes close
three beats strike with
your foot on the floor,
your eyes open
and everything remains exactly the same

 

Lady in White

the poem is my body
this is poetry
the fatigued flesh the dream
the sun crossing through deserts

the soul’s ends touch
and i remember you dickinson
precious soft ghost
roaming through time and distance

you dwell in the other’s mouth
you fall to the air
you are the air striking
my forehead with invisible salt

the soul’s ends touch
they close
one hears the earth spin
that lightless noise
blind sand
striking us

so it shall be
eyes that were      mouth that told
hands that open and close
empty

distant in your window
you see the wind pass
see yourself pass     your face on fire
posthumous star of the summer
and you fall as a bird     as snow
on the fountain     on the earth
on oblivion

and return
with the fake name of a woman
with your winter clothes
with your white clothes of a mourning
winter

 

Nobody Tells Us

nobody tells us how
to turn the face against the wall
and
simply die
just like the cat
or the family dog
or the elephant
that walked toward its agony
as one who goes
to an undelayable ceremony
flapping its ears
to the beat
of the rhythmic breathing
of its trunk

only in the animal kingdom
are there examples of such behaviour
to turn one’s way
step close
and sniff at what’s been lived
and turn away
quite simply
turn away

 

Borges' Poem

To have seen Buenos Aires grow, grow and decline.
To recall the patio of earth and the vine, the entrance and the cistern.
To have inherited English, to have investigated Saxon.
To profess the love of German and nostalgia for Latin.
To have conversed in Palermo with an old murderer.
To take pleasure in chess and the jasmine, tigers and the hexameter.
To read Macedonio Fernández in his own voice.
To know the illustrious uncertainties that are metaphysics.
To have honoured swords and wished for peace reasonably.
Not to be greedy of islands.
Not to have left my library.
To be Alonso Quijano and not dare to be Don Quijote.
To have taught what I don’t know to those who will know more than I.
To be thankful for the gifts of the moon and Paul Verlaine.
To have crafted some hendecasyllables.
To have once more told some ancient tales.
To have deciphered in the dialect of our time five or six metaphors.
To have eluded bribes.
To be a citizen of Geneva, Montevideo, Austin and (as all men) Rome.
To be a devotee of Conrad.

To be what no one can define: an Argentinian.
To be blind.

None of these things is strange and their conjunction offers me a fame I can’t fully comprehend.

 

 

 

Gonzalo Rojas
Translated by Michael Smith

Gonzalo Rojas was born on the 20th of December 1917, in the port of Lebu (VIII Region) in Chile. He studied at the University of Chile. He was the editor of the magazine Antarctica in Santiago and Professor in Valparaiso. Between 1938-1941 he participated in the surrealist group Mandrágora founded by Braulio Sands, Teófilo Cid and Enrique Go'mez Correa. Seven years later in 1948 his first volume of poems was published. The Chilean military coup (September, 1973) meant that the poet was exiled, an “undocumented person”. He was stripped of his diplomatic rank and was also prevented from working at any Chilean University. The University of Rostck - Eastern Germany offered him a post. Gonzalo Rojas returned to Chile in 1979, thanks to a Guggeheim scholarship, but despite this he was still unable to teach at a university in Chile. He went to Chillán, 400 kilometers to the south of the capital, to live permanently. He taught at universities in Germany, the United States, Mexico and Spain.  On the 5th of June 1992 he received the First Prize at Queen Sofía de Latin American Poesía and on the 13th of November he was awarded Chile's highest national award to writers: the National Prize of Literature.

 

Orchid in the Crowd

Pretty the colour of the girl’s hair, pretty the scent
of the bee in its buzzing, pretty the street,
pretty the opulent golden feet  beneath
two golden shoes, pretty the make-up
from eyelids to fingernails, her river-like
splendid arteries, pretty the physics
and metaphysics of its undulation, pretty the seventy
metres of the body, pretty the pact
between bone and skin, pretty the bulk
of the mother who contrived her flexible
and kept her asleep those nine months, pretty
the animal leisure that walks in her.

Álvaro Mutis

And in the patio where my grandparents played,
with its modest well and its high walls
worked with ageless white coral,
in the house of Capuchin Street
there has been revealed to me again and forever
the secret cipher of my name,
the secret of my blood, the voice of my own folk.
I name now that port which sun
and salt built to win in time
an extensive portion of their region
and I say Cádiz put my wait in order
so that nothing or anything may try in vain
to disinherit me once again of what has been
‘the kingdom for me’

 

 

 

Some Peruvian Poets
Translated by Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi

 

Jorge Eduardo Eielson

Jorge Eduardo Eielson was born in Lima in 1924. He was not only famous as a poet, but also as a novelist, playwright, painter, sculptor and visual artist. He settled in Italy, where he took part in many art exhibits, and died in Milan in 2006. Among his many poetry books are Reinos (Realms, 1944), Habitación en Roma (A Room in Rome, 1952), Noche oscura del cuerpo (The Dark Night of the Body, 1955) and Sin título (Without a Title, 2000). His poetry was collected under the title Poesía escrita (Written Poetry) which was not to be mistaken with his ‘visual poetry’.

 

Buried Wife

Locked-up in your shadow, in your holy shadow,
Knee-deep in water, I ask you
Is it the apple-tree’s weight, adorned with stars,
Over my darkened heart, or is it you, fugitive
Face of the hours, buried bride of mine,
What drags the unending hair
Like a broken bottle, through my blood?
I do not know, my lady, mourning of my love,
If you are the one reigning over so many ashes,
Or if it is only your shadow, your bride’s veil in the air,
—Peopled by stars, by sails and by skulls—
Drowning my room, just like an ocean.

 

Prince of Oblivion

Am I, spinning sands, unbound stars,
caved-in sky, the one who leans
and kisses her pure face between veils and serpents?
A thousand years asleep beside a skull, I have kissed her.
Over my head her breathing goes forth,
Her deaf lips, like a noise of drums.
Unbreathable and holy is her punishment, her skeleton!
(Here, under the shadow, velvet crater,
Wisely furnished is the volcano, that which is hers
Like fire, forgotten halls of horrid lace,
Sofas where her body hoarsely cries, beheaded.)
Burial of the flesh, I ask of you,
Caged horses, unattainable dust,
Just one warm, perfect moment by her side,
Just one moment alive, and oblivion, the flow
Of a thousand years shattered by a kiss.
Her face adrift matters no more, illumined
And dripping with snails, the ten fingers
Of turquoise in which she dilutes the ages.
Her lighted lantern underground matters no more,
If before that she was to surround me tamely
With her eyes and her lips still living,
If before that she was to attend, like a shadow, the fall
Of the fruit on the world. Vitreous mansions
With lizard wings, amid the clouds,
Aerial lakes pass by before me, flapping their ashes.
I only know, my buried queen, unmoving gorgon,
Which is my chair and crown, which is my sadness. 
        

 

Bird-shaped Poem

                                                        blue
                                                    shining
                                             the eYE the
                                 orange-coloured beak
                                                  the neck
                                                  the neck
                                                  the neck
                                                  the neck
                                                  the neck
                                                  the neck
                                                  the wounded neck
                                                  bird of paper and ink unable to fly
                                                  unable to move unable to sing unable to breathe
                                                  animal made of yellow verses
                                                  of a silent printed plumage
                                                  perhaps a blow will topple
                                                  the mysterious word that holds
                                                  its two legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs
                                                            legs on my table         

 

 

Body in Love

I stare at my sex with tenderness
I touch the tip of my body in love
And it’s not me staring but the other one
The same millenary ape
Reflecting on the backwater and laughing
I love the mirror in which I contemplate
My thick beard and my sadness
My grey pants and the rain
I stare at my sex with tenderness
My pure glans and my testicles
Replete with bitterness
And it’s not me suffering but the other one
The same millenary ape
Reflecting in the mirror and crying 

 

Divided Body

If half of my body smiles
The other half is full of sadness
And mysterious fish scales.
I smile and cry
Not knowing if it’s my arms
Or my legs that cry or smile
Not knowing if it’s my head
My heart or my glans
That decides my smiling
or my sadness. Blue like fish
I move amid dark or shining water
Without asking why
I simply sob
While I smile and smile
While I sob

 

It’s Not Possible for Me to Write

Without remembering
At least your nose    father César
It’s not possible for me to bury your profile
Inside a rhyme and nothing more. The fulgency
That sets my bones in motion
And dyes my blood red
Comes not from the stars
But from you     father César
you who fasted night and day
in this world     but was nurtured
with universe    how did you manage
to turn your sobbing
into everyone’s bread    your desperation
into pure water?

 

 

 

Blanca Varela

Blanca Varela was born in Lima in 1926, where she currently lives. She studied in the Universidad de San Marcos and moved to Europe in 1949, where she was introduced to writers like Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Octavio Paz. It was Paz who wrote the prologue for her first collection of poems Ese puerto existe (That Harbour Exists, 1959) published in Mexico without her knowledge. Blanca Varela has lived in Paris, Florence and Washington and has written seven further collections of poetry. She is the recipient of the 2001 Octavio Paz Prize and the III Lorca Prize for Poetry, awarded by the city of Granada.  

 

Puerto Supe

                    To J. B.

My childhood lies on this shore,
under the sky so high,
a sky like no other, a sky, swift shadow,
clouds of fright, dark whirlwind of wings,
blue houses on the horizon.

By the great windowless dwelling,
by the blind cows,
by the muddy liqueur and the carnivorous bird.

Oh, everyday sea,
mountain sea,
rainy mouth of the cold shore!

There I destroy with shiny stones
my parent’s house,
there I destroy the cage of the small birds,
uncork the bottles and a black smoke escapes
and tenderly tarnishes the air and its gardens.

My hours lie along the dried-up river,
amid the dust and its throbbing leaves,
in the burning eyes of this earth
at which the sea hurls its white dart.
Just one season, one sole time
of dripping fingers and fish’s breath.
A whole long night amid the sand.

I love the shore, that dead mirror
where the air spins like crazy,
that wave of fire razing corridors,
shadow circles and perfect crystals.

Here on the shore I climb a black well,
I go from night toward deep night,
I go toward the blind wind that scans
shiny and empty pupils,
or I dwell inside a dead fruit,
the choking silk, that heavy space
peopled by water and pale corollas.
In this shore I am he who wakes
amid the foliage of dusky wings,
the one perched on the empty branch,
he who has no wish to see the night.
Here on the shore I have roots,
flawed hands,
a burning bed in which I cry alone.

 

So It Shall Be

The day stays behind,
scarcely spent and already useless.
The great light commences,
all the doors open before
a sleeping man,
time is a tree incessantly growing.

Time,
the great half-open door,
the blinding star.

It is not with eyes one sees the birth
of that drop of light that will be,
that was a day.

Sing, bee, unhurried,
traverse the illumined labyrinth,
on a party.

Breathe and sing.
Where everything ends spread your wings.
You are the sun,
the morning’s sting,
the sea kissing the mountains,
the total clarity,
the dream. 

 

Family Secret

i dreamt of a dog
of a flayed dog
its body sang its red body hissed
i asked the other one
the one who turns the light out on the butcher
what has happened
why are we in the dark

it’s a dream you are alone
there’s no other
light does not exist
you are the dog you are the barking flower
sharpen sweetly your tongue
your sweet black four-legged tongue

the man’s skin chars with the dream
the human skin fades burns
only the dog’s red pulp is clean
the true light dwells in its blur
you are the dog
you are the flayed dog of every night
dream of yourself and that’s enough

 

Magic Powers

it doesn’t matter the hour or the day
your eyes close
three beats strike with
your foot on the floor,
your eyes open
and everything remains exactly the same

 

Lady in White

the poem is my body
this is poetry
the fatigued flesh the dream
the sun crossing through deserts

the soul’s ends touch
and i remember you dickinson
precious soft ghost
roaming through time and distance

you dwell in the other’s mouth
you fall to the air
you are the air striking
my forehead with invisible salt

the soul’s ends touch
they close
one hears the earth spin
that lightless noise
blind sand
striking us

so it shall be
eyes that were      mouth that told
hands that open and close
empty
distant in your window
you see the wind pass
see yourself pass     your face on fire
posthumous star of the summer
and you fall as a bird     as snow
on the fountain     on the earth
on oblivion

and return
with the fake name of a woman
with your winter clothes
with your white clothes of a mourning
winter

 

Nobody Tells Us

nobody tells us how
to turn the face against the wall
and
simply die
just like the cat
or the family dog
or the elephant
that walked toward its agony
as one who goes
to an undelayable ceremony
flapping its ears
to the beat
of the rhythmic breathing
of its trunk

only in the animal kingdom
are there examples of such behaviour
to turn one’s way
step close
and sniff at what’s been lived
and turn away
quite simply
turn away

 

 

Carlos Germán Belli

Carlos Germán Belli was born in Lima in 1927. He has worked as a journalist and also in the Peruvian public administration. His many poetry collections include Poemas (Poems, 1958), ¡Oh hada cibernética! (Oh, Cybernetic Fairy!, 1961) Canciones y otros poemas (Songs and Other Poems, 1979) and En las hospitalarias estrofas (Within the Welcoming Stanzas, 2001). He has won, among others, the Peruvian National Poetry Prize (1962) and, most recently, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry (2006).

 

Poem

Our love does not lie in our respective
chaste genitals, nor does our love lie
in our mouth nor in our hands:
all our love is kept beating
beneath the pure blood of the eyes.
My love and yours expect death
to steal the bone, the tooth, the fingernail,
they expect only my eyes and yours
to lie together in the vale,
staring at each other, out of their orbs,
rather like two stars, like one.

 

Oh Cybernetic Fairy

Oh cybernetic fairy
when will you grant my hand’s bones
to move joyously
so as to write at last what I desire
any time I feel like it
and the lace of my secret organs
have peaceful features
in the day’s final hours
while the blood circulates like a balm throughout my body

 

The Knot

That unbelievable infinity of the earth
I do not crave but in the slightest part,
I crave the space of your brief body
where I can finally take shelter,
in your thousand entrails’ depths,
which you have kept whole for me.
To hell with life’s free will,
greatest gifts of celestial fates,
I wish for nothing more than to be in you
tied to your firm and fleshly bow,
so that if you go out to the final star
I shall go with you step by step.
Such is living, day and night forever
tightly tied to you with the fleshly knot,
but, in truth, completely free, after all,
for from the earth to the heavens I come and go.

 

Segregation n° 1

                  (after a primitive cult)

Me, mum, my two brothers
and many little Peruvians
dig a deep hole, so deep
where we keep shelter,
for up there everything has an owner,
everything’s locked up,
firmly sealed,
for up there everything’s reserved:
the tree’s shade, the flowers,
the fruit, the roofs, the wheels,
the water, the pencils.
and we chose to plunge
deep into the earth
lower than ever,
far, so far from bosses,
today, Sunday,
far, so far from owners,
between the legs of little animals,
because up there
there are some who own everything,
who write, who sing, who dance,
who speak beautifully,
and red with shame,
we only wish to disappear
into tiny little pieces. 
 

 

Javier Sologuren

Javier Sologuren was born in Lima in 1921. His first book of poems appeared in 1944, but his poetry was subsequently collected under one title, Vida continua (A Continuous Life), a book that grew with the years until Sologuren’s death in 2004. He lived in Sweden and Japan, and was a prolific translator, mainly of French, Italian and Swedish poetry. He was also one of the most important translators into Spanish of Japanese literature, co-translating classic authors like Lady Murasaki, Sei Shonagon, Ihara Saikaku, various Noh plays and Tanizaki’s In praise of shadows. On his return from Sweden to Lima he brought with him a small printing press with which he founded the legendary imprint La Rama Florida (The Florid Bough), which was to publish many of his contemporaries chapbooks and poetry collections. Sologuren’s complete works, in ten volumes, were recently published in 2004-2005.

 

Inca Garcilaso’s Remembrance

In every love one hears
the lonely vein of water where
the live countenance that was ours
is absently mirrored.

Water rises, water names,
with soft transparent lips,
the old lone cradle
and some residual words.

Such is love. It sows
sun in the soul, and with water
the canticles of the earth
bring us thoughtful longings.

Sad dove of my mother,
open nostalgia in my heart;
Córdoba is stern and there falls
on me a whispering sunset.

My father riding, marching,
in grey iron, in opposition;
and Cuzco, noble fatherland,
virile stone facing destiny.

Oh heart, be a quiet pond,
but alive in my love for them;
keep their shadows, keep
their very human brilliance.

Over you I place my ear
and feel the sun’s whisper,
the water’s light, the warm furrow,
the farmer’s good hand.

Such is love. The blood
and the country speaking within me
let me know, and memory knows
how to be the flowing water.

 

Haiku

Ink on paper.
The mind
anoints its night.

 

Epithalamium

when the tall grass should cover us
and them
the trembling      the joyful
should come up to us
they will suddenly be shod
they will measure themselves blindly
they will shatter the lines of the landscape

and there will be a glare in the air
warm and slow spirals
over hesitant kisses

memories will grow no more
they will make their way over the earth
they will drag themselves over the grass
they will knot themselves to their bodies

pulsating memories

perhaps them
the joyful     the trembling
will then imagine themselves
combed
by excessive
unexpected brilliance
high lights
from the highway
day separates
night units
(behold a difference)
the hand that opens
the hand that closes
(behold a metaphor)
and we are within it
we go in and come out
(behold a routine)
but
once
just
one
time
we shall be alone
in the unity
of night

 

 

(the adjustment)

as ghosts shaken by a candle
hovering over the den
words lingered
sprinkled
over your picture

silence drowns

the spatial fire does not cross the skylights
I carry a tottering candle
an extended hand
and in the thorn
your voice’s last living rose

yes my dear

 

 


Notes on the Translators

Michael Smith was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1942. He is a poet. translator, critic and publisher. He has translated the poetry of Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Miguel Hernández. Gerardo Diego, Pablo Neruda, Quevedo and Góngora amongst many others. In 1967 he established New Writers' Press which has published more than almost a hundred titles, between books and magazines. In 2001 he received the Medal of the European Academy Poetry for his translations of some of the most important poets of Spain and Latin America. Among his latest work, in three volumes, is the complete poems of the Peruvian poet, César Vallejo, translated with the Peruvian scholar, Valentino Gianuzzi. His translation of a Selected Poems of Rosalía de Castro is due out in Sept. of this year (2007) as along with the Complete Poems of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. At present he is working on a Selected Poems of Claudio Rodríguez with Luis Ingelmo, and also a Selected Poems of Juan Antonio Villacañas with Beatriz White. He was a member of the Arts Council of Ireland (1984‑1989). He is a member of the Aosdána, the Irish National Academy of Artists. His poetry has been translated into Spanish, ­French, German and Polish.