Eternity for an inheritance: eight poems by Amado Nervo

This entry is part 5 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Amado NervoAmado Nervo (1870-1919), Mexican journalist, fiction writer and diplomat, remains one of the better loved poets of the Spanish-speaking world. Like a latter-day Hafez, his great subject was love, be it secular or religious. I find his focus on Asian religions especially interesting, in part because of what it suggests about the ecumenical nature of his Catholicism (he originally intended to become a priest), and also because it helps me better contextualize the Eastern influences on other early 20th-century poets such as Rilke and Jiménez. I like his simplicity and directness, but I’m a little haunted by his life story: how the love of his life, Ana Daillez, died after just 11 years of marriage, and how he himself died at 48, shortly after accepting the post of ambassador to Argentina and Uruguay.

To connect Nervo to two poets already included in this series: he became a close friend of Darío while living in Paris in 1901, and he wrote a pioneering biography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. If I got a little carried away with the length of this selection, do recall that the name of this blog is Via Negativa. Once in a while, it’s good to post some content that actually sort of lives up to that.


She Kissed Me Often
(Me besaba mucho)

She kissed me often, as if she feared
an imminent departure… Her affections
were restless, nervous.

I didn’t understand
such feverish haste. My coarse intention
never saw very far…
She foresaw!

She foresaw that our time would be short,
that the sail battered by the wind’s lash
was already waiting… and in her anxiety
she tried to leave me her soul with every embrace,
to put all eternity into her kisses.

(1912)

*

And the Basalt Buddha Smiled (Y el Buda de basalto sonreía)

That evening in the poplar grove, mad
with love, the sweet one I idolized
offered me the wild rose of her mouth.

And the basalt Buddha smiled…

Later there was another whose charms
captured me; we made a date, and in the shade
exchanged letters and lockets.

And the basalt Buddha smiled…

It’s been a year today since I lost her love.
I return to our trysting spot and, exhausted
from the long walk, creep up to the top
of the pedestal where the image rests.
The day dies, squandered and bloody,
and in the arms of the basalt Buddha
I’m astonished to see the mysterious moon.

And the basalt Buddha smiled…

(1902)

*

Kalpa (Kalpa)

“Do you want all this to begin again?”
“Yes!” the chorus replied.
THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA

In all the eternities
that preceded our world,
how can we refuse to believe that there have already
been other planets with human beings,

whose Homers have declaimed
their first heroic deeds
and whose Shakespeares have shared wisdom gleaned
from delving into the depths of the soul?

Serpent biting your tail,
uncompromising circle, black
ball that turns without ceasing,
monotonous refrain of the same song,
abysmal tide—
is this story of yours ever to have an end?

(1914)

*

Identity (Identidad)

Tat Tvam Asi
(You are this: that is to say, you are one
and the same as everything around you;
you are the thing in itself)

Anyone who knows they are one with God achieves nirvana:
a nirvana in which all darkness is illuminated,
a dizzying expansion of human consciousness
that is merely the projection of the divine idea
on the screen of time…

The phenomenon—the external, useless fruit
of illusion—is extinguished: now there is no plurality,
and the self, ecstatic, is at last absorbed in the absolute,
and has all eternity for an inheritance!

(1919)

*

The Wing’s Shadow (La sombra del ala)

You who assume I don’t believe
whenever we two debate:
you can’t imagine how I long,
I thirst, I hunger for God.

You’ve never heard
my desperate cries filling
the heart of darkness
with invocations of the Infinite.

You’ve never seen how my thought,
in its dedication to bearing
the ideal, regularly endures
the tortures of childbirth.

If my barren spirit
had your fertility,
it would’ve already forged a heaven
to make its world whole.

But I say: who knows
what effort would suffice
in a soul with no flag
to lead your torturer about,

a soul that lives by abstinence from faith,
and with heroic tenacity,
interrogates each abyss
and each night, asking why?

At all events, I take refuge
in my thirst for investigation,
my craving for God, deep and silent;
and there is more love in my doubt
than in your heated contention.

(1914)

*

Deity (Deidad)

As a spark sleeps in the pebble
and a statue in the clay,
so in you, divinity sleeps.
Just a press of intense pain
till the shock—the lightning of deity
bursting from the inert stone.

Therefore don’t complain and blame fate,
since what is divine within you
can only emerge in such a manner.
Grin and bear it if you can,
this life the creator is sculpting,
the hard blow of the chisel.

What matter, then, the evil hours,
if every hour he adds a lovelier
plume to your nascent wings?
You shall see the condor at full altitude,
you shall see the completed sculpture,
you shall see, my soul, you shall see…

(1917)

*

A film by Eduardo Yagüe. Read his process notes at Moving Poems.

Offertory (Ofertorio)

Deus dedit, Deus abstulit
[God has given, God has taken away]

God, I offer you my pain—
that’s all I can offer you!
You gave me a love, only one love,
a great love!
Death stole it from me,
and I have nothing else now but my pain.
Accept it, Lord—
it’s all that I can offer you!

*

At Peace (En paz)

Very near to my sunset now, I bless you, life,
because you never gave me any false hope
or unjust labor or unwarranted punishment;

because at the end of my rough road, I see
that I was the architect of my own fate,

that if I extracted honey or gall from things
it was because I instilled them with a gall or honey flavor:
when I planted rosebushes, I always harvested roses.

True, after all my blossoms, winter must come—
but you never said that May would last forever!

Certainly I had my long nights with the blues,
but you never promised only good nights,
and to make up for it, I had some that were holy and serene.

I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face.
Life, you owe me nothing! Life, we are at peace!

(1915)

Series Navigation← A soft storm in the skull: three poems by Rubén DaríoFive translators, one poem: dreaming about caimans with José Santos Chocano →

7 Comments



  1. Gosh, such mixed feelings about these. I like your choice to translate into free form and modern idiom, but then why not go a bit more consistently for the latter? The tone and register seem to fluctuate, sometimes from one line to the next.

    Reply

  2. What I mean is, since you choose expressions like ‘a lot’ and’ ‘make a date’ and ‘the blues’, and use contractions, couldn’t more of the vocabulary be more informal and less latinate?

    Reply

  3. Hmm. I don’t think a wide-ranging, allusive or eclectic style of speaking or writing is the same as fluctuating tone or register. Anyway, I should also say again how much this series is making me read and think outside my own small box, which is great.

    Reply

    1. Thanks. Please feel free to email me with more specific criticisms or suggestions — as well as to send along any translations of your own that you might feel inspired to try. Knowing your writing, I’m sure they would be terrific.

      Reply

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