Juarroz on waking up

This entry is part 35 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


I woke up this morning with a poem about waking up (how self-reflexive is that?!). I was struck by its argument that humans are basically crepuscular critters.

The Argentinean poet Roberto Juarroz (1925-1995) won international recognition as a master of the modern philosophical poem. He is often compared to Octavio Paz, but I find his work more reminiscent of Rilke and Juan Ramón Jiménez, with a dash of Laozi. Both W.S. Merwin and Mary Crow have authored book-length translations into English of selections from his multi-volume magnum opus, Poesí­a Vertical (Vertical Poetry). I was drawn to the following poem (found in Crow’s bilingual edition) not simply by the subject matter but by the fourth line of the third stanza, in which “huecos” reminded me of home: water gaps, hollows, coves. I chose “coves” over “hollows” simply because I think it might be more widely understood outside Appalachia, and I felt “intemperie” justified my addition of the modifier “mountain.” I also felt Crow mistranslated in two places, justifying my own, fairly free attempt.

Poesí­a Vertical

por Roberto Juarroz

Despertar es siempre
una difí­cil emergencia:
reencender la lucidez
como quien recomienza el mundo.

Por eso nos quedamos
en los estados intermedios.
El hombre no es una criatura despierta:
desconoce lo abierto.

Llamos que se consumen a medias,
párpados que se olvidan del ojo,
jardinez paralizados en la noche,
huecos de la intemperie acorralada.

Los caminos se aglomeran en vano:
despertar es borrar los caminos.

* * * *

Waking up is always
a difficult emergence:
a re-ignition of lucidity,
as if one were starting the world all over.

That’s why we abide
in the in-between states.
Man simply isn’t a wakeful creature:
he lacks familiarity with the open.

Flames that burn themselves out halfway through;
eyelids forgotten by the eye;
gardens paralyzed in the night;
mountain coves socked in by bad weather.

In vain the roads multiply and converge:
to wake up is to wipe the map clean.


Those who read Spanish might be interested in Juarroz’ reflections on his craft, Un rigor para la intensidad, which begins with a somewhat different take on “lo abierto” than the above poem:

Yo me he sentido atraí­do en primer lugar por los elementos de la naturaleza. Nací­ en un pueblo al borde del campo. Mi padre era jefe de la estación de ferrocarril y tení­amos enfrente el horizonte abierto. En esa pequeña ciudad de Coronel Dorrego me acostumbré desde muy chico a los silencios. Esas noches abiertas en donde se veí­an las estrellas, la luna ní­tida, los vientos, el agua, el árbol que para mí­ es un protagonista de la vida.

(I have felt an attraction from the first for all the elements of nature. I was born in a town on the edge of the country. My father was a railroad stationmaster and we had the open horizon always in front of us. In that small city, Coronel Dorrego, from a very young age I grew accustomed to silences. Those open nights in which one could discern the stars, the crystal-clear moon, the winds, the water, the tree that was for me an active protagonist in my life.)

Series Navigation← High Treason by José Emilio PachecoUnder the Sky Born After the Rain, by Jorge Teillier →


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