It Didn’t Speak in Words

by Luis Cernuda

It didn’t speak in words,
It could only draw near: an inquisitive body,
Unaware that desire is a question
Without an answer,
A leaf without a branch,
A world without a sky.

Anguish opens a path among the bones,
Travels upstream through the veins
Until it comes out on the skin,
Upwellings of dream made flesh
To question the clouds.

A brush in passing,
A stolen glance among the shadows
Are enough to make the body divide in two,
Eager to take another dreaming body
Into itself,
Half with half,
Dream with dream,
Flesh with flesh:
Equivalent in shape, in love, in craving.

But it never gets farther than a hope,
Because desire is a question whose answer nobody knows.


No Decí­a Palabras

No decí­a palabras,
Acercaba tan sólo un cuerpo interrogante,
Porque ignoraba que el deseo es una pregunta
Cuya repuesta no existe,
Un hoja cuya rama no existe,
Un mundo cuya cielo no existe.

La angustia se abre paso entre los huesos,
Remonta por las venas
Hasta abrirse en la piel,
Surtidores de sueño
Hechos carne en interrogación vuelta a las nubes.

Un roce al paso,
Una mirada fugaz entre las sombras,
Bastan para que el cuerpo se abra en dos,
Avido de recibir en sí­ mismo
Otro cuerpo que sueñe;
Mitad y mitad, sueño y sueño, carne y carne,
Iguales en figura, iguales en amor, iguales en deseo.

Aunque sólo sea una esperanza,
Porque el deseo es una pregunta cuya repuesta nadie sabe.

Luis Cernuda (1902-1963) was a Spanish poet and literary critic who spent most of his life in exile. He incorporated all his poems into one, regularly updated volume, La realidad y el deseo (Reality and Desire).

6 Replies to “It Didn’t Speak in Words”

  1. But no equivalence. Right.

    I’m enjoying this, Dave. Thanks.

    Should “repuesta” be spelled “respuesta”?

    I think your translation of “Porque el deseo es una pregunta cuya repuesta nadie sabe” to be elegant! I’m not one to have much of a sensibility of the feel and heft of the syllables in the Spanish, but to me it is all elbows and knees in comparison with your joint-less-ness. I just know I like what you’ve done; it is fluent. The “half with half” portion slays me! I think of something nearly liquid like a split avocado, half lain on half, put back together. I can’t think when I’ve seen the word “half” put to use with a cleaner slice!

  2. O.K. The Spanish ain’t clunky, just that that final sentence is a little more winding than your translation.

    What a task you had before you to make do without “nubes”, “cuerpo”, “sombras”. That whole line: “Una mirada fugaz entre las sombras.”

  3. Bill – Thanks for the appreciative and analytical comments. I’ve been away from the computer all day, so didn’t get a chance to respond earlier, but fortunately you are an able monologist! :)

  4. Until I saw that Bill had nailed it before me, I was going to comment that in both music and texture, the English seems brighter, calmer, less congested than the Spanish original. Maybe that’s mostly because the “cuya” clauses in Spanish turn into simpler English forms.

    I’d be interested to see a Spanish translation of your version.

    Cheers, J

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