The great Rubén Darío (1867-1916), native of Nicaragua, drunk on Parnassianism and symbolism, who almost single-handedly dragged Spanish-language poetry into the modern era, awakening it from three centuries of near-lethargy: when he was good he was very, very good, and when he was bad he was horrid. And by horrid, I mean full of overblown, precious imagery and devoid of any sense of physical reality, as for example in his most famous poem. I admit however that my ear isn’t good enough to distinguish great from merely good Spanish prosody. And in going through some of his regularly anthologized poems, I was surprised to find several that I really liked. The first one below, I think, will speak to any writer or artist who’s ever tried to grope her way toward a new form of expression without any clear idea of what that might be. The second is a good example of how well Darío’s poetry can work when it stops just short of bathos, and I liked the parallel images in the last stanza. The final poem is the third of three nocturnos Darío wrote in the course of his career. Insomnia may have been a bit of a Romantic trope, but for those of us who suffer from it, it’s a very real and baffling phenomenon. I choose to interpret the final phrase as a reference to the angel of death, mostly because I feel that almost any Darío poem could be set to music by Slayer to the benefit of both. Please feel free to critique my translations in the comments. (I’m trying to move away from reliance on Facebook.)
I Pursue a Form… (Yo persigo una forma…)
I pursue a form that my usual style doesn’t encounter,
a bud of thought seeking to be a rose.
It’s betokened by a kiss planted on my lips
in the Venus de Milo’s impossible embrace.
Verdant palms adorn the white-columned courtyard,
the stars have foretold a vision of the Goddess,
and the light settles in my soul the way the moon,
that great bird, settles on a calm lake.
And I find only the word that escapes,
the opening melody that flows from the flute,
the dream ship sailing through space,
and under the window of my Sleeping Beauty,
the never-ending sob of the fountain
and the question posed by that white swan’s neck.
(Updated 2 July 2015) Thanks to Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon for this video version of the poem below. There’s also a version in Spanish, and he blogged some process notes.
Mortal (Lo fatal)
For René Pérez
Happy the tree that is barely capable of feeling
and happier still the rock—so hard it feels nothing,
for there’s no greater pain than the pain of being alive,
no affliction more severe than consciousness.
To be, knowing nothing and lacking a sure path,
with the fear of having been and dread for the future…
And the reliable terror of being dead tomorrow,
and suffering through life and through shadow
and through everything we don’t know and can hardly guess,
the flesh so tempting with its fresh clusters
and the waiting tomb with its funeral bouquets—
and not to know where we’re headed
or whence we came!
The still of the night—a distressing, nightly stillness…
Why does my soul quake like this?
I listen to the humming of my blood
and a soft storm passes through my skull.
Insomnia! Not to be able to sleep, and yet
to dream. I am the specimen
in a spiritual self-dissection: the auto-Hamlet!
Diluting my sadness
with the wine of night
in darkness’s marvelous glass…
And I mutter to myself: When will the dawn come?
A door has just been shut…
Someone has walked past…
The clock has struck three… If it were She!
OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES
- The Other (El Otro) by Rosario Castellanos
- Green Enchantment (Verde Embeleso) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
- The discovery of things I’ve never seen: five poems by Oswald de Andrade
- A soft storm in the skull: three poems by Rubén Darío
- Eternity for an inheritance: eight poems by Amado Nervo
- Five translators, one poem: dreaming about caimans with José Santos Chocano
- Contrary Moon: three poems by Cecília Meireles
- Génesis doméstico / My Private Genesis by Teresa Calderón
- How to recognize the road: three more poems by Cecília Meireles
- Birds of smoke: two poems by José María Eguren
- Historia de mi muerte / Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones
- La blanca soledad / Pale Solitude by Leopoldo Lugones
- House without walls: two poems by Vinicius de Moraes
- Ajedrez / Chess by Jorge Luis Borges
- Where shall we go? (¿Can nelpa tonyazque?) by Nezahualcoyotl
- Four haiku and a severed head by Simone Routier
- Gotas de lluvia / raindrops: four more haiku and a tanka
- Sweet exiled words: two poems by José Luis Appleyard
- Pain without explanation: five poems by César Vallejo
- Si rigide le desert de l’Autre / So Rigid is the Desert of the Other by France Théoret
- Mapping a different star: five poems by Gabriela Mistral
- oh (ô) by Raôul Duguay
- Repetición de mi mismo / Repeating Myself by Ricardo Mazó
- Peuple inhabité / Population void by Yves Préfontaine
- Retrouvailles / Reunions by Anne Brunelle
- A genius for brevity: Alejandra Pizarnik
- Lo que soy / What I Am by Juana de Ibarbourou
- Emily Dickinson by Michel Garneau
- Intersections: reading, translation, writing
- Nameless as the rain: two poems by Jacques Brault
- Erasure translation of a poem by Jacques Brault
- Rafael Courtoisie’s Song of the Mirror (La canción del espejo): a videopoem by Eduardo Yagüe
- A glimpse from the gutter: three poems by Alejandra Pizarnik
- High Treason by José Emilio Pacheco
- Juarroz on waking up
- Under the Sky Born After the Rain, by Jorge Teillier
- To a Child in a Tree, by Jorge Teillier
- El hombre imaginario / The Imaginary Man by Nicanor Parra
3 Replies to “A soft storm in the skull: three poems by Rubén Darío”
Excellent translation of Lo Fatal. Thank you.
Thanks. Glad it’s proving useful.