Birds of smoke: two poems by José María Eguren

José María Eguren's self-portrait
Eguren’s self-portrait

These translations are the result of a Facebook-enabled collaboration between Jean Morris and me, with assistance from Luis E. Andrade. Having posted multiple translations of “El sueño del caimán” by José Santos Chocano, I wanted to include something by Chocano’s fellow Peruvian and contemporary, José María Eguren (1874-1942), to show the breadth of early 20th-century Peruvian poetry as well as the literary roots of César Vallejo, who was supported and influenced by Eguren. According to the Spanish-language Wikipedia article on him,

Eguren is credited with a central role in founding the tradition of modern Peruvian poetry, which would then be consolidated with the worldwide circulation and influence of César Vallejo’s deep, intense poetry. [Peruvian critic José Carlos] Mariátegui said of Eguren that “in our literary history, he is a representative of pure poetry.” […] Simbólicas (1911), his first book, inaugurated contemporary poetry in Peru: “Leave behind the honeyed, Romantic verses, the singsong clarinetesque of Modernism.” He favored a precise and evocative vocabulary, deep lyricism, musical language, dreams, and child-like, hallucinatory visions.

Despite their minimalism, which is part of what attracted us to them, these two poems were a challenge to translate with their difficult language and strange but fascinating imagery. Enjoy.


translated by Dave Bonta and Jean Morris

Shadows bathing
in the sand
one, two
phantom dragonflies

Birds of smoke
head for the twilight

My half-century
and in the white borderlands
we wait for night

The porch
fragrant with algae
the last sea

In the shadows
giggling triangles lurk


En la arena
se ha bañado la sombra
una, dos
libélulas fantasmas…

Aves de humo
van a la penumbra
del bosque.

Medio siglo
y en el límite blanco
esperamos la noche.

El pórtico
con perfume de algas,
el último mar.

En la sombra
ríen los triángulos.


Cubist Song
translated by Jean Morris and Dave Bonta

Boulevard of blue rectangles

The hipster’s
convivial high-rise

Photos, butterflies
take flight

Atop the skyscraper
a black paper cockerel
crows for night

Beyond Hollywood
in distant darkness
the shining city
of pearly obelisks

Somewhere in the fog
the waitress
strangles a ghost

Canción cubista

Alameda de rectángulos azules.

La torre alegre
del dandy.

mariposas fotos.

En el rascacielos
un gallo negro de papel
saluda la noche.

Más allá de Hollywood,
en tiniebla distante
la ciudad luminosa,
de los obeliscos
de nácar.

En la niebla
la garzona
estrangula un fantasma.

Series Navigation← How to recognize the road: three more poems by Cecília MeirelesHistoria de mi muerte / Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones →

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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