Amado 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 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.
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…
“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,
is this story of yours ever to have an end?
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!
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.
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…
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!
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