The deep emotional connection I have with Paraguay began when I was about six years old and landed, with my family and all our Parisian furniture including a grand piano, in a wild place which was to be our home while my father supervised his dream of building a road linking this small landlocked country to Brazil and beyond. (I’ve written about some of this in an ongoing online autobiography, which starts here.) The Paraguay I knew then, and much later as an adult, is shaped by my personal recollections and bears little resemblance to the harsh realities which its people have endured throughout their history. My affection for the Paraguayans, their joyous, sad, beautiful country, their Guarani-infused Spanish, their music and their voices continues unabated to this day. But it’s thanks to Via Negativa’s Other Americas project that I’ve just started to discover some of their poets, strangely and unfairly omitted from the major anthologies of Latin American poetry. José Luis Appleyard (1927–1998) was part of the so-called 50s generation of Paraguayan poets, along with such other luminaries as José María Gómez Sanjurjo, Ricardo Mazó and Ramiro Domínguez.
Some words die
and no dictionary can revive them;
simple words, clear words, words which formed
on our lips the language of childhood.
In vain we search, trying to give them back life
a life the years have taken away.
Sweet exiled words
once the milestones
of our personal vocabulary.
No use looking for them, they’ve already crumbled
under the dictionary’s brutal weight.
A veces hay palabras que se mueren
y no las resucita el diccionario;
palabras simples, claras, que acrecieron
el verbo de la infancia en nuestros labios.
En balde las buscamos para darles
una vida que ha muerto con los años.
Dulces palabras nuestras exiliadas
solo sonido ya desamparado,
que por un tiempo fueron los mojones
de nuestro personal vocabulario.
Es inútil buscarlas, ya se han muerto
bajo el peso brutal del diccionario.
How Little I Understand Things
How little I understand things
The years have not succeeded in anchoring experience
in my memory
I’m always astonished that a pair of eyes exist
which see me in close-up, so very close.
I’m astonished at the dark power of their gaze
recalling the innocence of childhood
while simultaneously conjuring up the blackest night
born of secrets.
Like an old alchemist
I want to transmute the dreams in those eyes
I want to create with those eyes
looking at me so intently
a kind of oblivion taking me to their core.
And when their language becomes wordless
when it becomes the soft expression of something which is mine,
then I see what I don’t understand about things,
their reflections are shimmering in the air,
looking at me, timelessly,
speaking of me, of themselves, of everything.
Qué poco entiendo las cosas
Qué poco entiendo las cosas.
Los años no han logrado fijar en mi memoria
y siempre me sorprendo que existen unos ojos
que me miran de pronto tan cerca de mí mismo.
Me sorprende el oscuro poder de su mirada
que guarda ingenuidades de infancias manifiestas
y tiene, sin embargo, una profunda noche
nacida de secretas experiencias.
Como un viejo alquimista
yo quiero interpretarla trasmutando sus sueños,
quiero hacer con sus ojos
que me miran de cerca
una forma de olvido que me lleve a su centro.
Y así, cuando sus manos son lenguaje sin cifras,
cuando son la suave expresión de algo mío,
comprendo que no entiendo de las cosas,
y quedan en el aire sus reflejos,
mirándome, sin tiempo,
y hablándome de mí, de sí, de todo.
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
One Reply to “Sweet exiled words: two poems by José Luis Appleyard”