El hombre imaginario / The Imaginary Man by Nicanor Parra

This entry is part 38 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Nicanor Parra in 2014 (photo by Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, visiting the poet for the celebration of his 100th birthday)

Nicanor Parra, far from imaginary, was all too real, according to David Unger in the Paris Review blog — though Alejandro Zambra, writing in the New Yorker, did call the Chilean poet, who died on January 23 at the age of 103, “almost immortal.” The English-language Wikipedia refers to him as

a Chilean poet, mathematician, and physicist. He was considered an influential poet in Chile and throughout Latin America. Parra described himself as an “anti-poet,” due to his distaste for standard poetic pomp and function; after recitations he would exclaim “Me retracto de todo lo dicho” (“I take back everything I said”).

I’ve always admired his work as a useful corrective for extreme lyricism and romanticism, but as the following demonstrates, his poems could still pack quite a punch. This appears in a 1985 collection with a punning title, Hojas de Parra (Grape Leaves or Pages from Parra).

The Imaginary Man

The imaginary man
lives in an imaginary mansion
surrounded by imaginary trees
on the banks of an imaginary river

On the imaginary walls
imaginary old paintings hang
imaginary irreparable cracks
that represent imaginary events
occuring in imaginary worlds
in imaginary times and places

Every afternoon an imaginary afternoon
he climbs the imaginary stairs
and leans out the imaginary balcony
to gaze at the imaginary view
which consists of an imaginary valley
encircled by imaginary hills

Imaginary shadows
advance down the imaginary road
singing imaginary songs
for the death of the imaginary sun

And on imaginary moonlit nights
he dreams of the imaginary woman
who gave him his imaginary love
once again feeling that same pain
that same imaginary pleasure
and that imaginary man’s heart
once again throbs

El hombre imaginario

El hombre imaginario
vive en una mansión imaginaria
rodeada de árboles imaginarios
a la orilla de un río imaginario

De los muros que son imaginarios
penden antiguos cuadros imaginarios
irreparables grietas imaginarias
que representan hechos imaginarios
ocurridos en mundos imaginarios
en lugares y tiempos imaginarios

Todas las tardes tardes imaginarias
sube las escaleras imaginarias
y se asoma al balcón imaginario
a mirar el paisaje imaginario
que consiste en un valle imaginario
circundado de cerros imaginarios

Sombras imaginarias
vienen por el camino imaginario
entonando canciones imaginarias
a la muerte del sol imaginario

Y en las noches de luna imaginaria
sueña con la mujer imaginaria
que le brindó su amor imaginario
vuelve a sentir ese mismo dolor
ese mismo placer imaginario
y vuelve a palpitar
el corazón del hombre imaginario

I made a video for the poem; see Moving Poems for the process notes.

Series Navigation← To a Child in a Tree, by Jorge Teillier


3 Replies to “El hombre imaginario / The Imaginary Man by Nicanor Parra”

  1. So happy and overwhelmed by this English translation of El hombre imaginario. He’s been my favourite poem for very long. Thanks for your work spreading his work.

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