Lo que soy / What I Am by Juana de Ibarbourou

This entry is part 27 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Juana de IbarbourouSuccessful from early in her writing career, ceremonially baptised “Juana de América,” and once popular way beyond her own country and continent, the face of Juana de Ibarbourou (1892-1979) is on thousand-peso notes in her native Uruguay, but she seems no longer to be as well known internationally or as much published in translation as one might expect. Read more (if still frustratingly little) about her on Wikipedia.

Surfing through online poetry sites, skittering through countries and centuries, pulling out a few – not necessarily the most representative – poems that grab me and having a bash at translating them, is an ahistorical and superficial approach, perhaps. But it’s a bit like being an inexperienced prospector panning for gold – and finding it. The second of these poems, Bajo la Lluvia, is set to join my all-time favourites.

What I Am for You

           A doe
eating fragrant grass out of your hand.

           A dog
that follows everywhere in your footsteps.

           A star
twice as bright and sparkly just for you.

           A spring
rippling snake-like at your feet.

           A flower
whose honey and whose scent are yours alone.

For you I’m all of these,
I gave you my soul in all its guises.
The doe, the dog, the heavenly body and the flower,
the living water flowing at your feet.
           My soul is all
           for you, my

Lo que soy para tí

que come en tus manos la olorosa hierba.

que sigue tus pasos doquiera que van.

para ti doblada de sol y centella.

que a tus pies ondula como una serpiente.

que para ti solo da mieles y olor.

Todo eso yo soy para tí,
mi alma en todas sus formas te dí.
Cierva y can, astro y flor,
agua viva que glisa a tus pies,
            Mi alma es
            para tí,

Being Rained On

How the rain is sliding down my back!
How it’s soaking into my skirt
and planting its icy cold on my cheeks!
It’s raining, raining, raining.

And I’m off, I’m on my way,
with a lightness in my soul and a smile on my face,
with no emotions, no dreams,
just full of the pleasure of not thinking.

Here’s a bird taking a bath
in a muddy puddle. Surprised by my presence,
it pauses… looks me in the eye… feels like we’re friends…
We’re both in love with sky and fields and wheat!

Then the startled face
of a passing labourer with his hoe on his shoulder
and the rain is drenching me in all the scents
of October hedges.

And, soaked to the skin as I am,
a kind of wonderful, stupendous crown of crystal drops,
of flowers stripped of their petals,
pours over me from the astonished plants I brush against.

And I feel, in this mindless,
sleepless state, the pleasure,
the infinite, sweet, strange delight
of a moment’s oblivion.

It’s raining, raining, raining,
and in my soul and in my flesh, this icy cold.

Bajo la lluvia

¡Cómo resbala el agua por mi espalda!
¡Cómo moja mi falda,
y pone en mis mejillas su frescura de nieve!
Llueve, llueve, llueve.

Y voy, senda adelante,
con el alma ligera y la cara radiante,
sin sentir, sin soñar,
llena de la voluptuosidad de no pensar.

Un pájaro se baña
en una charca turbia. Mi presencia le extraña,
se detiene… me mira… nos sentimos amigos…
¡Los dos amamos muchos cielos, campos y trigos!

Después es el asombro
de un labriego que pasa con su azada al hombro
y la lluvia me cubre de todas las fragancias
de los setos de octubre.

Y es, sobre mi cuerpo por el agua empapado
como un maravilloso y estupendo tocado
de gotas cristalinas, de flores deshojadas
que vuelcan a mi paso las plantas asombradas.

Y siento, en la vacuidad
del cerebro sin sueño, la voluptuosidad
del placer infinito, dulce y desconocido,
de un minuto de olvido.

Llueve, llueve, llueve,
y tengo en alma y carne, como un frescor de nieve.

The Fig Tree

Because she’s rough and ugly,
her branches uniformly grey,
the fig tree moves me to pity.

At my country place are a hundred lovelies,
bushy plum trees,
upright lemons,
shiny-leaved orange trees.

Every springtime,
clothed in blossom,
they crowd around the fig tree.

Poor thing, how sad she looks,
with her twisted, truncated branches
that never sport tight little buds…

That’s why
each time I’m near her
I murmur, summoning
my sweetest, blithest tones:
“the fig tree is the loveliest
of all the orchard’s trees.”

And if she hears me,
if she understands my words,
what a deep sweetness will make its nest
in her sensitive tree-soul!

Perhaps, in a trance of pleasure,
while the wind fans her topmost branches,
she’ll tell the night:

Today I was called beautiful!

La Higuera

Porque es áspera y fea,
porque todas sus ramas son grises,
yo le tengo piedad a la higuera.

En mi quinta hay cien árboles bellos,
ciruelos redondos,
limoneros rectos
y naranjos de brotes lustrosos.

En las primaveras,
todos ellos se cubren de flores
en torno a la higuera.

Y la pobre parece tan triste
con sus gajos torcidos que nunca
de apretados capullos se visten…

Por eso,
cada vez que yo paso a su lado,
digo, procurando
hacer dulce y alegre mi acento:
«Es la higuera el más bello
de los árboles todos del huerto».

Si ella escucha,
si comprende el idioma en que hablo,
¡qué dulzura tan honda hará nido
en su alma sensible de árbol!

Y tal vez, a la noche,
cuando el viento abanique su copa,
embriagada de gozo le cuente:

¡Hoy a mí me dijeron hermosa!

London Haibun

Rye Lane, Peckham, yesterday. A cooler day, with hovering rain and storms: the kind of weather that brings seabirds inland. Remembering that the gritty inner-city areas were once where I felt most comfortable. It’s different now. I’m older, and our cities harsher. Now I’m only saddened by the grinding poverty and shocked – coming here from next-door Dulwich – by the glaring class and racial separation…

seagulls circle
crying over Peckham
migrant voices

Si rigide le desert de l’Autre / So Rigid is the Desert of the Other by France Théoret

This entry is part 20 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


France ThéoretMore of a version, an approach, somewhere towards a translation of this experimental work from the 1970s. Probably no coincidence that, of all the random selection of poetry from Quebec to be found on the web, this impossible text drew me, since I’m more or less of the poet’s generation and marked by the explosion in women’s lives, identities and language forty years ago. Anyway, I love it. It’s incantatory. It’s feelings trying to burst out of language and almost managing to do so.

Born in Montreal in 1942, France Théoret became in the 1970s a leading figure in avant-garde and feminist writing and publishing in Quebec. She remains a prominent and prolific author of poetry, novels and socially and politically engaged non-fiction and won Quebec’s major literary award in 2012. This is from her first published work, Bloody Mary (1977).

So Rigid is the Desert of the Other

the his the hers the him the her the words of love of dreams misspoken phrases I mistake myself misspeak the dumb the dumb-arse phrases in my head yes what I said clear little words dear little girl yes she who juggles lazy afternoons of missed appointments secrets secret rendezvous where nothing happens cries and thirst the mental dumping ground so vast so dispossessed walled up in fear of words of where we’re headed of disorder right inside this body clenched so tight the belly gripes the lofty ceilings shift look fit to burst I dream it standing up or lying down I speak to you of nothing such sweet nothings these damp thighs take all the space so nothing’s left and every joint has stiffened up no circulation obligation I’m obliged to speak how could I have believed when every phrase is back-to-front when words come from behind beginning at the end unmaking discourse bit by bit as if these phrases really could read backwards or as if there were a hole as my own body has a hole through which I might reverse my skin from end to end might turn it inside out all red all rough as I imagine it a torture to the eyes and dumb with terror then my body not my words Oh I misspeak! I have misspoken as I see you as I saw you raging fires of Saint John these words that should be chased away pushed back not gone but silenced silenced silenced not the same at all the sign in place the arse the innocence of head of arse from arse to head from head to arse a bridge of words


The hours the days the years the depths the weariness of lazy afternoons. I watch myself. I’m keeping a close eye. So rigid is the desert of the Other.

Si rigide le désert de l’Autre

d’il d’elle de lui d’elle les mots de l’amour rêves phrases déparlantes je me dépare je déparle les phrases si muettes dans ma tête je me répète comme une petite fille si claires oui oui jongleuse des fins d’après-midi rendez-vous manqués puis masqués masque rien n’arrive les cris la soif l’ordure mentale si grande si dépossédée emmurée dans la peur des mots du sens de la marche le désordre jusque dans le corps crispé ça serre au ventre ça remue les hauts plafonds qui vont éclater je rêve debout couchée je te parle de rien de tellement rien les cuisses humides prennent toute la place plus rien toutes les jointures se bloquent finie la circulation l’obligation je suis obligée de parler pourquoi l’avoir cru les phrases s’inversent les mots viennent par-derrière commencer par la fin défaire bout pour bout le discours comme si c’était possible les phrases commencent par la fin comme s’il y avait trou comme il y a un trou dans mon corps à partir duquel je pourrais retourner bout pour bout ma peau par l’envers rouge j’imagine rugueuse torture pour les yeux muette de terreur mon corps non mes phrases oh ! je déparle oh ! j’ai déparlé comme je te vois comme je t’ai vu les hauts fourneaux de saint-jean-de-dieu les mots qui devraient filer vite nets ou bloquer non pas bloquer mais se taire se taire se taire ça n’est pas pareil le geste à la place le cul est innocence de la tête et du cul du cul à la tête de la tête au cul une traversée des mots


Les heures les jours les années l’épaisseur le sommeil les fatigues des fins d’après-midi. Je me surveille de près. Je me tiens à l’œil. Si rigide le désert de l’Autre.

Gotas de lluvia / raindrops: four more haiku and a tanka

This entry is part 17 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Dreaming of rain on a hot, parched day in London.

Many Latin American masters tried their hands at haiku…

Mario Benedetti

soundless rain
under the umbrella
a perfect kiss

llueve sin ruido
pero bajo el paraguas
funciona el beso

Jose Juan Tablada

Rainy day:
each flower is a vessel
of tears…

Día lluvioso:
cada flor es un vaso

Carlos Fleitas

a withered tree
raindrops sparkle
in the moonlight

arbol marchito
brillan gotas de lluvia
bajo la luna

Octavio Paz

Rain in May:
the whole world
is a sheet of paper

Lluvia de mayo: 
es hoja de papel 
el mundo entero.

Jorge Luis Borges

Sad is the rain
Falling on marble
Sad is the earth
Sad are the absent days
Of men, their dreams, their dawns.

Triste la lluvia
Que sobre el mármol cae,
Triste ser tierra.
Triste no ser los días
Del hombre, el sueño, el alba.

Four haiku and a severed head by Simone Routier

This entry is part 16 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Simone RoutierBorn in 1901 in Quebec, Simone Routier studied music, education, literature, philosophy and art, lived for a decade in Paris as a journalist and returned to Quebec in 1940 to spend some years as a Catholic nun before embarking on a successful career as a diplomat. She died in 1987. She published novels, essays and several collections of poetry. She was one of the first to write haiku in French. Little of her work appears to be still in print. These small poems, found online and first published around 1930, seemed not at all dated. Some of her haiku adopt the 5-7-5 syllable format, others not. Two of the three lines have a low-key end rhyme, which I tried to suggest or compensate for rather than rigorously translate.

Far-off violin
Reclining chairs, declining day
The silence we love

Violon lointain
Meubles bas, jour au déclin,
Notre cher silence


My heart awaits you
The endless silence of
so many falling leaves

Mon cour qui t’attend
Toujours le silence,
Et l’immense effeuillement


Deserted streets
An avalanche of heat
Sunday in July

Pavés désertés,
Chaude, étrange avalanche:
Juillet, un dimanche


Tinkling glasses
The cloying perfume of
departing joys

Élégantes verreries
Parfums exhalés:
Bonheurs en allés

Alas, I am Weary

Weary, alas, I am weary of life!
Weary beyond all weariness
More weary than this flesh so weary now of being bruised by love
this weary weight of loathsome flesh
this struggling impotent failing flesh
More weary than this fevered nightmare of the severed head that nestles on my pillow
More weary than the rain on a lukewarm, endless, infinitesimal day
More weary than the ox that pulls the plough until he drops
More weary than the paving stones tormented by a blazing July noon
More weary than the drunken vagrant passed out on the greasy verge
Weary, alas, I am weary of life
Weariness herself is not more weary…


Lassitude, ô ma lassitude de vivre !
Plus lasse que toutes les lassitudes.
Plus lasse que la chair lasse de se meurtrir et d’aimer,
que la chair opprimée d’un poids rebutant,
que la chair qui lutte et impuissante se rend,
Plus lasse que le cauchemar et la tête coupée au creux de l’oreiller fiévreux,
Plus lasse que la pluie d’un jour tiède, éternel et infinitésimal,
Plus lasse que le bœuf qui a labouré double tâche et tombe,
Plus lasse que les pavés mortifiés d’un brûlant midi de juillet,
Plus lasse que l’écroulement du chemineau ivre, dans l’herbe grasse,
Lassitude, ô ma lassitude de vivre,
Plus lasse que la lassitude elle-même…

La blanca soledad / Pale Solitude by Leopoldo Lugones

Leopoldo Lugones - photo by Eduardo Vargas Machuca
This entry is part 12 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


For background on the poet, see “Historia de mi muerte / Story of My Death.” To hear the poem read clearly and movingly (though by a Spaniard, not an Argentinian), listen to this recording on YouTube.

Pale Solitude

Beneath the calm of sleep
that moonlit shiny silky calm
the night
for all the world like
some pale corpse of silence
goes sweetly to its rest in this immensity
lets down its hair
as the summer leaves along the avenues

Nothing now lives except the eye
of the forbidding clock-tower
peering uselessly into infinity
like a tunnel opened in sand
Driven by the cogs
of clocks
like a carriage going nowhere

The moon carves out a pale abyss
of quietude a gaping gulf
where all is ghostly
shadows mere ideas
I shrink from the proximity
of death in that pale place
From the beauty of a world
possessed by the fullness of this ancient moon
And the sad sad yearning to be loved
trembles in my aching heart

There is a city in the air
a hanging city barely visible
the vague outlines
of polyhedral crystals
hovering in the clear night
like watermarks in paper
A city so distant so illogical
its presence fills me with unease

Is this a city or a ship
to carry us away from Earth
happy and stunned into
such purity
that only our souls
live on beneath the pale full moon?…

Then suddenly a subtle tremor
moves across the seamless glow
The outlines fade away
all that immensity is just pale stone
all that remains of an ill-omened night
this certain knowledge: you’re not here

La blanca soledad

Bajo la calma del sueño,
calma lunar de luminosa seda,
la noche
como si fuera
el blanco cuerpo del silencio,
dulcemente en la inmensidad se acuesta.
Y desata
su cabellera,
en prodigioso follaje de alamedas.

Nada vive sino el ojo
del reloj en la torre tétrica,
profundizando inútilmente el infinito
como un agujero abierto en la arena.
El infinito.
Rodado por las ruedas
de los relojes,
como un carro que nunca llega.

La luna cava un blanco abismo
de quietud, en cuya cuenca
las cosas son cadáveres
y las sombras viven como ideas.
Y uno se pasma de lo próxima
que está la muerte en la blancura aquella.
De lo bello que es el mundo
poseído por la antigüedad de la luna llena.
Y el ansia tristísima de ser amado,
en el corazón doloroso tiembla.

Hay una ciudad en el aire,
una ciudad casi invisible suspensa,
cuyos vagos perfiles
sobre la clara noche transparentan,
como las rayas de agua en un pliego,
su cristalización poliédrica.
Una ciudad tan lejana,
que angustia con su absurda presencia.

¿Es una ciudad o un buque
en el que fuésemos abandonando la tierra,
callados y felices,
y con tal pureza,
que sólo nuestras almas
en la blancura plenilunar vivieran?…

Y de pronto cruza un vago
estremecimiento por la luz serena.
Las líneas se desvanecen,
la inmensidad cámbiase en blanca piedra
y sólo permanece en la noche aciaga
la certidumbre de tu ausencia.

Génesis doméstico / My Private Genesis by Teresa Calderón

This entry is part 8 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Teresa CalderónBorn in 1955 in Chile to a family of writers and of the Left, Teresa Calderón produced nine collections of poetry between 1979 and 2009, as well as editing — with her poet husband Tomás Harris and poet sister Lila Calderón — several significant anthologies of Chilean poetry. She’s also the author of many novels. She writes often and powerfully of female experience, but refuses identification with feminism. In recent years she’s expressed disillusion with the Centre-Left coalition governments that returned Chile to democracy after the coup and dictatorship that overshadowed her early adulthood, in particular with their policies — or lack of policies — for arts and culture.

My Private Genesis

There in the watery vault
each half of my genetic code was reaching out
A tiny ovum having yielded to insistent sperm
was waiting for the darkest night
the silence right before the miracle
The cell now fertile opened like a flower
and I began becoming hair and nails and skin
A feeling blinking
floating mass
thumb-sucking through the sleepless nights
of journeying to human form
What flash of fear shot through my brain
as the expulsion from my paradise began?
Who gave me breath to undertake the crossing
from the wide-open tunnel
between my mother’s bloody legs?
How did I get to be this jellied substance
moaning between two worlds?
Naked and crying where I skidded to a halt
my skin all bruised the rope around my neck
and this dark mark upon my brow
Naked and crying
my first dawn with sightless eyes
the lighthouse beam the moon still in the sky
Like a flower decomposing underground
I shall return to the beloved city I was forced to leave
naked and crying tumbling foetus-like in fateful waters
growing long roots towards rebirth

Génesis doméstico

En la bóveda acuosa
se buscaban las mitades de mi información genética
Un óvulo pequeño rendido al apremio del espermio
esperaba la noche más oscura
el silencio que precede al milagro
Fecundada la célula se abrió como una flor
y empecé a volverme pelo uñas piel
sensaciones y pestañas
Una masa flotante
se mordía el pulgar en las noches de insomnio
acercándose a la apariencia humana
¿Qué ráfaga de miedo me atravesó el cerebro
cuando empezó la expulsión del paraíso?
¿Quién me dio el aliento para iniciar la travesía
desde el túnel abierto
entre las piernas sangrantes de mi madre?
¿Cómo me hice gelatina y sustancia
gemido entre este mundo y el otro?
Desnuda y llorando dónde vine a parar
con la piel amoratada la soga al cuello
y esta marca oscura sobre la frente
Desnuda y llorando
mi primera madrugada los ojos ciegos
el faro y una luna abierta en el cielo
Regresaré como esa flor que se deshace bajo tierra
a la ciudad amada que me obligó a partir
desnuda y llorando dando tumbos fetales en el agua fatal
alargada en raíces para volver a nacer