Historia de mi muerte / Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones

This entry is part 11 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Watch on Vimeo.

Story of My Death

I dreamed of death, and it was very simple:
I was cocooned in a silk thread
and at each of your kisses
another loop unwound,
and each of your kisses lasted a day
and the time between two kisses
lasted a night. Death was very simple.

And little by little that fatal thread
was unwinding. There was no longer more
than a single loop held between the fingers…
When suddenly you became cold
and no longer kissed me…
and I loosed my grip, and my life was gone.

Historia De Mi Muerte

Soñé la muerte y era muy sencillo;
una hebra de seda me envolvía,
y a cada beso tuyo,
con una vuelta menos me ceñía
y cada beso tuyo
era un día;
y el tiempo que mediaba entre dos besos
una noche. La muerte era muy sencilla.

Y poco a poco fue desenvolviéndose
la hebra fatal. Ya no la retenía
sino por solo un cabo entre los dedos…
Cuando de pronto te pusiste fría
y ya no me besaste…
y solté el cabo, y se me fue la vida.


Leopoldo Lugones - photo by Eduardo Vargas Machuca
photo by Eduardo Vargas Machuca

I translated this poem (with some invaluable assistance from Alicia E-Bourdin on Facebook) specifically with the intent of pairing it with that footage of cabbage white butterflies—which, when I shot it last week, I already recognized as having a certain Lugones-like feel. So it was just a question of finding the right poem. Running the Spanish and English side-by-side on the screen is a new experiment; I don’t know if anyone else has done it before. But most books of poetry in translation published in the U.S. include the original poems on the verso pages, so it’s tried-and-true approach for print.

Of all the early 20th-century Latin American poets in the Modernismo movement, Leopoldo Lugones may be my favorite. Even if he weren’t, I’d still feel obligated to include him in this series; his influence on Argentinian letters was inescapable. The English Wikipedia article on him is pretty threadbare, but the Encyclopedia Brittanica does a decent job.

Leopoldo Lugones, (born June 13, 1874, Villa María del Río Seco, Arg.—died Feb. 19, 1938, Buenos Aires), Argentine poet, literary and social critic, and cultural ambassador, considered by many the outstanding figure of his age in the cultural life of Argentina. He was a strong influence on the younger generation of writers that included the prominent short-story writer and novelist Jorge Luis Borges. His influence in public life set the pace for national development in the arts and education. […]

Lugones was director of the National Council of Education (1914–38), and he represented Argentina in the Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations (1924). He was also noted for several volumes of Argentine history, for studies of Classical Greek literature and culture, and for his Spanish translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

An introverted man who thought of himself primarily as a poet, Lugones was genuinely uneasy about the prominence that he had achieved and the public responsibilities that it entailed. He became a fascist in 1929. Under great emotional strain in later years, he committed suicide.

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.

House without walls: two poems by Vinicius de Moraes

This entry is part 13 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Vinicius De MoraesMarcus Vinicius da Cruz e Mello Moraes (October 19, 1913 – July 9, 1980), also known as Vinícius de Moraes and nicknamed O Poetinha (“The little poet”), was a Brazilian poet, lyricist, essayist and playwright who wrote the lyrics for many now-classic Brazilian songs and became a seminal figure in contemporary Brazilian music. He also wrote a number of plays, served as a national diplomat, composed his own bossa nova music and, as an interpreter of his own lyrics, recorded several significant albums. (Thanks, Wikipedia. Read the rest.)

These two poems appeal to me for their quirkiness. I took liberties with “The House” so that I might approximate the rhymes; I’ve added “Heroes” to the penultimate line so it could rhyme with “Zero” (actually makes sense in the context).


Virgin! Daughter of mine
Where have you been
You’re all dirty
You smell of jasmine
Your skirt’s stained carmine
And your earrings are clinking
Mother dear
I’ve been in the garden
I went to look at the sky
And I fell asleep.
When I awoke
I smelled of jasmine
An angel was scattering petals
Over me….

A Annunciaçāo
(Rio de Janeiro 1962)

Virgen! filha minha
De onde vens assim
Tão suja de terra
Cheirando a jasmim
A saia com mancha
De flor carmesim
E os brincos da orelha
Fazendo tlintlin?
Minha mãe querida
Venho do jardim
Onde a olhar o céu
Fui, adormeci.
Quando despertei
Cheirava a jasmin
Que um anjo esfolhava
Por cima de mim…


The House

There was a house
A very funny house
No roof
No nothing
No one
Could go in
Because there was no door
Because there was no floor
No one
Could sleep in the hammock
In the hall
Because there was no wall
No one
Could do pipi
Because a chamberpot
There was not
But the house was built
With great care
In the Street of Fools and Heroes
Number Zero.

A Casa
(Rio de Janeiro 1970)

Era uma casa
Muito engraçada
Não tinha telo
Nāo tinha nada
Ninguém podia
Entrar nela não
Porque na casa
Não tinha chão
Ninguém podia
Dormir na rede
Porque a casa
Não tinha parede
Ninguém podia
Fazer pipi
Porque penico
Não tinha ali
Mas era feita
Com muito esmero
Na Rua dos Bobos
Numero Zero.

Ajedrez / Chess by Jorge Luis Borges

This entry is part 14 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Jorge Luis Borges in 1951by Grete SternJorge Luis Borges probably needs no introduction to most readers. Though best known for his short stories, he also wrote poetry throughout his life.

Thanks to Luis Andrade for the challenge! Borges is so literary (I don’t mean that in a bad sense) that a very literal translation I think works quite well; that is, “homerico” translates perfectly directly to “homeric,” etc. I felt that something had to be done to slow the gallop of the quatrains, which in English have a distressing tendency to come out in four beats, like Hiawatha; hence the five-line stanzas in the place of quatrains.



In their serious corner the players
rule their slow pieces. The board
delays them till dawn
in their strict ambit,
where two colors hate each other.

Within, magical severities infuse
the figures: homeric tower, light
horse, armed queen,
last king, oblique
bishop and assailant pawns.

When the players have gone,
when time has eaten them,
the rite has certainly not stopped.

This war was lit in the East,
whose amphitheater today is all the world.
And as the other, this game is infinite.


Weak king, biased bishop, embittered
queen, straight tower and wily pawn,
over the black
and white of the road
they seek and wage armed battle.

They do not know that the appointed hand
of the player governs their fate,
they do not know
that an adamantine rigor
subjects their will and their journey.

The player too is prisoner
(the sentence is Omar’s) of that other board,
the black nights and the white days.

God moves the player and the player moves the piece
What God behind God began the weaving
of dust and time and dream and the throes of death?




En su grave rincón, los jugadores
rigen las lentas piezas. El tablero
los demora hasta el alba en su severo
ámbito en que se odian dos colores.

Adentro irradian mágicos rigores
las formas: torre homérica, ligero
caballo, armada reina, rey postrero,
oblicuo alfil y peones agresores.

Cuando los jugadores se hayan ido,
cuando el tiempo los haya consumido,
ciertamente no habrá cesado el rito.

En el Oriente se encendió esta guerra
cuyo anfiteatro es hoy toda la tierra.
Como el otro, este juego es infinito.


Tenue rey, sesgo alfil, encarnizada
reina, torre directa y peón ladino
sobre lo negro y blanco del camino
buscan y libran su batalla armada.

No saben que la mano señalada
del jugador gobierna su destino,
no saben que un rigor adamantino
sujeta su albedrío y su jornada.

También el jugador es prisionero
(la sentencia es de Omar) de otro tablero
de negras noches y blancos días.

Dios mueve al jugador, y éste, la pieza.
¿Qué Dios detrás de Dios la trama empieza
de polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonías?

Where shall we go? (¿Can nelpa tonyazque?) by Nezahualcoyotl

This entry is part 15 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Where shall we go
where death does not exist?
But should I live weeping because of this?
May your heart find its way:
here no one will live forever.
Even the princes die,
people are reduced to ashes.
May your heart find its way:
here no one will live forever.
(translated by Miguel Léon-Portilla with Grace Lobanov)

¿Can nelpa tonyazque
canon aya micohua?
¿Ica nichoca?
Moyoliol xi melacuahuacan:
ayac nican nemiz.
Tel ca tepilhuan omicoaco,
Moyoliol xi melacuahuacan:
ayac nican nemiz.

Thanks to Colombian student filmmaker Felipe Meneses for this terrific, bilingual poetry film that allows us to hear the poem in the original Classical Nahautl while reading the Spanish translation. Fortunately I have an English translation to hand from the essential anthology Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, by Miguel Léon-Portilla, the former director of the Institute of Historical Research of the National University of Mexico and an expert on pre-Columbian philosophy and literature.

Mexican 100-peso note featuring Nezahualcoyotl

Nezahaulcoyotl of Texcoco (1402-1472) was the epitome of the philosopher-king, and the Mexican 100-peso note includes not only his supposed likeness, but also, in tiny type, a translation of four lines of poetry attributed to him:

Amo el canto del zenzontle
Pájaro de cuatrocientas voces,
Amo el color del jade
Y el enervante perfume de las flores,
Pero más amo a mi hermano, el hombre.

I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices,
I love the color of the jadestone
And the intoxicating scent of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother, man.

Thus the Wikipedia. Spanish translations of Nezahaulcoyotl’s poetry are reprinted in a number of places on the web, but for versions in English, as well as a good biography, get the Léon-Portilla book. There are also some translations by John Curl at his website and in this useful, if somewhat crudely produced, bilingual video:

For further reading of Nahautl literature, I highly recommend A Scattering of Jades: Stories, Poems, and Prayers of the Aztecs, edited by T.J. Knab and translated by Thelma D. Sullivan. Sullivan, an anthropologist, was “the finest translator of Nahuatl in this [20th] century,” according to Knab—an opinion shared by Dennis Tedlock, an anthropologist specializing in poetics who has authored the most authoritative English translation of the Popul Vuh to date.

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…

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.

Sweet exiled words: two poems by José Luis Appleyard

This entry is part 18 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


José Luis AppleyardThe 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
forsaken sounds
once the milestones
of our personal vocabulary.
No use looking for them, they’ve already crumbled
under the dictionary’s brutal weight.

Las palabras

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
la experiencia
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.

Pain without explanation: five poems by César Vallejo

This entry is part 19 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Cesar Vallejo in 1929I have been revisiting these poems off and on for thirty years, relishing their fire and their dissonances, but that doesn’t make them any easier to translate. César Vallejo probably doesn’t need any introduction, but the first paragraph of the English Wikipedia article is nicely done and worth quoting:

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a Peruvian poet, writer, playwright, and journalist. Although he published only three books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language. He was always a step ahead of literary currents, and each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary. Thomas Merton called him “the greatest universal poet since Dante”. The late British poet, critic and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo “…the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language.” He was a member of the intellectual community called North Group formed in the Peruvian north coastal city of Trujillo.

I’ve selected five of his poems, beginning with his most famous of all and going more or less in chronological order. Rachel Rawlins, Jean Morris and Alicia E-Bourdin each helped me better understand the second poem, “Voy a hablar de la esperanza.” As Jean commented on Facebook, it’s nearly impossible in English “to capture the depth and build-up of feeling in so much wordiness and repetition, as demonstrated by the many not very good translations available online.” But the experience of depression isn’t easy to convey in any language, I gather, which is what so makes that particular poem worth the struggle. And Vallejo was about nothing if not struggle…

The Black Heralds

There are such hard blows in life… I don’t know.
Blows as if from God’s hatred. As if before them,
the undertow of all we’ve suffered
wells up in the soul. I don’t know.

They’re rare, but they exist. They open dark gullies
in the fiercest face and in the strongest back.
They might be the shaggy mounts of barbarous Atillas,
or the black heralds that death sends.

They are the long falls of the Christs of the soul,
of some cherished belief cursed by fate.
These gory blows are the crackling of bread
that burns us in the oven door.

And man: poor, poor man! He rolls his eyes,
the way we do when a slap on the shoulder summons us.
He rolls crazed eyes, and all he’s lived through
wells up like a guilty puddle in his gaze.
There are such hard blows in life. I don’t know.

Los heraldos negros

Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes… ¡Yo no sé!
Golpes como del odio de Dios; como si ante ellos,
la resaca de todo lo sufrido
se empozara en el alma. ¡Yo no sé!

Son pocos; pero son. Abren zanjas oscuras
en el rostro más fiero y en el lomo más fuerte.
Serán tal vez los potros de bárbaros atilas;
o los heraldos negros que nos manda la Muerte.

Son las caídas hondas de los Cristos del alma,
de alguna fe adorable que el Destino blasfema.
Estos golpes sangrientos son las crepitaciones
de algún pan que en la puerta del horno se nos quema.

Y el hombre. Pobre. ¡Pobre! Vuelve los ojos, como
cuando por sobre el hombro nos llama una palmada;
vuelve los ojos locos, y todo lo vivido
se empoza, como charco de culpa, en la mirada.
Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes. ¡Yo no sé!


I Will Talk About Hope

I don’t suffer this pain as César Vallejo. I don’t suffer pain as an artist, as a man, or even simply as a living being. I don’t suffer this pain as a Catholic, as a Muslim, or as an atheist. Today I only suffer. If my name weren’t César Vallejo, I would still be suffering this same pain. If I weren’t an artist, I’d still suffer it. If I weren’t a man or even a living being, I’d still suffer it. If I weren’t a Catholic, an atheist, or a Muslim, I’d still suffer it. Today I suffer from much deeper down. Today I simply suffer.

I suffer pain now without any explanation. My pain is so deep that it never had any cause—nor lack of a cause. What cause could it have? Where is there something so consequential that it stopped being its cause? Nothing caused it—and nothing can stop causing it. How has this pain been birthed all by itself? My pain is from the north wind and the south wind, like those sexless eggs laid by rare birds fertilized by the wind. If a lover had died, my pain would be the same. If they’d cut my throat to the root, my pain would be the same. If life—in short—were otherwise, my pain would be the same. Today I suffer from much farther up. Today I simply suffer.

I look at the pain of the hungry and I see that their hunger is so far from my suffering, that I could keep fasting until death and at least one blade of grass would always spring from my tomb. The same with lovers. How much more stirred is their blood compared to mine, that has neither source nor use!

Until now I’d thought that all things in the universe were inevitably either parents or children. But look: my pain today is neither parent nor child. It doesn’t have a back to get dark, it has too much breast to dawn, and if they put it in a darkened room it would not give light; if they put it in a bright room it would not cast a shadow. Today I suffer no matter what happens. Today I simply suffer.

Voy a hablar de la esperanza

Yo no sufro este dolor como César Vallejo. Yo no me duelo ahora como artista, como hombre ni como simple ser vivo siquiera. Yo no sufro este dolor como católico, como mahometano ni como ateo. Hoy sufro solamente. Si no me llamase César Vallejo, también sufriría este mismo dolor. Si no fuese artista, también lo sufriría. Si no fuese hombre ni ser vivo siquiera, también lo sufriría. Si no fuese católico, ateo ni mahometano, también lo sufriría. Hoy sufro desde más abajo. Hoy sufro solamente.

Me duelo ahora sin explicaciones. Mi dolor es tan hondo, que no tuvo ya causa ni carece de causa. ¿Qué sería su causa? ¿Dónde está aquello tan importante, que dejase de ser su causa? Nada es su causa; nada ha podido dejar de ser su causa. ¿A qué ha nacido este dolor, por sí mismo? Mi dolor es del viento del norte y del viento del sur, como esos huevos neutros que algunas aves raras ponen del viento. Si hubiese muerto mi novia, mi dolor sería igual. Si me hubieron cortado el cuello de raíz, my dolor sería igual. Si la vida fuese, en fin, de otro modo, mi dolor sería igual. Hoy sufro desde más arriba. Hoy sufro solamente.

Miro el dolor del hambriento y veo que su hambre anda tan lejos de mi sufrimiento, que de quedarme ayuno hasta morir, saldría siempre de mi tumba una brizna de yerba al menos. Lo mismo el enamorado. ¡Qué sangre la suya más engendrada, para la mía sin fuente ni consumo!

Yo creía hasta ahora que todas las cosas del universo eran, inevitablemente, padres o hijos. Pero he aquí que mi dolor de hoy no es padre ni es hijo. Le falta espalda para anochecer, tanto como le sobra pecho para amanecer y si lo pusiesen en la estancia oscura, no daría luz y si lo pusiesen en una estancia luminosa, no echaría sombra. Hoy sufro suceda lo que suceda. Hoy sufro solamente.


“The tennis player in the moment”

The tennis player in the moment
at which he masterfully serves the ball
is possessed by a wholly animal innocence;
the philosopher in the moment when he apprehends a new truth
is a perfect beast.
Anatole France maintained
that a religious feeling is the by-product
of a special organ in the human body,
till now unknown, and thus
it could also be said
that in the very moment at which such an organ
were fully employed,
so free of malice would a believer be
that one could almost consider him a vegetable.
Oh soul! Oh thought! Oh Marx! Oh Feuerbach!

En el momento en que el tenista lanza magistralmente
su bala, le posee una inocencia totalmente animal;
en el momento
en que el filósofo sorprende una nueva verdad
es una bestia completa.
Anatole France afirmaba
que el sentimiento religioso
es la función de un órgano especial del cuerpo humano
hasta ahora ignorado y se podría
decir también, entonces
que, en el momento exacto en que un tal órgano
funciona plenamente,
tan puro de malicia está el creyente,
que se diría casi un vegetal.
¡Oh alma! ¡Oh pensamiento! ¡Oh Marx! ¡Oh Feüerbach!


“The rage that breaks a man into children”

The rage that breaks a man into children,
that breaks a child into identical birds
and then a bird into small eggs—
the rage of the poor
has an oil against two vinegars.

The rage that makes a tree break into leaf,
a leaf into unequal buds
and a bud into telescopic folds—
the rage of the poor
has two rivers against many seas.

The rage that breaks the good into doubts,
doubt into three similar arcs
and then an arc into unexpected graves—
the rage of the poor
has a steel against two daggers.

The rage that breaks a soul into bodies,
a body into dissimilar organs
and an organ into octavo thoughts—
the rage of the poor
has a central fire against two pits.

La cólera que quiebra al hombre en niños,
que quiebra al niño en pájaros iguales,
y al pájaro, después, en huevecillos;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un aceite contra dos vinagres.

La cólera que al árbol quiebra en hojas,
a la hoja en botones desiguales
y al botón, en ranuras telescópicas;
la cólera del pobre
tiene dos ríos contra muchos mares.

La cólera que quiebra al bien en dudas,
a la duda, en tres arcos semejantes
y al arco, luego, en tumbas imprevistas;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un acero contra dos puñales.

La cólera que quiebra al alma en cuerpos,
al cuerpo en órganos desemejantes
y al órgano, en octavos pensamientos;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un fuego central contra dos cráteres.


“And if after so many words”

And if after so many words,
the word doesn’t survive!
If after the wings of birds,
the standing bird doesn’t survive!
It would be better, honestly,
to consume everything and be done with it!

To have been born in order to live off our death!
To lift ourselves up by our own disasters
from the sky to the earth,
watching for the right moment to blot out
our darkness with our shadow!
It would be better, frankly,
to consume everything and to hell with it!

And if after so much history, we succumb
not to eternity
but to these simple things,
like sitting at home or settling in to think!
And if we then discovered
all of a sudden that we’re living—to judge
by the height of the stars—off a comb
and the stains on a handkerchief!
It would be better, honestly,
to consume everything, of course!

They’ll say that we have
in one eye a lot of grief
and in the other eye, too, a lot of grief
and in both, wherever they look, a lot of grief…
So… It’s clear! So… Not a word!

¡Y si después de tántas palabras,
no sobrevive la palabra!
¡Si después de las alas de los pájaros,
no sobrevive el pájaro parado!
¡Más valdría, en verdad,
que se lo coman todo y acabemos!

¡Haber nacido para vivir de nuestra muerte!
¡Levantarse del cielo hacia la tierra
por sus propios desastres
y espiar el momento de apagar con su sombra su tiniebla!
¡Más valdría, francamente,
que se lo coman todo y qué más da…!

¡Y si después de tanta historia, sucumbimos,
no ya de eternidad,
sino de esas cosas sencillas, como estar
en la casa o ponerse a cavilar!
¡Y si luego encontramos,
de buenas a primeras, que vivimos,
a juzgar por la altura de los astros,
por el peine y las manchas del pañuelo!
¡Más valdría, en verdad,
que se lo coman todo, desde luego!

Se dirá que tenemos
en uno de los ojos mucha pena
y también en el otro, mucha pena
y en los dos, cuando miran, mucha pena…
Entonces… ¡Claro!… Entonces… ¡ni palabra!

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.