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.

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.