Poems for a trip to the shore

Spanish-language poets never seem to tire of writing poems about the sea, and I never tire of reading them. Here are four favorites, freshly translated for the summer beach season. (Some of you may remember the first of these from a post back in March — The owl’s insomnia. I like my new version better.)


SONG (Canción)
by Rafael Alberti

If my voice should die on land,
carry it down to the sea
and leave it on the shore.

Carry it down to the sea
and make it captain of a white
ship of war.

Oh my voice, decorated
with the emblem of a sailor:
over the heart an anchor,
and over the anchor a star,
and over the star the wind,
and over the wind the sail!


THE SHORE (La orilla)
by Roberto Sosa

The great shore
gives shelter
to the smallest minnows.

Mother to boats and travelers,
she looks after that blue child the water.
She swallows hooks.

At night she sings, and the fishermen dream
of dragging the sea’s skeleton
back to their huts.

My little girl, my minnow,
this whole great shore’s for you.


THE LONGSHOREMEN (Los estibadores)
by Roberto Sosa

Yesterday’s courier and cross of rubble. From somewhere or other they came up with walls, docks and black ships. Boxcars that eclipsed the morning, the longshoremen already diminished by their bulky loads … even the ice was a form of outrage. Courier of yesterday — my father was one.

The breakers of late afternoon always subsiding, but still always rising up. To me, everything seemed to have grown dark — the tourist and the fisherman, the masts, the flotillas of gulls — all, all but the flying foam.

The workers on the docks went home to their cooking fires like failed angels. I was six, and dread was already dread.


Me at the Bottom of the Sea (Yo en el fondo del mar)
by Alfonsina Storni

There’s a house of glass
at the bottom of the sea.

It fronts on a street
of solid madrepore.

At five o’clock,
a fat golden fish
comes calling.

He brings me
a scarlet spray
of coral blossoms.

I sleep on a bed
just a bit bluer
than the sea.

An octopus
winks at me
from the other side of the glass.
In the green forest
all around —
ding-dong, ding-dang
the sea-green pearly
sirens sing
and sway.

And over my head
in the twilight, burning,
all the bristle-points
of the sea.


In October 1938, Storni drowned herself in the ocean at Mar del Plata.