Category: Chile

Beatriz Hausner, Former President of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, interviewed by David Garyan

Beatriz Hausner

Beatriz Hausner, Former President of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, interviewed by David Garyan

July 15th, 2021


Beatriz Hausner’s most recent collection of poems, Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
Read Beatriz Hausner’s «Enter the Racoon,» a prose poem published by Interlitq
Read Beatriz Hausner’s translation of four César Moro poems, published by Interlitq


DG: You’re both a poet and a translator of poetry—thus, I’m interested to know: Which art came first for you and how does one influence the other? It seems natural to assume that being a poet is an indispensable part of becoming a translator of verse, and, yet, many people who often produce good translations of novels, biographies, and other texts are neither novelists, biographers, and, in some rare cases, not even writers. Along with the first question, how is the translation of poetry different than that of prose and how have your own poetic sensibilities shaped that process?

BH: For me, initially, translation came first from interpreting between Spanish and English. It is a role familiar to most immigrant children. In my case, when my family immigrated to Canada from Chile, only my mother, Susana Wald, spoke English, and did so perfectly. Ludwig Zeller, my step-dad, found it difficult to learn English, partly, I sense, because he continued throughout his exile to be a Spanish language poet. There really was no part of his existence outside of Spanish. As a result, I often assumed the role of interpreter between spoken English and Spanish.

During those early years in Canada I became an interlocutor to Ludwig, so that parallel to my university studies in literature, I acquired a deep literary education at home. Ludwig was, like many of the authors I translated, and who serve as my models, incredibly broad-minded: there was nothing, it seems to me, that did not interest him in art and in literary expression. His knowledge of the Classics, Romanticism, the 20th Century Avantgarde, Latin American literature and art, was astonishing. I read everything he recommended and listened to him telling me about it.

Of course, the principal context was that of international surrealism. Our home was an important locus of surrealist artistic activity, with my parents organizing exhibitions and publications (through their press Oasis Publications) for and of their surrealist friends throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, a time of fervent activity in the movement. In fact, my first translations of Latin American surrealists were published through my parents’ press, Oasis Publications. So too was my early poetry.

I can safely say that my own bilingualism developed during those important formative years, when I became both a translator and a poet. I have no doubt that translation has provided me with the best poetic education possible.

Having translated both poetry and prose, I can say that the process differs according to the author of the original and, in the case of prose, the length of the work. I loved translating the early fiction of Alvaro Mutis (The Mansion, Victoria BC: Ekstasis Editions, 2005). He was a great stylist and the themes and moods he explored matched my sensibility. I felt the same about translating his poetry. I’ve translated the essays of Aldo Pellegrini, and some of Eugenio Granell’s fiction, but my focus in translation has been primarily poetry. The intensity and concentration of the diction, the way levels of meaning come through analogies and combinations of sounds, the use of images, these are all characteristic of the surrealist poets I’ve had the great fortune of translating.


DG: It’s been my experience that people to whom a certain literary legacy belongs are more inclined to believe in the untranslatability of their own national poets and writers, mainly to attach greater mystique and importance to them; at the same time, those looking in from the outside (foreigners eager to consume the riches of another culture) tend to believe exactly the opposite—that translation is not only just as effective but can also improve the original. On one hand, we have scholars like Mohammad-Reza Shafiei Kadkani, an Iranian writer, who wrote the essay “On Poetic Untranslatability,” in which he argues that translation is mostly about transferring culture, not linguistics. In other words, according to him, it’s not possible to really translate Hafiz into European languages because of the cultural differences that exist between where the work comes from and where it tries to “go.” On the other extreme, in a 1998 review article praising Robert Daglish’s translation of Quiet Flows the Don, the authors, Barry P. Scherr and Richard Sheldon, argue that readers looking to discover Sholokhov’s “original intentions” would actually fare better by reading the novel in translation, rather than in the original Russian, further stating that “in terms of textological issues, Daglish’s translation is arguably superior to any of the available Russian-language editions of the complete novel.” Where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you side more with Kadkani, or Scherr and Sheldon?

BH: I loathe all notions of nationality, or ownership of a literature. Rather, my sense is that translatability has to do with language and the patterns that give form to literary expression as it develops and changes through time and place in each language. Rhyme, formal constraints, devices such as meter for rendering musicality would certainly present different challenges when translating the sonnets of Francisco de Quevedo, than, say the poetry of César Vallejo. In both instances the cultural context absolutely informs the poetics, requiring that the translator of either Quevedo, or Vallejo have a broad understanding of both the cultural and literary contexts of the original and also that of the target language.

It’s interesting what you say about Daglish’s translation of Sholokhov’s novel. Dare I say that perhaps Scherr and Sheldon’s perception, that Sholokhov reads better in translation, is pure and simple a function of Daglish being a very good writer in his own right? I do think that translators are authors of their translations, so that their talent may determine the transcendence of their translations in the long run. In some cases, a translator’s work can have a profound effect on the trajectory of an entire literature.

A case I’ve written about in the past is that of Augusto D’Halmar’s translations of Oscar de Lubisz Milosz. Related by parentage to Czelaw Milocz (he was his uncle) Lubisz Milosz was of Lithuanian origin and is known as a French poet and mystic. His poetry extends the French Symbolist tradition. D’Halmar, a Chilean fiction writer was one of his many followers, and while living in Spain, made it his mission to visit Milosz in Fontainebleau. D’Halmar’s translations of Milosz’s Selected Poetry is extraordinary, no doubt because of his talent for staying within the inner spirit of the original, while assuming creative freedom to render the whole into Spanish in a way that made it almost a classic of Chilean poetry. D’Halmar’s translation was adopted as a kind of guide by two generations of Chilean poets: echoes of his poetry, direct borrowings from D’Halmar’s translation are evident in the poetry of Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, both of whom would go on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.


DG: For many poets and writers, the inspiration to create seems to come out of nowhere; while some have romantic notions of “waiting” for the right moment, others seem to believe in consistency and routine—almost an exercise-like regiment designed for the brain when it encounters the desk. In either case, the spark comes sooner or later. Translation is a different thing, however; in other words, before inspiration even causes you to think of the perfect phrase or expression in the target language, you must first choose the person to translate. How does this happen for you? Is it a romantic experience of “waiting” to fall in love with an author or do you actively and methodically seek out the genius?

BH: Writing for me functions as a response to an inner force that drives creation. Over time I’ve come to accept that the best writing happens when, after a period of accumulation of sensations, material experiences, reading and studying, talking with others, something is triggered and the writing flows. Or not. In the past, when I was doing more translating, often of works commissioned by children’s publishers, I was working towards a deadline, in which case I could not wait for inspiration to take over. Until very recently, I’ve had to do my writing and translating on the side, while complying with the exigencies of a full-time day job as a public librarian. I worked in the evenings, or very early in the mornings. Mornings are definitely better. Regardless, the more time I have to delve into the universe that informs the writing I’m doing, the better. The process is the same where translation is concerned: I feel a need to immerse myself in the inner and outer contexts of the work I am translating.

For many years I put translation aside and devoted myself to my own writing. Part of the reason was a complete failure at finding publishers for the kind of work I enjoy translating. No presses in Canada were interested in publishing my translations of the Latin American surrealists. If they were, they simply could not find the resources to publish such work. I tried with U.S. publishers also, in vain. I believe this is part and parcel of the resistance, even rejection of surrealism, especially after the Second World War. Thankfully, this situation seems to be changing.


DG: Do you think all talented poets—if they master a second language—can become good translators, or is there some other magic ingredient? We’ve already talked about culture; in addition, knowing how to navigate the environment inside which your language is situated can be incredibly useful, but what, if anything, in your opinion, does an excellent translator with poetic sensibilities have that gifted poets alone do not? 

BH: Yes, I think all talented poets, who master a second language, can become good translators. The “magic ingredient” is a willingness on their part to surrender to the voice[s] of the author of the original. Also, they need to have a sufficient generosity of spirit to spend the time and energy that translating someone else’s work requires. This is time which cannot be spent on one’s own writing, after all.

My sense is that a gifted translator must possess the same confidence as an author of “original” works. In other words, a gifted translator must be willing to embrace the spirit of the original and act as a creative conduit for the original’s inner reality, while always making sure to remain loyal to the original. It’s a terribly difficult balance, which must be achieved.


DG: We’ve talked about untranslatability and it seems that a focus on aesthetics might be a good compliment to this discussion. What I’ve noticed is that the poetry world has unfortunately managed to divide itself along two lines: Experimental poets, often so difficult that they’re only read by other poets or academics, and those who espouse clarity above all (the lyricists as scholars know them); the argument is always that the former is ruining poetry with their pretentiousness while the latter is simply too easy—prime for Instagram feeds, in other words. Again, we have two extremes, and, once more, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. As a Surrealist poet fond of Rimbaud and Vallejo (not easy poets, by any stretch), for example, how do you align yourself with regard to this issue?

BH: Like Benjamin Péret said “Je ne mange pas de ce pain là.” The stupidity of dividing poets into two camps is beyond comprehension. I reject all limitations. In fact, poetry is the opposite of limitation. Poetry equals freedom; poetry is a vehicle for the transformation of the world. Perpetuating this divide (“experimental” versus “lyrical” poets) is a convenient way of dividing the meager resources that exist for the publishing and promotion of poetry. In other words, the divide is a political construct; it has nothing to do with poetry.


DG: People often ask what it means to be a poet: Is it a condition or a profession? The idealist wants to see it as the former, while the MFA chair, for example, prefers it to be the case of the latter. How do you see the issue? Are people born with the poetry “gene” or can anyone pick up the pen and choose this thing as a career—and to make it even more complicated, what about translation? In either case, language is never something we’re born with—it’s always something we “learn,” and yet, the translator, if he or she is to become one, must either learn, unlike the poet, at least more than one tongue, or have the good fortune to be born into a multilingual society for us to answer this question. How do you see it?

BH: I am of the opinion that artists, whatever their creative medium, should be able to live from their art. Insofar as being a professional is defined as making a living from what one practices, then every poet and every translator should be a “professional!” Being reduced to making a living at something other than one’s artistic calling is society’s way of oppressing the imagination.


DG: What advice would you give young poets or translators who are just starting to develop their skills?

BH: I would advise young poets starting out to learn the classics in the language they write in, at the very least. I would advise that they become educated in literature, that they read literature in translation, so that their world is broadened from an early time. I would advise that they experience the world intensely, that they listen to music, that they try as many ways of writing as they can. I would advise that they organize readings and events with others and for others, so that they get to form communities of writers. To translators I would say start off by translating the most important, the BEST writers of the original literature.


DG: What are you currently working on and how do you prefer to work? Do you focus on both your own poetry and translation at the same time, or do you tend to focus on them separately?

BH: Last winter I finished two poetry books I had been working on for several years. Otherwise I tend to work on several projects concurrently, with a natural cross-pollination seeming to characterize this stage of the process. Over time distinct manuscripts appear. That is not the case with translation, which requires a kind of concentration and focus that eschews a freewheeling mind.  I’m currently finishing the translation of a Selected Poems of César Moro.


About Beatriz Hausner

Beatriz Hausner has published several poetry collections, including The Wardrobe Mistress, Sew Him Up, Enter the Raccoon, and most recently, Beloved Revolutionary SweetheartSelected poems and chapbooks of hers have been published internationally and translated into several languages. Hausner is a respected historian and translator of Latin American Surrealism, with recent essays published in The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism in 2019. Her translations of César Moro, the poets of Mandrágora, as well as essays and fiction by legends like Aldo Pellegrini and Eugenio Granell have exerted an important influence on her work. Hausner’s history of advocacy in Canadian literary culture is also well known: she has worked as a literary programmer in Toronto, her hometown, and was Chair of the Public Lending Right Commission. She is currently President of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada, a position she held twice before.

Translations by Paul Scott Derrick

Poems by Paul Scott Derrick

Stanza 1 of «Donde Habite el Olvido» 1932-1933 (Where Oblivion May Dwell) by Luis Cernuda




Like the hedgehog, as you know, man felt the cold one day. And he wanted to share his coldness. So he invented love. The result, as you know, was the same as with the hedgehog.

What remains of the joys and sorrows of love when love has disappeared? Nothing, or worse than nothing: the memory of an oblivion. And happy are the days when the shadow of those spines doesn’t sting the memory – the shadow of those spines, as you know.

The following pages constitute the memory of an oblivion.




Where oblivion may dwell,

In the endless gardens of night;

Where I may only be

The memory of a stone, hidden under nettles

And a wind that flows and never sleeps.


Where my name may escape

From this body that signals with arms of centuries;

Where desire may not exist.


In that great place where the dreadful angel, love,

May never hide its wing

Like a blade in my breast,

Smiling and sublime with aerial grace while the torment swells.


Wherever this need may end, that hungers for a master like itself,

Submitting itself to another self,

Only the sight of other eyes, staring face to face.


Where sorrow and bliss may be no more than names,

Heaven and earth, swirling around a memory;

Where finally I may be released, unaware,

Dissolved into the mist, an absence

As fine as a baby’s skin.


There, in the distance;

Where oblivion may dwell.



     Como los erizos, ya sabéis, los hombres un día sintieron su frío. Y quisieron compartirlo. Entonces inventaron el amor. El resultado fue, ya sabéis, como en los erizos.
¿Qué queda de las alegrías y penas del amor cuando éste desaparece? Nada, o peor que nada; queda el recuerdo de un olvido. Y menos mal cuando no lo punza la sombra de aquellas espinas; de aquellas espinas, ya sabéis.
Las siguientes páginas son el recuerdo de un olvido.




Donde habite el olvido,
En los vastos jardines sin aurora;
Donde yo sólo sea
Memoria de una piedra sepultada entre ortigas
Sobre la cual el viento escapa a sus insomnios.

Donde mi nombre deje
Al cuerpo que designa en brazos de los siglos,
Donde el deseo no exista.

En esa gran región donde el amor, ángel terrible,
No esconda como acero
En mí pecho su ala,
Sonriendo lleno de gracia aérea mientras, crece el tormento.

Allá donde termine este afán que exige un dueño a imagen suya,
Sometiendo a otra vida su vida,
Sin más horizonte que otros ojos frente a frente.

Donde penas y dichas no sean más que nombres,
Cielo y tierra nativos en torno de un recuerdo;
Donde al fin quede libre sin saberlo yo mismo,
Disuelto en niebla, ausencia,
Ausencia leve como carne de niño.

Allá, allá lejos;
Donde habite el olvido.



Notice how a sail against the sea

Seems to gather up the sea’s blue urge to

Reach to future stars,

Like a stairway of waves

Where godly feet go down to the abyss.

Your form too,

Angel or demon, dream of a love that once I dreamt,

Gathers up an urge in me that one time raised

Its melancholy waves toward the clouds.


I still feel the pulses of that urge.

Here on the shores of love,

Caught between life and death

In the flickering lights,

I, who loved the most,

Look at the waves and wish to drown.

Oh let me

Go down, like angels on a stairway of foam,

To the bottom of that love that no other man has seen.



Como una vela sobre el mar
Resume ese azulado afán que se levanta
Hasta las estrellas futuras,

Hecho escala de olas

Por donde pies divinos descienden al abismo,
También tu forma misma,
Ángel, demonio, sueño de un amor soñado,
Resume en mí un afán que en otro tiempo levantaba
Hasta las nubes sus olas melancólicas.
Sintiendo todavía los pulsos de ese afán,
Yo, el más enamorado,
En las orillas del amor,
Sin que una luz me vea
Definitivamente muerto o vivo,
Contemplo sus olas y quisiera anegarme,
Deseando perdidamente
Descender, como los ángeles aquellos por la escala de espuma,
Hasta el fondo del mismo amor que ningún hombre ha visto.



I hoped for a god one day

To make my life in his image.

But love, like moving water,

Wears away the will.


I’ve lost myself in its waves.

I yield against the light, an empty shell –

Alive and not alive, dead and not dead,

Not earth, not sky, not body, not soul.


This is the echo of something past.

My arms embrace it in the air.

My eyes still see it in a shade.

My lips still kiss it in a dream.


I’ve loved; I will not love again.

I’ve laughed; I do not laugh.



Esperé un dios en mis días
Para crear mi vida a su imagen,
Mas el amor, como un agua,
Arrastra afanes al paso.

Me he olvidado a mí mismo en sus ondas;
Vacío el cuerpo, doy contra las luces;
Vivo y no vivo, muerto y no muerto;
Ni tierra ni cielo, ni cuerpo ni espíritu.

Soy eco de algo;
Lo estrechan mis brazos siendo aire,
Lo miran mis ojos siendo sombra,
Lo besan mis labios siendo sueño.

He amado, ya no amo más;
He reído, tampoco río.


I was.


Burning column, moon of spring,

Golden sea and shining eyes.


I looked for what I believed;

Like the morning sun in a dream, I believed

The paintings made by adolescent desire.


I sang, I rose,

And one day I was light –

was dragged into the flame.


Like a gust of wind

That batters the shade,

I fell into the dark,

The insatiable world.


I have been.



Yo fui.

Columna ardiente, luna de primavera.
Mar dorado, ojos grandes.

Busqué lo que pensaba;
Pensé, como al amanecer en sueno lánguido,
Lo que pinta el deseo en días adolescentes.

Canté, subí,
Fui luz un día
Arrastrado en la llama.

Como un golpe de viento
Que deshace la sombra,
Caí en lo negro,
En el mundo insaciable.

He sido.



With a drowsy need, I want

To enjoy the lightest of deaths

In forests and seas of frost,

Like air that rustles without a thought.


I want to hold death in my hands,

A fruit as passing and ashen

As the delicate horn of light

That’s born on a winter’s day.


I want to drink its bitterness at last,

To listen to its dream, the sound of its harp,

As I feel my veins growing cold.

Only the cold can comfort me.


I’ll die of one desire,

If a subtle desire is worthy of death –

To live without this self of one desire,

Without waking up or remembering,

There, in the moon, lost inside its cold.



Quiero, con afán soñoliento,
Gozar de la muerte más leve
Entre bosques y mares de escarcha,
Hecho aire que pasa y no sabe.

Quiero la muerte entre mis manos,
Fruto tan ceniciento y rápido,
Igual al cuerno leve
De la luz cuando nace en el invierno.

Quiero beber al fin su lejana amargura;
Quiero escuchar su sueño con rumor de arpa
Mientras siento las venas que se enfrían,
Porque la frialdad tan sólo me consuela.

Voy a morir de un deseo,
Si un deseo sutil vale la muerte;
A vivir sin mí mismo de un deseo,
Sin despertar, sin acordarme,
Allá en la luna perdido entre su frío.



The sea is an oblivion,

A song, a lip.

The sea is like a lover,

A faithful response to desire.


The sea is like a nightingale;

Its waters are feathers,

Throbs that reach

Toward the coldest stars.


Its caresses are a sleep

That opens into death,

Accessible moons,

The highest form of life.


Over those darkened backs

Its endless waves are pushing.



El mar es un olvido,
Una canción, un labio;
El mar es un amante,
Fiel respuesta al deseo.

Es como un ruiseñor,
Y sus aguas son plumas,
Impulsos que levantan
A las frías estrellas.

Sus caricias son sueño,
Entreabren la muerte,
Son lunas accesibles,
Son la vida más alta.

Sobre espaldas oscuras
Las olas van gozando.



When I was a boy, I went through days like clouds.

How strange that now I seek that graceful form,

Visible still in the penumbra of time,

That hurts me so much in the body of today.


The passing of pleasure is sad,

Like a sweet lamp shining on the passing of night;

That was I, that was I, that is what I was

And ignorance was my shadow.


Neither joy nor pain; I was a child,

A prisoner in changing walls;

Stories like bodies, windows like skies,

And now I dream, a dream that goes higher than life.


When death decides to take away

Some truth from between my hands,

It will only find them empty, like my adolescent hands,

Burning with desire, extended in the air.



Adolescente fui en días idénticos a nubes,
Cosa grácil, visible por penumbra y reflejo,
Y extraño es, si ese recuerdo busco,
Que tanto, tanto duela sobre el cuerpo de hoy.

Perder placer es triste
Como la dulce lámpara sobre el lento nocturno;
Aquel fui, aquel fui, aquel he sido;
Era la ignorancia mi sombra.

Ni gozo ni pena; fui niño
Prisionero entre muros cambiantes;
Historias como cuerpos, cristales como cielos,
Sueño luego, un sueño más alto que la vida.

Cuando la muerte quiera
Una verdad quitar de entre mis manos,
Las hallará vacías, como en la adolescencia
Ardientes de deseo, tendidas hacia el aire.



Night time, dagger hours,

Noiselessly profound:

This is the time when

Haunted eyes are shining.


Beneath the iron sky

The leaves distribute bitterness.

It passes down the chains

That nourish life.


Like pulsing fire

Or hungry blades,

Condemned ones twist

Their bodies in the dark.


This is neither life nor death,

This torment without a name.

This is a fallen world

Where anger squeals.


A delirious sea,

All of space a bell,

A voice that unfolds

The wings of a posthumous god.



Nocturno, esgrimes horas
Sordamente profundas;
En esas horas fulgen
Luces de ojos absortos.

Bajo el cielo de hierro
Da hojas la amargura,
Lenta entre las cadenas
Que sostienen la vida.

Hechos vibrante fuego
O filo inextinguible
Los condenados tuercen
Sus cuerpos en la sombra.

Ya no es vida ni muerte
El tormento sin nombre,
Es un mundo caído
Donde silba la ira.

Es un mar delirante,
Clamor de todo espacio,
Voz que de sí levanta
Las alas de un dios póstumo.



It was a dream, motionless

Air in the void.

I opened my eyes and

The branches all collapsed.


Time breathed out its

Vegetal lights,

Its fallen loves

And aimless sorrows


The shadow came back;

Water was its lips.

Loneliness, glass,

The face, the lamp.


Passion without a form,

Grief without a past,

Like a wound in the chest,

A kiss, desire.


You do not know. You cannot know.



Era un sueño, aire
Tranquilo en la nada;
Al abrir los ojos
Las ramas perdían.

Exhalaba el tiempo
Luces vegetales,
Amores caídos,
Tristeza sin donde.

Volvía la sombra;
Agua eran sus labios.
Cristal, soledades,
La frente, la lámpara.

Pasión sin figura,
Pena sin historia;
Como herida al pecho,
Un beso, el deseo.

No sabes, no sabes.



Into the gigantic dusk,

Into the pouring rain, he went

Like an angel expelled

From the Eden of his birth.


His still naked body amazed

At the cold and unexpected grief.

The wings that had been strong in the light,

The will of innocence,

Weighed down dully on his back.


He searched for himself;

He wanted to forget himself,

A child in the arms of the air,

Hand in hand, face to face,

At rest on the powerful air.


Surrounded by vague, precipitous forms,

An endless wake of grief with no return,

He carried two heavy solitudes:

His own, and that of his fallen love.


Those had been his wings in times of joy.

Now they’re broken in the mud.

They laugh and make fun of his need,

The yearning for those lips.


You wanted forever; and now you know

That the light you had for a day is dead,

As you beg and stumble your way, remembering, desiring,

Remembering, desiring.


Remembered desire is heavy, like lead.

You need the strength of youth to raise once more

With mud, tears, injustice and hate,

The image of love toward the sky,

The image of love in pristine light.



Bajo el anochecer inmenso,
Bajo la lluvia desatada, iba
Como un ángel que arrojan
De aquel edén nativo.

Absorto el cuerpo aún desnudo,
Todo frío ante la brusca tristeza,
Lo que en la luz fue impulso, las alas,
Antes candor erguido,
A la espalda pesaban sordamente.

Se buscaba a sí mismo,
Pretendía olvidarse a sí mismo;
Niños en brazos del aire,
En lo más poderoso descansando,
Mano en la mano, frente en la frente.

Entre precipitadas formas vagas,
Vasta estela de luto sin retorno,
Arrastraba dos lentas soledades,
Su soledad de nuevo, la del amor caído.

Ellas fueron sus alas en tiempos de alegría,
Esas que por el fango derribadas
Burla y respuesta dan al afán que interroga,
Al deseo de unos labios.

Quisiste siempre, al fin sabes
Cómo ha muerto la luz, tu luz un día,
Mientras vas, errabundo mendigo, recordando, deseando;
Recordando, deseando.

Pesa, pesa el deseo recordado;
Fuerza joven quisieras para alzar nuevamente,
Con fango, lágrimas, odio, injusticia,
La imagen del amor hasta el cielo,
La imagen del amor en la luz pura.



I do not want to go back

To those places where I cried,

To beat like a secret heart among bodies

That live as I once lived.


I do not want to feel

One moment of contentment in the pain.

Sorrow or joy, it’s all the same;

Everything is sad when you go back.


I carry them with me like a distant light:

That childhood destiny,

Those innocent eyes,

That ancient wound.


No, no. I’ll never want to go back.

I only want to die even more,

To exorcise a shade,

Obliterate an oblivion.



No quiero, triste espíritu, volver
Por los lugares que cruzó mi llanto,
Latir secreto entre los cuerpos vivos
Como yo también fui.

No quiero recordar
Un instante feliz entre tormentos;
Goce o pena, es igual,
Todo es triste al volver.

Aún va conmigo como una luz lejana
Aquel destino niño,
Aquellos dulces ojos juveniles,
Aquella antigua herida.

No, no quisiera volver,
Sino morir aún más,
Arrancar una sombra,
Olvidar un olvido.



It isn’t love that dies;

It’s us.


The earliest innocence turned

Into longing,

Limbs entwined,

Oblivious in opposite oblivion –

Why do they live if they always have to die?


He only lives who sees

His lover’s eyes in front of his eyes;

He only lives who can kiss

The angelic flesh his love inspires.


Melancholy ghosts

In the distances, those others

Who have lost their love,

Searching among the gravestones

Like memories in dreams,

Embracing empty forms like them.



Slowly they pass and sigh,

The walking dead, lives behind the stone,

Pummelling with impotence,

Scratching at the shadows

With a useless tenderness.


No, no. It isn’t love that dies.



No es el amor quien muere,
Somos nosotros mismos.
Inocencia primera
Abolida en deseo,
Olvido de sí mismo en otro olvido,
Ramas entrelazadas
¿Por qué vivir si desaparecéis un día?

Sólo vive quien mira
Siempre ante sí los ojos de su aurora,
Sólo vive quien besa
Aquel cuerpo de ángel que el amor levantara.

Fantasmas de la pena,
A lo lejos, los otros,
Los que ese amor perdieron,
Como un recuerdo en su sueños,
Recorriendo las tumbas
Otro vacío estrechan.

Por allá van y gimen,
Muertos en pie, vidas tras de la piedra,
Golpeando impotencia,
Arañando la sombra
Con inútil ternura.

No, no es el amor quien muere.



My Archangel


I did not ask for that celestial gift,

You. Like a knife blade in my heart,

Like memory or tears.

Like life itself, you dwell in me.


You flow through my veins, you breathe through my lips,

I feel you in my pain.

You live in me, you live inside my love,

Though sometimes the light

And the loneliness are hard.


Turning in the bed, like a child by itself at a wall,

I dream against my flesh

A shining enigma – you.

You aren’t smiling; you don’t make fun.

You don’t go away or respond. You’re with me.


You’re with me the way my eyes are in the world –

They own whatever they see.

And like my eyes, when the shadow falls I’ll sink once more,

A beggar deprived of his poverty itself,

To the frozen hell I came from.





No solicito ya ese favor celeste, tu presencia;
Como incesante filo contra el pecho,
Como el recuerdo, como el llanto,
Como la vida misma vas conmigo.

Tú fluyes en mis venas, respiras en mis labios,
Te siento en mi dolor;
Bien vivo estás en mí, vives en mi amor mismo,
Aunque a veces
Pesa la luz, la soledad.

Vuelto en el lecho, como niño sin nadie frente al muro.
Contra mi cuerpo creo,
Radiante enigma, el tuyo;
No ríes así ni hieres,
No marchas ni te dejas, pero estás conmigo.

Estás conmigo como están mis ojos en el mundo,
Dueños de todo por cualquier instante,
Mas igual que ellos, al hacer la sombra, luego vuelvo,
Mendigo a quien despojan de su misma pobreza,
Al yerto infierno de donde he surgido.



                                                   for Concha Méndez

                                                   and Manuel Altolaguirre



You were tender yearning, an insinuating cloud.

You lived with the air among the bodies of friends.

You were breath without a form, a smile without a voice,

A trace of invisible spirit.


That slow thorn, our weakness,

Might have been adolescent strength in you,

Not laughable pain or greedy pleasure –

The dream of a life or triumph of evil.


Like a happy cloud that doesn’t rain,

A forgotten bird on its native bough,

You possessed both death and life,

Without having died, without having lived.


In billows of smoke, in the narrow streets

Of a land portioned out by ancient hates,

You haven’t yet discovered those enemies of human bliss:

Power and its muddy hands,

An abject god distributing destinies,

The lie, with its round tail stiff above the world,

And helpless love that cries among the graves.


Your absence, an echo of nothing, time without history,

Gliding like a wing,

Leaves me with a crystal truth,

A truth that knew and didn’t feel,

A truth that saw and didn’t love.




     Como los erizos, ya sabéis, los hombres un día sintieron su frío. Y quisieron compartirlo. Entonces inventaron el amor. El resultado fue, ya sabéis, como en los erizos.
¿Qué queda de las alegrías y penas del amor cuando éste desaparece? Nada, o peor que nada; queda el recuerdo de un olvido. Y menos mal cuando no lo punza la sombra de aquellas espinas; de aquellas espinas, ya sabéis.
Las siguientes páginas son el recuerdo de un olvido.




                            A Concha Méndez

                            y Manuel Altolaguirre

Eras tierno deseo, nube insinuante,
Vivías con el aire entre cuerpos amigos,
Alentabas sin forma, sonreías sin voz,
Dejo inspirado de invisible espíritu.

Nuestra impotencia, lenta espina,
Quizá en ti hubiera sido fuerza adolescente;
No dolor irrisorio ni placer egoísta,
No sueño de una vida ni maldad triunfante.

Como nube feliz que pasa sin la lluvia,
Como un ave olvidada de la rama nativa,
A un tiempo poseíste muerte y vida
Sin haber muerto, sin haber vivido.

Entre el humo tan triste, entre las flacas calles
De una tierra medida por los odios antiguos,
No has descubierto así, vueltos contra tu dicha,
El poder con sus manos de fango,
Un dios abyecto disponiendo destinos,
La mentira y su cola redonda erguida sobre el mundo
El inerme amor llorando entre las tumbas,

Tu leve ausencia, eco sin nota, tiempo sin historia,
Pasando igual que un ala,
Deja una verdad transparente;
Verdad que supo y no sintió,
Verdad que vio y no quiso.



The invisible wall

Between all arms,

Between all bodies,

Islands of laughable wickedness.


There are no kisses, but stones.

There is no love, but stones

Measured again and again by the prisoner’s

Feverish step.


Maybe the air beyond

Is singing a hymn

Of faithful joy to the world.

Maybe in distant glory

Radiant wings flash by,


An immense desire,

The urge of a truth,

Beats against the walls,

Beats against the flesh

Like a shackled sea.


Eager an instant

Eyes look up

To the light of day,

A victorious bolt

Like a blade in the sky.


But here, in the shadowy stones

Of anger, of weeping, of oblivion,

Here the truth resides.



In this living prison.





     Como los erizos, ya sabéis, los hombres un día sintieron su frío. Y quisieron compartirlo. Entonces inventaron el amor. El resultado fue, ya sabéis, como en los erizos.
¿Qué queda de las alegrías y penas del amor cuando éste desaparece? Nada, o peor que nada; queda el recuerdo de un olvido. Y menos mal cuando no lo punza la sombra de aquellas espinas; de aquellas espinas, ya sabéis.
Las siguientes páginas son el recuerdo de un olvido.




El invisible muro
Entre los brazos todos,
Entre los cuerpos todos,
Islas de maldad irrisoria.

No hay besos, sino losas;
No hay amor, sino losas
Tantas veces medidas por el paso
Febril del prisionero.

Quizá el aire afuera
Suene cantando al mundo
El himno de la fiel alegría;
Quizá, glorias enajenadas,
Alas radiantes pasan.

Un deseo inmenso,
Afán de una verdad,
Bate contra los muros,
Bate contra la carne
Como un mar entre hierros.

Ávidos un momento
Unos ojos se alzan
Hacia el rayo del día,
Relámpago cobrizo victorioso
Con su espada tan alta.

Entre piedras de sombra,
De ira, llanto, olvido,
Alienta la verdad.

La prisión,
La prisión viva.



The wound doesn’t kill;

It only stuns the limbs,

Like the axe’s bite into a tree,

Gone the sound – gone the stroke

Sad, abandoned at the edge of a lonely path.


Death is a tangible thing;

Lying, love and pleasure aren’t death.

Lying doesn’t kill,

Though at times it stabs like daggers.

Love is not a venom,

Though it often leaves a scorpion’s kiss.

And pleasure is no haunted house,

Though an obstinate phantom drives away oblivion.


But tree trunk and axe’s bite,

Pleasure, love and lies,

Kisses, dagger and haunted house:

All of them are wounds in the memory,

Wounds of the yearning lips,

Endless desire,

A cry that goes astray,

Proclaiming its truth to a world that doesn’t hear.


Voices that choke on the wounds,

On the voice of life,

Like a river of grief

Whose current steals away

The old caress,

The old simplicity, the faith in another flesh.


It isn’t wise to believe; only believe in death.

Look at that dying trunk,

A death that slowly dies,

Like your eyes and your desire, and like your love.

One day misery and ruin will submerge into immense oblivion,

Leaving the ultimate jest – a hollow day,

A useless trail, deserted by the light.



No hace al muerto la herida,
Hace tan sólo un cuerpo inerte;
Como el hachazo un tronco
Despojado de sones y caricias,
Todo triste abandono al pie de cualquier senda.

Bien tangible es la muerte;
Mentira, amor, placer no son la muerte.
La mentira no mata,
Aunque su filo clave como puñal alguno;
El amor no envenena,
Aunque como un escorpión deje los besos;
El placer no es naufragio,
Aunque vuelto fantasma ahuyente todo olvido.

Pero tronco y hachazo,
Placer, amor, mentira,
Beso, puñal, naufragio,
A la luz del recuerdo son heridas
De labios siempre ávidos;
Un deseo que no cesa,
Un grito que se pierde
Y clama al mundo sordo su verdad implacable.

Voces al fin ahogadas con la voz de la vida,
Por las heridas mismas,
Igual que un río, escapando;
Un triste río cuyo fluir se lleva
Las antiguas caricias,
El antiguo candor, la fe puesta en un cuerpo.

No creas nunca, no creas sino en la muerte de todo;
Contempla bien ese tronco que muere
Hecho el muerto más muerto,
Como tus ojos, como tus deseos, como tu amor;
Ruina y miseria que un día se anegan en inmenso olvido,
Dejando, burla suprema, una fecha vacía,
Huella inútil que la luz deserta.

On Translating Cernuda


Dialogue with works of art consists not only of learning what they say but of necessity, re-living them as presences: to awaken their present. It is a creative repetition.[i]

Octavio Paz, “Luis Cernuda, la palabra edificante”

(quotes from the translation by Michael Schmidt)


Let me begin by pointing out the obvious: any serious translation of a serious poem is a dialogue with it – a response. An echo. The translator is both a reader and a writer and has to do more than just re-live the poem’s presence. That echo bounces off of another sensibility and is filtered through a different code of expression. The repetition is always distorted; it can only hope to be at most a creative evocation of an ideal, unrepeatable presence that inhabits the original text. On the other hand, that limitation doesn’t stop us from trying. One of the things that makes the translation of poetry so compelling is that it’s ultimately impossible.

That being said, there are a couple of specific qualities of Luis Cernuda’s poetic speech that I have attempted to evoke, or to emulate, in these translations and which might account for the sound of my English versions. Octavio Paz’s essay on Cernuda, which has been important for my apprehension of the spirit of his work, helped me to understand both of them better.

The first one is what Paz calls the poet’s reticence. “That word,” Paz writes, “is one of the keys to Cernuda’s style. Seldom have bolder thoughts and more violent passion made use of more chaste expressions.”[ii] This claim is particularly applicable to the poems in Donde habite el olvido, in which Cernuda investigates the desires, the illusions, the dashed hopes and the dreams of that “amor que ningún hombre ha visto” with what I would call a delicate fastidiousness.

If one source of power in poetry is, as I believe, any strong tension or clash between opposites, then a large part of the power of these poems arises from the discordance between the strong passions that motivate them and the delicacy – almost propriety – with which those passions are expressed.

One of my aims has been to capture this tension, although I’m aware that there is also a danger here: that the propriety of expression may overshadow – and therefore obfuscate – the force and torque of the poems’ emotions. But whether that happens or not will now depend on the reader’s acuity of vision and will.

And this brings me to the second quality of Cernuda’s poetic speech that I’ve tried to emulate. It’s closely related with his reticence and may be best described as his tone of voice.

Referring obviously to the work that followed Primeras Poesías (1924-1927) and Écloga, Elegía, Oda (1927-1928), Paz claims that Cernuda made a conscious effort – not, however, completely successful – to write in a more natural “modern” idiom.


[Cernuda] tried to write as one speaks; or rather: he set himself as the raw material of poetic transmutation not the language of books but of conversation. He did not always succeed. Often his verse is prosaic, in the sense in which written prose is prosaic, not living speech: something more considered and constructed than said. Because of the words he uses, almost all of them correct, and because of an over-fastidious syntax, Cernuda sometimes “talks like a book” rather than “writes like one speaks.” What is miraculous is that that writing should suddenly condense into scintillating expressions.[iii]


This is an extremely subtle quality that, to my mind, produces another level of tension: the language strives to be living speech, but at the same time is pulled by the poet’s sensibility toward a bookish, or literate, artifice. Something more considered than said, correct words, an over-fastidious syntax: these are all components of a polished elegance that often rubs uncomfortably against the half-hidden, tormented souls of these poems. Here we have another kind of reticence that Cernuda employs to italicize through irony those things that he’s too punctilious to say out loud.

This may not be the kind of voice we want to hear in poetry in English today. But it is, at least to my ear and my sensibility, the kind of voice Cernuda chose to speak with. In Donde habite el olvido he is trying, paradoxically, to escape from a painful consciousness while, at the same time, leaving conscious traces of his desire to escape. This is one reason why the final poem of the sequence is entitled “Los fantasmas del deseo”. He seemed to understand, like Emily Dickinson, that “Nature is a Haunted House – but Art – a house that tries to be haunted”. He writes about the poem as a reticent echo, full of silent meaning and desire, in “Homenaje”, the introductory poem of Écloga, Elegía, Oda:


Es un rumor celándose suave;
Tras una gloria triste, quiere, anhela.
Con su acento armonioso se desvela
Ese silencio sólido tan grave.


If my choices have been fortunate, the distant echoes here, distortions and all, will act to awaken those presences that inhabit the words – and the silence – of Cernuda’s speech.


[i]. El diálogo con las obras de arte consiste no sólo en oír lo que dicen sino en recrearlas, en revivirlas como presencias: despertar su presente. Es una repetición creadora

[ii] Esa palabra es una de las claves del estilo de Cernuda. Pocas veces un pensamiento más osado y una pasión más violenta se han servido de expresiones más púdicas.

[iii] [Cernuda] trató de escribir como se habla; o mejor dicho: se propuso como materia prima de la transmutación poética no el lenguaje de los libros sino el de la conversación. No acertó siempre. Con frecuencia su verso es prosaico, en el sentido en que la prosa escrita es prosaica, no el habla viva: algo más pensado y construido que dicho. Por las palabras que emplea, casi todas cultas, y por la sintaxis artificiosa, más que «escribir como se habla», a veces Cernuda «habla como un libro». Lo milagroso es que esa escritura se condense de pronto y se transforme en iluminaciones excepcional.

Luis Cernuda’s poem «Los Fantasmos de Deseo» (The Ghosts of Desire) translated by Paul Scott Derrick


The Ghosts of Desire


for Barnabé Fernández-Carnivell



I did not know you, Earth.

With eyes blanked out, with fluttering hands,

I cried beneath your verdant smile,

(though sometimes I felt that youthful urge,

A tumult avid to give itself away

Like a hurricane trapped in the heart)

Not knowing you, Earth,

Not knowing your urge, the tumultuous storm

That raged inside this bubble that is me –

Compelled by your iron voice to live this little life.


But now I know it was you,

The shaper of this flesh and this anxiety.

At last I know that the narrow sea,

The loving light and the laughing child,

Are all a part of you;

The living and the dead,

Pleasure and pain,

Friendship and loneliness,

Misery and ignorant power,

The wastrel and the man who dreams of love

Are all as worthy of me as I am worthy of them.

Earth, my arms are stronger now,

To bear the weight of your unquenchable need.


Love cannot be held in any form;

It will not linger in a single face.

All of us are equal parts of base desire and dream.

The pleasure that never dies,

The kiss that never dies,

Can only be found in you, the living Earth.


Haloes of youthful grace, curling wisps of hair

Glowing red or gold, flowing like the spring,

Crowning coppered flesh, those shining bodies

I have loved in vain:

Lifeis not there, in your radiant flesh.

Life is in the Earth, that always waits, the Earth

That waits with opened arms and offered lips.


Let me embrace it all; for a moment let me see

This magic world that now is mine,

Mine because I myself am the world,

As others were, who stretched these living arms,

As is the sand, that when you kiss it,

Yields the taste of other lips, open to desire,

Yields until the lying grains are scattered on the wind.


Like grains of sand, oh Earth,

Like sand itself,

Caresses are a lie, love is a lie, friendship is a lie.

Only you remain, and this desire,

Desire that I thought was mine, but isn’t even mine.

It burns among us all,

The evil and the good,

Wastrels and those who dream of love.


Earth, Earth and desire.

A disappearing form.





A Bernabé Fernández-Canivell

Yo no te conocía, tierra;
Con los ojos inertes, la mano aleteante,
Lloré todo ciego bajo tu verde sonrisa,
Aunque, alentar juvenil, sintiera a veces
Un tumulto sediento de postrarse
Como huracán henchido aquí en el pecho;
Ignorándote, tierra mía
Ignorando tu alentar, huracán o tumulto,
Idénticos en esta melancólica burbuja que yo soy
A quien tu voz de acero inspirara un menudo vivir.

Bien sé ahora que tú eres
Quien me dicta esta forma y este ansia;
Sé al fin que el mar esbelto,
La enamorada luz, los niños sonrientes,
No son sino tú misma;
Que los vivos, los muertos,
El placer y la pena,
La soledad, la amistad,
La miseria, el poderoso estúpido,
El hombre enamorado, el canalla,
Son tan dignos de mí como de ellos yo lo soy;
Mis brazos, tierra, son ya más anchos, ágiles,
Para llevar tu afán que nada satisface.

El amor no tiene esta o aquella forma,
No puede detenerse en criatura alguna;
Todas son por igual viles y soñadoras,
Placer que nunca muere,
Beso que nunca muere,
Sólo en ti misma encuentro, tierra mía.

Nimbos de Juventud, cabellos rubios o sombríos,
Rizosos o lánguidos como una primavera,
Sobre cuerpos cobrizos, sobre radiantes cuerpos
Que tanto he amado inútilmente,
No es en vosotros donde la vida está, sino en la tierra,
En la tierra que aguarda, aguarda siempre
Con sus labios tendidos, con sus brazos abiertos.

Dejadme, dejadme abarcar, ver unos instantes
Este mundo divino que ahora es mío,
Mío como lo soy yo mismo,
Como lo fueron otros cuerpos que estrecharon mis brazos,
Como la arena, que al besarla los labios
Finge otros labios, dúctiles al deseo
Hasta que el viento lleva sus mentirosos átomos.

Como la arena, tierra,
Como la arena misma,
La caricia es mentira, el amor es mentira, la amistad es mentira.
Tú sola quedas con el deseo,
Con este deseo que aparenta ser mío y ni siquiera es mío,
Sino el deseo de todos,
Malvados, inocentes,
Enamorados o canallas.

Tierra, tierra y deseo.
Una forma perdida.

Paul Scott Derrick translates Pablo Neruda’s poems


Ode to the Tomato


The street

was filled with tomatoes,



the light

splits apart

like the halves

of a tomato,

the juice

runs out

into the streets.

In December

the tomato

comes loose,

it invades


it gets in through lunches,

it sits down


on sideboards,

in among the glasses,

the butter-dishes,

the blue salt-shakers.

It has

an inner light,

a benign


We must, unfortunately,

kill it:

the knife


into the living pulp,

in a visceral


a fresh,




fills the salads

of Chile,

joyfully it marries

the clear-skinned onion,

and, in celebration,

we cast

upon its partly-opened spheres

a sprinkling of


essential child

of the olive,

the pepper


its fragrance,

the salt

its magnetic charm:

these are the weddings

of the day,

the parsley


its banners,


bubble and boil,

the roast beef


against the door

with its smell,

it’s time!

let’s go!

and, on

the table, in the circle

of summer,

the tomato,

orb of the earth,


and various



its convolutions,

its canals,

illustrious plenitude

and abundance,

without a bone

or a shell,

without a scale or a spine,

it makes us

a gift

of its fiery red

and the total sum of its freshness.



from Odas Elementales, 1954


Oda al tomate


La calle

se llenó de tomates,



la luz se parte

en dos


de tomate,


por las calles

el jugo.

En diciembre

se desata

el tomate,


las cocinas,

entra por los almuerzos,

se sienta


en los aparadores,

entre los vasos,

las mantequilleras,

los saleros azules.


luz propia,

majestad benigna.

Debemos, por desgracia,


se hunde

el cuchillo

en su pulpa viviente,

en una roja


un sol




llena las ensaladas

de Chile,

se casa alegremente

con la clara cebolla,

y para celebrarlo

se deja




esencial del olivo,

entre sus hemisferios entreabiertos,


la pimienta

su fragancia,

la sal su magnetismo:

son las bodas

del día, el perejil



las papas

hierven vigorosamente,

el asado


con su aroma

en la puerta,

es hora!


y sobre

la mesa en la cintura

del verano,

el tomate,

astro de tierra,



y fecunda,

nos muestra

sus circunvoluciones,

sus canales,

la insigne plenitud

y la abundancia

sin hueso,

sin coraza,

sin escamas ne espinas,

nos entrega

el regalo

de su color fogoso

y la totalidad de su frescura.

Ode to the Bosque de las Petras


Somewhere on the coast, between the

purple eucalyptus

and the newer mansions

of the carob tree,

a solemn forest


an ancient

handful of trees

that death forgot.


The centuries

have twisted

their trunks, scars

have covered every branch,

ash and mourning

have sifted through their ancient crowns,

all of the leaves

are tangled and twined

like gigantic spider


and the limbs, like fingers

of agonizing green,

have slowly gnarled together

and knotted up, and petrified.


But the agéd forest is still

alive: a new leaf

sometimes struggles to the light,

a nest

shook its branch

in the spring,

a drop

of fragrant resin

falls into the water and dies.

Quiet, quiet is the shade

and the compact silence



black glass

on the aging arms

of forgotten candelabras.

The ground rises up,

the knotty feet have unearthed themselves –

the stony dead,

broken statues, bones,

the roots

that sifted the earth.


The silence there

at night

is a bottomless lake




flowing hair

of moss

and of vines,

ancient eyes




forgotten ashen lizards,

broad-beamed women madly dead,






The petrified


fills up like

a monstrous


and later




and oblivion


and the lights go out.


The invisible beings

take themselves home

and the forest


to immobility, its solemn

virtue of stone and dream.



Oda al bosque de las Petras


Por la costa, entre los

eucaliptos azules

y las mansiones nuevas

de Algarrobo,

hay un bosque


un antiguo

puñado de árboles

que olvidó la muerte.


Los siglos


sus troncos, cicatrices

cubrieron cada rama,

ceniza y luto

cayeron sobre sus antiguas copas,

se enmarañó el follaje

de uno y otro

como telas titánica

de araña

y fueron los ramajes como dedos

de agonizantes verdes


unos en otros y petrificadas.


El viejo bosque vive

aún, alguna nueva

hoja asoma en la altura,

un nido


en la primavera,

una gota

de resina fragante

cae en el agua y muere.


Quieta, quieta es la sombra

y el silencio compacto



cristal negro

entre los viejos brazos

de los desfallecidos candelabros.

El suelo se levanta,

los pies nudosos se desenterraron

y son muertos de piedra,

estatuas rotas, huesos,

las raíces

que afloraron a la tierra.


De noche

allí el silencio

es un profundo lago

del que salen




de musgos

y de lianas,





de turquesa,

cenicientos lagartos olvidados,

anchas mujeres locamente muertas,






Se puebla el viejo bosque

de las Petras

como un salón


y luego








Los invisibles seres

se recogen

y el viejo bosque


a su inmovilidad, a su solemne

virtud de piedra y sueño

Ode to Time


Inside of you, your growing


inside of me, my passing


Time is decided,

its bell doesn’t ring,

it slowly flows, advancing

inside of us both.

It’s there,

like a quiet pool

in your eyes

and, beneath their

burnished chestnut,

a splinter, the trace

of a tiny stream,

a dry little star

ascending to your lips.

Time may draw

its threads

through your hair,

but in my heart

you will always bring the fragrance

of the honeysuckle vine,

as vivid as living fire.

How lovely it is

to grow old living

all that we’ve lived.

Every day

was transparent stone,

every night

for us, was a deeply shadowed rose.

And this line on your face, or mine,

are flowers or stone,

the fossil of a lightning-flash.

My eyes have been spent on your loveliness,

but then, you are my eyes.

Maybe I’ve tired your duplicate breasts

with my kisses,

but the world has seen your secret splendor

in my joy.

What do we care, my love,

if time,

who raised like double flames

or parallel stalks

my body and your sweetness,

should guard them tomorrow

or strip them away

and with its invisible fingers

erase this identity that keeps us apart

giving us the victory

of a single final soul beneath the sod.



Oda al tiempo


Dentro de ti tu edad


dentro de mi me edad


El tiempo es decidido,

no suena su campana,

se acrecienta, camina,

por dentro de nosotros,


como un agua profunda

en la mirada

y junto a las castañas

quemadas de tus ojos

una brizna, la huella

de un minúsculo río,

una estrellita seca

ascendiendo a tu boca.

Sube el tiempo

sus hilos

a tu pelo,

pero en mi corazón

como una madreselva

es tu fragancia,

viviente como el fuego.

Es bello

como lo que vivimos

envejecer viviendo.

Cada día

fue piedra transparente,

cada noche

para nosotros fue rosa negra,

y este surco en tu rostro o en el mío

son piedra o flor,

recuerdo de un relámpago.

mis ojos se han gastado en tu hermosura,

pero tú eres mis ojos.

Yo fatigué tal vez bajo mis besos

tu pecho duplicado,

pero todos han visto en mi alegría

tu resplandor secreto.

Amor, que importa

que el tiempo,

el mismo que elevó como dos llamas

o espigas paralelas

mi cuerpo y tu dulzura,

mañana los mantenga

o los desgrane

y con sus mismos dedos invisibles

borre la identidad que nos separa

dándonos la victoria

de un solo ser final bajo la tierra.

Ode to the Atom




you seemed

to be buried

forever in things: your devilish

fire occult.

One day

someone knocked

at your minuscule


it was man.

With a

volley of shot

they set you free,

you saw the world,

you went out

for the day,

you visited


your unreal shining

illuminated lives,

you were

terrible fruit,

electrical loveliness,

you came

to compete with the flames

of summer,

and then –

decked out

in armor

and binoculars,

with angular shirts,

sulphuric mustaches

and the tail of a porcupine,

the soldiers arrived

and seduced you:


they said,


Oh atom, you look like

a Grecian god,


in spring,

lie down here

in my fingernail,

come into this

little box,

and then

the soldier

kept you in his vest

as though you were only

an American


and he flew around the world

and dropped you



That day we woke up.


had broken.

All of the birds

fell out of the sky – burnt to a crisp.

An odor

of coffins,

the gas of graves

thundered through space.

The visage of

superhuman punishment

rose through the air,


a fiery mushroom, cupola

of smoke,

the sword blade

of hell.

The burning air surged up

and death was dispersed

in parallel waves

to the mother asleep

with her child,

the fisherman in his boat

and the fish,

to the bakery

and the bread,

to the engineer

and his buildings,


was hot and stinging





The city

let go of its smallest places,

it just collapsed, fell down,



the men

were suddenly lepers,

they took

their children’s hands

and the little hand

came off in their hands.

So, from your shelter,

from the secret

blanket of stone

where the fire had slept

they pulled you out,

you eye-blinding sparkle,

you furious light,

to tear apart lives,

to seek out distant beings,

deep in the sea,

high in the air,

buried in the sand,

hidden in the darkest

corners of the ports,

to obliterate


to kill off eggs

to wither the corolla,

they trained you, atom,

to wipe out


to turn love into a blackened sore,

to burn down piles of hearts

and annihilate the blood.

Oh you insane spark,

go back

to your shroud,

bury yourself

in your mineral sheets,

be a blind pebble again.

Don’t listen to the thugs.


with life, with agriculture,

take the place of motors,

elevate energy,

fecundate the planets.

You have no

secrets now.

Walk among men

without that terrible


Lighten your pace

and pave

the way for fruits,



unbend rivers,






go back

to the peace of the vine,

to the velocity of joy,

go back to the enclosure

of nature,

give yourself back to us

and instead of the mortal


of your mask,

instead of the unleashed hell

of your ire,

instead of the threat

of your terrible light, give us

your amazing


for grains,

your unchained magnetism

to fortify peace among men,

and thus, your dazzling light

will not be an inferno,

but happiness,

a morning of hope,

an offering to the world.



from Odas Elementales, 1954



Oda al átomo





para siempre


en el metal: oculto,

tu diabólico


Un día


rn la puerta


era un hombre.

Con una


Te desencadenaron,

Viste el mundo,


Por el día,


Ciudades, tu gran fulgor llegaba

A luminar las vidas,


Una fruta terrible,

De eléctrica hermosura,


a apresurar las llamas

del estío,

y entonces



con anteojos de tigre

y armadura,

con camisa cuadrada,

sulfúricos bigotes,

cola de puerco espín,

llegó el guerrero

y te sedujo:


te dijo,


átomo, te pareces

a un dios griego,

a una primaveral

modista de París,


en mi uña,

entra en esta cajita,

y entonces

el guerrero

te guardó en su chaleco

como si fueras sólo



y viajó por el mundo

dejándote caer

en Hiroshima.



La aurora

se había consumido.

Todos los pájaros

cayeron calcinados.

Un olor

de ataúd,

gas de las tumbas,

tronó por los espacios.

Subió horrenda

la forma de castigo


hongo sangriento, cúpula,



del infierno.

Subió quemante el aire

y se esparció la muerte

en ondas paralelas,


a la madre dormida

con su niño,

al pescador del río

y a las peces,

a la panadería

y a los panes,

al ingeniero

y a sus edificios,


fue polvo

que mordía,

aire asesino.


La ciudad

Desmoronó sus últimos alvéolos,

Cayó, cayó de pronto,



Los hombres

Fueron súbitos leprosos,


La mano de sus hijos

Y la pequeña mano

Se quedaba en sus manos.

Así, de tu refugio,

Del secreto

Manto de piedra

en que el fuego dormía

te sacaron,

chispa enceguedora,

luz rabiosa,

a destruir las vidas,

a perseguir lejanas existencias,

bajo el mar,

en el aire,

en las arenas,

en el último

recodo de los puertos,

a borrar

las semillas,

a asesinar los gérmenes,

a impedir la corola,

te destinaron, átomo,

a dejar arrasadas

las naciones,

a convertir el amor en negra pústula

a quemar amontonados corazones

a aniquilar la sangre.

Oh chispa loca,


a tu mortaja,


en tus mantos minerales,

vuelve a ser piedra ciega,

desoye a los bandidos,


tú, con la vida, con la agricultura,

suplanta los motores,

eleva la energía,

fecunda los planetas.

Ya no tienes secreto,


entre los hombres

sin máscara


apresurando el paso

y extendiendo

los pasos de los frutos,



enderezando ríos,







a la paz del racimo,

a la velocidad de la alegría,

vuelve al recinto

de la naturaleza,

ponte a nuestro servicio,

y en vez de las cenizas


de tu máscara,

en vez de los infiernos desatados

de tu cólera,

en vez de la amenaza

de tu terrible clar4idad, entréganos

tu sobrecogedora


para los cereales,

tu magnetismo desencadenado

para fundar la paz entre los hombres,

y así no será infierno

tu luz deslumbradora,

sino felicidad,

matutina esperanza,

contribución terrestre.

Paul Scott Derrick discusses Pablo Neruda’s «Odes» 

Pablo Neruda’s Odes

The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda published three collections of odes during the mid-1950s: Odas elementales (1954), Nuevas odas elementales (1956) and El tercer libro de las odas (1957). At the same time, in 1956, Allen Ginsberg published his first book, Howl. Both of them – each in his own way, of course – were acknowledging the common heritage of Walt Whitman: the first edition of Leaves of Grass had appeared 100 years earlier, in 1855.

The odes arguably constitute Neruda’s most Whitmanesque work. In them he has mastered what we might think of as the art of artlessness. Maybe the closest parallel to this kind of writing would be the deceptive simplicity of Zen painting. The first thing that strikes you about them is their form: slender, open, apparently casual, direct and conversational. Look at the United Statesand Chileon the map. Ginsberg repeats, and even extends, the expansive Whitman free-verse line that reflects the westward expansion of the country in the 19th century. In the odes, Neruda rotates the axis and constructs a vertical free-verse form, reflecting the shape of his own particular American expanse.

The second thing you notice is the subject matter. Every ode is devoted to an aspect of the poet’s, and the readers’, common experience. “Ode to a Wandering Albatross”, “Ode to a Ship in a Bottle”, “Ode to a Village Cinema”, “Ode to the Apple”, “Ode to Salt”: this is the poetry of every-day life. It “Distills”, in Emily Dickinson’s unforgettable phrases, “amazing sense / From ordinary Meanings – / And attar so immense / From the familiar species / That perished by the Door – / We wonder it was not Ourselves / Arrested it – before –”.

Notice that Neruda is wielding a pointed irony here, since the ode, by definition, deals with an exalted theme in a lofty manner. But what could be more humble and “familiar” than an apple, or salt, or a village cinema? And what manner, or form, could be less lofty (except for its verticality) than these words cascading down the page?

But the simple language of these poems has a visual transparency. Each ode opens the door to an illuminated vision of the world that most of us, as Dickinsonimplies, are too befuddled to see on our own. And this is because the things themselves are doors (Whitman calls them “dumb, beautiful ministers” in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”), and poets hold the keys. So the final effect is, in the fine, old American grain, to exalt the lowly, to renew our sight and to sharpen our sensibilities.

These poems aim to do exactly what Ralph Waldo Emerson was talking about in1837 in“The American Scholar”:

I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic […] I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. […] What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and the gait of the body;—show me the ultimate reason of these matters; show me the sublime presence of the highest spiritual cause lurking, as it always does lurk, in these suburbs and extremities of nature […] and the world lies no longer a dull miscellany and lumber-room, but has form and order; there is no trifle; there is no puzzle, but one design unites and animates the farthest pinnacle and the lowest trench.

Neruda’s odes pick up the miscellaneous odds and ends in the lumber-room of the world and join them into a well-plumbed whole. There are, ultimately, no individual things or isolated objects in the odes. Instead, each object or experience is seen as one filament in a complex web of relations that extends in two directions: inward, into the poet’s mind and outward, through the known into the unknowable. Each poem is a sort of phenomenological etymology of the object or facet of life that it celebrates. The words in the poet’s mind arise from the phenomena they unveil – and make them, for us, what they are.

We all know that Whitman learned a lot from Emerson. As he wrote in the 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass, the poet’s “thoughts are the hymns of the praise of things”. In these hymns of praise Neruda beholds the world around him and his sensibility resonates with everything, both visible and invisible, that he discovers there.

Paul Scott Derrick translates Ana Blandiana’s poetry from English into Romanian


The Fall


The prophets in the desert died out

And the angels, dragging their wings on the ground,

Were placed in rows in the squares.

Soon they’ll be tried

And asked: What sin

Got you thrown out of heaven?

What guilt? What betrayal? What mistake?

They, with their last drop of love,

Will look at us, bleary-eyed with sleep,

And they won’t find the devilish audacity

To confess that angels don’t fall

Because of sin – not because of sin,

But because they’re just worn out.





S-au stins profeţii în pustie

Şi îngeri cu aripile-atârnând

Sunt duşi încolonaţi

Şi strânşi în pieţe.

Vor fi judecaţi în curând.

Vor fi întrebaţi: ce păcat

Le-a alungat făpturile din ceruri?

Ce vină? Ce trădare? Ce greşeală?

Ei, cu o ultimă iubire,

Ne vor privi înceţoşaţi de somn

Şi n-or găsi drăceasca îndrăzneală

De-a mărturisi că îngerii cad

Nu din păcat, nu din păcat,

Ci din oboseală.



I walk around inside myself

Like I’d wander through a foreign city

Where I don’t know a single soul.

At night I’m afraid in the streets

And on rainy afternoons

I feel cold and tired.

I have no wish to travel

Now that even crossing the street

Has turned into an adventure;

I have no memories of other lives

Before the question:

“Why have I been brought to this place? …”





Umblu prin mine

Ca printr-un oraş străin

În care nu cunosc pe nimeni.

Seara mi-e teamă pe străzi

Şi-n după-amieze ploioase

Mi-e frig şi urât.

Nici o dorinţă de-a călători,

Când şi numai trecerea drumului

E aventură,

Nici o amintire din alte vieţi


„De ce-am fost adusă aici?”…



I don’t dare to close my eyes for an instant.

I’m afraid

I’ll crush the world between my lids

And hear it all crunch to bits

Like a hazelnut between my teeth.

How long will I be able to keep myself awake?

How long will I be able to keep the world alive?

I stare at everything desperately

And feel a pity, like a dog,

For this helpless universe

That will end up dead in my eye when it shuts.



Ochiul închis


Nu îndrăznesc să-nchid o clipă ochii

de teamă

să a nu zdrobesc între pleoape lumea,

să n-o aud sfărâmându-se cu zgomot

ca o alună a între dinţi.

Cât timp voi mai putea fura din somn?

Cât timp o voi mai ţine-n viaţa?

Privesc cu disperare

si mi-e câineşte milă

de universul fără apărare

ce va pieri în ochiul meu închis.



I can’t stop the day from lasting twenty-four hours.

I can only say:

Forgive me for the length of the day.

I can’t stop the silkworms from turning into butterflies.

I can only ask you to forgive me

For the silkworm, for the butterfly.

Forgive me if the flower turns into fruit,

The fruit into seeds, the seeds into trees.

Forgive me if springs turn into rivers,

Rivers into seas, seas into oceans.

Forgive me if love turns into new-born babies,

New-born babies into loneliness, and loneliness into love . . .

No. I can’t stop anything.

Everything follows its course. Nothing consults with me –

Not the last grain of sand, not even my blood.

I can only ask you to

Forgive me.





Nu pot împiedica ziua să aibă douăzeci şi patru de ore.

Pot doar spune:

Iartă-mă pentru durata zilei;

Nu pot împiedica zborul fluturilor din viermi,

Pot doar să te rog să mă ierţi pentru viermi, pentru fluturi;

Iartă-mă că florile se fac fructe, şi fructele sâmburi,

Şi sâmburii pomi;

Iartă-mă că izvoarele se fac fluvii,

Şi fluviile mări, şi mările oceane;

Iartă-mă că iubirile se fac nou-născuţi,

Şi nou-născuţii singurătăţi, şi singurătăţile iubiri…

Nimic, nimic nu pot să împiedic,

Toate-şi urmează destinul şi nu mă întreabă,

Nici ultimul fir de nisip, nici sângele meu.

Eu pot doar spune –


No Choice 


They ushered me into the final trial,

The one that ends by sending us to live on earth.

They found me innocent and

Gave me the right

To choose myself.

But I didn’t want to be anything:

Not woman nor man,

Nor animal,

Not even a bird or a plant.

Out of the supreme right to choose

You could hear the seconds fall.

They plopped against the stone:

No, no, no, no.

They had led me to trial in vain.

In vain, they declared me innocent.





Adusă la marea judecată

Care se termină prin trimiterea pe pământ,

Eu, găsită nevinovată,

Am primit dreptul

Să mă aleg pe mine.

Dar nu bărbat, şi nu femeie,

Şi nici un animal n-am vrut să fiu,

Şi nici o pasăre, şi nici o plantă.

Se-aud secundele căzând

Din marele drept de-a alege.

Se-aud lovindu-se de piatră:

Nu, nu, nu, nu.

Zadarnic adusă la judecată,

Zadarnic nevinovată.

We Should Be


We should be born old,

Come wise into the world

Already able to choose our destiny,

Already knowing the pathways that lead from the crossroads of the origin.

Then, it would only be irresponsible to yearn to go ahead.

Afterwards, we’d gradually grow younger,

Come to the gateway of creation mature and strong,

Pass through, and enter into love as adolescents,

Then be children when our children are born.

They’d immediately be older than we are.

They’d teach us to talk; they’d rock us to sleep in a cradle,

And then we’d disappear, getting smaller and smaller,

Like a grape, like a pea, like a grain of wheat . . .



Ar trebui


Ar trebui să ne naştem bătrâni,

Să venim înţelepţi,

Să fim în stare de-a hotărî soarta noastră în lume,

Să ştim din răscrucea primară ce drumuri pornesc

Şi iresponsabil să fie doar dorul de-a merge.

Apoi să ne facem mai tineri, mai tineri, mergând,

Maturi şi puternici s-ajungem la poarta creaţiei,

Să trecem de ea şi-n iubire intrând adolescenţi,

Să fim copii la naşterea fiilor noştri.

Oricum ei ar fi atunci mai bătrâni decât noi,

Ne-ar învăţa să vorbim, ne-ar legăna să dormim,

Noi am dispărea tot mai mult, devenind tot mai mici,

Cât bobul de strugure, cât bobul de mazăre, cât bobul de grâu…



The sky begins at the tip of the wheat,

As though each stem was crowned

With a brimful goblet of burning blue.

And the wind, as it pushes their foreheads,

Stirs the wine of the sky.


The sky begins at the tip of the wheat,

And when, beneath the scythe,

The stems bend over and softly fall,

It will be as though they bowed with reverence

To pour out their goblets of sky on the earth.





Cerul începe din creştetul spicelor,

De parcă fiecare din ele-ar purta

Pe cap un vas mare umplut cu cer fierbinte,

Vinul cerului l-ar clătina


Cerul începe din creştetul spicelor,

Si atunci când sub secerătoare

Spicele se vor frânge cu duioşie, câzând,

Va părea doar că se-apleacă să pună

Vasul cu cer pe pământ.

About Paul Scott Derrick:

Paul Scott Derrick is a Senior Lecturer of American literature at the University of Valencia, Spain. His main field of interest is Romanticism and American Transcendentalism and their manifestations in the art and thought of the 20th and 21st centuries. His critical works include: Thinking for a Change: Gravity’s Rainbow and Symptoms of the Paradigm Shift in Occidental Culture (1994) and “We stand before the secret of the world”: Traces along the Pathway of American Romanticism (2003). He has co-edited several critical studies, including: Modernism Revisited: Transgressing Boundaries and Strategies of Renewal in American Poetry, with Viorica Patea (Rodopi, 2007); and with Norman Jope and Catherine E. Byfield, The Salt Companion to Richard Berengarten (Salt Publishing, 2011). As a translator, he has published bilingual English-Spanish editions of a number of works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Adams and Emily Dickinson and has co-authoredand co-translated, with Juan López Gavilán, a critical Spanish edition of Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs [La tierra de los abetos puntiagudos] (2008). He has also published translations into English of poems by Jorge de Montemayor, Luis Cernuda, Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. He is coordinating a critical study and translation into Spanish of Emily Dickinson’s fascicles and is currently preparing, with Miguel Teruel, a Spanish version of Richard Berengarten’s Black Light.