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Vientos Del Pueblo Miguel Hernandez Analysis Essay

This year, October 30 marks the centennial birth anniversary of the Spanish poet Miguel Hernández, who died in prison in 1942. Unlike Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejos, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and other writers associated with the Spanish Civil War, Hernández remains relatively obscure outside Spain, where he continues to be loved and remembered. A fairly comprehensive critical anthology of his poetry translated into English is The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández (2001), which features translations by Ted Genoways (also the volume’s editor) and others such as Robert Bly, Philip Levine, and Edwin Honig.

Born of peasant stock in Orihuela, near the southeastern coast of Spain, he was a voracious reader encouraged by a local priest. He put in several years of studying at the Jesuit-run colegio (in an annex for the children of the poor) next to his home, but was forced to stop and help in his father’s livestock business. He continued to read, sometimes to the detriment of the flocks of sheep and goats in his care, and joined a circle of more affluent Orihuelan intellectuals led by a writer who went by the pen name Ramon Sijé. At meetings in a bakery, this group nurtured Hernández’s poetry, which would go through dramatic changes over the course of his short career.

He published only a handful of poetry books in his lifetime: Perito en lunas (1933), El Rayo que no cesa (1936), El viento del pueblo (1937), El hombre acecha (1939), and El cancionero y romancero de ausencias (1941). Each book represents a development of his style while reflecting a period in his life.

Perito en lunas reveals the precocious and youthful Hernández stumping readers and scholars with dense, metaphor-laden octets on everyday objects and situations, inspired by the medieval poet Luis de Góngora. In El rayo que no cesa he loosens his neo-Gongorism, swinging tentatively into surrealism in sonnets that celebrate and bemoan his love and lust for Josefina Manresa, who would later become his wife.

Out of this second volume comes one of his most emblematic poems, the “Elegía” to his friend Ramon Sijé, who died of illness at 23 (See an English translation here.). Hernández seems to hit his stride with this poem, in which the intellectual exercise of poetic imagery, metaphor, and form is enflamed with deeply felt emotion. The plaintive yet controlled voice in this poem reappears in the best of his late poetry, as in the piece often referred to as “Nanas de la cebolla.”

By the time his second book was published, Hernández had already gained entry into the literary circles of Madrid, forging strong friendships with future Nobel laureates Neruda and Vicente Aleixandre, and maintaining a prickly camaraderie with García Lorca, then the star of the Madrid culturati. Hernández had also begun to mythologize his background, using his humble origins to set himself apart from the cosmopolitan intellectual elite. He styled himself the Shepherd Poet and became a fixture of the literary scene.

El viento del pueblo and El hombre acecha show Hernández maturing into a poet of the people, opposing the evils of fascism and lamenting the bloodshed of the Guerra Civil. His daring surrealist imagery, already violent and passionate in the love sonnets of El rayo que no cesa, only needed to be married to a political stance to create his most enduring persona—that of a raging, melancholy herald of revolution. Already brutalized during a wrongful detention in 1936, he spoke out against fascist injustice and eventually joined the Republican Army.

His final book was composed during his three-year imprisonment after the end of the Civil War. He was apprehended after attempting to seek asylum in Portugal and transferred between 12 horrific Franco prisons. During his imprisonment his health deteriorated and he contracted the tuberculosis, pneumonia, and bronchitis that would eventually kill him. He suffered through primitive emergency surgeries (to drain his lungs of fluid) which only weakened him and allowed infections to spread. In letters to his wife he writes of being infested with lice and sleeping amongst rats.

El cancionero y romancero de ausencias, while dark and gloomy, is one of hope and peace. Poems end with images of light, love, and the future. The anger that flowed through his two previous books mellows into forgiveness, regret, and acceptance, belying the inhuman living conditions of his imprisonment. In his final poem, “Eterna sombra” the persona calls himself “una cárcel con una ventana” (“a prison cell with one window”) but transforms in the next stanza into “una abierta ventana que escucha” (“a listening open window”) through which life passes darkly. The poem’s last two lines affirm the existence of “un rayo de sol en la lucha / que siempre deja la sombra vencida” (roughly, “a ray of sun in the battle / that always leaves the shadows conquered”).

This tension between imprisonment and freedom may have been inspired by Hernández’s hometown, which comprised his physical and psychic universe. Although he lived in Madrid and Alicante as an adult, and traveled abroad to attend conferences, he never strayed far from Orihuela.

The city itself is small—a 10-minute walk from end to end. Streets are narrow and intersected by alleyways which allow only pedestrian traffic. The mountain looms in the corner of one's eye, and on the other end of town is the river and the world beyond. This self-enclosed world finds its way repeatedly into Hernández’s poems, and shapes the recurring poetic paradox of freedom-within-confinement.

Orihuela grew out of a walled Moorish settlement that was eventually reclaimed for Spain in the eighth century. No less than 33 Catholic churches stand within the perimeters of the old city, presided over by a seminary on a plateau on the mountain that stands behind Orihuela. The seminary was built over the ruins of a Moorish fortress, the crumbling battlements of which still stand on the mountaintop. This seminary was used as a prison during the 1940s, and was one of the last facilities in which Hernández was kept.

From the seminary plateau on the mountain behind Orihuela, one can clearly hear the noises of the city, brought by the cool wind. Inside the seminary’s thick walls, the city would be nonexistent, but for the cries of children in schoolyards, church bells tolling the hour, and the hum of distant traffic. It’s from this point as well that one gets a good view of the entire city, fitting neatly into an armspan. Beyond, the Spanish plains and neighboring mountains stretch away to the horizon.

From up here, the borders of the world are clearly defined, and yet also mark the beginning of the rest of the universe. On this mountain, perched atop the remains of a glorious but violent past, a young goatherd could believe in a better future for himself and understand that it was within reach. Hernández’s beloved Orihuela, for years the ambit of his life, was merely a fragment of a world that was conquerable. In him was an irrepressible expansiveness, marking him as a son of Spain, whose goal was once nothing less than the entire world.

Vicente Garcia Groyon has published a novel, The Sky over Dimas (De La Salle University Press, 2003), and a collection of short stories, On Cursed Ground and Other Stories (University of the Philippines Press, 2004), as well as edited anthologies of Philippine short fiction. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from De La Salle University-Manila, where he teaches while completing a PhD in Literature.

Miguel Hernández

Further Selected Poems

‘El lápiz de Miguel’
Óleo de Ramón Fernández Palmeral
Wikimedia Commons

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


Dedication (from The Man Watching, 1939)

To Pablo Neruda

Pablo: I hear you, I recall you in that land of yours, employing your voice for the struggle, facing the floods that carry off cattle and young girls to hurl them into your breast. I hear your footsteps made to travel the night, echoing once more over the pavements of Madrid , with those of Federico, Vicente, Delia, and my own. I remember the dawns around us that illuminated us with a topaz blue of universal flesh, at the threshold of a tavern confused by tears and frost, like widowers wounded by the moon.

Pablo: A sombre rosebush comes to bloom above me, over a familiar cradle that breaks open little by little, until I glimpse within it, beside a child of suffering, the depths of the earth. Now I remember, and understand more fully that embattled house of yours, and I ask myself: how could it be merely a consulate when Pablo was the consul?

You demand heart, and so do I. See the many mouths ashen with rancour, hunger, death, pallid from lack of song and laughter: parched from not engaging in the profoundest of kisses. But see how people smile with a blossoming sadness, auguring the coming of substantial joy. It will respond to us. And the taverns, gloomy as funeral parlours today, will radiate the most penetrating splendour of poetry and wine.


‘Silence of metal sad and sonorous’

(XIV: From ‘El Rayo Que No Cesa’, 1936)

Silence of metal sad and sonorous,

swords clustering with love

in the depths of the ruinous bone

of the bull’s volcanic regions.

The moistness of feminine gold

smelt, set splendour in his blood:

his roar took refuge among flowers

like a vast hurricane of lament.

He is drowning the tender clover

of coupling and fiery goring

with the grief of a thousand lovers.

Beneath his skin concealed furies

in the cradle of his horns,

are spinning thoughts of death.


‘My name is earth though I’m named Miguel’

(XV: From ‘El Rayo Que No Cesa’)

My name is earth, though I’m named Miguel.

Earth is my craft and my destiny

and stains what it licks with its tongue.

I’m a sad component of pathways.

I’m a sweetly infamous tongue,

worshipping feet that I love.

Like a nocturnal ox of floods and fallows

that yearns to be a creature worshipped,

I fawn on your shoes, and all around them,

and, made for covering, and made for kisses,

I kiss your heel that wounds me, strew it with flowers.

I set a remembrance of my being

on your biting heel, under your tread,

and at your step I advance

lest your indifferent foot despise

all the love I’ve raised towards it.

Moister than my face with its tears,

when the glass bleats frozen wool,

when winter closes your window

I fall at your feet, the tip of a wing,

a soiled wing, and heart of earth.

I fall at your feet a molten branch

of lowly honey, trampled, alone,

a heart despised and a heart fallen,

formed like seaweed, ocean’s aspect.

Earth, in vain, I’m clothed with poppies,

earth, in vain, emptied I see my arms,

earth, in vain I bite at your heels,

dealing maleficent wing-blows

foul words like convulsed hearts.

You hurt me in treading, printing

the track of your going upon me,

it tears, it ruptures the armour,

of honeyed duality circling my mouth

in the pure and living flesh,

ever begging to be crushed to pieces

by your free and madcap hare’s foot.

Its taciturn cream curdles,

a sobbing shakes its tree

of cerebral wool at your tread.

And you pass, and it remains

burning its winter wax before the sunset,

martyr, jewel and grass to the wheel.

Weary of yielding to the whirling

daggers of wagons and hooves,

fear, from the earth, a spawn of creatures

with corrosive skin and vengeful claws.

Fear the earth reborn in an instant,

fear lest it rise and grow and cover,

tenderly and jealously

your reed-like ankle, my torment,

fear lest it drowns the nard of your legs

and rising ascends to your brow.

Fear lest it raises a hurricane

from the bland territory of winter

and bursts in thunder and falls in rain

into your blood harsh and tender.

Fear an assault of offended foam

and fear an amorous cataclysm.

Before the drought consumes it

earth must turn to earth again.


Elegy for Federico García Lorca

(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)

Death traverses, with rusty lances,

bearing its cannon, the barren plains

where men cultivate roots and hopes,

raining salt, and scattering skulls.

Green of the gardens,

what skies let happiness thrive?

Sunlight rots the blood, sets it with snares,

and renders the shadows more sombre.

Grief and its cloak

come to meet us once more.

And once more into an alley of tears

rain-soaked I enter.

Ever I see myself within

the shadow of withdrawn bitterness

formed by eyes and staves,

that a candle of agony posts at the entrance

and a furious necklace of hearts.

To weep into a well,

into the one disconsolate source

of water, of sobbing,

of the heart’s longing;

where none would see my voice or image,

or would witness the rest of my tears.

I enter slowly, I bow my head

slowly, my heart is torn

slowly, and slowly and blackly

I weep again at the foot of a guitar.

Amidst all the dead of the elegies,

without forgetting the echo of any,

my tear-stained hand chooses one,

who resonates most in my soul.

Federico Garcia

he was once called: dust is his name.

Once he had his place in the sun

today he lies in a hole in the grass.

So much! So much, and now nothing!

Your joyful energy

that energised columns and rows,

you shake and uproot with your teeth,

and now you are sad, and only wish

for the paradise of the grave.

Formed as a skeleton,

dreaming of lead,

armed with indifference and respect

between your eyebrows, you I see, if I gaze.

It has blown away your dovelike life,

that circled the sky and the windows

with foam and cooing

in a torrent of feathers,

that wind, that blows the months away.

Cousin to the apples,

the worm cannot quench your sap,

the maggot cannot consume your death,

and to add fierce health to its fruit

the apple tree will elect your bones.

Though they choke the source of your saliva,

son of the dove,

grandson, of the nightingale and the olive:

you will still be, while the earth turns,

husband of the immortelle

rich soil at the root of the honeysuckle.

How simple death is: how simple,

but how unfairly won!

It can’t move slowly, and inflicts

when you least expect it, its turbid wound.

You, the strongest building, ruined,

you, the highest hawk, despoiled,

you, the loudest roar,

hushed, hushed, ever hushed.

May your joyful illustrious blood fall

like a cascade of furious hammers

on those who fatally detained you.

May saliva and sickles

fall on the stains on their brows.

A poet dies and creation feels

the hurt and the dying inside.

A cosmic tremor of icy sweats

shakes the mountains in terror,

and splendour of death the wombs of the rivers.

I hear villages moan and valleys lament,

I see a forest of eyes never dry,

avenues of mourning and veils:

in gusts of wind and leaves,

sorrows on sorrows on sorrows,

tears on tears on tears.

They will not scatter, or blow away, your bones,

volcano of sweetness, thunder of honeycombs,

poet entwined with the bitter and sweet,

who felt the warmth of kisses

between two long files of daggers,

vast love, vast death, vast fire.

To accompany your death,

peopling the corners of sky

and earth, come harmonious flocks,

bolts of blue lightening.

Rattlesnakes hail in abundance,

battalions of gypsies, flutes, tambourines,

showers of bees and violins,

storms of guitars and pianos,

irruptions of trumpets and brass.

But silence exceeds any instrument.

Silent, abandoned, caked with the dust

in the desert of death,

it seems your tongue, it seems your breath,

have shot home the bolt of a door.

As if I walked with your shade,

I walk with mine,

on earth that silence has clothed,

that the cypress would see ever darker.

Your agony grips my throat

like the iron of a gallows,

and I taste a funeral libation.

You know, Federico García Lorca,

I am of those who suffer death each day.


The Winds of the People

(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)

The winds of the people carry me,

the winds of the people blow me on,

scattering this heart of mine

and readying my throat.

Oxen bow their heads,

impotently weak,

at their punishment:

lions lift theirs

and at the same time punish

with their clamorous claws.

I am not from a race of oxen,

I am from a race that holds

the mines of lions,

the passes of eagles,

and the ridges of bulls

with pride in the horn.

Oxen never prospered

in the wastes of Spain .

Who spoke of throwing a yoke

over the neck of this race?

Who ever yoked

or hobbled a hurricane?

or kept a lightning bolt

a prisoner in a jail?

Asturians of courage,

Basques of armoured stone,

Valencians of happiness

and Castilians of soul,

labouring like the earth

graceful as wings;

Amdalusians of lightning

born among the guitars

and forged on torrential

anvils of tears;

Estramadurans of rye,

Galicians of rain and calm,

Catalans of firmness

Aragonese of lime,

Murcians of dynamite

fruitfully multiplied,

Leonese, Navarrese, masters

of hunger, sweat and the axe,

kings of minerals,

lords of the tilled soil,

men who among the roots,

like elegant roots,

go from life to death,

go from void to void:

people of ill descent

want to put yokes on you,

yoke you must leave

broken across their backs.

The twilight of the oxen

is the point of daybreak.

Oxen die humble,

clothed in the stink of stables;

the eagles, the lions,

the bulls, die with pride,

and behind them the sky

is un-darkened and endless.

The agony of the oxen

makes the spirit small,

that of the wild creature

enhances all creation.

If I am dying, let me die

with my head held high.

Dead and twenty times dead,

my mouth in the grass,

I’ll keep my teeth clenched

and my chin resolute.

Singing I wait for death,

for there are nightingales that sing

above the fusillades

and in the midst of battle.


The Olive Harvesters

(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)

Andalusians of Jaén,

proud harvesters of olives,

tell me from your soul, then,

who made the olive groves?

They did not come from nothing,

from money, nor the masters,

only from the silent earth,

and from sweat and toil.

United with pure water,

united with the planets,

the three made the beauty

of the twining trunks.

Rise, white olive tree,

they said at the wind’s feet.

And the olive raised an arm

weighty as concrete.

Andalusians of Jaén,

proud harvesters of olives,

tell me from your soul, then,

who nursed the olive groves?

Your blood, your lives,

not the exploiters’

who were enriched by

your sweat’s generous stream.

Not that of the owner

who buried you in poverty,

who beat at your brows,

who lowered your gaze.

Trees that your zeal

blessed at midday

were the source of bread

that only others ate.

How many ages of olives,

fettered feet and hands,

suns on suns, and moons on moons

weigh on your bones?

Andalusians of Jaén,

proud harvesters of olives,

tell me from your soul, then,

whose are these olive groves?

Jaén, rise bravely

from your lunar stone,

you’ll not be enslaved

nor all your olive groves.

Within the clarity

of oil and its aromas,

they reveal your liberty

the liberty of your loam.


Song of the Soldier Husband

(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)

I have sown your womb with love and seed,

prolonged the echo of blood I answered

and I wait in the furrow as the plough waits:

I have reached into the depths.

Dar-haired girl of high towers, lights and eyes,

wife of my skin, deep gulp of my life,

your mad breasts swell towards me, with the leap

of a pregnant doe.

You seem to me like a delicate crystal,

I fear with my lightest touch I’ll break you,

and I come with my soldier’s skin to reinforce

your veins like a cherry-tree.

Mirror of flesh, support for my wings,

I give life to you in the death they give me but do not take.

Woman, woman, I love you encircled by bullets,

troubled by lead.

Over the fierce coffins in ambush,

over the dead themselves without grave or remedy,

I love you, and long to kiss you with all my heart

until we turn to dust, my wife.

When I reach the battlefield I think of you

my brow not cooling or calming your image,

you approach me like a vast horizon

of hungry teeth.

Write for the battle: feel for me in the trenches:

here with my gun I invoke and fix your name,

and defend your poor womb that awaits me,

and defend your child.

Our child will be born with a clenched fist,

clothed in the clamour of triumph and guitars,

and I will leave my soldiering at the door

toothless and clawless.

One must murder to go on living.

One day I’ll enter the far-off shadows of your hair,

and sleep in sheets starched and crackling

sewn by your hand.

Your implacable legs advance towards childbirth,

and your implacable mouth with indomitable lips,

and prior to my solitude of explosions and breaches

you travel a road of implacable kisses.

The peace I am forging shall exist for the child.

And at last in an ocean of irremediable bones

your heart and mine will shipwreck, leaving

a woman and a man, exhausted by kisses.


Letter

(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)

The pigeon-house of letters

launches impossible flights

from the rickety tables

where memory leans,

absence’s weight,

the heart, the silence.

I hear the wing-beat of letters

sailing towards their fate.

Wherever I go I meet

with women and with men

injured by absence,

worn away by time.

Letters, tales, letters:

postcards and dreams,

fragments of tenderness

hurled towards the sky,

sent from blood to blood

from longing to longing.

Although beneath the earth

my loving body may lie,

write to me on earth,

so that I can reply.

In a corner hush

old letters, old scraps.

with the colour of age

coating the writing.

There letters perish

full of trembling.

There ink suffers

and pages fade,

and paper tears,

in a little graveyard

of passions past

of loves to come.

Although beneath the earth

my loving body may lie,

write to me on earth,

so that I can reply.

When I write to you

the inkwell stirs,

the cold black well

blushes and trembles,

and a clear human warmth

rises from dark depths.

When I write to you,

my bones begin to write:

I write with indelible ink

of my feelings to you.

There goes my warm letter,

a pigeon forged in flame,

with its folded wings

in the midst its address.

Bird that simply heads for

its nest through air and sky,

your flesh, your hands, your eyes,

and the spaces of your breath.

And you will be naked

beneath your feelings,

unclothed, so as to feel

it all against your breast.

Although beneath the earth

my loving body may lie,

write to me on earth,

so that I can reply.

Yesterday a letter remained

abandoned and unclaimed,

hovering over the eyes

of one whose body was lost.

Letters remain alive

speaking for the dead:

Paper, yearning, human,

without eyes to read it.

Though the teeth chatter,

I hear it growing louder

the soft voice of your letter

like an immense clamour.

I’ll welcome it in sleep,

if I can’t stay awake.

And my wounds will be

flowing wells of ink,

mouths that will tremble

remembering your kisses,

and in their unheard voice

they will murmur: I love you.


Last Song

(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)

Painted, not void:

my house is painted

with the vast colour

of tragedy and passion.

It will return from depths

of tears where it was carried

with its empty table,

with is ruined bed.

Kisses will flower

over the pillows.

And wrapped around bodies

the sheet will create

its immense tangle

perfumed, nocturnal.

Hatred will die down

beyond the window.

The talons will be gentle.

Grant me this hope.


Each Time I Pass

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

Each time I pass

beneath your window,

the perfume strikes me

that still floats through your house.

Each time I pass

pass by the graveyard

the power arrests me

that still breathes through your bones.


Carry Me to the Graveyard

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

Carry me to the graveyard

of worn-out shoes.

At all hours throw me

a pen of wild-broom.

Sow me with statues

rigidly gazing.

Through an orchard of mouths,

promising, golden

my shade will glow.


Grasses, Nettles

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

Grasses, nettles,

advance into autumn

with silkiness

and a slow tenderness.

Autumn, a flavour

that separates things,

that pulls them apart.

It rains on a roof

as if on a coffin

while the grass-blade grows

like a young wing.

The same sap nurtures

the grasses, the nettles.


Wretched Wars

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

Wretched wars

when love is not our aim.

Wretched, wretched.

Wretched weapons

those that are not words.

Wretched, wretched.

Wretched men

that die not out of love.

Wretched, wretched.


Lullaby of the Onion

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

The onion is frost

enclosed and poor:

frost of your days

and of my nights.

Hunger and onions,

black ice and frost

great and round.

In hunger’s cradle

my little son lay.

With onion-blood

he was nurtured.

But your blood’s

frosted with sugar,

onions and hunger.

A dark-haired woman,

dissolved in moonlight,

spills herself ray by ray

over the cradle.

Laugh, little one,

drink moonlight

if you must.

Lark of my house,

laugh on.

The laughter in your eyes

is the light of the world.

Laugh so that

hearing you, my soul

will fly through space.

Your laughter frees me,

grants me wings.

Solitude it banishes,

pulls down my prison.

Mouth that soars,

heart that is lightning

on your lips.

Your laugh is a sword,

ever victorious.

Conqueror of flowers

and larks.

Rival of sunlight,

future of my bones

and my love.

The flesh flutters,

sudden as an eyelid,

a child as never before

painted.

How many goldfinches

soar and flutter

from your body!

I woke from childhood.

Never wake.

My mouth is sad.

Laugh forever.

Ever in your cradle,

defending laughter

feather by feather.

You’re a flight so high,

so extensive,

that your flesh is the sky

newborn.

If only I could

climb to the source

of your flight!

For eight months you laugh

with five orange blossoms.

With five tiny

ferocities.

With five teeth

like five adolescent

jasmine buds.

They’ll be the frontier

of kisses tomorrow,

when you feel a weapon

between your teeth.

Feel a flame

run past your teeth

seeking the core.

Fly child on the double

moon of her breast.

It, saddened by onions.

You, satisfied.

Never give way.

Ignore what passes

ignore what happens.


The Last Corner

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

The last and first corner

for the finest sunlight,

the tomb of this life,

and no room for your eyes.

I would like to lie down there

to disengage from love.

I desire it by the olive tree,

I sense it on the street,

it sinks into corners

where the trees are sunk.

It bores down and deepens

the intensity in my blood.

The moribund olive-trees

all flower in the air

and the lads are left

around them, dying.

Flesh of my movements,

bones of mortal rhythm:

I am dying of breathing,

at all of your gestures.

Heart between stones

anxious to crush you,

you drown in this love

like a sea between seas.

I drown in this love,

and yet I can’t drown.

Kiss that comes rolling

from the world’s origin

to my mouth for your lips.

Kiss that seeks futures,

mouth a binary star

that throbs between stars

for so many failed kisses,

so many closed mouths

without even one kiss.

What did I do that they commit

so much of my life to jail?

Your dark hair where black

has suffered the ages

of the deepest black

the most stirring:

that eternal dark hair

I travel to reach to

the primal darkness

of your ancestral eyes,

to the corner of dense hair

where you flash lightning.

Like a solitary corner

where a man spurts and burns.

Ay, the corner of your womb;

the alley of your body:

the alley without exit

where I died one afternoon.

Explosives and love

advance through the cities

dazzling, stirring

the people of blood.

The orange-tree tastes of life

and the olive-tree tastes of time.

And between the clamour of both

my passions hold their debate.

The last and first corner

where the corpse of some dead man

hears the lulling of the world

from the river-way of love.

Siesta that has darkened

the sun of moist places.

I would like to lie down there

to disengage from love.

After love, the earth.

After the earth, no one.


Casida of the Thirsty Man

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

Ocaña, May 1941.

Sand of the desert

am I: a desert of thirst.

An oasis your mouth

where I cannot drink.

Mouth: oasis laid open

to all the desert sands.

A watering-hole in the midst

of a burning world,

that of your body, yours,

that never will be ours.

Body: a sealed well

that thirst and the sun have burned.


To Smile with the Sad Joy of the Olive-Tree

(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)

To smile with the sad joy of the olive-tree.

To wait. Never to tire of hoping for joy.

We smile. We gild the light of every day

with this sad joyful vanity of being alive.

Every day I feel freer and more a captive

of that full smile so clear and so shadowed.

Tempests blow over your frozen mouth

while over mine still blows a summer breeze.

A smile rises up over the abyss: grows

like a tremulous abyss, bravely winged.

A smile lifts warmly upwards in flight.

Diurnal, firm, it arrives, no fall, no darkening.

You defy all things, love: you scale them all.

In a smile you were both earth and heaven.


Index of First Lines

  • To Pablo Neruda
  • Silence of metal sad and sonorous,
  • My name is earth, though I’m named Miguel.
  • Death traverses, with rusty lances,
  • The winds of the people carry me,
  • Andalusians of Jaén,
  • I have sown your womb with love and seed,
  • The pigeon-house of letters
  • Painted, not void:
  • Each time I pass
  • Carry me to the graveyard
  • Grasses, nettles,
  • Wretched wars
  • The onion is frost
  • The last and first corner
  • Sand of the desert
  • To smile with the sad joy of the olive-tree.

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