Spain

Luis Cernuda
Donde habite el olvido, 1932-3


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 ajena
aquel destino niño,
aquellos dulces ojos juveniles,
aquella antigua herida.

No, no quisiera volver,
Sino morir aún más,
arrancar una sombra,
olvidar un olvido.


Luis Cernuda (1902-1963) was a Spanish poet who spent nearly half his life in exile. As a member of the Generación del 27, an avant-garde group formed during the Second Spanish Republic, Cernuda was a contemporary of some of Spain’s most celebrated poets. In 1938 Cernuda traveled to the UK to give a series of lectures at Oxford and Cambridge. Though he intended to return to Spain, the end of the Civil War and the triumph of Francisco Franco made it impossible for him to return. Consequently, he spent the remainder of his life in the US and Mexico. Interestingly enough, this poem was written before his exile, published in a collection that dwells on a failed love affair. As the poetic voice draws nearer to death, past memories do not evoke comfort or happiness but rather pain and tragedy. In retrospect, the poem can be read in light of the Spanish Civil War and the loss of his homeland.


I do not wish, sad soul, to return
to the places crossed by my weeping,
beating secretly among living bodies
as I also was.

I do not wish to remember
a happy moment among anguishes;
joy or pain, it’s the same,
everything is sad upon return.

Like a faraway light
that infant destiny is still by my side,
those sweet youthful eyes,
that ancient wound.

No, I would not wish to return,
only to die even more,
to rip away a shadow,
to forget what is forgotten.


Cernuda’s poem presents a challenge for any translator in that the final verse is almost impossible to translate to English both in literal and symbolic senses. Cernuda closes with olvido, a word which escapes translation. The opposite of a memory, olvido is what results when the act of forgetting has taken its course. It’s final—irreversible—making the notion of forgetfulness inadequate in capturing how impactful the Spanish word is, especially as the closing word of the poem. Though Cernuda’s decision to end his poem with an erasure of a life lived, his tone remains slightly hopeful in that the poetic voice does not seem to fear death, but welcome it as a long overdue release from the pain of living. The poetic voice does not combat the passage of time. He realizes that the only thing potentially more destructive than the end of life is the inability to escape the past.

Cernuda, Luis. “No quiero triste espíritu.” La Realidad Y El Deseo.  2nd ed. Miguel J Flys. Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1983. 176. Print.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

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