Foreword

Our first issue of Purple Ink is an exploration of boundaries. By choosing time, we propose a theme that mirrors the very nature and purpose of this magazine: translating poetry and creating a space where different languages and eras converge.

As with time — which the more we try to grasp or measure, the more elusive it becomes — any attempt of translation reveals the inevitable irony of language: the same words that allow us to communicate meaning become unattainable and boundless when transformed into poetry. As time becomes manifold when our minds revivify the past in our present, translation — and poetry, for that matter — results in nothing but a reminder of the endless words that have not been written.

Poetic is the language that expresses the time of our inner-self, that intimate essence of our lives. In this first issue of Purple Ink, the poems we present are expressions of time as plurality of forms, images, feelings, thoughts, sounds and words.

Despite the different eras, places of origin, and languages of the eight poets whose original and translated work we publish in this issue, each poet was deeply concerned with time. Although their perceptions vary, they are all aware of time’s inescapable powers as the vehicle of death, the most fatal victim of war, the paradox of uncertainty, or the possibility of change.

Argentina

Jorge Luis Borges
El Hacedor, 1960

Arte Poética

Mirar el río hecho de tiempo y agua
y recordar que el tiempo es otro río,
saber que nos perdemos como el río
y que los rostros pasan como el agua.

Sentir que la vigilia es otro sueño
que sueña no soñar y que la muerte
que teme nuestra carne es esa muerte
de cada noche, que se llama sueño.

Ver en el día o en el año un símbolo
de los días del hombre y de sus años,
convertir el ultraje de los años
en una música, un rumor y un símbolo,

ver en la muerte el sueño, en el ocaso
un triste oro, tal es la poesía
que es inmortal y pobre. La poesía
vuelve como la aurora y el ocaso.

A veces en las tardes una cara
nos mira desde el fondo de un espejo;
el arte debe ser como ese espejo
que nos revela nuestra propia cara.

Cuentan que Ulises, harto de prodigios,
lloró de amor al divisar su Itaca
verde y humilde. El arte es esa Itaca
de verde eternidad, no de prodigios.

También es como el río interminable
que pasa y queda y es cristal de un mismo
Heráclito inconstante, que es el mismo
y es otro, como el río interminable.

Ars Poetica

To look at the river made of time and water
and to remember that time is another river,
to know that we lose ourselves like the river
and that faces pass by like the water.

To feel that wakefulness is another sleep
that dreams of not dreaming and that
the death that our flesh fears is that
death that comes every night,
which is called sleep.

To see in the day or the year a symbol
of the days of man and his years;
to turn the insult of the years
into a music, a murmur and a symbol.

To see sleep in death, in the sunset
a sad gold, such is poetry
that is immortal and poor. Poetry
returns like the dawn and the sunset.

At times in the evenings a face
looks at us from the depths of a mirror;
Art should be like that mirror
that reveals to us our own face.

They say that Ulysses, sick of marvels,
cried tears of love at the sight of his Ithaca
green and modest. Art is that Ithaca
of green eternity, not of marvels.

It is also like the endless river
that flows and remains and mirrors the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and is another, like the endless river.


Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was a literary chameleon, producing poetry, translations, critical essays and short stories across the span of his life. Borges is an ideal candidate for this issue dealing with the notion of time as his works often ponder the complexities of dreams, mirrors, refractions and alternate realities, all of which mimic the infinite and elusive nature of time. Furthermore, Borges himself read works in translation and wrote perhaps one of his most celebrated pieces in English rather than his native Spanish.


This piece can be translated as “Poetic Art” or “The Art of Poetry” because it is, at its base, a poem about poetry. Ultimately, it is often translated as “Ars Poetica” in reference to the eponymous poem by Horace in which he offers advice to aspiring poets. As such, “Arte Póetica” is Borges’s proposition of what poetry can be and what it can achieve. His play with repetition and metaphor demonstrates how to skillfully craft representation without being heavy-handed. We see many representations of time in Borges’s work: the endless river that represents the continuity of time, the mirror with infinite reflections and the interplay between sleep and death where dreams can be read as an alternative reality that overcomes death. The images capture the infinite nature of time which can only be conveyed through metaphor. It is thus the power of words in poetry that extends past the power of time by being able to represent time itself. Borges seeks to show that while human life cannot surpass time, poetry can withstand it. Time passes, yet poetry endures.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “Arte Poética.” Obra Poética. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1989. 161-2. Print.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

Brazil

Myriam Fraga
Março, 1996

Março

… e estes marços doendo como pedras nos rins, charadas que não invento e nem sei de memória

se há memória além de um domingo de março azul, perfeito. todas as areias rolaram sobre de todas as possíveis clepsidras só o olho-farol, olho brilhante antigo,

a me guiar nas trevas do regresso, não haverá, não haverá porto, viajante, nenhuma Ítaca te espera,

nenhuma Cólchida, nem mesmo os arrecifes no cais de tua infância. apenas a morte suave de olhos tristes tão rápida e indolor, tão limpa guilhotina

… e estas tardes de março viageiras. Sei o peso da ausência, sei a dor das lembranças tatuadas na carne, coladas e desfolhadas como pele queimada que se arranca. nenhuma presença é mais real que a falta, corpo de solidão deslizando entre móveis, marfins, folhas soltas de um livro, marca da prata, desenhos no tapete, cavalos, leão de pedra, lembranças que se acendem em faróis iluminando o outro lado do abismo, o precipício, o vazio, onde tudo se acaba.

March

…and these aching Marches like kidney stones, riddles I don’t invent nor recall from
memory

if there is memory beyond a blue Sunday in March, perfect. all sands ran through all possible hourglasses, only the lighthouse-eye, that shining antique eye,

to guide me home in the darkness, there will not be, there will not be a port, traveler, no Ithaca waits for you,

no Colchis, not even the reefs at the wharf of your childhood. just the delicate death of sad eyes so fast and painless, so clean the guillotine.

…and these traveling March afternoons. I know the weight of absence, I know the pain of memories tattooed on flesh, taut and peeling like skin burnt and blistered. no presence is more real than absence. lonely body slipping between furniture, ivories, loose pages from a book, silver crest, designs in the rug, horses, stone lion, keepsakes alight in lighthouses illuminating the other side of the abyss, the precipice, the empty, where everything runs out.


Myriam Fraga up until her passing in February 2016 was, and continues to be, one of the leading literary figures of Salvador da Bahia. Born in Salvador in 1937, Fraga counts among her contemporaries the writers Sônia Coutinho and Fernando de Rocha Peres, artist Calazans Neto, and filmmaker Glauber Rocha. She was the long-time friend of the world-famous Jorge Amado and his writer wife Zelia Gattai, as well as the visual artist Carybé. Her first book of poetry, A ilha, was published in 1964 by Edições Macunaíma, Glauber Rocha’s press. She produced over 10 volumes of poetry plus several children’s books on popular figures in Bahian culture. Fraga led the helm at the Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado (the organization responsible for his archival materials) as the institution’s executive director since its inception in 1986. In 2015, she was named the vice president of the Academy of Letters of Bahia.


The major motifs of Fraga’s expansive body of work include the ocean—and by extension islands, voyages, and shipwrecks—; the city, most often Salvador da Bahia; ancestrality; and mythology of such diverse incarnations as African fables, biblical legend, and Greek epic. She tightly weaves this imagery to contemplate on memory and the collective history of Salvador, Brazil, and the world.

This poem is part of a collection entitled Calendário, or Calendar, which includes a poem for each month of the year. “March,” in particular, is a coming to terms with the death of the poet’s father.

Fraga, Myriam. “Março.” Femina. Salvador: Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado, 1996. Print.

Prepared by Chloe Hill

France

Charles Baudelaire
Les fleurs du mal, 1857

Chant d’automne

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
J’entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l’hiver va rentrer dans mon être:
colère, Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,
Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon cœur ne sera plus qu’un bloc rouge et glacé.

J’écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe
L’échafaud qu’on bâtit n’a pas d’écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

II me semble, bercé par ce choc monotone,
Qu’on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part.
Pour qui? — C’était hier l’été; voici l’automne!
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ

Song of Automne

Soon we will plunge into the cold darkness;
Farewell, vivid brightness of our short-lived summers!
Already I hear the dismal sound of firewood
Falling with a clatter on the courtyard pavement.

All of winter will return to my being: anger,
Hate, horror, shivering, hard and forced labor,
And, like the sun in his polar hell,
My heart will be no more than a frozen and red block.

I listen trembling to each falling log
The scaffold that is built has no sound more dull.
My spirit resembles the tower which crumbles
Under the tireless blows of the battering ram.

It seems to me, lulled by these monotonous shocks,
That somewhere one nails a coffin in great haste.
For whom? — Yesterday was summer; here is autumn!
This mysterious noise sounds like a departure.


Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is one of France’s most celebrated poets and his iconic work, Les Fleurs du Mal, has achieved international fame. Baudelaire began work on Les fleurs du mal after a trip to India in 1841. The influence of his trip—the themes of journey and of the sea—are apparent in the collection as the poems constitute a voyage through time and space. During his lifetime, Baudelaire would play an active role in the political discourse revolving around the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe as a writer for various French newspapers. His work takes on a reporter-like quality as he sheds light on the inevitability of change and the constant evolution of both the city and its inhabitants.


In “Chant d’automne,” the first half of which is featured here, Baudelaire addresses the changing of seasons in relation to the changing of his temperament. The poem opens with an address that simultaneously bids farewell to the past while looking towards the future. The opening exclamation signals the end of summer, a season that Baudelaire associates with the sun and its warmth and light. Contrasting with summer is the winter, which looms on the horizon as a frigid and dark omen. Baudelaire parallels the dichotomy between summer and winter with that of life and death. Haunted by the looming threat of entrapment, the narrator realizes that between summer and winter comes autumn, a season which presents the mysterious possibility of change. Baudelaire’s invocation of the changing of seasons, with particular emphasis on the tension between summer and winter, highlights the cyclic nature of time. Presented as a period of transition by Baudelaire, autumn represents a point of interest as it symbolizes the tranquility of a space between past life and future death.

 

Baudelaire, Charles. “LVI Chant d’automne.” Les fleurs du mal. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1961. 57-8. Print.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

Italy

Giuseppe Ungaretti
Allegria di naufragi, 1919

Mattina

Santa Maria La Longa il 26 gennaio 1917.

M’illumino
d’immenso.

Natale
Non ho voglia
di tuffarmi
in un gomitolo
di strade
Ho tanta
stanchezza
sulle spalle

Lasciatemi così
come una  cosa
Posata
in un
angolo
e dimenticata

Qui
non si sente
altro
che il caldo buono
Sto
con le quattro
capriole
di fumo
del focolare


“Santa Maria La Longa il 26 gennaio 1917” was the tragic scenario where the poet was writing these lines: at the front, during the First World War. Santa Maria La Longa is a small town in northeastern Italy, in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. This land has an ancient history; it’s inhabitants predate the Romans. The landscape is flat and there are many canals for the irrigation of the fields. It is a rural place, where for centuries the land has been transformed and shaped by manual work. At the time when the poet was composing, this ancient relationship between human beings and territory was troubled by the war: trenches instead of canals, corpses in place of seeds. In this dramatic situation, when daylight shines and the soldiers see it, it suddenly occurs to them what it feels to be alive. This poem is an image of light, it depicts a moment of illumination, in which the poet expresses the infinite happiness of feeling alive. Ungaretti’s language is skimmed of adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and reduced to its fundamental components: names and verbs. Ungaretti defines this language “the naked word”, which according to him is the only language able to describe the human tragedy of the war.

Morning

Santa Maria La Longa January 26 1917.

I am bright
with infinitude.

the Nativity
I do not wish
to plunge
into a tangle
of streets
Such
weariness
weighs down my back

Leave me like this:
a thing
posed
in a
corner
and forgotten

Here
nothing is felt
but
kind heat
I remain
with the four
pirouettes
of smoke
from the hearth


I want to thank Professor Ronald Martínez for his precious suggestions in translating these poems into English.

The war is a catastrophe that deprives all human beings of time: it denies the pleasure of memories of the past, it impedes the development of a satisfying present, and inhibits the dreaming of a better future. However, not everything is lost: few places remain safe. Among them is the one described in the second poem by Ungaretti, that intimate place close to the fireplace, where one can stay alone in the quietness. There, self-defenses fall, and the pirouettes of the burning fire create a sort of spell that overtakes the chaotic reality. Close to the fire, the poet feels an extemporal dimension in which he wishes to stay without feeling time passing, like an inanimate object.

I believe that the intimate and interior-temporal dimension expressed in these two poems is essential to approach Ungaretti’s imagery, and both my translations and comment develop this idea.

 

Prepared by Leonora Masini

Macedonia

Aco Šopov
1969

Златен круг на времетo

Старинска ѕвездо, ѕвездо на пророци и чуда, –
распрсни се во стихот, потони во најцрн мрак.
Повеќе трае во крвта оваа светлина луда
и овој невидлив пламен што нема ни име ни знак.

 
Сениште ѕвездено, ѕвездо на студена мора, –
исчезни со сите наречници со сите митови падни.
Под ова стебло од зборови зараснати во столетна кора
се пали страшен оган и горат корени гладни.

 
Кој си ти што идеш со лузни од правта на векот дален,
со едно дамна во неврат отшумено време,
и место лика на некој очајник жален
ностиш суров закон за себе и своето племе?

 
Гласи сe со виј од молк, проговори со поглед нем,
засводен во својот говор со јазли семоќно власни,
и како ненужен воин со очи од црнозем
обѕрни се во кругот златен и победоносен згасни.

Старинска ѕвездо, ѕвездо на пророци и чуда,–
распрсни се во стихот, потони во најдлабок збор,
додека трае во крвта оваа светлина луда
овој подземен оган, овој непрегор.

The Golden Circle of Time

Olden star, star of prophets and wonders, –
burst into verse, sink down into the blackest darkness.
This mad light lasts more in blood
and this invisible flame that has no sign nor name.

Starry ghost, star of a cold nightmare, –
disappear with all the fortunetellers with all the fallen myths.
Under this trunk of words planted on a hundred year crust
a dreadful fire is being lit and hungry roots are burning.

Who are you that comes with scars from the dust of a distant age,
with a time long unsounded into irreversibility,
and instead of the air of a poor man in despair
you bring a cruel law for yourself and your kin?

Voice yourself with a scream of silence, speak out with a mute glance,
arched in your speech with nods powerfully threaded,
and like an unnecessary warrior with black earth eyes
look around in the golden circle and victoriously fade out.

Olden star, star of prophets and wonders, –
burst into verse, sink down into the deepest word,
while this mad light lasts in the blood
this underground fire, this eternal ember.


Aco Šopov (1923-1982) and I were born in the same city; we grew up under the myopic eye of the same medieval ruins, under that beloved hill, the Isar.  He, as Yugoslavia was being born, and I, as it was dying. Šopov made it to Africa as the Yugoslav Ambassador to Senegal (1971). He was a partisan in World War II, and founding member of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (1967). He died in the same country where he was born, in Skopje, on the 42nd parallel north. As I am reading Šopov’s poem in downtown Chicago (and where else should you be? – Marija says to me), the “L” is rumbling in the background. The Red Line is circulating above my head, always the same route, different passengers every time. The Chicago Loop. The rusty belt of the Windy City.  I am reading this poem, with all of my academic literary baggage weighing me down. But I realize that I am reluctant to apply any of it to these words, written in Macedonian, a language that smells of wet soil, knee wounds, and petroleum lamps, and of trouble, slightly. This is not like reading Montale, my Genoan friend who, unknowingly, is the poet of Lake Michigan. This is not Cesário Verde and his mad Lisbon. These words are the last thread of the umbilical cord to the “rodina” or “birth land” or “Heimat” or “patria” that scars if not severed during childhood. Scars ache when it is about to rain, my baba used to say. This is a poem of home and Šopov a poet of elementary school memorization.


“Prophets,” “blackest darkness,” “blood,” “flame,” “ghost,” “cold nightmare,” “fortunetellers,” “fallen myths,” “dreadful fire,” “burning,” “scars,” “dust,” “despair,” “cruel law,” “mad light,” “blood.” A semantic field (I was taught to say) that encompasses possibly the entire history of the Balkan Peninsula. I read “blood,” and the red background of the Macedonian flag comes to mind which, we were told in school, represents the suffering of our people throughout centuries of foreign rule and the blood they spilled for freedom. I read “golden circle” and “olden star” and I am a five-year-old trying with great effort to outline carefully and color the yellow Socialist star that was then replaced by the Vergina Sun, to then burst and spread onto the blood-red background, like a distant cousin of Tibet. Freedom, they told us it represents. What of the prophets, the fortunetellers, the wonders? What of scars from past battles, cruel laws, regimes, and Mančevski’s Dust (2001)?
Time in the Balkans, so it seems, is circular. Just like the name of this neighborhood where I am standing and of the train routes above my head. “The circle is not round,” we hear in the same director’s Before the Rain (1994). Different people, different ideologies, same outcome, same ever-returning conflicts. The poet wants to tame time, he orders the warrior to “burst into verse,” to “sink down into the blackest darkness,” to “disappear with all the fortunetellers,” to “voice” itself, to “speak out,” “look around” and “victoriously fade out.” The verse itself has to become the only host of time, time has to “sink down into the deepest word.” So we learn how to speak anew, this time politically correct, we write, we read foreign literatures, we emigrate, venture distant shores in an attempt to keep the boiling blood in check, to forget the babbling of the fortunetellers, coffee cup readers, archeologists, to realize that not enough time has passed and that right now the only way we can respond to a childhood poem is with another poem. But as I am reading Šopov’s poem in downtown Chicago, I cannot help but think of Upton Sinclair and John dos Passos, and of the fact that Chicago also lies on the 42nd parallel north. Where else could I be, Marija?

 

 

Prepared by Ana Ilievska

Portugal

Fernando Pessoa (Álvaro de Campos)
1928

Adiamento

Depois de amanhã, sim, só depois de amanhã…
Levarei amanhã a pensar em depois de amanhã,
E assim será possível; mas hoje não…
Não, hoje nada; hoje não posso.
A persistência confusa da minha subjectividade objectiva,
O sono da minha vida real, intercalado,
O cansaço antecipado e infinito,
Um cansaço de mundos para apanhar um eléctrico…
Esta espécie de alma…
Só depois de amanhã…
Hoje quero preparar-me,
Quero preparar-me para pensar amanhã no dia seguinte…
Ele é que é decisivo.
Tenho já o plano traçado; mas não, hoje não traço planos…
Amanhã é o dia dos planos.
Amanhã sentar-me-ei à secretária para conquistar o mundo;
Mas só conquistarei o mundo depois de amanhã…
Tenho vontade de chorar,
Tenho vontade de chorar muito de repente, de dentro…
Não, não queiram saber mais nada, é segredo, não digo.
Só depois de amanhã…
Quando era criança o circo de domingo divertia-me toda a semana.
Hoje só me diverte o circo de domingo de toda a semana da minha infância…
Depois de amanhã serei outro,
A minha vida triunfar-se-á,
Todas as minhas qualidades reais de inteligente, lido e prático
Serão convocadas por um edital…
Mas por um edital de amanhã…
Hoje quero dormir, redigirei amanhã…
Por hoje qual é o espectáculo que me repetiria a infância?
Mesmo para eu comprar os bilhetes amanhã,
Que depois de amanhã é que está bem o espectáculo…
Antes, não…
Depois de amanhã terei a pose pública que amanhã estudarei.
Depois de amanhã serei finalmente o que hoje não posso nunca ser.
Só depois de amanhã…
Tenho sono como o frio de um cão vadio.
Tenho muito sono.
Amanhã te direi as palavras, ou depois de amanhã…
Sim, talvez só depois de amanhã…

O porvir…
Sim, o porvir…

Adjournment

The day after tomorrow, yes, only the day after tomorrow…
Tomorrow I’ll spend the day thinking about the day after tomorrow,
And only so will it be possible, but not today…
No, not today, nothing; today, I can’t.
The confusing persistence of my objective subjectivity,
The sleep of my real life, interrupted,
The anticipated and infinite fatigue,
The world-weary fatigue of even riding a trolley…
This alleged soul…
Only the day after tomorrow…
Today I want to prepare,
I want to prepare for thinking tomorrow about the next day…
That day alone will be decisive.
I already have a plan laid out, but not today, I’m not making any plans…
Tomorrow is the time to plan.
Tomorrow I’ll sit down at my desk and conquer the world,
But I’ll only conquer the world the day after tomorrow…
I feel like crying,
Suddenly I feel like crying, from the inside…
You don’t want to know more, you don’t, it’s a secret, I won’t say.
Only the day after tomorrow…
When I was a kid the Sunday circus amused me every week.
Today I’m only amused by the Sunday circus of my childhood’s weeks…
The day after tomorrow I’ll become someone else,
My life will triumph,
All my real qualities—bright, well-read, and practical—
Will be summoned by decree…
But only by tomorrow’s decree…
Today I want to sleep, I’ll write tomorrow…
What performance, today, would revivify my childhood?
I would only buy the tickets tomorrow,
For the performance must be done only the day after tomorrow…
Not before…
The day after tomorrow I’ll have a public stance that tomorrow I’ll rehearse.
The day after tomorrow I’ll finally become what today I couldn’t ever be.
Only the day after tomorrow…
I’m sleepy as a stray dog’s chill.
I’m quite sleepy.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you every word, or the day after tomorrow…
Yes, perhaps only the day after tomorrow…

The future…
Yes, the future…


Fernando Pessoa (1888-1936) was a Portuguese author, best known as the creator of heteronyms—fictional authors with styles, literary traditions, biographies, and even handwritings of their own. According to Pessoa himself, out of the 136 fictional characters that he created throughout his lifetime, three stand out as the most well-rounded heteronyms: Alberto Caeiro, which he considered the master of them all (even of Pessoa the ortonym—i.e. Pessoa as himself); Ricardo Reis, the heir of the more classic traditions; and the author of this poem, Álvaro de Campos, known for his decadent, polemical, and futuristic styles. Although Pessoa left an archive with over 30,000 manuscripts, he published only a handful of works during his lifetime. Still to date, most of his writings remain unpublished and untranslated, let alone transcribed. According to the biography established by Pessoa, Campos was born in 1890, at 1:30 p.m., and in the fictional world of characters, he would gain notoriety by denouncing Fernando Pessoa’s very existence.


“Adiamento” raises some of the main themes in Pessoan literature: the relativity of time, postponement, and the tension between thought and action. The poem stands as a defense of inaction and opens the possibility of plurality by validating the reality of thought (as opposed to the reality of the external world). It also evinces the fragility of language and the malleability of concepts: will actions be forever postponed given that once tomorrow comes, today’s “tomorrow” will be tomorrow’s “today”? This question is representative of Pessoa’s work overall, and it manifests his long-lasting fascination with paradox. One of the most important goals of this translation was keeping the morphological and etymological implications of the title, especially the fact that the original Portuguese word, “Adiamento”, inscribes the word “day” (“dia”), yet at the same time the whole concept implies a denial of days and time. The word “Adjournment”, with its French root—jour—, fulfills both aspects and maintains the contradiction of an overall concept that postpones (and ultimately erases) its main root.

Pessoa, Fernando. “Adiamento.” Revista da Solução Editora, n.º 1. Lisbon. 1929. 4-5. Print.

Prepared by Nicolás Barbosa López

Russia

Gavrila Derzhavin
8 July 1816

Na tlennost’

Reka vremyon v svoyom stremlenii
Unosit vse dela lyudei
I topit v propasti zabvenya
Narody, tsarstva i tsarey.
A yesli shto i ostyotsa
Chrez zvuki liry i truby,
To vechnosti zherlom pozhryotsa
I obschei ne uidyot sud’by.


Derzhavin wrote the poem a few days before his death on July 8, 1816. By that time, he was a distinguished poet at the age of 73. The central idea of the poem resonates with Solomon’s thoughts on the meaning of human life in Ecclesiastes, the canonical Wisdom Book in the Old Testament: All is vanity. The allegorical image of time as the river of oblivion is rooted in Greek mythology. The river Lethe flew in the underworld of Hades. Shades of the dead were required to drink it to erase their memories. Allusions to the lyre and the trumpet stand for poetry. And, as Derzhavin concludes in the end, it will inexorably be devoured by ‘the orifice of eternity’ (literal translation of ‘zherlo vechnosti’). This refers us to one of the most quoted allegories of time:  Greek God Kronus, eating his children. Iambic tetrameter of the poem (rhymed a B a B c D c D) creates an impression of a flowing stream. Unlike the poet’s pessimistic view on the fate of his poems, we still remember them today and admire their beautiful clarity.

On Transience

Relentless River, coursing ages,
Usurps all works of mortal hands;
It sinks all worlds, in darkness rages:
Naught shall be saved – not kings, nor lands.
Should any trace endure an hour
Through Lyre’s chord or Trumpet’s call,
Obscured it drowns, by Time devoured,
Purged of its form – the Fate of all.


Translated by Professor Alexander Levitsky and first published in the volume ‘Poetic Works’, Brown University, 2001.

The translation offered here is one of the eight versions, which proves the poem’s mysterious power. I chose it because this translation is the closest one to the original meter. Derzhavin did not write about darkness (third line), originally there was the abyss of oblivion (propast’ zabvenyia), but I agree with the translator’s word choice, because waters in the underworld apparently do not reflect any light. The last two lines in the translation do not reconstruct the image of the orifice, hole or throat (all could stand for the word ‘zherlo’, however Time (written from the capital letter) devoured any trace, marks a clear connection with the same Greek myth used in the original. The original has an acrostic. First letters of each line form two words: ‘Ruina chti’. The literal translation is ‘Honor the Ruin’.

 

Prepared by Natalia Vygovskaia

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