Manuel Altolaguirre – five poems in translation

Manuel Altolaguirre

I was in Mexico in 1976, en route to the rainforests of the Yucatan to visit the ruins of Mayan cities as part of my doctoral research before travelling on down to Nicaragua. In Mexico City I stayed for a few days in a house in the magical neighbourhood of Coyoacan. It was in this part of the city that artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived, and where Trotsky set up home in exile and where eventually he was assassinated. Their homes were now museums and within walking distance of the beautiful house where I was staying. That house had once been home to the Spanish poet Manuel Altolaguirre (1905–1959) who had come there in exile in 1939, at the end of the Civil War in Spain. Altolaguirre had been active on the Republican side of the war and was friends with many of the leading poets of the day, including the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda and Spain’s leading poet and dramatist, Federico García Lorca. Lorca had been murdered by members of the Nationalist militia in 1936, a few weeks into the war.

For many years after, I would look in bookshops for editions of the poetry of Altolaguirre but everything seemed to be out of print. Then one day in 2002, I walked into the Livraria Cultura, the largest and best bookshop in São Paulo, and there sitting on the shelves in the Spanish language section, as though it had been waiting for me, was a copy of Altolaguirre’s poetry. Five of those poems I have translated today, and I have appended the Spanish originals for those who may care to consult them.


The light and I

The light and I invent you,
city, as now in the breaking day
of fantasy and sun
you are born into the world;
city still hazy,
with blood, light and dreams
on your white facades.

I don’t know what dawn
I cast on buildings,
nor what morning sun
illuminates the valley, the sea,
the streets, within me.
The world and I
have exchanged lights.

*

Outside myself

Today to me my body seems
a recollection of me.
It’s not my memory
that lives in my forehead,
but my whole body
which is huddled
within it, among the clouds,
waiting for the death of oblivion.
I’m now more than me.
I shaped my surroundings,
wrapped my soul around me,
abandoned the life of men.
I want to forget my body,
would like it to sleep within me.
Its external dreams
will flood my spirit.
Foreign populations,
new gods,
different elements,
surround it.
I’m dictating words
to the one I was in the world,
who believes he detains me
under his watchful eye,
the one I’m bossing about,
overshadowing,
the one who writes this story.

*

Kiss

How lonely you were inside!
When I peered through your lips
a crimson tunnel of blood,
dark and sad, plunged deep
down to the ends of your soul.

When my kiss penetrated,
its warmth and its light sent
tremors and shocks
through your stunned flesh.

Since then the pathways
that lead to your soul
you want never to be deserted.

How many arrows, fish, birds,
how many caresses and kisses!

*

The Elm is reborn

If I can no longer see myself,
if only my roots survive,
if birds look in vain
for where their nests were
amid the sad absence of my arms,
do not cry for this.

In a Spring silence,
verdant shoots of life will emerge
from the earth like tears.

I will be that horde of adolescents,
that laurel wreath that encircles
the trunk sundered by the axe.

Life multiplied brings death.
Multiple are the rays of dawn.

*

Elegy for Federico García Lorca

I forget to live if I remember you, 
I recognize that I am dust of the earth 
and I incorporate you, as does 
that part closest to your grave, 
insensitive land that usurps
the zealous love of your friends.

With your life over, its outline
is forever fully drawn:
there’s no door to take you into the future.

The tree of your name has blossomed
into an incalculable Spring.
Death is perfection, a rounding off.
Only the dead can be named.
We who live are nameless.

The mythical makers of fame catapult
the chants of your name world-wide
and life’s lake opens its eyes
with endless eyelids of glass:
There is no mountain, no sky, no plain,
that does not concentrically enhance
the echo of your illustrious name.

It’s not a brother’s grief, not human pain,
my suffering is part of the sentiment
that turns the pensive stars into flowers
embroidered on the night that shrouds you.
I write these words separately
from the daily pattern of my sleep,
from a distant planet where I suffer
your irreparable loss in tears.

Translations by John Lyons

YO Y LA LUZ

Yo y la luz te inventamos,
ciudad que ahora en un alba
de fantasía y de sol
naces al mundo;
ciudad aún imprecisa,
con sangre, luz y ensueño
en tus blancas fachadas.

No sé qué madrugada
sobre los edificios voy dejando,
ni qué sol mañanero
ilumina la vega, el mar,
las calles, 
interiores de mí.
Hemos cambiado 
mundo
y yo nuestras luces.

FUERA DE MÍ

Mi cuerpo hoy me parece
un recuerdo de mí.
No es mi memoria
la que vive en mi frente,
sino mi cuerpo entero
el que está arrinconado
en ella, entre las nubes,
esperando la muerte del olvido.
Yo ya soy más que yo.
Formé mi ambiente,
me envolví con mi alma,
abandoné la vida de los hombres.
Quiero olvidar mi cuerpo,
dormirlo en mí quisiera.
Sus sueños exteriores
inundarán mi espíritu.
Poblaciones extrañas,
dioses nuevos,
elementos distintos,
lo rodeen.
Voy dictando palabras
al que yo fui en el mundo,
al que cree contenerme
debajo de sus ojos,
al que estoy dominando,
ensombreciendo,
al que escribe esta historia.

BESO

¡Qué sola estabas por dentro!
Cuando me asomé a tus labios
un rojo túnel de sangre,
oscuro y triste, se hundía
hasta el final de tu alma.

Cuando penetró mi beso,
su calor y su luz daban
temblores y sobresaltos
a tu carne sorprendida.

Desde entonces los caminos
que conducen a tu alma
no quieres que estén desiertos.

¡Cuántas flechas, peces, pájaros,
cuántas caricias y besos!

 

EL OLMO RENACE

Si ya no puedo verme,
si de mí quedan sólo las raíces,
si los pájaros buscan vanamente
el lugar de sus nidos
en las tristes ausencias de mis brazos,
no hay que llorar por eso.

Con el silencio de una primavera,
brotarán de la tierra como llanto
insinuaciones de verdor y vida.

Seré esa multitud de adolescentes,
esa corona de laurel que ciñe
el tronco quebrantado por el hacha.

Multiplicada vida da la muerte.
Múltiples son los rayos de la aurora.

ELEGÍA A FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA

Me olvido de vivir si te recuerdo,
me reconozco polvo de la tierra
y te incorporo a mí, como lo hace
la parte más cercana de tu tumba,
esa tierra insensible que suplanta
el amoroso afán de tus amigos.

Acabada tu vida, permanece
con su total contorno dibujado:
no hay puerta que te lleve a lo futuro.

El árbol de tu nombre ha florecido
en una incalculable primavera.
La muerte es perfección, acabamiento.
Sólo los muertos pueden ser nombrados.
Los que vivimos no tenemos nombre.
Los míticos honderos de la fama
tiran los cantos de tu nombre al mundo
y el lago de la vida abre sus ojos
con párpados de vidrio interminables:
No hay montaña, no hay cielo, no hay llanura,
que en círculos concéntricos no agrande
el eco de tu nombre esclarecido.

No es dolor fraternal, no es pena humana,
es parte, mi pesar, del sentimiento
que hace de las estrellas pensativas
flores sobre la noche que te cubre.
Te escribo estas palabras separado
del cotidiano sueño de mi vida,
desde un astro lejano en donde sufro
tu irreparable pérdida llorando.

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