Petrarch: Sonnet 2 (From Italian)

Sonnet II
By Petrarch
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

To wreak a vengeance gentle and sublime,
Punish a thousand wrongs by one day's blow:
Stealth-handed Love once more took up his bow
And, master marksman, found the place and time.

My power retreated to my eyes and heart
To stand ground in that double citadel
Till the relentless, mortal blow befell
That place that blunted every other dart.

It lay thus, heartstruck by that first attack,
With neither space nor strength to stand again
And heed my summons to retaliate

Nor yet a battle plan to draw me back
From torment up to high and safe terrain,
Torment it tries to spare me all too late.



The Original

Sonnet II
Francesco Petrarca

Per fare una leggiadra sua vendetta
et punire in un dí ben mille offese,
celatamente Amor l'arco riprese,
come huom ch'a nocer luogo et tempo aspetta.

Era la mia virtute al cor ristretta
per far ivi et ne gli occhi sue difese,
quando 'l colpo mortal là giú discese
ove solea spuntarsi ogni saetta.

Però, turbata nel primiero assalto,
non ebbe tanto né vigor né spazio
che potesse al bisogno prender l'arme,

ovéro al poggio faticoso et alto
ritrarmi accortamente da lo strazio
del quale oggi vorrebbe, et non pò, aitarme.

William Auld: Julia on Pandateria (From Esperanto)


Julia on Pandateria
By William Auld
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Esperanto

Life on this isle sets slow on the horizon
In the long afternoons a dreary wind
Along the whispering sea's shore, exciting
My dress indifferently, will always grind
Upon my memories, and with every breath
Bear witness: Death, death, death...there's still no death.

A three-time wife, a night-time ravishing woman,
who only prized the present through the years
has come to this: the fluting of a gull,
a past in vain, a future full of tears.
An empty woman weakens pale, as would
A spirit starved of sacrificial blood.

And I conclude, here in this brutal crude
Place where the flesh will rot beneath a dew

Foreign and freezing, that the life of the roses,
Wine and perfume-crazed kisses that I knew
Was always empty and estranged. This one

Queen of the world was always a corpse alone.

When coupled I was most alone, yet sought
Happiness where I could, where I was bound
By the compulsions of a curious yearning.
Always the more I sought, the more I found
Only unhappiness in lovers' joys.
I always fell for all the same old ploys.

That was a different me- a legend heard
Once in a stranger's dream, and that is all.
What does Rome mean? It means the naked sand,
Rocks and the wind's rough hands, a crying gull,
While my sapped body wilts in apathy
And Rome is just a fever fantasy.

The Here and Now no longer matters. Time now

Consists of nothing but eternity
And the young body that I am, betrayed
And hammered overmuch by destiny,
Can flame no more, can touch no joy or drive,
And even death leaves me for dead alive. 




The Original:

Julia sur Pandaterio
William Auld

Sur ĉi insulo viv’ subiras lante.
Dum longaj posttagmezoj morna vento
apud’ la mar’ susura, agitante
al mi la robon kun indiferento,
miajn memorojn frotas, kaj atestas:
morto, morto, morto… mort’ ne estas.

Edzin’ trifoja, nokt-frandino rava,
kiu la nunon taksis solvalora,
venas al tio ĉi: flutado meva,
paseo vana kaj futuro plora;
virin’ malplena palas kiel spirito
al kiu mankas sang’ de oferito.

Kaj mi konstatas en ĉi loko kruda,
kie la karno putros sub la rosoj
fremdaj kaj frizaj, ke la vivo tuta
- kisoj parfumfrenezaj, vino, rozoj –
ĉiam malplena estis, kaj izola…
Monda reĝin’ kadavris ĉiam sola.

Plej sola dum duopoj, sed mi celis
mian feliĉon, kie mi nur povis
kien sopiro stranga ĉiam pelis,
des pli serĉadis mi, ju pli mi trovis
nur malfeliĉon en la ĝojoj amaj.
Ĉiam surprizis min embuskoj samaj.

Tiu estis alia mi – nur fablo
aŭdita iam en fremdula revo.
Kion signifas Rom’? Ja nuda sablo,
rokoj, krudmana vent’, krianta mevo,
dum mia korpo velkas, apatia,
kaj Romo estas febro fantazia.

Ne plu la nuno gravas. Nun la tempo
estas eterna, sen komenc’, sen fino,
kaj mia juna karno pro la trompo
kaj troa martelado de l’ destino
ne ardas plu, ne plu al ĝoj’ incitas.
Kaj morto mortvivantan min evitas…

Nichita Stǎnescu: Knot 19 (From Romanian)

The following poem is from Noduri și semne ("Knots and Signs" or, perhaps more connotatively, "Nooses and Omens"), the last volume Stǎnescu published during his lifetime. The book contains poems titled Knot 1, Sign 1, Knot 2, Sign 2 and so on. This is Knot 19. I translated this one once before, but on re-reading said translation I realized it was just too abysmal not to delete and redo.

Knot 19
By Nichita Stǎnescu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Be well aware that I can kill,
That I with one stroke of my heel can maul
The peaceable rising star's sweet head.
It's why I have become a painter of walls.

Be well aware that I have no mercy on me
That I merge my blood with birches everywhere.
I bring this with all haste through to your awareness:
Beware what you do.


The Original:

Nod 19

Ia cunoştinţa că pot ucide,
că pot zdrobi cu călcâiul capul suav
al stelei răsărinde şi placide,
din pricina căreia am devenit zugrav!

Ia cunoştinţa că nu am milă de mine,
că sângele meu mi-l amestec cu mestecenii.
Grabnic ţi-aduc la cunoştinţa toate acestea.
Vezi ce faci!

William Auld: Elegy In An Old Graveyard (From Esperanto)

Though styled as a denial of sanctity and divinity, this poem offers much more. It is nothing short of a nihilist critique of existentialism (especially the latter's approach to morality and meaning), executed via one of Auld's favorite themes: the smallness of humanity in time and the cosmos

Elegy In An Old Graveyard
By William Auld
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Esperanto

Here tombstones stab the hillside, dense
As tares; the birdshit streaks are quite
Symbolic on these monuments.

Some twenty generations were
This bless'd dirt's fertilizer: who
Of them composed what could endure?

Yet they believed in human worth,
They nursed, puffed, bluffed and trusted each other,
Then left no trace above the earth.

For some, these stones were placed about.
And now two centuries of rain
Have all but wiped their lapsed names out.

Thousands of times this kindling spot
Has sparked with life, had life put out.
The whole world gave it not a thought.

The whole world knows Napoleons
(One in a million) and forgets
The million miserable ones,

And outside of our race's archives,
Yes, even the Napoleons
Were likewise aimless, useless lives.

Ah, the clichés! Yes. But this sense
Is what drives random man to solace
In tombs, in prayers, in monuments,

Our egocentric species runs
And ricochets in purblind terror
Of its own insignificance,

And brings forth in the mind's blind eye
An afterlife, devoutly hoping
That it, at last, will signify.

Afterlives, tombstones, priests' amen!
Ah, unavailing and more useless
Than any useless work of men.


The Original:

Elegio En Malnova Tombejo

Monteton tomboŝtonoj lole
traspikas; birdofekoj strias ,
ĉi monumentojn tre simbole.

Dudek generacioj sterkis 

per si ĉi sanktan humon: kiu
el ili ion daŭran verkis?

Sed kredis pri la homa digno, 

sin vartis, pufis, blufis, fidis: 

kaj malaperis sen postsigno.

Por kelkaj oni metis ŝtonojn.
Jam dujarcenta pluvo preskaŭ 

forviŝis forgesitajn nomojn.

Ĉi tie milmilfoje sparkis
po homa viv', kaj estingiĝis.
La mondo ĝin eĉ ne rimarkis.

Konas la mond' Napoleonojn
(malofta tipo), sed forgesas
samtempajn mornajn milionojn.

Kaj ekster niaj rasarkivoj

eĉ la napoleonaj estis 

sencelaj senutilaj vivoj.

Aĥ, kliŝoj! Jes. Sed pro ĉi sentoj
homar' hazarda sin konsolas
per preĝoj, tomboj, monumentoj.

La egocentra homa speco 

resaltas kun teruro blinda

de sia propra malgraveco,

kaj al si kreas fantazie
transmondon, esperante pie,

ke ĝi finfine gravos tie.

Transmondoj, tomboj, preĝoj, ĉerkoj!
-
­Ho, vanaj kaj plej senutilaj 

el senutilaj homaj verkoj!

Horace: Ode 1.38 (from Latin)

Warning: I may have let the footnotes get out of hand in this one

Ode 1.38
By Horace
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Latin in a reconstruction of educated classical pronunciation

My boy: I hate the filigree of Persia.1
Linden-sewn garlands chafe me with their glamor.2
Cease and desist your search for the decaying
Last rose of summer.3
I wouldn't want you tangling or defiling
Uncontrived myrtle. 4Myrtle's shade is proper
For you who pour, and for me as I drink in
Shade of the arbor.


Notes:
1- For Horace, to call something Persian was to call it unmanly and over-lavish. All through Horace's lifetime the Romans had been fighting a protracted war with the Persian Parthian Empire. In the finest tradition of enemy-stereotyping, Roman society concocted for itself the notion that Persians were excessively fond of finery and were therefore weak, effete and unmanly. (I guess lavishness and luxury make your dick shrink. No wonder male porn stars are paid so much less than their female counterparts.)

2-The soft layer between the outer bark and inner wood of the linden tree was used to make matting and string for garlands. Garlands made in this manner were called "coronae sutiles" (sewn garlands.)

3- In the Mediterranean, roses bloom in late spring and early summer. At any other time of the year, they would be considered a luxury. The precise flower referred to here is likely the Damask Rose, famed for its beauty and fragrance. This flower, which has never been found growing wild, was probably introduced to Europe from the Middle East. DNA analysis by Japanese scientists in 2000 revealed that the Damask Rose is a cultivated hybrid of Rosa gallica, Rosa moschata and Rosa fedtschenkoana. The only area where all three of these parent species grow naturally is northern Persia, bringing the whole thing full circle. The use of flowers and floral symbolism figured prominently in ancient Iranian religions. In Zoroastrianism, a different flower or herb was associated with each of the deities to be honored. Pungent herbs such as myrtle and basil were associated with male deities, whereas the rose was associated with Daena, a female deity. Naturally, most of this wouldn't have been in Horace's head. But does suggest, from a Roman standpoint, an exoticism we aren't used to associating with roses.

O, and one more thing (because it's my favorite etymology in a European language, not because it is key to appreciating the poem.) The Latin word Rosa is a borrowing, mediated through Oscan, from Attic Greek ῥόδον rhódon, from proto-greek *ϝρόδιον wǔródion, borrowed from none other than Old Persian wurdi and there the etymological trail gets murky. A Proto-Indo-European *ṷr̥dho "thorn, bramble" can be reconstructed, but a good case can be made for a Semitic source too, a not uncommon situation since words of this type are easily borrowed (just imagine a historical linguist 3000 years from now trying to use fragmentary textual data to figure out which language was the source of the word "Coca cola.") In any event, whatever its ultimate origin, the word's cognates in various languages and language families suggest that it is clearly a long-time resident of the near east. c.f. Arabic وردة warda, Hebrew ורד wered (proto-Hebrew *ward), Armenian Վարդ vard, etc. My own view is that the Semitic words, like the Greek one, are also borrowings from Old Persian. 

4-Myrtle, an evergreen shrub with a pungent scent, was sacred to Aphrodite, and had a very conjugal flavor. For example: on their wedding day, brides wore myrtle garlands and bathed in water scented with fermented myrtle-berries (presumably because a girl isn't a woman until she has suffered through her first yeast infection.) Anyway, to me, this suggests that drink-pouring isn't the only service Horace would like from the lovely boy.

The story of why it's sacred to Aphrodite is worth telling, if only because it reads like a sexually frustrated fever dream. Myrrha, a Cyprian princess, fell in love with her father and, conspired to seduce him in disguise. When he realized he had been tricked into screwing his own daughter, he got a good wrath going and, as if to prove just how dysfunctional mythical families can truly get, his first response was to grab his sword and try to chop her to bits- thus making every Freudian's day. She, realizing that this wasn't the way she meant for him to split her, made a run for it. Before he could finally hack her up, Aphrodite decided that she was done laughing, and turned Myrrha into a myrtle tree, whence the name. But, since Myrrha was already pregnant when she went all treelike, and because Greek myths simply cannot end without breaking my bizarro-meter, Myrrha-turned-tree split open at the trunk nine months later and gave birth to a baby named Adonis. Yes, really. I wonder if this counts as the first C-section.


The Original:

Persicōs ōdī, puer, apparātus;
displicent nexae philyrā corōnae;
mitte sectārī rosa quō locōrum
sēra morētur.
Simplicī myrtō nihil allabōrēs
sēdulus cūrō: neque tē ministrum
dēdecet myrtus neque mē sub artā
vīte bibentem.

Joan Brossa: Night (From Catalan)

Night
By Joan Brossa
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Beyond observable space, there shines an innumerable multitude of worlds like ours.
They all whirl and move.
Thirty seven million earths. Nine million five hundred thousand moons.

I cringe and think of incalculable distances,
Of the millions of dead globes
In flight around already extinguished suns.
I ponder pride.
What's going on beyond the stars?
The ground is dewed.

A woman gives a kiss to a little girl.
Today supper was even more splendid.
A barrel organ is playing away.
There’s a mirror hung on the wall.
Come in, come in, the door’s wide open.
Passing outside: a shepherd and junk dealer.


The Original:

Nit
Joan Brossa

Enllà de l’espai que percebem brilla multitud innombrable de mons semblants al nostre.
Tots giren i es mouen.
Trente-set milions de terres. Nou milions cinc-centes mil lunes.

Penso amb espant en distàncies incalculables
i en milions de globus morts
al voltant de sols ja apagats.
Medito sobre l’orgull.
Què s’esdevé més enllà dels astres?
El terra està regat.

Una dona fa un petó a una nena.
Avui el sopar ha estat d’allò més bo.
Se sent tocar un manubri.
A la paret hi ha un mirall penjat.
Entreu, entreu, la porta és ben oberta.
A fore passen un pastor i un drapaire.

Joan Brossa: The Poet Finds a Theme (From Catalan)

The Poet Finds a Theme
By Joan Brossa
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My universe is the poem.
I don’t like to imitate nature
like a camera. I must make life
itself come alive.

And the poem ends with
one verse that is just
one word: the
uni-verse


The Original:

El Poeta Troba Un Tema

El meu univers és el poema.
No m’agrada d’imitar la naturalesa
A la manera dels fotògrafs. Em cal
Fer sorgir la vida mateixa.

I acaba el poema amb una
Estrofa que no és sinó
Un mot:
l’Uni-vers.

Bürger: "From the Peasant to His Illustrious Tyrant" (From German)

Gottfried August Bürger had a rather irritating life: a meager income, three catastrophic marriages (two of which were with sisters), and a huge problem with booze. He was also a poet. It began with his ballad Lenore which (although I do not feel it is worth translating, at least for me in this day and age) became a literary manifesto of Romanticism in its day. He also earned himself a reputation as "the people's poet" first by writing political essays against absolutism and tyranny, and then doing the same thing in verse (to even greater effect.) The following, written in 1773, is one such poem.

From the Peasant to his Illustrious Tyrant
By Gottfried August Bürger
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original German

Prince, who are you so shamelessly
To maul me down with wagon wheels,
To maim me with your horse?

Prince, who are you that through my flesh
Your friend, your unwhipped hunting hound
May jam his jaws and claws?

Who are you that your whooping hunt
Can drive me over crop and crag
Panting like some wild game?

The crop you trample with your hunt;
What you, your horse and dog devour,
That bread, Prince, is all mine!

Prince, you have never sweated out
The harvest heat with plow and rake.
Mine! Mine's the bread and work!

Pfah! Your authority from God?
God blesses; all you do is rob!
God did not send you, Tyrant.



The Original:

Der Bauer an seinen Durchlauchtigen Tyrannen

Wer bist du, Fürst, daß ohne Scheu
Zerrollen mich dein Wagenrad,
Zerschlagen darf dein Roß?

Wer bist du, Fürst, daß in mein Fleisch
Dein Freund, dein Jagdhund, ungebleut
Darf Klau' und Rachen hau'n?

Wer bist du, daß, durch Saat und Forst
Das Hurra deiner Jagd mich treibt,
Entatmet, wie das Wild? -

Die Saat, so deine Jagd zertritt,
Was Roß, und Hund, und du verschlingst,
Das Brot, du Fürst, ist mein.

Du Fürst hast nicht bei Egg' und Pflug,
Hast nicht den Erntetag durchschwitzt.
Mein, mein ist Fleiß und Brot! -

Ha! du wärst Obrigkeit von Gott?
Gott spendet Segen aus; du raubst!
Du nicht von Gott, Tyrann!

Nizar Qabbani: At Zero (From Arabic)

One of the cooler Arabic poems to cross my desk of late

At Zero
By Nizar Qabbani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the Arabic

We have come to zero.
What'll I say? What'll you say?
The topics now are one and alike.
Back is front as front is back.
We have come to the apex of despair
Beneath the bullet of the sky
Where embraces are reprisals
And love-making is the aching of an eye for an eye.



The Original:



Romanization 

Noqṭato ṣ-ṣefr
Nezār Qabbāni

Waṣalnā elā noqṭate ṣ-ṣefr
māða aqulo wamāðā taqulina
kollo l-mawāḍiʕe ṣārat sawā'an
waṣāra l-warā'o amāman
waṣāra l-'amāmo warā'an
waṣalnā elā ðorwate l-ya's
ħayθo s-samā'o raṣāṣon
waħayθo l-ʕenāqo qeṣāṣon
waħayθo momārasato l-jense...aqsā jazā'                             
Arabic Script

نقطة الصفر
نزار قباني

وصلنا الى نقطة الصفر
ماذا اقول؟ وماذا تقولين؟
كل المواضيع صارت سواء
وصار الوراء اماماً
وصار الامام وراء
وصلنا الى ذروة اليأس
حيث السماء رصاص
وحيث العناق قصاص
وحيث ممارسة الجنس...اقسى جزاء

Baudelaire: The Revenant (From French)

The Revenant
By Charles Baudelaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in French

Like angels mad with bestial eyes
I'll come back where your alcove lies
To glide in soundlessly, in flight
With all the shadows of the night.

Then, tawny dear, we will commune
In kisses frozen as the moon,
In the caress of snakes that crawl
And hiss around a cistern’s wall.

When morning shows his livid face
You will find no one in my place
Which will fall cold till night is near.

Though others reign with tenderness
Over your life and youthfulness
I want a sovereignty of fear.


The Original:

Le Revenant

Comme les anges à l'oeil fauve,
Je reviendrai dans ton alcôve
Et vers toi glisserai sans bruit
Avec les ombres de la nuit;

Et je te donnerai, ma brune,
Des baisers froids comme la lune
Et des caresses de serpent
Autour d'une fosse rampant.

Quand viendra le matin livide,
Tu trouveras ma place vide,
Où jusqu'au soir il fera froid.

Comme d'autres par la tendresse,
Sur ta vie et sur ta jeunesse,
Moi, je veux régner par l'effroi.

Baudelaire: Sepulcher (From French)

Sepulcher
By Charles Baudelaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original French

If, on a night of laden black,
Some Christian, out of charity,
Buries your vaunted corpse out back
Behind where some shack used to be,

When the chaste stars begin to let
Their laden eyelids down for dawn,
The spider there will weave his net
And there the viper nest his spawn

And over your damned head you’ll hear
Throughout the stint of every year
The piteous wails of wolves, the screams

Of witches starved beyond your ken,
Frolics of lecherous old men
And black pickpockets' cackling schemes.


The Original:

Sépulture

Si par une nuit lourde et sombre
Un bon chrétien, par charité,
Derrière quelque vieux décombre
Enterre votre corps vanté,

A l'heure où les chastes étoiles
Ferment leurs yeux appesantis,
L'araignée y fera ses toiles,
Et la vipère ses petits;

Vous entendrez toute l'année
Sur votre tête condamnée
Les cris lamentables des loups

Et des sorcières faméliques,
Les ébats des vieillards lubriques
Et les complots des noirs filous.

Anne Hébert: Woman Bathing (From French)

Woman Bathing
By Anne Hébert
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the French

Sun’s rain on the sea
Red sun yellow sun
White noon sun
Blue sun on the sea
Melded water and fire
At noon.

Deep swell I go down
Blue sea green sea
Red agate
Blue green
Depth I go down

From the bed of receded waters
Surging to the surface
Like a daylong bubble
Silver fish
Are on the back on the belly
Riddled with gold shafts

Coming up at leisure
With well-wrought traps
Calm sluices
Eel-nets
To seize the sun
In my soaked fingers.



The Original:

Baigneuse
Anne Hébert

Soleil en pluie sur la mer
Soleil roux soleil jaune
Blanc soleil de midi
Bleu soleil sur la mer
Mélange des eaux et du feu
A midi.

Onde profonde où je descends
Mer verte mer bleue
Rutilante
Verte bleue
Profonde où je descends

Du bout de l'eau ramenée
Remonte à la surface
Comme une bulle de jour
Poisson d'argent
Sur le dos sur le ventre
Criblée de flèches d'or

Invente à loisir
Des pièges fins
Des écluses tranquilles
Des nasses liquides
Pour saisir le soleil
Entre mes doigts mouillés.

Eugenio Montale: Bagni di Lucca (From Italian)

Bagni di Lucca
By Eugenio Montale
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
(No recording, as my cold has yet to disappear entirely)

Between the thud of chestnuts
And the hum of thunderous weather
That brings their sounds together,
The heart hesitates.

Precocious winter’s polar wind
Sets all ashiver. My eyes
Look over the ledge that dissolves
Dawnlight in ice.

Marble, branches...
At a touch
the leaves like arrows launch
to the ditch with a twist.
The final herd heads by in the rising mist

Of their breath.


The Original:

Bagni di Lucca

Fra il tonfo dei marroni
e il gemito del torrente
che uniscono i loro suoni
èsita il cuore.

Precoce inverno che borea
abbrividisce. M’affaccio
sul ciglio che scioglie l’albore
del giorno nel ghiaccio.

Marmi, rameggi
e ad uno scrollo giù
foglie a èlice, a freccia,
nel fossato.

Passa l’ultima greggia nella nebbia
del suo fiato.

Eugenio Montale: "Many a year..." (From Italian)

"Many a Year..."
By Eugenio Montale
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
(No recording, as my cold seems to have resurged)

Many a year and one still harder drag on
Over the foreign lake the sunset burns on.
Then you came down from the mountains
To bring me Saint George and the Dragon.

If only I could print them on the flag
Aflutter with the whiplash of east wind
In the heart... And descend for you in a maelstrom
Of fidelity, turned deathless.


The Original:

Molti anni
Eugenio Montale

Molti anni, e uno più duro sopra il lago
straniero su cui ardono i tramonti.
Poi scendesti dai monti a riportarmi
San Giorgio e il Drago.

Iprimerli potessi sul palvese
che s’agita alla frusta del grecale
in cuore... E per te scendere in un gorgo
di fedeltà, immortale

Antonio Machado: "Wayfarer, the only way..." (From Spanish)

"Wayfarer, the only way..."
By Antonio Machado
Translated by A.Z Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

Wayfarer, the only way
Is your footprints and no other.
Wayfarer, there is no way.
Make your way by going farther.
By going farther, make your way
Till looking back at where you've wandered,
You look back on that path you may
Not set foot on from now onward.
Wayfarer, there is no way;
Only trails of wake on water.


The Original:

Proverbios y Cantares: Poema VI
Antonio Machado

Caminante, son tus huellas
El camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace el camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

Machado: "Juan de Mairena: A Childhood Memory" (From Spanish)

Juan de Mairena: A Childhood Memory1
By Antonio Machado
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

Till he hears soft falling footsteps,
and hears a latchkey churned about,
this bad bad little boy won't dare
budge his body, or breathe out.

Little John the lonely boy,
mind in a fugue of mice and clocks2,
hears the woodworm in the closet,
the grease-moth in the cardboard box.

Jailbird John the little man
listens to time that will not stop,
to the groaning of mosquitoes
in the droning spinning-top.

The boy is in his room and dark,
the door latched shut by mother's key.
He is the poet, the pure poet
who sings: "It's time! It's time and me."


Notes:
1-The poet-philosopher Juan de Mairena, along with his counterpart and mentor Abel Martin, is a pseudonymous persona concocted by Machado. These two mouthpieces allowed him to toy with views he didn't care to be seen as espousing directly, to challenge and subvert his own positions, and to generally indulge in literary masturbation when other artists started to seem too small and impotent to bother with. Mairena was also the persona (and by-line) Machado used semi-anonymously in the Madrid press during the 1930s, in the last decade of his life, when writing commentaries on sundry social, cultural and political matters. 

Several of Machado-as-Mairena's writings and poems got collected in a book entitled Juan de Mairena: Sentencias, Donaires, Apuntes y Recuerdos de un Profesor Apócrifo ("Juan de Mairena: Adages, Epigrams, Memoranda and Memoirs of an Apocryphal Professor") from which this poem is taken.

For those who care, it may be illuminating to read the above poem in the context of a certain passage, also from that book, which, in addition to showing how deftly Machado could manipulate the wordplay, tonality and rhythm of prose, gives a peak into Machado's head (or some version of his head) and, for me, enhances appreciation of an already well-wrought poem: (the original Spanish can be found at the tail end of this post)

Would our poets sing at all were it not for the anguish of time, that fate-stricken sadness that things are never with us, as they are with God, at one with one another, but put forth in sequence, cartridged like rifle-rounds to be shot off one after another? That we must wait for the egg to fry, the door to open, or the cucumber to ripen...this, gentlemen, is a thing worth pondering.

For inasmuch as our lives coincide with our consciousness, time is the ultimate reality: insubordinate to every order of logic, irreducible and ineradicable, fateful and fatal. To be alive is to live off of time, to wait; and however transcendent that wait may be, it will always be a wait during which we go on just waiting. Even the beatific life, that guerdon of the righteous, could it really (if life it be) go beyond waiting, beyond time? I purposefully have omitted the word "hope", which is one of those tumid superlatives we use to describe our anticipation of supreme rewards that leave us nothing more to wait for. It is a word encompassing theological notions, and therefore quite out of place in a class on Rhetoric and Poetics such as ours. Likewise, I don't want to talk about Hell, since I have no desire to blindside your imaginations so brutishly. Suffice it to say that in that place one abandons all hope, theologically speaking, but not all of time, nor the expectation of an infinite chain of miseries. Hell is the bloodcurdling mansion of time, in whose profoundest circle Satan himself awaits, winding up a gargantuan watch with his own hands.

We have had occasion to define poetry as man's dialogue with time, to call certain poets "pure" because they manage to empty themselves of all inner time for a showdown alone (or nearly so) with time itself; much as one would converse with the buzzing in one's own ears, that most fundamental sonic manifestation of time's flow. In short, we conclude that poetry is the word in its own time, and that it is the duty of a teacher of poetics to teach his pupils to push the timeliness of their verse to the limit.
(translation mine)

2- I'm writing this footnote to spare my comment-box and inbox the wrath of a 1,001 Spanish speakers telling me that I misunderstood this line, that it doesn't mean anything like the original. The original Spanish "fuga" has two main meanings: "fugue" (i.e. music) and "fleeing, scurrying, getaway." Add to that the fact that, it is "fuga de ratón" instead of "fuga del ratón" and the word's connotative potential is knocked squarely between these two meanings. This gives the line a reading "hears the mouse-fugue"along with something like "hears the mouse-footed scurrying." Since English offers no such potential polysemy, I went for the other, tertiary meaning of "fuga" which, though not particularly implied by the context of the poem, is shared by English "fugue": a fugue state. To do so I performed a bit of semantic and syntactic surgery to suggest the right things. So this line differs from the Spanish more so than you'd expect. But it is true, in every way that matters, to Machado's æsthetic and temperament.

The Original:

"Recuerdo Infantil" de Juan de Mairena
Antonio Machado

Mientras no suena un paso leve
y oiga una llave rechinar,
el niño malo no se atreve
a rebullir ni a respirar.

El niño Juan, el solitario,
oye la fuga de ratón,
y la carcoma en el armario,
y la polilla en el cartón.

El niño Juan, el hombrecito,
escucha el tiempo en su prisión:
una quejumbre de mosquito
en un zumbido del peón.

El niño está en el cuarto oscuro,
donde su madre lo encerró;
es el poeta, el poeta puro
que canta: ¡el tiempo, el tiempo y yo!

Juan De Mairena diserta acerca del tiempo:


Porque, ¿cantaría el poeta sin la angustia del tiempo, sin esa fatalidad de que las cosas no sean para nosotros, como para Dios, todas a la par, sino dispuestas en serie y encartuchadas como balas de rifle, para disparadas una tras otra? Que hayamos de esperar a que se fría un huevo, a que se abra una puerta o a que madure un pepino, es algo, señores, que merece nuestra reflexión. En cuanto nuestra vida coincide con nuestra conciencia,, es el tiempo la realidad última, rebelde al conjuro de la lógica, irreductible, inevitable, fatal. Vivir es devorar tiempo: esperar; y por muy trascendente que quiera ser nuestra espera, siempre será espera de seguir esperando. Porque aun la vida beata, en la gloria de los justos, ¿estará, si es vida, fuera del tiempo y más allá de la espera? Adrede evito la palabra “esperanza”, que es uno de esos grandes superlativos con que aludimos a un esperar los bienes supremos, tras de los cuales ya no habría nada que esperar. Es palabra que encierra un concepto teológico, impropio de una clase de Retórica y Poética. Tampoco quiero hablaros del Infierno, por no impresionar desagradablemente vuestra fantasía. Sólo he de advertiros que allí se renuncia a la esperanza, en el sentido teológico, pero no al tiempo y a la espera de una infinita serie de desdichas. Es el Infierno la espeluznante mansión del tiempo, en cuyo círculo más hondo está Satanás dando cuerda a un reloj gigantesco por su propia mano.
Ya en otra ocasión definíamos a la poesía como diálogo del hombre con el tiempo, y llamábamos "poeta puro" a quien lograba vaciar el suyo para enfrentarse a solas con él, o casi a solas; algo así como quien conversa con el zumbar de sus propios oídos, que es la más elemental materialización sonora del fluir temporal. Decíamos, en suma, cuanto es la poesía palabra en el tiempo, y cómo le deber se un maestro de Poética consiste en enseñar a sus alumnos a reforzar la temporalidad de su verso.
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