Our Poor Eyes, Knowing Only

Death Sonnets I

by Gabriela Mistral (1889 – 1957)

From the icy niche where men placed you
I lower your body to the sunny, poor earth.
They didn’t know I too must sleep in it
and dream on the same pillow.

I place you in the sunny ground, with a
mother’s sweet care for her napping child,
and the earth will be a soft cradle
when it receives your hurt childlike body.

I scatter bits of earth and rose dust,
and in the moon’s airy and blue powder
what is left of you is a prisoner.

I leave singing my lovely revenge.
No hand will reach into the obscure depth
to argue with me over your handful of bones.

Los Sonetos de la Muerte

by Gabriela Mistral

I

Del nicho helado en que los hombres te pusieron,
te bajaré a la tierra humilde y soleada.
Que he de dormirme en ella los hombres no supieron,
y que hemos de soñar sobre la misma almohada.

Te acostaré en la tierra soleada, con una
dulcedumbre de madre para el hijo dormido,
y la tierra ha de hacerse suavidades de cuna
al recibir tu cuerpo de niño dolorido.

Luego iré espolvoreando tierra y polvo de rosas,
y en la azulada y leve polvareda de luna,
los despojos livianos irán quedando presos.

Me alejaré cantando mis venganzas hermosas
¡porque a ese hondor recóndito la mano de ninguna
bajará a disputarme tu puñado de huesos!


Gabriel Mistral was the pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, Mistral began writing poetry in her early twenties following the tragic death of her lover. Mistral was an educator by profession, teaching elementary, secondary school until her poetry made her famous. Her status in Latin America literature afforded her the opportunity to become an advocate for education in both Mexico and Chile. Mistral was active on cultural committees of the League of Nations, becoming the Chilean consul in Naples, Madrid and Lisbon. Mistral later taught Spanish literature in the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico.

Mistral’s Sonetos de la muerte (love poems in memory of the dead), made her known throughout Latin America, but her first heralded collection of poems, Desolación [Despair], was published in 1922. Mistral wrote poetry about many themes, but her volumes published in 1924 and 1938 dealt with childhood and maternity and tenderness. Mistral was recognized for her contributions to literature and won the Nobel Prize in 1948.

I share below two translations of her poem Alondras, one by Langston Hughes and one by Ursula K. Le Guin.  It’s interesting to see how each poet approached the poem and their different interpretations. I regret that my Spanish is not good enough to read it in the original and understand it more fully, but I am grateful that Mistral’s work inspired great minds to translate it into English.  Do you have a favorite Mistral poem?


Alondras

by Gabriela Mistral

Bajaron a mancha de trigo
y al acercarnos, voló la banda,
y la alamede sd quedó
del azoro como rasgada.

En matorrales parcecen fuego;
cuando suben, plata lanzada,
y passan antes de que passen,
y te rebanan la alabanza.

Saben no más los pobres ojos
que passó toda la bandada,
y gritando llaman “alondras!”
a lo que sube, se pierde y canta.

Y en este aire malherido
nos han dejado llenos de ansia,
con el asombro y el tremblor
a mitad del cuerpo y el alma….

Alondras, hijo, nos cruzamos
las alondras, por la llanda!

 

Larks

by Gabriela Mistral

translated by Langston Hughes

They came down in a patch of wheat,
and, as we drew near,
the flock flew away
and left the startled field quite empty.

In the thicket they look like fire;
when they rise, like silver darting.
And they go by even before they go,
cutting through your wonder.

Our poor eyes, knowing only
that the whole flock has gone,
cry “Larks!” to those who rise,
and are lost, and sing.

In the sorely wounded air
they leave us full of yearning,
with a wonder and a quiver
in body and in soul…

Larks, son! Above us sweep
the larks across the plain!

Larks

Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

They were in the scattered wheat.
As we came near, the whole flock
flew, and the poplars stood
as if struck by a hawk.

Sparks in stubble: when they rise,
silver thrown up in air.
They’re past before they pass,
too quick for praise.

Eyes are too slow to see
the whole flock’s taken wing,
and we shout, “Larks!”
at what’s up–lost–singing.

In the air they wounded
they’ve left us with a longing,
a tremor, a wonder
half of the body, half of the soul.

Larks, child–see,
larks rise from the wheat!

Do Not Remember Me With Pity

Le Guin

“I love translation because I translate for love. I’m an amateur. I translate a text because I love it, or think I do, and love craves close understanding. Translation, for me, is discovery.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

Looking Back

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Remember me before I was a heap of salt,
the laughing child who seldom did
as she was told or came when she was called,
the merry girl who became Lot’s bride,
the happy woman who loved her wicked city.
Do not remember me with pity.
I saw you plodding on ahead
into the desert of your pitiless faith.
Those springs are dry, that earth is dead.
I looked back, not forward, into death.
Forgiving rains dissolve me, and I come
still disobedient, still happy, home.


Anniversary

by Gabriela Mistral
Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

And we go on and on,
Neither sleeping nor awake,
Towards the meeting, unaware
That we are already there.
That the silence is perfect,
And the flesh is gone.
The call still is not heard
Nor does the Caller reveal his face.

But perhaps this might be
Oh, my love, the gift
Of the eternal Face without gestures
And of the kingdom without form!

What Can Be Explained Is Not Poetry

Gabriela Mistral
Gabriela Mistral

Languages

by Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow

Buffalo Dusk

by Carl Sandburg

The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs, their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.

 


Death Sonnets II

By Gabriela Mistral

Translated by D. K. Fennell

This growing tiredness will culminate some day,
and the soul will tell the body of its craving to desist
from dragging its heavy weight though that rosy way,
where men continue going, simply to exist.

You will feel at your side men digging urgently,
and another slumberer arrive at your noiseless door.
I will wait until I am covered totally . . .
And afterward we shall talk forevermore!

Only then will you know the reason, though immature
your flesh yet remains for such abysmal shrine,
you had to go down to sleep, with open eye.

Where fates are fixed there will be light, obscure;
you will learn that our connection bore an astral sign
and, with the vast pack broken, you had to die.

Este largo cansancio se hará mayor un día,
y el alma dirá al cuerpo que no quiere seguir
arrastrando su masa por la rosada vía,
por donde van los hombres, contentos de vivir.

Sentirás que a tu lado cavan briosamente,
que otra dormida llega a la quieta cuidad.
Esperaré que me hayan cubierto totalmente . . .
¡y después hablaremos por una eternidad!

Sólo entonces sabrás el porqué, no madura
para las hondas huesas tu carne todavía,
tuviste que bajar, sin fatiga, a dormir.

Se hará luz en la zona de los sinos, oscura;
sabrás que en nuestra alianza signo de astros había
y, roto el pacto enorme, tenías que morir . . .