Arte poética by Roque Dalton

This poem by the great Salvadoran poet and revolutionary Roque Dalton is one of my favorites. You can read it in its original Spanish here or read it with a side-by-side Spanish/English translation in this magnificent anthology. The poem ends with a question that all writers should ask ourselves every day:

ARTE POÉTICA
to Raul Castellanos

Anguish exists.

Man uses his old disasters as a mirror.

Barely an hour after dark
that man picks up the bitter scraps of his day
painfully places them next to his heart
and sweating like a consumptive who still hasn’t given up
sinks into his deep, lonely room.
Here, such a man chainsmokes,
he concocts disastrous cobwebs on the ceiling
he loathes fresh flowers
his own asphyxiating skin exiles him
he stares at his cold feet
he believes his bed is his daily grave
his pockets are empty
he’s hungry
he sobs.

But those men, those other men,
gladly bare their chests to the sun
or to murderers on the prowl
they lift the face of bread out of ovens
like a benevolent flag against hunger
they laugh so hard with the children even the air hurts
they fill with tiny footsteps the bellies of blessed women
they split rocks like stubborn fruit in their solemnity
naked they sing into the refreshing glass of water
they joke around with the sea playfully taking it by the horns
they build melodious houses of light in windswept wilderness
like God they get drunk everywhere
they settle with their fists against despair
their avenging fires against crime
their love of unending roots
against the atrocious scythe of hatred.

Anguish exists, yes.

As does despair,
crime,
or hatred.

For whom shall the voice of this poet speak?

translated by Richard Schaaf

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