I Am Going to Talk About Hope by Cesar Vallejo

I first read this poem in my favorite anthology and quickly became obsessed with Cesar Vallejo. Even in translation, his language is unbelievably forceful, but it’s worth buying the anthology to read it in its original Spanish and hear the music that he intended. Vallejo was not a minor poet and this is not a minor work, but it’s been a rough month and this poem has been on my mind, so I thought I’d share it.

“I am going to talk about hope”

I do not feel this suffering as Cesar Vallejo. I am not suffering now as a creative person, or as a man, nor even as a simple living being. I don’t feel this pain as a Catholic, or as a Mohammedan, or as an atheist. Today I am simply in pain. If my name weren’t Cesar Vallejo, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t an artist, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t a man, or even a living being, I’d still feel it. If I weren’t a Catholic, or an atheist, or a Mohammedan, I’d still feel it. Today I am in pain from further down. Today I am simply in pain.

The pain I have has no explanations. My pain is so deep that it never had a cause, and has no need of a cause. What could have its cause been? Where is that thing so important that it stopped being its cause? Its cause is nothing, and nothing could have stopped being its cause. Why has this pain been born all on its own? My pain comes from the north wind and and from the south wind, like those hermaphrodite eggs that some rare birds lay conceived of the wind. If my bride were dead, my suffering would still be the same. If they had slashed my throat all the way through, my suffering would still be the same. If life, in other words, were different, my suffering would still be the same. Today I’m in pain from higher up. Today I am simply in pain.

I look at the hungry man’s pain, and I see that his hunger walks somewhere so far from my pain that if I fasted until death, one blade of grass at least would always sprout from my grave. And the same with the lover! His blood is too fertile for mine, which has no source and no one to drink it.

I always believed up till now that all things in the world had to be either fathers or sons. But here is my pain that is neither a father nor a son. It hasn’t any back to get dark, and it has too bold a front for dawning, and if they put it into some dark room, it wouldn’t give light, and if they put it into some brightly lit room, it wouldn’t cast a shadow. Today I am in pain, no matter what happens. Today I am simply in pain.

Translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly

The Wings, by Delmira Agustini

I don’t know much about Delmira Agustini, but I encountered a few of her poems in my very favorite poetry anthology some years ago and was absolutely entranced. I wish my Spanish was better so that I could read her work in its intended language, but even in translation, poems like “The Wings” are magnificent.

THE WINGS (excerpt)

Do you remember the glory of my wings?
The golden harmony
of their rhythm, their ineffable
bright colors saturated with all the treasures
of the rainbow — but a new rainbow,
and dazzling, and divine —
so that the Future’s perfect eyes (eyes that can see all
light!) will worship…the flight.

The fiery, ravenous, singular flight
that for so long twisted the heavens,
woke up suns and meteors and storms,
shedding brilliance and fullness
onto lightning and the stars: with enough heat
and shade for all the World —
enough, even, to hatch the idea
of the “Beyond.”

One day, when I lay strangely
exhausted, on the earth,
I fell asleep in the forest’s deep carpet…
I dreamed…divine things!
I thought a smile of yours awakened me…
I did not feel my wings!…
My wings?…

I saw them melt away —  between my arms —
exactly as if they were thawing!

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime by William Carlos Williams

This is probably my favorite poem. William Carlos Williams is certainly not a minor poet and this one is included in most of his collections, but the absolute precision of its language, the intensity of its imagery, and the deep sense of loss it evokes are so powerful that I feel like it is still, somehow, under-appreciated.

THE WIDOW’S LAMENT IN SPRINGTIME

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before, but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirty-five years
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.