Sunday, May 1, 2011

Eleanor L. Turnbull's Contemporary Spanish Poetry: Selections from Ten Poets

I am getting closer to the end of my current research book list. Contemporary Spanish Poetry: Selections from Ten Poets is translated by Eleanor L. Turnbull from the original Spanish poems to the English language. This book also contains “Personal Reminiscences of the Poets: Nine or Ten Poets” written by Pedro Salinas. Salinas describes what he remembers about the person and the poems each creates, giving his literary opinion and interpretation. The Johns Hopkins Press of Baltimore, Maryland publishes this book in 1945 with a second printing in 1946. This anthology hosts poems in both Spanish and English from the following members of the Generation of 1927: José Moreno Villa, Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén, Gerardo Diego, Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Emilio Prados, Vicente Aleixandre, Luis Cernuda, and Manuel Altolaguirre. In this review, I will share portions of my favorite poems.

The first thing that stands out within José Moreno Villa’s section is his poem “Comiendo nueces y naranjas” (“Eating Nuts and Oranges”) from Jacinta la pelirroja. I see another instance in which an example of José Ortega y Gasset’s orange influences a poet. In the poet’s version, the orange becomes an object of animalistic desire instead of contemplation.

Naranjas, naranjas de fuego, de chorreosos gajos,

carne–¡oye¡ carne en pura geometría,
donde metemos cuchillo y uña

codiciosos, como las reses bravas.

Oranges, oranges of fire with dripping divisions,

and meat–yes, listen! meat in pure geometry,
where we, with greedy intent, insert
knife and nail, like so many wild animals. (60-61)

You already know about Pedro Salinas in other reviews that I have written. In Salinas’s “Verdad de dos” (“Truth of Two”) from Razón de amor, he compares the beloved and himself to the Adam and Eve of the world. His references to fruit involve the gaining of intelligence and existence. In this case, he thinks about the temptations and the consequences they face as a couple. An inverse relationship occurs between light and darkness.

Tú, la engañada

de claridad y yo de oscuridades,
cuando andábamos solos,

nos hemos entregado, al entregarnos

error y error, la trágica verdad

llamada mundo, tierra, amor, destino.

You, the one deceived

by the light and I by the darkness,
while we were walking alone,
have given each other now by our mutual exchange
of error and error, the tragic truth
called experience, earth, love, destiny. (110-111)

I like Jorge Guillén’s “Ardor” (“Ardor”) from Cántico for the very simple fact that he portrays a bullfight in the bullring. I have attended a few bullfights while residing in Spain and they have been unforgettable, notwithstanding its accompanying controversy. Whether one approves or opposes tauromaquia in practice, it certainly is a cultural phenomenon indigenous to Spain and its surrounding borders. The feelings I get when I watch a bullfight resurge when I read this poem.

¡Qué despejado lo azul,

Qué gravitación tranquila!
Y en el silencio se ci
erne
La unanimidad del día,

Que ante el toro estupefacto

Se reconcentra amarilla.

¡Ardor: reconcentración

De espíritus en sus dichas!

How unobstructed the blue,

How tranquil the weight of gravity!
And in the silence is soaring
The full accord of the day,
That before the stupefied bull
Is massed on the sand in yellow.
Fervid heat: a concentration
Of spirits on their own happiness! (152-153)

Gerardo Diego’s poetry incorporates rhyming that the layman can recognize. “Romance del Duero” (“Ballad of the River Duero”) from Soria beholds the river’s surface as it passes a city. I speculate that this poem may refer to the cultural, and possibly political, sentiments of the time. The city may represent a group of people with strong inclinations that collide with the candid and unpretentious reflection of reality. But if the river does not symbolize this relationship, then is the river just for lovers that whisper sweet nothings to each other near its banks?

Río Duero, río Duero,

nadie a acompañarte baja;
nadie se detiene a oír

tu eterna estrofa de agua.

Indiferente o cobarde,

la ciudad vuelve la espalda.
No quiere ver en tu espejo

su muralla desdentada.

Duero, river Duero,

no one comes down to go with you;
no one stays his steps to hearken
your endless strophe of water.

Indifferent or a coward,

the city turns her back to you.
She cares not to see reflected
her toothless walls in your mirror. (170-171)

Federico García Lorca, the rock star of the Generation of 1927, is the most popular and memorable of his class. “Romance sonámbulo” (“Ballad Walking in Sleep”) from Romancero gitano is my favorite poem from his work. The rhythm of his poetry has the right beats, the right pauses, and the most musical quality. Almost anyone can memorize his songs and upbeat attitude. Upon closer look, one can see that Lorca incorporates elements of flamenco and cante jondo of the Gypsies, a race he admires.

Verde que te quiero verde.

Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar

y el caballo en la montaña.

Con la sombra en la cintura

ella sueña en su baranda,

verde carne, pelo verde,

con ojos de fría plata.

Verde que te quiero verde.

Bajo la luna gitana,

las cosas la están mirando

y ella no puede mirarlas.

Green, oh I want you green.

Green wind and green the branches.
The ship upon the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With shade at her girdle,
she dreams at her railing,
green her flesh, green her hair,
and her eyes of cold silver.
Green, oh I want you green.
Under the gipsy moon,
things are gazing at her,
she cannot gaze at them. (184-185)

Rafael Alberti gives a succinct treatment of whimsy in “Pregón” (“Street Cry”) from El alba de alhelí. Having combed the streets of numerous cities along Spain’s east coast on hot summer days, I would have taken up on this seller’s offer.

¡Vendo nubes de colores:

las redondas, coloradas,
para endulzar los calores!

I sell clouds of many colors:

dark clouds to cool heat of summers! (242-243)

I notice Emilio Prados’s “Forma de la huída” (“A Form of Flight”) from Nuevos vínculos also looks at the fruit and the lover’s absence, although in a more fatalistic way.

Sin fe en la vista y sin rosa;

perdido el amor; parado
el sueño, vuelvo humillado . . .

¡Qué torpe fruto la ausencia

dejó mordido en mi mano!

¡Qué negro dolor de sombra

pegado a mi cuerpo traigo!

Without faith in sight, without

rose; love lost and the dream stayed,
I come back humbled and sad . . .
How ugly the fruit of absence
left bitten off in my hand!
What a black sorrow of shadow
I bear about with my body! (286-287)

I have a hard time digesting Vicente Aleixandre’s poetry because he really fantasizes about death to the point that I find it as necrophilia. He treats his objects in a romantic way, receiving inspiration of the pure chaos and terror of nature. “Quiero saber” (“I Would Know”), from La destrucción o el amor, rebelliously questions the rationalization of Enlightenment ideas about life.

Dime pronto el secreto de tu existencia;

quiero saber por qué la piedra no es pluma,
ni el corazón un árbol delicado,

ni por qué esa niña que muere entre dos venas ríos

no se va hacia la mar como todos los buques.

Quiero saber si el corazón es una lluvia o margen,

lo que se queda a un lado cuando dos se sonríen,
o es sólo la frontera entre dos manos nuevas

que estrechan una piel caliente que no separa.

Tell me quickly the secret of your existence;

I would know why the stone is not a feather,
nor the heart a delicate tree,
or why that little girl who is dying between two river veins
does not sail towards the sea like all ships.

I would know if the heart is a rain or a margin,

that which remains at one side when two smile at each other,
or is it only the frontier between two young hands
that press a warm skin that does not divide. (312-313)

Luis Cernuda takes us back to the introspective self in “Como leve sonido” (“Like the Light Sound”) from Los placeres prohibidos. He ponders the contradictions of philosophy even in a poem of love. I especially like how he uses the leaf, influenced by Greek poetry, to represent the passing lives of humans.

Como esta vida que no es mía

Y sin embargo es la mía;
Como este afán sin nombre

Que no me pertenece y sin embargo soy yo;

Como todo aquello que de cerca o de lejos

Me roza, me besa, me hiere,
Tu presencia está conmigo fuera y dentro,

Es mi vida misma y no es mi vida,

Así como una hoja y otra hoja

Son la apariencia del viento que las lleva.

Like this life that is not mine

And nevertheless is mine;
Like this eagerness without name
That does not belong to me and yet is myself;

Like all that which near or far

Touches me, kisses me, wounds me,
Your presence is with me without and within,
Is my life itself and is not my life,
Thus like a leaf and another leaf,
They are the semblance of the wind that bears them away. (344-345)

Manuel Altolaguirre’s poems are short and terse. My favorite is “Desenvainaré mi alma” (“I shall unsheathe my soul”) from Soledades juntas. I imagine scenes from Milton’s Paradise Lost and biblical scripture. It is heroic and manly, defending justice with alacrity.

Desenvainaré mi alma

como una espada de fuego.
Mi mano sola con ella,

luminosa, ardiente, dura,

expulsará de su reino

al que se sienta desnudo.

Hay que no sentir la forma,

ni los roces, ni los fríos,

ni las caricias, ni el fuego.

Las flores nunca pecaron.

Entre ellas mi mano almada

dará su luz o la muerte.

I shall unsheathe my soul

like to a sword of fire.
My arm alone with it,
shining, eager and strong,
shall drive forth from its kingdom
those ashamed of their nakedness.
The form must not be felt,
the friction, nor the cold,
the fire, nor the caresses.
Flowers ne’er yielded to sin.
Midst them my soulful hand
will shed its light or death. (394-395)

This anthology is a good read for those who want to find selections from a variety of Spanish poets in one book. Turnbull’s translations are readable and reliable.


Andrew

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