POEMS BY RUBEN DARIO
from Selected Poems by Rubén Darío, translated by Lysander Kemp, University of Texas, Austin, 1988
The tree is happy because it is scarcely sentient;
the hard rock is happier still, it feels nothing:
there is no pain as great as being alive,
no burden heavier than that of conscious life.
To be, and to know nothing, and to lack a way,
and the dread of having been, and future terrors...
And the sure terror of being dead tomorrow,
and to suffer all through life and through the darkness,
and through what we do not know and hardly suspect...
And the flesh that temps us with bunches of cool grapes,
and the tomb that awaits us with its funeral sprays,
and not to know where we go,
nor whence we came!...
Silence of the night , a sad, nocturnal
silence--Why does my soul tremble so?
I hear the humming of my blood,
and a soft storm passes through my brain.
Insomnia! Not to be able to sleep, and yet
to dream. I am the autospecimen
of spiritual dissection, the auto-Hamlet!
To dilute my sadness
in the wine of the night
in the marvelous crystal of the dark--
And I ask myself: When will the dawn come?
Someone has closed a door--
Someone has walked past--
The clock has rung three--If only it were She!--
I know there are those who ask: Why does he not
sing with the same wild harmonies as before?
But they have not seen the labors of an hour
the work of a minute, the prodigies of a year.
I am an aged tree that, when I was growing.
uttered a vague, sweet sound when the breeze caressed me.
The time for youthful smiles has now passed by:
now, let the hurricane swirl my heart to song!
You that have heard the heartbeat of the night,
you that have heard, in the long, sleepless hours,
a closing door, the rumble of distant wheels,
a vague echo, a wandering sound from somewhere:
you, in the moments of mysterious silence,
when the forgotten ones issue from their prison--
in the hour of the dead, In the hour of repose--
will know how to read the bitterness in my verses.
I fill them, as one would fill a glass, with all
my grief for remote memories and black misfortunes,
the nostalgia of my flower-intoxicated soul
and the pain of a heart grown sorrowful with fêtes;
with the burden of not being what I might have been,
the loss of the kingdom that was awaiting me,
the thought of the instant when I might not have been born
and the dream my life has been ever since I was!
All this has come in the midst of that boundless silence
in which the night develops earthly illusions,
and I feel as if an echo of the world's heart
had penetrated and disturbed my own.
Ox that I saw in my childhood, as you steamed
in the burning gold on the Nicaraguan sun,
there on the rich plantation filled with tropical
harmonies; woodland dove, of the woods that sang
with the sound of the wind, of axes, of birds and wild bulls:
I salute you both, because you are both my life.
You, heavy ox, evoke the gentle dawn
that signaled it was time to milk the cow,
when my existence was all white and rose;
and you, sweet mountain dove, cooing and calling,
you signify all that my own springtime, now
so far away, possessed of the Divine Springtime.
The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States,
future invader of our naive America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.
You are strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a Professor of Energy,
as current lunatics say).
You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.
The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: "The stars are yours."
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising..) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.
But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Nezahualcóyolt;
which preserved the footprint of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantic
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love--
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauthémoc said:
"I am not in a bed of roses"--our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God's own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.
And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing:
I want to express my anguish in verses that speak
of my vanished youth, a time of dreams and roses,
and the bitter defloration of my life
by many small cares and one vast aching sorrow.
And the voyage to a dim orient in half-seen ships,
the seeds of prayer that flowered in blasphemies,
the bewilderment of a swan among the puddles,
the false nocturnal blue of a sick Bohemia.
Far-off harpsichord, silent and forgotten,
that never gave my dreams the sublime sonata;
orphan skiff, heraldic tree, dark nest
which the night made lovely with its silver light;
Hope still aromatic with fresh herbs; the trill
of the nightingale in the morning in the spring;
the white lily cut down by a fatal destiny;
the search for happiness, and evil's persecutions--
And the dismal amphora with its divine poison
that causes the inner torments of this life;
the fearful knowledge of our human mire;
and the horror of knowing that we are transitory,
the horror of walking blindly, among alarms,
toward the unknowable, toward the inevitable;
and the brute nightmares that rack our weeping sleep,
from which no one but She can wake us up!
Translations by Lysander Kemp
From Selected Poems of Rubén Darío. University of Texas Press, Austin. 1988