Two for Tuesday: Delmira Agustini
Tuesday afternoon, partly cloudy, 46 degrees.
I don’t know nearly enough about Latin American poets or poetry. Fortunately, I saw a few passages of Delmira Agustini’s poetry on tumblr, which led me to look for more of her work online.
Agustini was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1886 to a well-to-do family of French and German descent. She was first home schooled by her mother and then later tutored in a fairly traditional education for a female at that time, which included music, painting, and French. Agustini was also very well read in poetry and philosophy, preferring the works of Nietzsche and Manuel Ugarte, an Argentine author. Agustini began to compose poems at a young age, and she published her first book of poetry in 1907, El Libro Blanco (The White Book).
Unfortunately, although Agustini attracted the attention of the Latin American intellectuals of her time, they tended to praise her beauty as opposed to her poetry, which was typical treatment for many female artists at that time. However, once her poetry began to encompass intense erotic imagery, that praise turned to criticism, including condescending comments about her sexual obsessions, with some critics even using the phrase “fevered Leda” (the woman who was raped by Zeus in swan form) to describe Agustini (I found a portrait of Agustini online with a swan around her neck, but I could not find any additional citations, nor could I discern the artist).
Here is a stanza from her poem “Intima (Intimate)”:
We go further into night, we go
Where in me not an echo reverberates,
Like a nocturnal flower in the shade,
I will open sweetly for you.
In 1913, Agustini married Enrique Job Reyes, with whom she had corresponded for more than five years; only a few weeks later, Agustini left Reyes and filed for divorce. However, the two continued to meet clandestinely even after the divorce was finalized in 1914. On July 6, 1914, Agustini was killed by Reyes in a murder suicide. For a more detailed biography, go here, or here.
Today’s post features two of her poems, the second a translation of a French poem.
The Knot (El Nudo)
Their idyll was a smile of four lips…
In the warm lap of blond spring
They loved such that between their wise fingers
the divine form of Chimera trembled.
In the glimmering palaces of quiet afternoons
They spoke in a language heartfelt as weeping,
And they kissed each other deeply, biting the soul!
The hours fluttered away like petals of gold,
Then Fate interposed its two icy hands…
Ah! the bodies yielded, but tangled souls
Are the most intricate knot that never unfolds…
In strife with its mad superhuman entanglements,
Life’s Furies rent their coupled hands
And wearied your powerful fingers, Ananké*…
(Trans. Valerie Martínez)
[I live, I die, I burn, I drown]*
I live, I die, I burn, I drown
I endure at once chill and cold
Life is at once too soft and too hard
I have sore troubles mingled with joys
Suddenly I laugh and at the same time cry
And in pleasure many a grief endure
My happiness wanes and yet it lasts unchanged
All at once I dry up and grow green
Thus I suffer love’s inconstancies
And when I think the pain is most intense
Without thinking, it is gone again.
Then when I feel my joys certain
And my hour of greatest delight arrived
I find my pain beginning all over once again.
*This is Agustini’s translation of 16th century poet Louise Labé: Je vis, je meurs : je me brule et me noye.
Music by Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”