“And at the altar of the night, like a flower inflamed, | Inebriated by strange perfumes, my soul resigns.” ~ Delmira Agustini, from “In the Light of the Moon (Al Claro De Luna)”

Cover of Diego Fischer’s book about Delmira Agustini (if anyone knows who created this cover, please let me know; I could not find the source)
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”

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“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ragnar Sandberg White Birds on Dark Background 1968 canvas
“White Birds on Dark Background (1968, canvas)
by Ragnar Sandberg

                   

April is National Poetry Month

Here is another lovely that I’ve been storing up in my drafts. Just love Darwish, and can completely relate to the desire to become a bird . . .

Mural

This is your name —
a woman said,
and vanished through the winding corridor
There I see heaven within reach.
The wing of a white dove carries me
towards another childhood. And I never dreamt
that I was dreaming. Everything is real.
I knew I was casting myself aside . . .
and flew. I shall become what I will
in the final sphere. And everything
is white . The sea suspended
upon a roof of white clouds. Nothingness is white
in the white heaven of the absolute.
I was and was not. In this eternity’s white regions,
I’m alone. I came before I was due;
no angel appeared to tell me:
“What did you do back there, in the world?”
I didn’t hear the pious call out,
nor the sinners moan for I’m alone
in the whiteness. I’m alone.
Nothing hurts at the door of doom.
Neither time nor emotion. I don’t feel
the lightness of things, or the weight
of apprehensions. I couldn’t find
anyone to ask: Where is my where now?
Where is the city of the dead,
and where am I? Here
in this no-here, in this no-time,
there’s no being, nor nothingness.
As if I had died once before,
I know this epiphany, and know
I’m on my way towards what I don’t know.
Perhaps I’m still alive somewhere else,
and know what I want.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a thought,
taken to the wasteland
neither by the sword or the book
as if it were rain falling on a mountain
split by a burgeoning blade of grass,
where neither might will triumph,
nor justice the fugitive.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a bird,
and wrest my being from my non-being.
The longer my wings will burn,
the closer I am to the truth, risen from the ashes.
I am the dialogue of dreamers; I’ve shunned my body and self
to finish my first journey towards meaning,
which burnt me, and disappeared.
I’m absence. I’m the heavenly renegade.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a poet,
water obedient to my insight. My language a metaphor
for metaphor, so I will neither declaim nor point to a place;
place is my sin and subterfuge.
I’m from there. My here leaps
from my footsteps to my imagination . . .
I am he who I was or will be,
made and struck down
by the endless, expansive space.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a vine;
let summer distil me even now,
and let the passers-by drink my wine,
illuminated by the chandeliers of this sugary place!
I am the message and the messenger,
I am the little addresses and the mail.
One day I shall become what I want.
This is your name —
a woman said,
and vanished in the corridor of her whiteness.
This is your name; memorise it well!
Do not argue about any of its letters,
ignore the tribal flags,
befriend your horizontal name,
experience it with the living
and the dead, and strive
to have it correctly spelt
in the company of strangers and carve it
into a rock inside a cave:
O my name, you will grow
as I grow, you will carry me
as I will carry you;
a stranger is brother to a stranger;
we shall take the female with a vowel
devoted to flutes.
O my name: where are we now?

Tell me: What is now? What is tomorrow? What’s time, what’s place, what’s old, what’s new?
One day we shall become what we want.

~ Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Sargon Boulus

Music by Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”

“For it is all or nothing in this life, for there is no other.” ~ Larry Levis, from “At the Grave of My Guardian Angel: St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans”

“Hamstead through a Window” (1937)
by Walker Evans

                    

“Oh live oak, thoughtless beauty in a century of pulpy memoirs,
Spreading into the early morning sunlight
As if it could never be otherwise, as if it were all a pure proclamation of leaves & a final quiet—”

~ Larry Levis, from “At the Grave of My Guardian Angel: St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans”

Apparently my blog is six years old today. Happy anniversary . . . I think . . .

Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage

It’s a list of what I cannot touch:

Some dandelions & black eyed susans growing back, like innocence
Itself, with its thoughtless style,

Over an abandoned labor camp south of Piedra;

And the oldest trees, in that part of Paris with a name I forget,
Propped up with sticks to keep their limbs from cracking,

And beneath such quiet, a woman with a cane,

And knowing, if I came back, I could not find them again;

And a cat I remember who slept on the burnished mahogany
In the scooped out beveled place on the counter below

The iron grillwork, the way you had to pass your letter over him
As he slept through those warm afternoons

In New Hampshire, the gray fur stirring a little as he inhaled;

The small rural post office growing smaller, then lost, tucked
Into the shoreline of the lake when I looked back;

Country music from a lone radio in an orchard there.
The first frost already on the ground.

~

And those who slipped out of their names, as if called
Out of them, as if they had been waiting

To be called:

Stavros lecturing from his bequeathed chair at the Cafe Midi,
In the old Tower Theatre District, his unending solo

Above the traffic on Olive, asking if we knew what happened
To the Sibyl at Cumae after Ovid had told her story,

After Petronius had swept the grains of sand from it, how,

Granted eternal life, she had forgotten to ask for youth, & so,
As she kept aging, as her body shrank within itself

And the centuries passed, she finally

Became so tiny they had to put her into a jar, at which point
Petronious lost track of her, lost interest in her,

And at which point she began to suffocate

In the jar, suffocate without being able to die, until, finally,
A Phoenician sailor slipped the gray piece of pottery—

Its hue like an overcast sky & revealing even less—

Into his pocket, & sold it on the docks at Piraeus to a shop owner
Who, hearing her gasp, placed her in a bird cage

On a side street just off Onmonios Square, not to possess her,

But to protect her from pedestrians, & the boys of Athens rattled
The bars of the cage with sticks as they ran past yelling,

“Sibyl, Sibyl, what do you want?”—each generation having to
Listen more closely than the one before it to hear

The faintest whispered rasp from the small bitter seed
Of her tongue as she answered them with the same

Remark passing through time, “I want to die!” As time passed & she
Gradually grew invisible, the boys had to press

Their ears against the cage to hear her,

And then one day the voice became too faint, no one could hear it,
And after that they stopped telling

The story. And then it wasn’t a story, it was only an empty cage
That hung outside a shop among the increasing

Noise of traffic, &, from the Square itself, blaring from loudspeakers,
The shattered glass & bread of political speeches

That went on half the night, & the intermittent music of strip shows
In summer when the doors of the bars were left open,

And then, Stavros said, the sun shone straight through the cage.

You could see there was nothing inside it, he said, unless you noticed
How one of the little perches swung back & forth, almost

Imperceptibly there, though the street was hot, windless; or unless
You thought you saw a trace of something flicker across

The small mirror above the thimbleful of water, which of course
Shouldn’t have been there, which should have evaporated

Like the voice that went on whispering ceaselessly its dry rage

Without listeners. He said that even if anyone heard it,
They could not have recognized the dialect

As anything human.

He would lie awake, the only boy in Athens who

Still heard it repeating its wish to die, & he was not surprised
He said, when the streets, the bars & strip shows,

Began to fill with German officers, or when the loudspeakers
And the small platform in the Square were, one day,

Shattered into a thousand pieces.

As the years passed, as even the sunlight began to seem
As if it was listening to him outside the windows

Of the Midi, he began to lose interest in stories, & to speak
Only in abstractions, to speak only of theories,

Never of things.

Then he began to come in less frequently, & when he did,
He no longer spoke at all. And so,

Along the boulevards in winter the bare limbs of the trees
One passed in the city became again

Only the bare limbs of trees, no girl stepped into them
To tell us of their stillness. We would hear

Rumors of Stavros following the gypsy pentacostalists into
Their tents, accounts of him speaking in tongues;

Glossalalia, he once said, which was all speech, & none.

In a way, it didn’t matter anymore. Something in time was fading—
And though girls still came to the cafe to flirt or argue politics

Or buy drugs from the two ancient boys expressionless as lizards
Now as they bent above a chessboard—

By summer the city parks had grown dangerous.

No one went there anymore to drink wine, dance, & listen
To metal amplified until it seemed, as it had

Seemed once, the bitter, cleansing angel released at last from what
Fettered it inside us. And maybe there

Wasn’t any angel after all. The times had changed. It became
Difficult to tell for sure. And anyway,

There was a law against it now, a law against gathering at night
In the parks was actually all that the law

Said was forbidden for us to do, but it came to the same thing.
It meant you were no longer permitted to know,

Or to decide for yourself,

Whether there was an angel inside you, or whether there wasn’t.

~

Poverty is what happens at the end of any story, including this one,
When there are too many stories.

When you can believe in all of them, & so believe in none;
When one condition is as good as any other.

The swirl of wood grain in the desk, is it the face of an angel, or
The photograph of a girl, the only widow in her high school,

After she has decided to turn herself

Into a tree? (It was a rainy afternoon, & her van skidded at sixty;
For a split second the trunk of an oak had never seemed

So solemn as it did then, widening before her.)

Or is it Misfortune itself, or the little grimace the woman
Makes with her mouth above the cane,

There, then not there, then there again?

Or is the place where all the comparisons, the little comforts
Like the cane she’s leaning on, give way beneath us?

~

What do you do when nothing calls you anymore?
When you turn & there is only the light filling the empty window?

When the angel fasting inside you has grown so thin it flies
Out of you a last time without your

Knowing it, & the water dries up in its thimble, & the one swing
In the cage comes to rest after its almost imperceptible,

Almost endless, swaying?

~

I’m going to stare at the whorled grain of wood in this desk
I’m bent over until it’s infinite,

I’m going to make it talk, I’m going to make it

Confess everything.

I was about to ask you if you were cold, if you wanted a sweater, Because . . .
well, as Stavros would say

Before he began one of those

Stories that seemed endless, the sun pressing against
The windows of the cafe & glinting off the stalled traffic

Just beyond them, this could take a while;


I pass the letter I wrote to you over the sleeping cat & beyond

the iron grillwork, into the irretrievable.

~ Larry Levis

                   

Music by Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”