My friend: well then, they asked me
Asked after you and my sadness
Though it’s true you weren’t taken
Taken by earth or by sea
Nor even the happy breeze.
My friend: it’s true, I was sad
Just because you weren’t taken
By weather or swelling sea,
Nor by the earth, or the breeze
Nor even by some affliction.
My friend: if they ask after you
They should know I heard it in silence.
He left in the fullness of night-time
In a dense flock of shadows he left.
He was wounded by love in the vein.
And the waters rose to proclaim him
And the trees murmured his name
And the spirits of clouds claimed him.
Oh, and of that bitter silence
That grew in my silent breast-
Of that my love knew nothing.
Through mud slush and upright oak
Through prizes and penance
I follow with light and song.
Unnoticed in the thawing world
Missing you most when you are here
I say and unsay myself in you.
If, when the roads are all closed,
You knock along narrow lanes
Brought down by burdens groaning
Or you dance in musty moonlight
Tell my friend
His penance doesn’t please me.
On the street and in squares
Eyeless, footless and unhinged
No shadow, no voice of my love.
They are all down the bridges
That held the weight of the world.
Now I don’t have you or my will
In the dead dance of yesterdays
Empty under the horizon.
Eduardo Blanco Amor (1897-1979)
Poemas Galegos (Galaxia, 1987)
Reading is a roving light. You focus your attention on one thing at a time and zoom into it to concentrate on the details: the rhythm, the texture, the significance of the words the poem presents to you. Each poem creates a world unique to itself and the concentrated light of reading enables you to appreciate these qualities. I half translated this poem last year and reworked it without the original in front of me this morning, so this version is true to the feeling of the original even if not word-by-word accurate.
It is a powerful lament for lost love with resonant lines that evoke in me a strong emotional response in recognition of what he is describing: ambivalence, silence, hurt, the desire to suffer and rejection. And even that self-imposed suffering is not wanted: “his penance doesn’t please me.” In the final stanzas we have an Auden-esque vision of bridges down, communications blocked, roads closed. Each material thing mentioned cries out for a symbolic reading.
Blanco Amor was a homosexual who published Lorca’s poems in Galician. He took a strong stance against the Nationalists and lived in exile in Buenos Aires until 1965. He was clearly not going to be able to make the kind of accommodations with the fascist dictatorship that Cunqueiro so successfully brought off.
I am captured by the poem’s voice and the world it presents. It involves me. When I withdraw, like a bather emerging from a pool, and sit apart admiring its ripples, I cast a glance back at Cunqueiro and it seems to me that they have a lot in common in spite of being so different. Cunqueiro is a fabulist; Blanco Amor creates a self-sufficient poetic world that resonates with saudade and morriña. Neither of them are overtly political. You enter these poetic worlds and you know that it is poetry, a world sharing many features of the one I live in- bridges, oak trees, roads- but curiously lacking in real features: banks, cars, armies, policemen, repression. It is timeless.
So, as I sit at the poolside still tingling with the sensation of what it was like to be immersed in that world, I can ask myself more reflective and general questions that I was not conscious of when I surrendered myself to the poet’s magic. This is when my recurrent interests reassert themselves- that collection of preoccupations that lead me from pool to pool, as it were.
I ask myself whether poetic sensibility is necessarily on a different level from ordinary life. Would it be possible to write a good poem about plumbing, ipads or global warming? And, beyond that, the big question that affects me because I am so affected by poetry: does the identity poets create in their work represent a bona fide and practicable vision of life outside the poetic world? Is it possible to read Blanco Amor in the morning and then go home to “work on a relationship” with self-help prose in the afternoon? Do gay men write the best love poetry?
I have no answer to these questions but would be interested to read your thoughts.