GUSTAVO ADOLFO BÉCQUER: In the Towering Nave of a Byzantine Temple

(from the Spanish of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer)

Tomb of Doña María de Villalobos

In the towering nave of a Byzantine temple,
by the light filtering down through
the stained-glass windows,
I saw a Gothic tomb:

a beautiful woman lying on a granite bed,
a miracle of carved stone,
her hands on her breast
and in her hands a book.

Beneath the sweet weight of her limp body,
the bed of stone was creased
just as if it really were made
of feathers and satin

and her face retained the radiance
of that last smile
as the sky preserves
the last fleeting ray of a dying sun.

Two angels, their fingers to their lips,
sat on the edge of her stone pillow
imposing silence on all
within the railed enclosure.

She did not seem dead;
she seemed to sleep
in the shadow of those massy arches,
and in her dreams to see Paradise.

Like someone coming on tip-toe
to a cradle where a child lies sleeping,
I approached that shadowy
corner of the nave.

For a moment I gazed at her,
at the soft radiance, and at
the bed of stone which offered next to her
another empty place beside the wall,

and within my soul
the thirst for the infinite rose up once more,
the desire for that life in death
compared to which the centuries are but a moment …

* * *

Weary of the daily battle
I wage simply to survive,
I remember sometimes, with longing,
that dark, hidden corner.

I picture that pale
mute woman, and I murmur:
“Oh, what a silent love is the love of death!
And what a peaceful sleep the sleep of the grave!”

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