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!”

C. P. KAVAFY: Candles

(Translated from the Greek of C. P. Kavafy)

The days to come stand before us
like a line of lit candles,
glowing and warm.

Behind us, the candles of by-gone days
line up, a piteous burnt-out row,
the nearest ones still smoking,
the rest all cold and melted out of shape.

I don’t want to see them; their shape upsets me,
and it upsets me to recall how bright they were.
I look ahead to my lit candles.

I don’t want to turn and see, to my horror,
how quickly that dark row lengthens,
how quickly the burnt-out candles multiply.


(from the Spanish of Juan Ramón Jiménez)

With that kiss, your mouth
to my mouth, a rose-tree
was sown whose roots
gnaw at my heart.

It was autumn, the vast, empty sky
filled with sunlight
that sucked up all the gold of life
in columns of splendour.

Now, dry summer-time
has come, and the rose-tree – everything passes! –
has opened, too late
a bud of pain in each of my eyes.

Do check out this poet’s Platero y Yo – click on either of these images to find it free in Spanish and (the first couple of chapters) in English.

There is also a good dual-language edition about – Platero and I/Platero y yo: A Dual-Language Book (Dover Dual Language Spanish) – the paperback is good, the Kindle version apparently not good.


(Translated from the French of Charles Baudelaire)

For fun sometimes the crew will catch an albatross,
Those huge birds of the open ocean
Who follow ships across the wide abyss,
Gliding high above them with a lazy motion.

But no sooner do they have it on the deck
Than this erstwhile king of the skies
Flops its long white neck pathetically
And trails its great wings like oars at its sides.

This wingèd voyager, now so clumsy and weak!
Once so beautiful, now an ugly buffoon!
A sailor will prod its beak with a sharp stick,
While another mimics, limping, this cripple that flew past the moon.

The Poet is like that prince of the clouds
Who rides the storm and laughs at the bowmen who stalk him;
Exiled on land amid the jeering crowds
His wings of a giant prevent him even from walking.


(translated from the French of Alfred de Musset)

People ask
Why I go gawping at the passing tarts
Dark glasses over red eyes, lolling
Smoking in the sun to see
Another woman. To what purpose
Life slips by
And what these idle years
These sleepless nights have done to me.

Kiss me, Julie!
Ah but these wild lucid nights
Have left you pale
Have dulled the coral lustre of your lips.
Moisten them
Scent them with your breath
Bite them, little African, then offer me
Raw lips of blood, beautiful and pure.

Presses poised
My publisher in impotent rage
Rants on, wanting production, the printed page,
The public will not wait, markets pass,
And I have nothing to produce.
Even the respectable
Are not above offering their opinion:
I am
No longer any use.

Some wine, Julie! Spanish wine!
Fetch me the little that we left
How ecstasy coursed through us, taking its toll.
Ah Julie, Julie! Your lips are burning!
Let’s dream up some new folly
To salt the flayed flesh, the raw soul.

My corruption is emptying me they say
Leaving me hollowed out
Fit only to rot apart.
If I were worth it
They would ship me off to St Helena,
A cancer consuming my heart.

Wait! Wait, my pearl, my Julie.
You’ll see me burn
Like Hercules on his menhir.
Since at your hand I expire
Loosen those silks, Dejanire –
Slip them off.
I would mount my proper funeral pyre.

FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA: The Ballad of the Sleepwalker

(from the Spanish of Federico García Lorca)

Green, how I love you green.
Green wind. Green boughs.
The ship on the sea,
the horse on the mountain.

The shade at her waist,
she dreams on the balcony,
green flesh, green hair,
cold silver eyes.

Green, how I love you green.
Beneath the gypsy moon
things look at her
but she cannot look at them.

Green, how I love you green.
Huge stars of hoarfrost
come with the fish of darkness
which opens the path of dawn.

The fig-tree rubs the wind
with the dogfish skin of its boughs,
and the mountain, a wild cat,
bristles with harsh maguey.

But who will come, and from where …?
She stays on her balcony,
green flesh, green hair,
dreaming in the bitter sea.

Friend, I want to swap
my horse for your house,
my saddle for your mirror,
my knife for your blanket.
Friend, I come bleeding
from the passes of Cabra.

If I could, lad,
I would do a deal.
But I am no longer myself,
my house no longer my house.

Friend, I want to die
decently in bed.
An iron one, if that may be,
made up with linen sheets.
Do you not see this wound
from my breast to my throat?

Three hundred dark roses
soak your white shirt.
Your blood oozes and smells
around your sash.
But I am no longer myself,
nor is my house now my house.

At least let me up to
the high balconies.
Let me go up! Let me
up to the green balconies.
Balconies of the moon
where the water echoes.

So up the two friends go
to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood.
Leaving a trail of tears.

Little tin lanterns
flicker on the roofs.
A thousand glass tambourines
fragment the sunrise.

Green, how I love you green,
green wind, green branches.

Up the two friends climbed.
The sharp wind left a strange
taste in the mouth, of bile
and of mint and of basil.

Friend! Where is she, tell me,
where is your embittered daughter?

How many times she expected you!
How many times she awaited you,
fresh face, black hair,
on this green balcony!

On the surface of the tank
the gypsy girl floated.
Green flesh, green hair,
cold silver eyes.
An icicle of moonlight
kept her above the water.

The night grew as close
as a small town square.
Drunken civil guards
hammered at the door.

Green, how I love you green.
Green wind, green boughs.
The ship on the sea.
The horse on the mountain.


(from the Spanish of Antonio Machado)

The clock struck twelve … and they
were twelve blows of the spade
upon the earth … ‘My time!’ I cried …
Silence answered: ‘Do not be afraid;
you will not see fall that last drop
which trembles in the water-clock.

‘You will have time a-plenty
to sleep upon the old, familiar shore,
ere one cloudless morning you awake
to find your boat moored on the other side.’


(translated from the Greek of Andreas Kalvos for Stella, one of my favourite students)

Let those who feel
the heavy brazen hand of fear
bear slavery:
freedom needs virtue,
needs daring.

This (for myth may veil
the spirit of truth) lent wings
to Icarus – and though he fell,
the wingèd one and drowned
beneath the waves,

he fell from on high
and died free. Should you
die like a sheep, dishonoured,
at the hands of a tyrant,
your grave will be an abomination.

Why is this poem of particular significance to me? Because for so many years I lived like a sheep, dishonoured, at the hands of tyrants; when when my time comes may I too die free, back where I belong, beneath the waves.


(from the Spanish of Antonio Machado)

a rainbow shone in the sky
and the countryside was enveloped
in rain and sunshine.

I awoke. Who was muddying
the magical windows of my dream?
My heart thumped,
shocked and disoriented.

… The blossoming lemon tree,
the garden cyprus,
the green meadow, the sun, the water, the rainbow …
the water in your hair …

And everything fading in my memory
like a soap-bubble in the wind.


AND IT WAS THE DEVIL of my dream,
the most beautiful angel. His eyes,
triumphant, shone like steel,
the bloody flames of his torch
lit the deep crypt of my soul.

Will you come with me? No, never.
Tombs and the dead terrify me.
But his iron hand
gripped my right wrist.

You will come with me. And in my dream
I moved forward, blinded by the red altar-light.
And in the crypt I heard the clank of chains
and the stirring of caged beasts.


It was the good voice, the voice I love …
Tell me, will you come with me to see the soul? …
A caress reached my heart.

‘With you, any time.’ And in my dream
I went down a long, empty corridor,
conscious of the rustle of her robe,
the soft pulse of her tender hand.


ONE FINE DAY, THE WIND summoned my heart
with the scent of jasmine.

In exchange for this aroma
I want all the aroma of your roses

I have no roses; there are no flowers
in my garden: all have died.

I’ll take the teardrops from the fountains,
the yellow leaves and the withered petals.

And away the wind flew … My heart bled …
‘Soul, what have you done to your poor garden?’


the hand that scattered the stars
played – like one note of the immense lyre –
the forgotten music,
and the humble wave of a few words of truth
came to our lips.


under the laurel is wet;
on the white wall, the rain has washed
the dusty leaves of the ivy.

Between the Devil – “You will come with me!” – and “the voice I love”, I drift, rudderless. “Soul, what have you done to your poor garden?” What, indeed?