December 3, 2008

Alfonsina Storni

Alfonsina Storni [Argentina]
1892-1938

Born of Italian parents in Switzerland, Alfonsina Storni's parents emigrated to Argentina in 1885. They returned to Switzerland again in 1889 for an extended visit, where Alfonsina was born. She was three at their return to San Juan.

Almost immediately the family had great financial difficulty. Her father took to drinking, neglecting his business, and was absent much of the time. Storni's mother, Paulinia, struggled to keep the family fed and in clothing, moving to Rosario after the father's death in 1906. At thirteen, accordingly, Alfonsina began to work at a nearby hat factory to supplement her family's income. During this period, however, she was recognized by a local theatrical company and began touring with them.

In 1909 Storni enrolled in a school for rural teachers. She also secretly participated in the chorus of a theater, and when her theatrical activities were discovered, the incident created a minor scandal. Storni ran away, leaving a suicide note.

In 1912 she arrived in Buenos Aires with her diploma and an infant son, eventually finding employment working as a cashier. Later she worked at an import firm. Her first poems began to appear during this period, and in 1916 her first book, La inquietud del rosal (The Restlessness of the Rosebush) was published. The poems revealed her affinities to European modernism and symbolic writing. But later she denounced this work and attempted to prevent it from inclusion in collections.

Her book, however, in its complaints against sexual injustice, became a sensation in Buenos Aires, and she soon became invovled in the literary world of the city, one of the first women to participate in that all-male society. Her dramatic readings at the poetic events led her friends to help her get a position, created especially for her, at the Lavarden Children's Theater and a chair in reading at the Normal School of Modern Languages. She devoted her energies for the next several years to teaching. She also published several volumes of poetry, El dulce dano (1918, The Secret Pain), Irremediablemente (1919, Irremediably), and Languidez (1920, Languor).

Throughout the 1920s she directed the Teatro Infantil, a position which the city had created for her. But her financial security and professional admiration did not assuage her sense of gender injustice or her own dismay at having to be dependent upon men. Her work Ocre in 1925 began a change in her writing from a heightened romantic sensibility to concern with the status of women throughout the century. Later work's include El mundo de siete pozos (1934, The World of Seven Wells) and Mascarilla y trebol (1938, Mask and Clover), the latter of them appearing after her death.

In bad health and suffering from depression, Storni walked into the sea in October 1938 to her death.


BOOKS OF POETRY

La inquietude del rosa (1916); Irremediablement (1919); Languidez (1920); Ocre (1925); Mundo de siete pozos (1934); Antologia Poetica (1936); Mascarilla y trebol (1938); Obra po├ętica (1946, 1952); Obras completas (1964).

ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS

Selected Poems, translated by Marion Freeman, Mary Crow, Jim Normington, and Kay Short, edited by Marion Freeman (Fredonia, New York: White Pine Press, 1987).


You Want Me White

You'd like me to be white as dawn,
You'd like me to be made of foam,
You wish I were mother of pearl,
A lily
Chaste above all others.
Of delicate perfume.
A closed bud.

Not one ray of the moon
Should have filtered me,
Not one daisy
Should have called me sister.
You want me to be snowy,
You want me to be white,
You want me to be like dawn.

You who have held all the wineglasses
In your hand,
Your lips stained purple
With fruit and honey
You who in the banquet
Crowned with young vines
Made toasts with your flesh to Bacchus.
You who in the gardens
Black with Deceit
Dressed in red
Ran to your Ruin.

You who keep your skeleton
Well preserved, intact,
I don't know yet
Through what miracles
You want to make me white
(God forgive you),
You want to make me chaste
(God forgive you),
You want to make me like dawn!

Run away to the woods;
Go to the mountain;
Wash your mouth;
Get to know the wet earth
With your hands;
Feed your body
With bitter roots;
Drink from the rocks;
Sleep on the white frost;
Renew your tissue
With the salt of rocks and water;
Talk to the birds
And get up at dawn.
And when your flesh
Has returned to you,
and when you have put
Your soul back into it,
Your soul which was left entangled
In all the bedrooms,
Then, my good man,
Ask me to be white,
Ask me to be snowy,
Ask me to be chaste.

Translated from the Spanish by Marion Freeman and Mary Crow

(from El dulce dano, 1918)


The Moment

A city of gray bones
lies abandoned at my feet.

The piles of bones
are separated by black trenches,
the streets,
divided by them,
ordered, raised by them.
In the city, bristling with two million men,
I haven't a single one to love me.

The sky, even grayer
than the city,
descends over me,
takes over my life,
stops up my arteries,
turns off my voice...

However,
the world,
like a whirlwind
from which I can't escape,
turns rond a dead point:
my heart.

Translated by Marion Freeman and Mary Crow

(from Mundo de siete pozos, 1934)


And the Head Began to Burn

On the black
wall
a square
opened up
that looked out
over the void.

And the moon rolled
up to the window;
it stopped
and said to me:
"I'm not moving from here;
I'm looking at you.

I don't want to grow
or get thin.
I'm the infinite
flower
that opens up
in the square hole
in your house.

I no longer want
to roll on
behind
the lands
that you don't know,
my butterfly,
sipper of shadows.

Or raise phantoms
over the far off
cupolas
that drink me.

I'm watching
I see you."

And I didn't answer.
A head was sleeping
under my hands.

White,
like you,
moon.

The wells of its eyes
held a dark
water
streaked
with luminous snakes.

And suddenly
my head
began to burn
like the stars
at twilight.

And my hands
were stained
with a phosphorescent
substance.

And with it
I burn
the houses
of men,
the forests
of beasts.

Translated from the Spanish by Marion Freeman

(from Mundo de siete pozos, 1934)


Departure

A road
to the limit:
high golden doors
close it off;
deep galleries;
arcades...

The air has no weight;
the doors stand by themselves
in the emptiness;
they disintegrate into golden dust;
they close, they open;
they go down to the algae
tombs;
they come up loaded with coral.

Patrols,
there are patrols of columns;
the doors hide
behind the blue parapets;
water bursts into fields of forget-me-nots;
it tosses up deserts of purple crystals.
it incubates great emerald worms;
it plaits its innumerable arms.

A rain of wings,
now;
pink angels
dive like arrows
into the sea.
I could walk on them
without sinking.
A path of ciphers
for my feet;
columns of numbers
for each step—
submarie.

They carry me:
invisible vines
stretch out their hooks
from the horizon.
My neck creaks.
I walk.
The water holds its own.
My shoulders open into wings.
I touch the ends of the sky
with their tips.
I wound it.
The sky's blood
bathing the sea...
poppies, poppies,
there is nothing but poppies.

I grow light:
the flesh falls from my bones.
Now.
The sea rises through the channels
of my spine.
Now.
The sky rolls through the bed
of my veins.
Now.
The sun! the sun!
Its last rays
envelop me,
push me:
I am a spindle
I spin, spin, spin, spin!

Translated from the Spanish by Marion Freeman

(from Antologia Poetica, 1936)


Supertelephone

"Can I speak to Horatio?" I know that now
you have a nest of doves in your bladder,
and your crystal motorcycle flies
silently through the air.

"Papa?" I dreamed that your flask
swelled up like the Tupungato river;
it still holds your anger and my poems.
Pour me a drop. Thanks. Now I feel fine.

I'll be seeing you both very soon. Come to meet me
with that frog I killed at our country house
in San Juan; poor frog—we stoned it to death.

It looked at us like an ox, and my two cousins
finsihed it off; later it had a funeral
with skillets banging, and roses followed it.

Translated from the Spanish by Marion Freeman

(from Mascarilla y trebol, 1938)




Suggestion of Bird Song

Death hasn't been born yet, it's asleep
on a rose-colored beach. Consider the Greek:
he didn't die from infamy and hemlock;
and above the Aropolis he burns.

Who told you that envy's finger
streaked my clothes with yellow?
It was a butterfly overloaded
with pollen passing by.

Do you hear? Rats in the offices
aren't biting the boss's soles;
That'a fine rain of dry

violets that rustles as it falls;
and the young man's unreaveling heart
is William's heroic apple.

Translated from the Spanish by Marion F. Freeman


Sea Winds

My heart was a flower
of foam;
one petal of snow,
another of salt;
the sea wind took it
and put it
into a rough hand

hardened by the sea.
So fine a lace
on a rough hand.
How to drop anchor?
A gust of wind

picked it up again;
carried it tumbling
through immensity.
It's still drifting.
It tangles in the chains
that strike the flanks
of ships...oh!



Translated from the Spanish by Mary Crow



Circles with No Center


Sky sponge,
green flesh of the sea,
I had to travel
along your smooth tracks.

Ahead, roads
not for walking parted;
alongside, highways
for navigating opened;
and behind, routes for
retracing the way
led off.

Long nights and days
a prow cut you ceaselessly
but your center never changed,
green circle of the sea.

My flesh didn't want to burn
on your cold emerald.
My heart turned green
as the flesh of the sea.

I said to my body: Be reborn!
To my heart: Don't stop!
My body longed to put down roots,
green roots into the sea's flesh.

The boat that carried me
knew only how to weigh anchor,
but the body containing me
remained ecstatic on the sea.

Circles circled above
and circles rose from the depth of the sea;
fishes lifted their heads
and started to yell.

Translated from the Spanish by Mary Crow



Permissions

"You Want Me White," "The Moment," "And the Head Began to Burn," "Supertelephone," and "Departure"
Reprinted from Selected Poems, Edited by Marion Freeman and trans. by Marion Freeman, Mary Crow, Jim Normington, and Kay Short (Fredonia, New York: White Pine Press, 1987). Copyright ©1987 by Marion Freeman, Mary Crow, Jim Normington, and Kay Short. Reprinted by permission of White Pine Press.

"Suggestion of Bird Song"
Copyright ©2001 by Marion Freeman. Reprinted by permission of Marion Freeman.

"Sea Winds" and "Circles with No Center"
Copyright ©2001 by Mary Crow. Reprinted by permission of Mary Crow.

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