The principle figure in and founder (with Enrique Gómez Correa) of the Grupo Mandrágora group (the Mandrake Group), Arenas was born in 1913 in La Serena, Chile. He began as a Surrealist, editing the magazine Leitmotiv (1941) and the anthology Actas surrealistas (1974). His book El AGC de la Mandrágora traces of the history of that group, which also included Chilean poets such as Gómez Correa, Teófilo Cid, Jorge Cáceres, and Gonzalo Rojas and the Venezuelan writer Juan Sáchez Peláez. Later in his career, he abandoned Surrealism.
Among Arenas' most important works are Luz adjunta (Adjoining Light, 1950), Discurso del gran poder (Discourse on Might, 1952),) and Poesia 1934-1959 (Poetry 1934-1959). He also wrote several novels, including Cerro caracol (1961) and El castillo de Perth (1959), as well as dramas and belle lettres.
Arenas also translated, publishing a Spanish edition of Rimbaud's Une saison en enfer and Isidore Ducasse's Poésies.
In 1984 he was awarded Chile's Premio Nacional de Literatura (the National Prize for Literature).
BOOKS OF POETRY
El mundo y su double (Santiago: Ediciones Altazor, 1941); La mujer mnemotécnica (1941)
Luz adjunta (1950); La simple vista (1951); Discurso del gran poder (Santiago: Editorial la noria, 1952); El pensamiento transmitido (1952); La gran vida (1952); Versión definitiva (1956); Poemas 1934-1959 (Santiago: Ediciones Mandrágora, 1959); La casa fantasma (Santiago: L. Rivano, 1962); Memorándum mandrágora (1985)
The Enigma's Word
On the wall in the mirror
In the hair that knots the night
In the mirror
In the tortuous passage from bird to oil
On the wall
On a balcony for each light
For every shadow for all company
Made to the measure of the two of us
You walk from cloud to cloud as if you were the rain
From enigma to enigma as if you were the only answer
You walk among glances as if you were a tear
You can't wait to see yourself as soul over the earth
For a nation of birds to appear under the ocean (the cloud will be left
[exposed to the elements)
You are still looking for the time you lost to ecstasy
When you rubbed your ring and guessed the time
I defined the word soul in accordance with your lips
I waited for the night because you were visible only in the dark
And again for a while at dawn and again and again
Sometimes for just a few seconds
And it felt like a party when you stayed the entire afternoon
Now I make out your eyes through the memory of you
For a few seconds
A few seconds
Account for a lifetime
Yet those moments
Have corrected centuries of my existence
They have perfected me when I could no longer wait to kiss you
They began beating when you approached
So different one hour from the other
Hour of the heart the lip's hour my soul's hour
The bird's hour
Like an oil stain over the ocean
The plaster was trying to get its share of that joyous afternoon
[Certain stalactites behind the dark bars of a cage were singing the
eternal scream of the fireplace
[Three young women went by pressing a bunch of flowers to their
[I was about to leave with just a few minutes left before my departure.
[It was impossible to be overjoyed.
[I had a premonition that the morning would be luminous and clear
[Could the three young women be of significance in my life?
[-Bah-, I said without thinking
[But after losing sight of them I began to wonder: why had I stated
with such conviction that they were pressing a bunch of flowers to their chests?
[-Bah-, I said once again and immediately thought about those mysteries one
never quite manages to put a name to and which seem to hover in the air like bees
around the bouquets which young women press against their chests in the early hours.
The cliff is an apterous insect
The mist carries you without missing a wave
The mist makes the most of the last strands of light
And puts the last touches on its radiant tapestry
You are rehearsing your challenge on that tapestry
You insist on attracting the raft
You persist on being both cliff and shipwreck
Life anoints your lips with waves
Go back to summer to your last summer
The women and their boiled eyes** are walking across the courtyard
From so much traveling down the road of life only love can trace
The road of dream which this poem travels until it belongs to you
The sun and the moon brought their eyes to a boil
Their glances take care of the rest
Their glances are finishing the drawing
Of this moving tapestry which depicts life
A ship crosses the horizon
Slowly like pain forming inside a tear
For a better destiny
And the aroma of coffee which greets the traveler in the morning
Where the little black bull crosses the prairie
This morning I knew only about throwing projects out
Like pulling a thread through a fire
The prairie folded at the corners and suddenly hurled itself against the train
Stars cups of coffee little bulls and all
They were humming an old song
"How can the past"
Yes the past that is no longer a project
A tortuous pas that "became a cricket and waited until dawn"
Yes, until dawn and all through the night without skipping an hour
Inexorably like cream in a cold cup of coffee
And another hour will have devoured its seconds
I can't wait to kiss you at that hour
Time will never wrinkle the hour's pure face
It is a face of the hour liberated in space
Mirror of your love: I can't wait for the hour when I will see myself in you
Mouth over time
Words licked by fire
And the night is dream's grass
Like an unnecessary sea
for an indispensable shipwrecked man
Sky without railings
Without abyss without eyes
Led by the hand of
The rain is pouring down
Glass turns into night and fools the windows
The jungle turns into a bird and fools the sky
Love turns into bread crumbs to attract the sparrows
Man turns into dream. Woman turns into eyelid
Why go on?
Let's keep going until the poem devours its own words
And all that is left is a blank piece of paper
We will gladly exchange
for a stanza of alexandrines
Or a sip of fire water
Not a single glance is left of that eye which ten generations of cyclops cried over. The eyes of the young female bicyclops spoke to her dreams about those twenty years. Reality's pillow is standing on the other side of an avenue lined with eucalyptus trees and is mimicking the birds wearing white corsets. They your tricyclops merrily put on the corsets which are still beating, warm corsets, corsets which wear their nervousness like feathers.
Corsets and hair were all that the night allowed the young cyclops to see, seeing that he was blind for life. By cyclops are blind nowadays, just as roses don't sing like they used to. There was a time when roses sang and children cried. Not like today. They see with eyes that are wide open because of hunger. There was a time when fishes chewed tobacco and spat, a time when all the houses in the city had roofs made of gold so that chirping swallows could come to rest on them.
The blind cyclops allowed his hearing to guide him and was thus able to tell his native island apart from other islands. Now he can only make out the phosphorescent corsets that slip down this bitter night. Some of these corsets as well as the women's hair are gathered in the street. Beautiful women who fly and are happy. He goes up to them, but listens as they erase themselves all of a sudden. he again places his pillow on the ground and dreams about them, but his dream has changed. A burning diamond is stuck to the eye on his forehead and he shouts and wakes up, because there was a time when love was everything, a time when the sun was just a mirage visible from far away and not from up close.
Good-bye, good-bye word of the enigma
You have arrived.
The words have kept their word
Lips have accomplished their kisses
Eyelids accomplished their dreams
On the wall in the mirror
In the hair
In the calming murmur of the tree the birds fly
The mirror reflects the balcony where love knots the couple's neighborhood
To shed light on the enigma
Enigma of love which is always an enigma that sheds light
Creates a sky at the expense of the earth
Oh unnecessary day
For an indispensable night
Oh lucid coal
I can't wait
for the diamond hour.
*Their names are Acha, Fatima, Mariel
**I am reminded of the eyes of the "Lady of Elche"
—Translated from the Spanish by Beatriz Zeller
The Obvious Sight
A clearly interior woman
I saw her in her eyes
I hugged her around herself and kissed her on her lips
As far as her feet were concerned I took off her shoes
As far as my life is concerned she answers to it
As far as rightness was concerned the two of us were right
We possessed dream
We possessed pleasure and the value of its answer
I will hold your youth in my arms for life.
A fisherman was mending his nets in your eyes
Such a beautiful afternoon I am tearing my forehead apart for a dream
I am shaking off all notion of slavery with the help of my hands
All notion of reality which now lays claim to dream
All the afternoons will be saying that afternoon
All of love's kisses will be repeated in that kiss
Latent love made manifest in life
Little hand among all hands destined to serve as light for my destiny
Little dream you go from here to there like lightning rides the eyes of the storm
little dream you take this little hand by the hand
The entire sun was not beyond the cherry for these lips
Therefore the swordsmen forests buried their scythes
In honor of Saint Pol Roux's daughter whose name is Divine
Because even though so little time has lapsed a furious legend has enriched the sea
This solid sea
—Translated from the Spanish by Beatriz Zeller
"The Enigma's Word" and "The Obvious Sight"
Reprinted from Ludwig Zeller, ed., The Invisible Presence: Sixteen Poets of Spanish America 1925-1995 (Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press, 1996). English language copyright ©1996 by Beatriz Zeller.