December 6, 2008

Jaime Sabines

Jaime Sabines [Mexico]

Jaime Sabines was born in Tuxtla Guitérrez province, Chiapas, Mexico, where he has spent most of his life. Although he studied mdicine and literature in Mexico City, he has focused most his writing upon his provincial home.

In Mexico City in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he became involved with the so-called "América" group of writers, which included Rosario Castellanos and Emilio Carballido. During this period he published his first collection, Horal (1950), which revealed some of his major concerns in all of his later writing: the theme of death and despair, a strong sense of alienation and, despite these, a faith in living. His second book, La señal, published a year later was even darker in tone. Tarumba, of 1956, gained him national attention, in part because of its impassioned and confessional outpouring of violence and aggression, and because of its experimental nature. In the years following, Sabines wrote both poetry and prose, including Recuento de poemas (1962)─a volume of collected poems─Yuria (1967), Nuevo recuento de poemas (1977), Poemas sueltos (1981), and his "other" collected poems, Otro recuento de poemas (1950-1995) (1995).


Horal (Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas: Departamento de Prensa y Turismo, 1950); La señal (Mexico City: Talleres de la Impresora Económica, 1951); Tarumba (Mexico City: Coleción Metaáfora, 1956); Diario semanario y poemas en prosa (Xalapa: Universidad Veracruzana, Serie Ficción no. 27, 1961); Recuento de poemas (Mexico City: UNAM, 1962); Yuria (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1972); Maltiempo (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1972); Poemas sueltos (Mexico City: Ediciones Papeles Privados, 1981); Otro recuento de poemas 1950-1991 (Mexico City: Moritz, 1995).


Pieces of Shadow: Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, trans. by W. S. Merwin (Mexico City: Ediciones Papeles Privados, 1995).

See a video on Jaime Sabines at this link:

The Lovers

The lovers say nothing.
Love is the finest of the silences,
the one that rembles most and is hardest to bear.
The lovers are looking for something.
The lovers are the ones who abandon,
the ones who change, who forget.
Their hearts tell them that they will never find.
They don't find, they're looking.

The lovers wander around like crazy people
because they're alone, alone,
surrendering, giving themselves to each moment,
crying because they don't save love.
They worry about love. The lovers
live for the day, it's the best they can do, it's all they know.
They're going away all the time,
all the time, going somewhere else.
They hope,
not for anything in particular, they just hope.
They know that whatever it is they will not find it.
Love is the perpetual deferment,
always the next step, the other, the other.
The lovers are the insatiable ones,
the ones who must always, fortunately, be alone.
The lovers are the serpent in the story.
They have snakes instead of arms.
The veins in their necks sell
like snakes too, suffocating them.
The lovers can't sleep
because if they do the worms eat them.

They open their eyes in the dark
and terror falls into them.

They find scorpions under the sheet
and their bed floats as though on a lake.

The lovers are crazy, only crazy
with no God and no devil.

The lovers come out of their caves
trembling, starving,
chasing phantoms.
They laugh at those who know all about it,
who love forever, truly,
at those who believe in love as in inehaustible lamp.

The lovers play at picking up water,
tattooing smoke, at staying where they are.
They play the long sad game of love.
None of them will give up.
The lovers are ashamed to reach any agreement.

Empty, but empty from one rib to another
death ferments them behind the eyes,
and on they go, they weep toward morning
in the trains, and the rooster wake into sorrow.

Sometimes a scent of newborn earth reaches them,
of women sleeping with a hand on their sex, tontented,
of gentle streams, and kitchens.

The lovers start singing between their lips
a song that is not learned.
And they go on crying, crying
for beautiful life.

Translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin

(from Horal, 1950)

To Horse, Tarumba,
you need a horse
to get around this country,
to know your mother,
to want what you want,
to pen up the pit of your death,
to raise up your resurrection.
To horse with your eyes,
the psalm of your eyes,
the dream of your tired legs.
To horse in the malarial region,
the sick time,
hot female,
dripping laughter.
Where the news of virgins arrives,
newspapers with saints,
and telegrams with hearts athletic as a flag.
To horse, Tarumba, over the river,
over the slab of water, the vigil,
the fragile leaf of the dream
(when your hands wake up holding a bottom),
and the window of death in which you see
your little heart.
To horse, Tarumba,
ride on to the dump of the sun.

Translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin

(from Tarumba, 1956)

Here comes a subterranean gallop,
here comes a breaking sea,
here comes a sudden wind from Mars.
(Somebody has to explain to me
why so many things don't happen).
Here comes a beat of blood
out of my mud feet,
here come gray hairs looking for my age,
boards floating for my coffin.
(The King of kIngs eats an ear of corn as he waits,
trying on a pair of banana-leaf sandals).
Comes by grandma Chus,
just thurned unthirteen,
thirteen years in death,
thirteen years backward, downward.
Tony visits me, Chente, my aunt Chofi,
and other buried friends.
I think of Tito, pulling at the sleeve of his death,
and death paying no attention.
Here comes sad Chayito
with her mint leaf
and a little horse for my son.
And her comes the heaviest rain of all time
and the fear of lightning
and I have to climb onto a chest turned into an ox
for the happy life that is waiting for us.

Translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin

(from Tarumba, 1956)

Message to Rosario Castellanos

(Mexican poet who died in India in a household accident.
Translated Paul Claudel and St. J. Perse into Spanish)

Only a fool could devote a whole life to solitude and love.
Only a fool could die by touching a lamp,
if a lighted lamp,
a lamp wasted in the daytime is what you were.
Double fool for being helpless, defenseless,
for gong on offering your basket of fruit to the trees,
your water to the spring,
your heat to the desert,
your wings to the birds.
Double fool, double Chayito, mother twice over,
to your son and to youself.
Orphan and alone, as in the novels,
coming on like a tiger, a little mouse,
hiding behind your smile,
wearing transparent armor,
quilts of velvet and of words,
over your shivering nakedness.

How I love you, Chayo, how I hate to think
of them dragging your body, as I'm tod they did.
Whre did they leave your soul? Can't they
scrape it off the lamp,
get it up off the floor with a broom?
Don't they have brooms at the Embassy?
How I hate to think, I tell you, of them taking you,
laying you out, fixing you up, handling you,
dishonoring you with the funeral honors.
(Don't give me any of that
Distinguished Persons fucking stuff!)
I hate to think of it, Chayito! And is this all?
Sure it's all. All there is.
At least they said some good things in the paper
and I'm sure there wre some who cried.
They're going to devote supplements to you,
poems better than this one, essays, commentaries,
How famous you are, all of a sudden!
Next time we talk
I'll tell you the rest.

I'm not angry now.
It's very hot in Sinaloa.
I'm going down to have a drink at the pool.

Translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin

(from Poemas sueltos, 1981)

The one without teeth
can't dance.
The one without eyes
can't say "bon jour, Madame"
"Nice day.
Be so kind as to die."
The one with no pants
can't walk in the crowd.
The one without anybody
can't cry.
The one without anybody
can't cry. Can't cry. Can't cry.
(To be repeated three times).

The one with no pillow
has to sleep on a whore's ass.
The one with no roof
will have to learn the alphabet of the stars.
The one with no wall
will have to stand up to the wind.
The one with no flesh
better go the butcher.
The one with no God:
to the church of the holy silence.

Translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin

(from Otro recuento de poemas, 1995)


The poems above were reprinted from Pieces of Shadow: Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, trans. by W. S. Merwin (Mexico City: Ediciones Papeles Privados, 1995) by permission of W. S. Merwin.

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