July 10, 2011

William Hurtado de Mendoza

William Hurtado de Mendoza [Peru/writes in Quechua]

Born in 1946 in Cuzco, Peru, the historical capital of the Inca Empire, and now a World Heritage site, William Hurtado de Mendoza is a bilingual poet, writing in both his native Quechua and Spanish.

During the military regime of Juan Velazco (1968-1975), Hurtado de Mendoza was editor of Cronicawan, a Quechua-language newspaper, at a time when the dictator declared Quechua the official language of Peru and ordered its teaching in the schools.

The poet began writing in Spanish in 1967 and, four years later, in Quechua.

Among his early books are Yanapaq jailli (Lima: Ediciones Martíez, 1971), Yachaynakipaq taki / Canción para que aprednas (Lima: Perugraph Editores, 1977), Mateo Llaqta (Lima: Lluvia Editores, 1987), and an anthology for children, Poesía quechua: selección para niños (Lima: Lluvia Editores, 1990). He has also translated several Quechua writers into Spanish, and has written extensively on Quechua culture and mythology.

He is currently professor of literature at the Universidad Agraria de La Molina in Lima.


Yanapaq jailli (Lima: Ediciones Martíez, 1971); Yachaynakipaq taki / Canción para que aprednas (Lima: Perugraph Editores, 1977); Mateo Llaqta (Lima: Lluvia Editores, 1987)


a small selection of his work appears in Julio Noriega, ed. Pichka Harawikuna: Five Quechua Poets, trans. by Maureen Ahern (Pittsburgh: Americas Society/Latin American Literary Review Press, 1998)

A Letter


I'm writing to you
before the sun
dozes in its ashes.

Before fire
becomes blackest charcoal.

Before day
loses its way behind the night.

Before the rainbow
casts cold into drizzle.

Before lightning
starts snowing among the clouds.

Before hail
wails through the winds.

And long before
cold aches in your heart.

I'm writing to you urgently
without the wind's knowing,
so no one will be humbled.


I'm writing to you
Before my quena
sings clotted blood.

Before this song
casts a shadow upon anguish.

Before the hymn
becomes a dying ghost.

Before my tendons
lose their tension.

Before my eyes
turn to stone from sobbing.

Even before my height
seeks a staff.

I'm writing to you urgently
without the wind's knowing
so no one will be humbled.


I'm writing you
so death will
not be born of hope.

So the scars
on stones won't fade.

So blood
is not tainted by sorrow.

So pain
is not overcome in its ache.

I'm writing to you urgently
so the wind doesn't know
so on one will be humbled.


I'm writing to you urgently
along the starry roadway.

So tomorrow reaches your heart
in its garment of clouds.

So your hands loosen
the know the wind tied.

So your embers warm
whatever frost covers.

So your flames caress
the fabric of snowy peaks.

So your hands darn
what winters have torn.

So your songs gather
the grief of the poor.


And if somebody asks you
about me.

only this
responds for us:

Tell them that I'm the one
who wrote to you on the wind
so no one will be humbled.

—Translated from the Quechua by Maureen Ahern

English language translation ©1998 by Maureen Ahern Latin American Literary Review Press. Reprinted from Julio Noriega, ed., Pichka Harawikuna: Five Quechua Poets (Pittsburgh: Americas Society/Latin American Literary Review Press, 1998).

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