June 12, 2012

Enrique González Martínez

Enrique González Martínez [Mexico]

Born in Guadalajara on April 13, 1871, González Martínez was home educated until, at the age of 10, he the Council Seminary preparatory school, going on to graduate from the Liceo de Varones (the Men's Grammar School) of the State of Jalisco.

       He received his PhD in Guadalajara in 1893 and, soon after, was named adjunct professor of physiology at the School of Medicine. Two years later, he left Gudalajara, moving to Culiacán, Sinola, where became involved in politics, serving in various positions throughout the state and becoming Secretary General of government.

       González Martínez's first book of poetry, Preludios, was published in 1903. With the publication of his third poetry title, Silénter, he was chosen to become a member of the Mexican Academy, the poet moving to Mexico City. There he became the president of the youth Ateneo and founded the literary magazine, Argos, as well as editing the daily newspaper, El Imparcial.

      One of his major collections of poetry, La Muerte del Cisne (The Death of a Swan) argured that writers should "wring the swan's neck," breaking with the rhetoric of the Romantic Parnassian poets. 

      In 1913 he assumed the position of the Undersecretary of Public Education and Fine Arts, the following year becoming the secretary of government in the State of Puebla. Soon after he became a professor of French Literature at the School of Higher Studies and, later, professor of Mexican Literature in the National Prepatory School in the Federal District.

       With major Mexican poets Ramon Lopez Velarde and Efrén Rebelledo, he directed the journal Pegaso in 1917, publishing Parábolas y Otros Poemas (Parables and Other Poems) a year later.

       He entered the Mexican Foreign Service in 1920, becoming the Mexican representative in Chile, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal for the next eleven years before returning to Mexico.

       In 1942 he joined the Seminary of Mexican Culture. In 1944 he received the Ávila Camacho National Prize for Literature, the same year in which his Poesías Completas (Complete Poems) was published.

       González Martínez died in Mexico City in 1952.        


Preludios (1903); Silénter (1909); Los Senderos Ocultos (1911); La muerte del cisne (1915); Parábolas y Otros Poemas (1918); La Palabra del Viento (1921); La señales furtivas (1925); Poemas truncos (1935); Bajo el signo mortal (1942); Poesías Completas (1944); Segundo Despertar (1945); Babel (1949); El nuevo Narcisco (1952); Obras completas (1971)

Wring the Swan's Neck

Wring the swan's neck who with deceiving plumage
inscribes his whiteness on the azure stream;
he merely vaunts his grace and nothing feels
of nature's voice or of the soul of things.

Every form eschew and every language
whose processes with deep life's inner rhythm
are out of harmony...and greatly worship
life, and let life understand your homage.

See the sapient owl who from Olympus
spreads his wings, leaving Athene's lap,
and stays his silent flight on yonder tree.

His grace is not the swan's, but his unquiet
pupil, boring into the gloom, interprets
the secret book of the nocturnal still.

—Translated from the Spanish by Samuel Beckett


Its gaze filled my abyss, its gaze melted
into my being, became so mine that I
am doubtful if this breath of agony
is life still or hallucinated death.

The archangel came, cast his sword
upon the double laurel flourishing
in the sealed garden....And that day brought back
the shadow and I returned to my nothingness.

I thought the world, witnessing man's appal,
would crumble, overwhelmed beneath the ruins
of the entire firmament crashing down.

But I saw the earth at peace, at peace the heavens,
the fields serene, limpid the running stream,
blue the mountain and the wind at rest.

—Translated from the Spanish by Samuel Beckett

The Window

My window, window
open wide, toward the east,
window that descends with the tide
down to the level of the sea...

Your cross-shaped grills pass
through my dreams, through the miracle the moon
and I behold an incomprehensible clarity...

Window through which I watch,
night after night, a ship that goes
sailing, with neither direction
nor destiny, no flag, no captain...

My window, window
open wide, toward the world,
your cross-shaped bars pass through my hands,
yielding their signs to the wind.

—Translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Gordon

"Wring the Swan's Neck" and "Pain" reprinted from Octavio Paz, Mexican Poetry: An Anthology, translated by Samuel Beckett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958; reprinted New York: Grove Press, 1985). Copyright ©1958.
"The Window" reprinted from Stephen Tapscott, ed. Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996). Copyright ©1993 by Elizabeth Gordon.

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