To read the poems in the original Spanish and French
These poems and translations are from a manuscript-in-progress: Lilies of the Flesh: The Selected Poems of Delmira Agustini.
For more information and poems, in Spanish patriagrande.net
For more poetry
translated and introduced by Valerie Martínez
The poetry of Delmira Agustini (Uruguay, 1886-1914) stands distinctly apart from the Latin American poetry that came before her. Though her work lies firmly in the Latin American modernismo tradition, it redefines, in a radical way, female poetic consciousness at the turn of the century. Agustini unabashedly explored female eroticism as well as the perception and conception of love and art, from a woman's point of view. She is considered one of the great poets of Latin American literature, including Gabriela Mistral, Alfonsina Storni, and Juana de Ibarbouru.
When she was sixteen, Delmira Agustini walked into the office of one of the most prominent editors in Montevideo, dropped her first book of poems on the desk, and let him know that he would publish her work. He laughed at the young girl and sent her away. Shortly thereafter, the book was accepted for publication. From that moment until her tragic death, Agustini enjoyed considerable local and national fame, publishing three volumes of poetry and numerous poems in journals and magazines. She befriended and corresponded with many of the most well-known Latin American poets and editors (Ruben Darío was a strong advocate) while still living with her parents. In August of 1913, at the age of 26, Agustini married Enrique Job Reyes. On July 6th, 1914, after their divorce, Joy Reyes murdered Agustini and then turned the gun on himself. Agustini was 27 years old.
Because of the tragic circumstances of her death, Agustini has been analyzed and psychoanalyzed by a number of Latin American literary critics who have tried to link the female energy and eroticism of her poetry to the events of her life and death. Unfortunately, the focus on her personality, rather than on her remarkable talent, meant an unfortunate neglect of the poetry itself. In recent years, more enlightened critics (such as Magdalena García Pinto) have begun to address her work more appropriately.
Many of Agustini's poems traverse the terrain between the magnetic poles of human passion, of female and male eroticism, in an effort to depict their coexistence, the tension between them, their complex and charged harmony. Agustini explores a female and passionate love with an unblinking honesty and by evoking the complex whole of the experience. This “whole” encompasses the range of forces at work in eroticism—vegetable, animal, religious, innocent, dark, predictable, and unknowable. This is not the realm of the woman as stereotype, the woman of prescribed social roles. It is the poetic realm of the more “dangerous” whole woman, who encircles dark and light, lust and innocence, impulse and good-sense, and a universe of other seemingly contradictory forces.
How Agustini addresses her themes is as important as what she addresses. The images, in these poems, are incredibly rich and deep, layered upon each other in their multiple symbols and metaphors. They evoke an enormous range of references and allusions, an enormous range of thought and emotion. The sheer density of the imagery is often surprising, and Agustini manages to bear the weight of such density with linguistic delicacy. It's as if the poetic line, like the “vibratile filigree” in “The Poet and Illusion,” somehow carries the enormous weight of the “deluge” of images. Agustini achieves this with repetition, accentuals, and a seemingly “weightless” end rhyme. The music of the poems prevents the line from collapsing beneath its figurative weight. It's a poetic feat and one that Agustini does remarkably well, among other things.
The Poet and the Illusion
The amazonian little princess, a vibratile filagree,
—Turquoise eyes sculpted of porcelain, little princess—
Called one night at my door with her small hands of iris.
And the trilling crystal of her voice was like an elegant flute:
—I know your life is gray.
I have the soul of a rose, the dew of budding flowers,
I come from a beautiful country
To be your sister and muse!—.
An arm of alabaster...then, in the sonorous carnation
Of her mouth, softest honey; in a cloud of gold and perfume
She surrounded me, brash horsewoman, like a deluge.
Oh honey, freshness, perfumer!...The sudden dream, the shadow
Which intoxicates...and when I wake, the sun that falls on my carpet
In a false ruby very red, and a false ringlet very blond.
Forsaking my pride, I want to show the night
The inside of my cloak, plunged in mourning for your charms.
Its infinite handkerchiefs, its handkerchiefs black and black,
Piece by piece, tenderly, will drink all my tears.
The night lays lilies upon my burning roses
And cool cloths upon my feverish brow...
How good the evening will be! It will have, for me,
The luminous soul, the profound body, of a magnificent lover.
Outside the night, dressed in tragedy, sighs
Like an enormous widow fastened to my windowpane.
By a wondrous miracle of light and fire
My room is a grotto of gold and precious gems:
With a moss so smooth, so deep its tapestries,
And it is vivid and hot, so sweet I believe
I am inside a heart...
My bed there in white, is white and vaporous
Like a flower of innocence.
Like the froth of vice!
This night brings insomnia;
There are black nights, black, which bring forth
One rose of sun...
On these black and clear nights I do not sleep.
And I love you, Winter!
I imagine you are old,
I imagine you are wise,
With a divine body of beating marble
Which drags the weight of Time like a regal cloak...
Winter, I love you and I am the spring...
I blush, you snow:
Because you know it all,
Because I dream it all...
We love each other like this!...
On my bed all in white,
So white and vaporous like the flower of innocence,
Like the froth of vice,
Winter, Winter, Winter,
We fall in a cluster of roses and lilies!
O you who sleep so deep you cannot wake!
Every night in mourning I come upon your pupils,
Miraculous in life, miraculous in death,
And in life and death eternally open.
Beneath a remnant of shade or silk lace of moon,
I drink their calm as I would a lagoon.
For depth, for silence, for goodness, for peacefulness.
Each one seeming a bed or a tomb.
I will tell you the dreams of my life
On this deepest of blue nights.
In your hands my soul will tremble,
On your shoulders my cross will rest.
The summits of life are lonely,
So lonely and so cold! I locked
My yearnings inside, and all reside
In the ivory tower I raised.
Today I will reveal a great mystery;
Your soul has the power to penetrate me.
In silence are vertigos of the abyss:
I hesitate, I am sustained in you.
I die of dreams; I will drink truth,
Pure and cool, from your springs.
I know in the well of your breast
Is a fountain that vanquishes my thirst.
And I know that in our lives, this
Is the inexpressible miracle of reflection…
In the silence, my soul arrives at yours
As to a magnificent mirror.
Imagine the love I dreamed
In the glacial tomb of silence!
Larger than life, larger than dream,
A love imprisoned beneath an azure without end.
Imagine my love, love which desires
Impossible life, superhuman life,
You who know how it burdens and consumes,
Dreams of Olympus bound by human flesh.
And when met with a soul which found
A bit of azure to bathe its wings,
Like a great, golden sun, or a shore
Made of light, your soul opened:
Imagine! To embrace the Impossible!
Radiant! The lived illusion!
Blessed be God, the sun, the flower, the air,
And all of life, because you are life!
If I bought this happiness with my anguish,
Bless the weeping that stains my eyes!
All the ulcers of the past laugh
At the sun rising from red lips!
Ah you will know, My Love,
We will travel far across the flowery night;
There what is human frightens, there you can hear it,
See it, feel it, life without end.
We go further into night, we go
Where in me not an echo reverberates,
Like a nocturnal flower in the shade,
I will open sweetly for you.
I was at my divine labor, upon the rock
Swelling with Pride. From a distance,
At dawn, some bright petal came to me,
Some kiss in the night. Upon the rock,
Tenacious a madwoman, I clung to my work.
When your voice, like a sacred bell,
A celestial note with a human tremor,
Stretched its golden lasso from the edge of your mouth;
—Marvelous nest of vertigo, your mouth!
Two rose petals fastened to an abyss…—
Labor, labor of glory, painful and frivolous;
Fabric where my spirit went weaving herself!
You come to the arrogant head of the rock,
And I fall, without end, into the bloody abyss!
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Agustini, Delmira. Poesías Completas. Ed. Magdalena Garcia Pinto. Madrid: Ediciones Catedral, 1993.