Elisa Monge (18XX-1932)

Poem and translation: El cisne.

Elisa Monge was a Guatemalan writer associated with Jesusa and Vicente Laparra as well as Carmen P. de Silva. She was one of the editors of the journal El Ideal. She wrote for El Renacimiento and for La Revolución, a journal edited by J. Adelaida Chéves (or Chévez), Dolores Montenegro (Barrios y Barrios). In 1886 she became part of a group of women professors headed by the feminist educator Dolores Aquino. Later she was director of a women’s school, the Escuela Práctica de Señoritas (Méndez de la Vega).

A short biography in Poesía Femenina Guatemalense mentions that Monge left behind an extensive collection of poems (Figueroa Marroquín 275). I have not yet gained access to that material.

Her poems “La azucena” and “El cisne,” are de arte mayor, with 11 syllable lines in quatrains with consonant rhyme. They can be read in the tradition of modernismo and as situating Monge and her fellow women writers in a world of poetic ideals. Monge walks by the side of the blue lake of modernismo, the “azulada y poética laguna.” The goddess Diana, the moon and stars, and the virginal flowers are all watching the lake and the swan, actively enjoying the scene’s beauty and the painting of their own reflections in the lake. The swan, which I read as a male poet, perhaps a particular poet, is admired by the gathered women. In the context of modernismo’s beliefs that attention to aesthetics and beauty of soul is political, this can be read as a strong statement in favor of idealism. Monge asserts her own right as a woman poet to walk the shores of the lake and to be a literary and artistic critic as well as to write her own poetry. She and the gathered female observers of beauty are participating in the modernista project of internalizing the poetic, watching the reflections in the lake. In the poem’s last half, Monge’s narrator bears witness to the tragic death of the swan, and reflects that all the physical beauty of the night, the lake, the moon, and the swan’s grace are nothing compared to inner beauty.

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