Translation: Emilia Bernal

Here’s yet another section from my anthology! Enjoy. The poem about the rose is kind of naughty – just thought I’d point that out in case you’re not naturally dirty-minded.

Emilia Bernal (1884-1964)

Emilia Bernal de Agüero was born in Cuba, and lived in Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile, and New York. She was married young and had four children before 1908. She taught college literature. In 1909 she separated from her husband, and began publishing in 1910. After her divorce, she joined the Cuban diplomatic staff. She was known as a rebel, non-conformist, and political writer (Vega Ceballos). She wrote for La Nación, Bohemia, Social, and El Fígaro (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes).

The Basque writer Llorenç Villalonga, author of the play Silvia Ocampo (1935), wrote the novel Fedre and the first part of Madame Dillon based on his relationship with Bernal (Pomar).

Emilia Bernal

Henríquez Ureña mentions Bernal as a modernist and follower of Martí in his history of modernismo. Emilia Bernal translated from Catalan, Portuguese, and other languages into Spanish; her translation work includes a book of poems by Rosalia del Castro.

Her publications include: Alma Errante, poems (1916); Cómo los pájaros! poems and translations (1923); Layka Froyka, autobiography (1925); Los nuevos motivos, 1925; Exaltación (1934); Poetas catalanes de hoy, translations (1927); Cuestiones cubanas para América, political essays, (1928); and Negro (1938).

Though her work is often spoken of as personal, modernista, or lyrical, Bernal was engaged in politics for much of her life and read a series of lectures in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere on Cuban and United States politics (Davies 22). Along with many other feminists such as María Luisa Milanés, she allied herself with anti-racist movements and described herself as a sister-in-arms of enslaved people – going so far as to declare that all women were slaves because of the lack of female suffrage and other factors (Davies 57).

Anderson-Imbert said of her: “Tender, ardent, intuitive, was capable of denying these qualities in herself in order to complicate sounds which brought her close to a poetry which, under the heading ‘abnormality’ will be studied in the second part of this panorama. Those who remain, then, are Cubans of the ‘abnormality’–Mariano Brull, Navarro Luna, and others . . .” (337). What Anderson-Imbert calls “the abnormality” is the “vanguardist subversion” against modernismo.

Bernal is noticably absent from many biographical dictionaries of Latin American writers.

“Pedrería” plays with modernista color symbolism; the gems represent ideals of perfect beauty. Rather than setting a scene of fantasy to which the soul of the poet is transported, or a situation of transmutation to a plane of ideals, Bernal engages sensually and physically with the perfect beauty of the gems. “A una rosa” (1916) is a poem in sexta rima with a scandalous subtext: the rose and its stalk are limp and drooping, while the poet wishes and imagines that her efforts will make it stand erect again. “Hierro” is from the México chapter of Bernal’s 1937 book América. There is an earlier version of the poem from 1925, but I have not yet found it. In “Hierro,” Bernal ventures into the realm of free verse and presents a vision of industrialization, and Mexico, as boldly but perturbingly masculine.

Pedrería


Ámbar. Mármol. Zafir. La algarabía
de un cofre de fakir. Que se aproveche
de tanto encanto mi osadía. Eche
a revolver en él la mano mía.

Alabastro y azur. Sangre del día.
Piedras a granel. Rosas de leche.
Carcajadas de luz. Mi afán estreche
y agite la ofuscante pedrería.

Mar. Cielo. ¡Sol, entre mis brazos!
¡Fuego
de los claros diamantes con que juego!
Malquitas, topacios. ¡Serpentinas

de centelleos en mis manos! ¡Presas
en los dedos guirnaldas de turquesas,
lapislázuli, jade, aguas marinas!


Jewels


Amber. Marble. Sapphire. The jingling babble
of magic treasure. May my bold desires
make the most of such enchantment. Let me
stir them around with my hand.

Alabaster and azure. Day's blood.
Stones in a heap. Roses made of milk.
Great laughter of light. My longing grasps
and tumbles the precious jewels.

Sea. Sky. Sun in my arms!
Fire
of bright diamonds playing!
Malachite, topaz. Serpentine ribbons
sparkling in my hands! Caught
in my fingers, wreaths of turquoise,
lapis lazuli, jade, aquamarine!


A una rosa


O rosa, ¡rosa mía! que ayer lozana fuiste,
por qué doblas ahora lacia, debil y triste,
tus pétalos marchitos, tu cáliz sin verdor.
¿Le cuentas a la tierra tus dulces remembranzas
como en largo secreto sus muertas esperanzas
la moribunda virgen le cuenta al confesor?

Pensando en lo que fuiste y al ver cómo feneces,
quisiera alzar el tallo en donde languideces,
tornarte la frescura, la belleza, el color,
volverte en un suspiro tu aliento perfumado,
acercarte mis labios y a un beso prolongado
prender en ti, de nuevo, suavísimo el calor.



To a rose


Oh rose, rose of mine! that once sprang sprightly up,
why do you bend double, flaccid, weak and sad,
your petals withered, your once-green calyx pale?
Do you tell the earth the sweetness of your past,
like the long secret story of dead hopes
a dying virgin whispers to her priest?

Thinking on what was was, and to see how you decline,
I'd wish to raise the stalk on which you languish,
to give fresh strength to you; beauty, color;
to return, with a sigh, your perfumed breath
to bring you to my lips and in a long, long kiss
press upon you new, most softly, heat and fire.


Hierro


¡Un hombre de hierro!
De hierro las carnes del pecho invencible.
De hierro los bíceps y tríceps del brazo que erecta triunfante ademán.
Las manos de hierro y el vientre.
Y los muslos columnas potentes de hierro, y las piernas,
cual zócalos bravos sostenes de aquel formidable titán,
con el pie clavado en la tierra apretando en los dedos de garra
las raíces del árbol que arranca del bíblico Adán

De hierro los ojos.
De hierro los dientes.
De hierro el cerebro, los pulmones y el corazón,
los riñones, el bazo y el sexo.
Por fuera y por dentro un hombre completo de hierro.
¡La fuerza!
La fuerza más grande que el tiempo a la vida ha lanzado
es su encarnación.


Iron


A man of iron!
Iron the flesh of his invincible chest.
Iron his biceps and triceps, his arm raised in triumphant sign.
His hands of iron and his belly.
And his thighs potent columns of iron, and his calves,
brave pedestals sustaining that formidible Titan,
with his foot nailed to the earth, with clawed fingers he seizes
the roots of the tree from the Biblical Adam.

Iron his eyes.
Iron his teeth.
Iron his brain, his lungs and heart,
his kidneys, spleen, and sex.
Inside and out a man completely made of iron.
Strength!
The greatest strength that time has launched
is his incarnation.
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Women of the Left Bank

I’m still thinking about Paris Was a Woman and at the moment am listening to Ed Sanders reading “Hail to the Rebel Cafe”. I know a lot of Latin American women were in Paris or visited in the teens and 1920s, and I’ll look through my notes to figure out who. All my biographical information on these writers is going into a wiki, which for now is private while I set up the structure and the skeleton, but will soon be public and editable by anyone.

I need to get a copy of Women of the Left Bank and add them too.

Here’s some of the people I can list as literary women in Paris from the documentary: Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Beach, Janet Flanner, Alice B. Toklas, Colette, Janet Flanner, painter Marie Laurencin Berenice Abbott, Gisele Freund, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, Gertrude Stein, Ada “Bricktop ” Smith , Josephine Baker, Renee Vivian, Romaine Brooks, Marie Bonaparte, Elizabeth Bowen, Victoria Ocampo, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, Bryher.

We could also add:

* Gabriela Mistral
* Emilia Bernal
* Léonie Julieta Fournier (Nirene Jofre Oliú.)
* Comtesse de Noilles – Anna de Noailles

Of course, what about now? Where are we? Are we documenting this? I’d like to expand my women poets/writers wiki to right this minute and my own hometown. Why not document the moment and ourselves? Think of the riot grrl history that is already lost or slipping away. Let it be recorded on heaven’s unchangeable heart or at least the internets, failing heaven.

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List of poets in the anthology

Here’s the list of women poets that I have translated so far (some, many poems; some, only one).

limitation is that they should have been publishing or writing between 1880 and 1930. I have another list of many more poets from the same era – some that I want to translate and expand into a really big book. I will probably put the bios of the poets online. In fact I feel like I could have more of an effect by making Wikipedia pages for all these poets, and by tagging them up. But I would like a book.

The long list (not posted yet) is only a few of the many hundreds of women whose work I’ve seen.

*Luisa Pérez de Zambrana (Cuba)
*Jesusa Laparra (Guatemala)
*Maria Luisa Milanes (Cuba) (1893-1919)
*Maria Villar Buceta (Cuba) (1899-1977)
*Salomé Ureña de Henríquez (Dominican Republic) (1850-1897) “Herminia”
*Elisa Monge (Guatemala) (18XX-1932)
*Adela Zamudio (Bolivia) (1854-1928) “Soledad”
*Mercedes Matamoros (Cuba) (1851-1906)
*Nieves Xenes (Cuba)
*Aurelia Castillo de González (Cuba) (1842-1920)
*María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira (Uruguay) ( 1875-1924 )
*Emilia Bernal de Agüero (Cuba) (1884-1964)
*Delmira Agustini (Uruguay) (1886 – 1914)
* Antonieta Le-Quesne (Chile) (1895-1921)
*Juana de Ibarbourou (Uruguay) (1894 – 1979)
*Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva (Venezuela) (1886-1962)
*Gabrela Mistral (Chile) (1889-1957)
*Emma Vargas Flórez de Arguelles (Colombia) (1885 – )
*Alfonsina Storni (Argentina) (1892-1938)
* Adela Sagastume de Acuña (Guatemala) (18XX – 1926)
*Magda Portal (Perú) (1901-1989)
*MARIA MONVEL (Chile) (1897 – 1936)
*Nydia Lamarque (Argentina) (1906-1982)
*Olga Acevedo (Chile) (1895-1970)

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outrageously erased

Today in the library I meant to write up a formal description of my anthology project, but instead skimmed through biographical dictionaries.

I checked out several huge fat multi-volume dictionaries of Latin American authors, and some other Spanish-language Encyclopedias of Famous Women. It was interesting to see patterns emerge. Some encyclopedists knew a fair amount of Cuban women writers, but missed all the Chileans. Others got the Argentinians and Uruguayans, or knew about certain of my own favorites like the Venezuelan poet Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, or massively famous feminists like Adela Zamudio, but missed the Cubans entirely except for Gomez de Avellaneda. *Everyone* was blind to the very strong groups of Guatemalan women writers. Some of the encyclopedias who knew the Matamoros-Borrero-Xenes circle still missed Emilia Bernal, or perhaps left her out on purpose for being too scandalous – I have no idea.

Sainz de Robles’ Diccionario de Mujeres Celebres, 1959, was strong on international and historical references. I’d enjoy reading all of it someday. If I found similar books from 1900 or so, and simply read them through, I’d understand these women’s poetry better. I’d see their references, just as reading a historical review of Sappho-myths helped me understand the poetry of Mercedes Matamoros and Nydia Lamarque. And just as my somewhat random knowledge of Norse mythology clued me into understanding Juana Borrero’s poem about Ran’s daughters.

Anyway, I studied patterns, took notes, xeroxed some things, and added considerably to the short biographies of many of the poets.

I enjoyed skipping around in Cesar Aira’s dictionary of authors. The appendices, which listed writers by country and then by birthdate, looked extremely useful. Though he missed quite a lot of the women I think are interesting. I like to think that he just didn’t know about them – rather than that he knew them but rejected their work as inferior.

Then I got into a terrible history-of-literature book, Literatura Hispanoamericana, volume 5 of an enormous and authoritative-looking reference series, Historia de la literatura española. It’s from 1969, and its author, Professor A. Valbuena Briones, included only one woman in his 600-page review of five centuries of Spanish-American literature, and it was… wait for it…. who do you think? There are only two possibilities and it is unimaginable to leave one of them out. It was Gabriela Mistral! He left out Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Fucking incredible… of all the people you’d think it would be impossible to erase. I kept looking through the index in dismay and finally flipped through the books’ opening chapters. Nope! No Sor Juana! I still hope I’m wrong. It keeps my faith in human nature going. The Valbuena B, he’s an amazing guy. I started having flashbacks to my classes 20 years ago in the Spanish department at University of Texas… maybe those old fossils had learned off that very book. Since The Valbuena had huge bibliographies that made it clear he had at least opened the flyleaf of many fine books that had women in them, we have to think that perhaps he is the distillation of many filtering layers of sexist anthologizing and critical reviewing, so that all the times that women writers were shunted off into the last paragraph of the last chapter of the book finally came to a head, like an enormous, gross zit, and popped, leaving nothing for Valbuena Briones to work with. He didn’t even have the obligatory section of “mention a couple of women while putting them down and lamenting that they aren’t better and there aren’t more of them” which I notice in so many literary doorstops of the 20th century.

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Genre classifications and sexism

I come up against this again and again. Critical literature focuses on defining a genre, and women end up just outside that definition. So it always looks like they just miss the boat because they’re not quite good enough. Really, though, if you look at the moments when the genre is being defined, the boundaries are arbitrary. Other genres could be declared.

I need to read more widely…

So check this out.

With respect to her poetry in particular, critics have often failed to recognize the modernity of its lyric voice on account of its traditional verse patterns. Reflecting a dual attitude of competition and cooperation with her cultural world, Noailles held a similarly double-voiced discourse toward conventional interpretations of woman. Her classification in literary history as a belated French Romantic further obfuscates the significance of her work. While recognizing her predecessors, Noailles was frequently unable to find adequate models in their works for a distinct poetic identity. In seeking new versions of the feminine self, she acknowledged women who were unable to write and, more broadly, she attempted to provide a formerly silent Muse with voice and presence. (Catherine Perry)

She’s not quite a romantic… or she’s a “late” romantic… but she’s not quite a modernista either – like de Ibarbourou, Bernal, Vaz Ferreira, Elisa Monge, Mercedes Matamoros, and so many women poets of the 1890s to the 1920s.

I’ll be looking for Perry’s book. She has more to say on her brief website on de Noailles:

A discrepancy between form and content, reflecting Noailles’ situation at the cusp of the antithetical world views of nineteenth-century Romanticism and twentieth-century Modernism, characterizes her poetry, where dynamic concepts and images strive to dissolve a largely classical structure. By actively engaging with her French literary heritage while finding a source of inspiration in Greek paganism and in Nietzsche’s radical thought, Noailles constructed an original poetic world view. Her work is best described as Dionysian–ecstatic, sensual, erotic, playful, sometimes violent, and always marked by a tragic undercurrent which becomes more apparent in her later poetry.

“Dionysian” describes Agustini, de Ibarbourou, Bernal, and Matamoros very well. I would prefer a different name if we are going to declare a new genre… Imagine the articles as we define Maenidic poetics and make brief offhand mention of Ruben Darío – and how he doesn’t quite fit the Genre. A pity, really, as his work contained echos of Maenidism, traces which can’t help but reflect the prevailing spirit of the time.

***
It occurs to me that I have had a giant epiphany about this, but I’m reinventing the wheel. I did a little poking around and found this excellent bibliography: Gender and Genre. My god! right up top we have “Benstock, S. (1991). Textualizing the feminine. On the limits of genre. University of Okla. Press.” Looks perfect! I’m still 15 years behind in academic literary theory. Though I think it might be more like “feminizing the textual” than “textualizing the feminine” – that’s what’s going on in a lot of the criticism I’m reading. The poets are textualizing the feminine. The critics feminize in order to denigrate and marginalize. *sigh*

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