Delmira Agustini

Delmira Agustini (1886-1914)

Agustini was part of the Uruguayan generation of 1900 along with María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Leopoldo Lugones, and Rubén Darío; and was also considered part of the “generation of the Río de la Plata” of 1910-1920 (Camps 6). She was close to the Argentine writer Manuel Ugarte and to María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira. Early in her career, poets and critics like Juan Zorrilla de San Martin and Carlos Vaz Ferreira called her “The baby muse” and played up the image of her as a chaste, virginal child. Later, scandal accompanied her image as an artist and poet, her bohemian life and her tragic murder.

In 1902 Agustini began writing a regular column, “La legión etérea,” for La Alborada, a popular weekly journal, under the pseudonym “Joujou” (Rosenbaum 67-68). The column focused on prominent artistic and literary women.

She was considered a modernista, though a maverick “feminine” modernista who, outside mainstream literary circles, was one of “algunas figuras independientes . . . que introdujo una nota de honda y sensual femineidad en la poesía modernista” ‘a few independent figures . . . who introduced a note of depth and sensual femininity into modernista poetry’ (Henríquez Ureña 275). Other critics identify Agustini as part of a movement of women’s poetry: “It was perhaps Delmira Agustini who better represented a certain concept of feminine poetry: a poetry of passion and sensuality, a poetry written to challenge social conventions and to exalt eroticism unabashedly” (Rodriguez Monegal 1:368). Critics early in the 20th century often praise the technical perfection of her verse.

Fiera de amor

Fiera de amor, yo sufro hambre de corazones.
De palomas, de buitres, de corzos o leones,
No hay manjar que más tiente, no hay más grato sabor,
Había ya estragado mis garras y mi instinto,
Cuando erguida en la casi ultratierra de un plinto,
Me deslumbró una estatua de antiguo emperador.

Y crecí de entusiasmo; por el tronco de piedra
Ascendió mi deseo como fulmínea hiedra
Hasta el pecho, nutrido en nieve al parecer;
Y clamé al imposible corazón . . . la escultura
Su gloria custodiaba serenísima y pura,
Con la frente en Mañana y la planta en Ayer.

Perene mi deseo, en el tronco de piedra
ha quedado prendido como sangrienta hiedra;
Y desde entonces muerdo soñando un corazón
De estatua, presa suma para mi garra bella;
No es ni carne ni mármol: una pasta de estrella
Sin sangre, sin calor y sin palpitación . . .

Con la esencia de una sobrehumana pasión!

Fierce from love

Made fierce by love, I’m starving for hearts.
Pigeon, vulture, dun deer or lion,
no meat tempts me more with exotic flavors.
I’d blunted my claws and my primal drives.
Then, set up on a plinth, almost otherworldly,
a statue dazzled me–an ancient emperor.

And I fed my eagerness; over his stone body
my desire ascended like ivy lightning, sudden
up to his chest, feeding on skin like snow;
and I cried out to his unreachable heart . . . sculpture
guarding his glory, most chaste, still, and pure,
his face towards Tomorrow, feet rooted in Yesterday.

Everlasting my desire; on the stone body
I’ve stayed pressed like a living blood-filled vine;
And since then, dreaming, I devour
a statue’s heart, prey worthy of my gorgeous claws;
it’s not flesh, not marble: the stuff of stars,
without blood, heat, or heartbeat . . .

I devour it with deep, inhuman passion!


Engarzado en la noche el lago de tu alma,
diríase una tela de cristal y de calma
tramada por las grandes arañas del desvelo.

Nata de agua lustral en vaso de alabastros,
espejo de pureza que abrillantas los astros
y reflejas la sima de la Vida en el cielo . . .

Yo soy el cisne errante de los sangrientos rastros,
voy manchando los lagos y remontando el vuelo.


Lake of your soul, gem-mounted in night,
you would tell a thread of crystal and calm
spun by the huge spiders of wakeful evening.

Lustral waters born in alabaster cups,
mirror of purity where the stars shine
and reflect the abyss of Life in the heavens . . .

I am the wandering swan of bleeding trails,
I’m dirtying the lakes and soaring in flight.

Translation: Magda Portal

I have not looked further for poems by Magda Portal but she seems well worth a look. If you read the little biography I wrote up below, you will see part of why I get very annoyed at the ways the vanguard, ultraism, modernismo, etc. are described as being somehow essentially masculine!

Note here too that Portal’s early work was published under a pseudonym; this is very common for the women poets I was researching. Because of their gender and the pressures of family, they had to fracture their identity, which fractures their body of work as writers. With time and distance it becomes increasingly more difficult to piece together a picture of their work as a whole and its importance. Despite Portal’s stature as a writer in Latin America for most of the 20th century I have not seen her poetry in recent anthologies in Spanish or English.

Portal’s history of activism and leftist politics is very interesting!

Magda Portal (1901-1989)

Magda Portal, a Peruvian novelist, poet, essayist, and magazine editor, tended to write about feminist themes and activist struggle. She was in socialist literary circles and published in Amauta, along with María Wiesse, Angela Ramos, Alicia del Prado, Catalina Recavarren, and José Carlos Mariátegui, She was forced into exile from Peru in the late 1920s, living in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia. The Peruvian government imprisoned her mother, teenage sister, and her infant daughter. She wrote extensively about Flora Tristan, the French feminist and writer who wrote about her visit to Peru during the wars of independence (Bustamente Moscosos). Her early poetry was published under the name Tula Sovaina (Reedy 490).

María Monvel describes Portal’s poetry with suspicion, mentioning “unánimismo,” a vanguardist and surrealist literary movement which arose from the French and Latin American Symbolists. Unánimismo is also the title of a book by early 20th century Cuban writer María Buceta Villar. Monvel’s acerbic judgement on Portal is as follows:

Del mismo tipo que Blanca Luz Brum, estas dos poetisas ofrecen pocas diferencias. Abanderas al ultraismo desde su nacimiento, se han hecho notables allí por sus versos buenos o malos. Respetuosos del juego unánime a que se ha entregado la gente de letras, temeríamos caer en error al juzgarlas sin comprenderlas. Preferimos, luego de atacarlas y darles aquí sitio, entregarlas al juicio de sus semejantes. (175)

Of the same brand as Blanca Luz Brum, these two poets offer few differences. Standard-bearers for Ultraism since their birth, they have gained fame through their verses, good or bad. Highly respectable as it is–this “unánime” game which people of letters have taken up–we fear falling in error to judge them without understanding them. We prefer, after contradicting them and giving them space, to deliver them to the judgement of the like-minded.

Magda Portal’s early works include Ánima absorta (1923), El desfile de miradas (1923), Vidrios de amor (1926), El derecho de matar (1926), Varios poemas a la misma distancia (1927), Constancia del Ser (1928), Una esperanza y el mar (1927), América Latina contra el Imperialismo (1931), and Hacia la mujer nueva (1933).

“Liberación” could be written in response to (or could be an inspiration for) José Carlos Mariátegui’s assertion that women poets are held back from true greatness by sexual and poetic inhibition. Vicky Unruh describes Portal as an important vanguardist critic who helped define the movement with her position papers in Amauta, and points out the irony that her reactions against male-dominated modernismo’s “rendition of women as static embodiments of aesthetic creeds” was then metamorphosed by Mariátegui into the new muse of Peruvian literary culture, as a natural and biological force of womanhood who wrote without artifice (Unruh, Performing 177).

Liberación  (from “Los poemas torturados”)

Un día seré libre, aún más libre que el viento,
será claro mi canto de audaz liberación
y hasta me habré librado de este remordimiento
secreto que me hunde su astilla al corazón.
Un día seré libre con los brazos abiertos,
con los ojos abiertos y limpios frente al sol,
el Miedo y el Recuerdo no estarán encubiertos
y agazapados para desgarrarme mejor.
Un día seré libre . . . Seré libre presiento,
con una gran sonrisa a flor de corazón,
con una gran sonrisa como no tengo hoy.
Y ya no habrá la sombra de mi remordimiento,
el cobarde silencio que merma mi Emoción.
Un día habré logrado la verdad de mi Yo!


One day I'll be free, even freer than the wind;
my verse will be bright with daredevil liberation
after I've freed myself from this secret shame
that plunges its sharp splinter into my heart.
One day I'll be free with my arms open wide,
with my eyes open and unshielded before the sun,
Fear and Memory won't be hiding
crouched in ambush, the better to rip me apart.
One day I'll be free . . . I'll be free, I know it,
with a huge smile that flowers from the heart,
with a huge smile that I don't have today.
And then I won't have the ghost of my shame,
the coward silence that tamps down my Emotion.
Someday I'll have achieved the truth of my Self!

Translation: Nydia Lamarque

I have not had any luck in finding many more poems by Lamarque. Maybe I could do it through inter-library loan, or paying someone to xerox or photograph a book in another library for me. I like this poem a lot. Again, am left as a translator knowing that in some places I nail it, or think of an especially graceful & evocative phrase, but in other lines, my elbows are sticking out.

I recommend The Sappho Companion for an excellent description of the history of the idea of “Sappho” & what she meant at different times throughout history, in different countries & languages.

It would be nice to know more about Lamarque’s life, too. There isn’t enough time in the world!

Nydia Lamarque (1906-1982)

Argentine writer Nydia Lamarque’s first book of poems, Telarañas, was published in 1925, and her second, Elegía del gran amor, in 1927. She was a lawyer and a socialist associated with the vanguardist writers’ group “Boedo.” An officer of the Ateneo Femenino Buenos Aires, Lamarque wrote social and political criticism as well as poetry for newspapers and magazines such as Nosotros and La Nación. Juan Pinto, in Literatura Argentina Contemporanea, calls her “la poetisa de acento más varonil de nuestra literatura” ‘the poetess with the most masculine voice of our literature’ and praises her further for her social conscience and lack of inhibitions (214). She translated Baudelaire, Racine, Rimbaud, Henri De Man, Adolfo Boschot, and Héctor Berlioz. (Maube 287)

“Invocación” summons the ghost of Sappho for an intimate conversation with the poem’s speaker. The myth of Sappho’s frustrated love for Phaon, and Sappho’s leap into the sea from his rejection, dates from the 3rd century BC (Reynolds 71). This legend is also used by Mercedes Matamoros in her poem-cycle “El último amor de Safo”, published in 1902. Lamarque’s rolling cadences invite Sappho to confess her deepest secrets and to describe any part of her love that she found unspeakable. The implication is that only Lamarque can understand and give voice to Sappho’s complaints–because she feels them so deeply herself, perhaps for Sappho’s ghost or for some other person.

(A la sombra de Safo)

Ahora hermana lejanísima, ven a mí, háblame con tu boca de siglos.
Ven ahora hermana, que es de noche y vive el silencio.
Nadie a mi lado, nadie oirá nuestro coloquio.
Sólo estará junto a mí el buho fiel del recuerdo.
Mira, las estrellas se dejan caer en el lecho obscuro de la noche,
y para nosotros va a dar marcha atrás el Tiempo.
Me dejarás que llegue hasta tus brazos acogedores;
me dejarás que acerque mi cuerpo tibio a tu marmóreo cuerpo,
y que apoye también la frente calenturienta
para mejor escucharte, sobre tu seno.
Todo me lo dirás entonces al oído, muy bajo,
aunque nadie más que yo habrá de escuchar la voz de tu duelo.
Y me dirás el dolor de la pasión que te ensombreció los instantes,
y la angustia del desamor, flagelante como látigo recio,
y me dirás del hombre aquel en quien concentraste la vida,
por el que tu frente se sumergió en el misterio.
Me dirás si eran sus dos pupilas de ámbar anochecido,
me dirás si era su boca, en la caricia, sabia hasta el tormento;
y si podía en su frente albergarse un pueblo de ideas,
y si toda la sombra nocturna dormía entre su cabello . . .
Y me dirás también qué emoción te agitó la noche aquella,
sobre el desolado promontorio griego,
y si en el momento de la muerte más que nunca lo ansiaste,
y si más que nunca te castigó implacable el recuerdo,
y si más que nunca te agobió la desesperación impotente,
entonces, entre el cielo y el mar, sola en el instante supremo . . .
Y si la salsedumbre de tus lágrimas,
venció en amargor a la balsámica salsedumbre marina,
y si en espíritu lo besaste aun con un beso resumen de besos . . .

Todo me lo dirías ¡oh hermana! aquí en la noche,
muy bajo, mientras nos envuelve el silencio,
ahora, que estoy ya entre tus brazos acogedores;
ahora que está ya mi cuerpo tibio junto a tu marmóreo cuerpo,
ahora que apoyo la frente calenturienta sobre tu seno,
frío como las helénicas ondas que te dieron el reposo eterno.

(To the ghost of Sappho)

Come to me, now far distant sister, speak to me with your voice of centuries.
Come now, sister, made of night, alive in silence.
No one at my side, no one will hear our talk.
Only memory, that faithful owl, will be with me.
Look, the stars let their bodies fall into the hidden nest of night,
and for us alone, Time will turn, running backward.
You'll let me come into your welcoming arms,
you'll let me press my warm flesh to your marble body,
so I can rest, too, my fevered brow
to hear you better on your breast.
You'll tell me everything aloud, very low,
though I hear nothing more than the voice of your lament.
And you'll tell me the pain of passion that darkened every second,
and the anguish of being unloved, like the sting of a brutal whip,
and you'll tell me how you focused your life on that man,
the one for whom you drowned your brow in mystery.
You'll tell me if it was his two eyes of dusky amber,
you'll tell me if it was his mouth which you kissed till torment,
and if it was true that his mind harbored a city of ideas,
and if all nocturnal shadow slept in his hair . . .
And you'll tell me also what emotion that shook you, that night,
atop the desolate Greek cliffs,
and if in that moment of death, more than ever, you longed and desired,
and if, more than ever, you were punished by implacable memory,
and if, more than ever, impotent desperation oppressed you,
then, between heaven and sea, alone in that supreme instant . . .
And if the acid salt of your tears
defeated in bitterness the vinegar salt of the sea,
and if in spirit you kissed him with one kiss that summed up all kisses . . .

You'll tell me everything–oh sister!–here in the night,
very low, while silence wraps us round,
now, while I am yet in your welcoming arms;
now, while my warm flesh is pressed to your marble body,
now while I rest my fevered head between your breasts,
cold as the hellenic waves that gave you eternal rest.

Translation: Mariblanca Sábas Alomá

Mariblanca Sábas Alomá (1901–1983)

Mariblanca Sábas Alomá was an Ultraist feminist Cuban writer. She was involved with the first Congreso Nacional de Mujeres in Havana in 1923. Her work was published in El Cubano Libre, Diario de Cuba, Orto and El Sol in Havana. Sábas Alomá took literature courses in Mexico and also attended Colombia University in New York and Puerto Rico. She travelled throughout South America, worked as a journalist and editor, and was politically active as a communist and feminist.

tuesday, longest day ever

In Poetisas de América, Sábas Alomá’s contemporary María Monvel, with characteristic blunt opinion, says of her:

Mariblanca comenzó escribiendo versos blancos, soñodores, llenos de ritmo, musicalidad y vulgaridad. Mariblanca cambió de filas, se pulió, se cultivó, y hoy hace campear su estandarte en las filas del más refinado ultraismo. Poeta de las revoluciones, como la uruguaya Blanca Luz Brum, Don Quijote de las ilusiones extremas, Mariblanca se ha convertido como en broma, en una notable poetisa. Es de esperar que cuando aconche un poco su absolutismo izquierdista, Mariblanca será una de las grandes poetisas americanas. (193)
Mariblanca began writing poetry that was pretty, sonorous, full of rhythm, musicality and vulgarity. Mariblanca changed her tune, became refined, cultivated, and today has raised her banner in the ranks of the most savvy ultraists. Poet of revolutions, like the Uruguayan Blanca Luz Brum, a Don Quixote of extreme illusions, Mariblanca has converted herself from a trivial writer into a notable poetess. It’s to be hoped that when her absolutist leftism settles, Mariblanca will be one of the greatest American poetesses.

Sabás Alomá’s 1920 article “Masculinismo, no. Feminismo!” was published recently in a volume of her essays, Feminismo. In 1928 she published an article in which she characterized lesbianism (“garzonismo”) as a crime against nature, encouraged by capitalism, that would disappear with the advent of true socialism; for her, feminism was in complete opposition to lesbianism (Menéndez).

Magda Portal wrote critical articles about the socially engaged vanguardist poetry of Sabas Aloma in a 1928 issue of Repertorio americano, “El nuevo poéma y su orientación hacia una estética económica” (Unruh, Performing, 176).

In “Poema a una mujer aviadora,” Sábas Alomá spaces words freely across the page, leaping great distances in sweeping arcs, just as the aviator would zig-zag across the Atlantic. A later poet, the Argentine writer Elvira Hernández, might be paying homage to Sábas Alomá in her long poem “Carta de viaje,” both in form and in theme. Hernández describes a flight across the Atlantic from south to north, from Latin America to Northern Europe, focusing on the dislocated state of flying, not on land, sea, or earth, detatched from terrestrial metaphor.

Juana de Ibarbourou echoes the “shout” of Sabás Alomá in her 1930 poems “El grito,” “Las olas,” and “Atlántico” in which she longs to leap the distance between the world of the real and the world of ideals.

Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico

mujer aviadora que quieres
atravesar dee un salto
el a t l á n t i c o
vereda en el motor una
bandera roja
y una canción
para que se limpie de toda macula
la ambición
que te lanza a la conquista
de la distancia
no asciendas por coqueteria
asciende porque el clamor intenso da
los hombres que sufren
t e p r e s t e s u s a l a s
tiende sobre la vastedad marina

dos continentes
el arco fraternal que una en un mismo
anhelo de
a América
y a
desde una altura de 2,000 metros
deja caer sobre el mar
y sobre la tierra
así veremos en la noche
un zig
d e e s t r e l l a s j u b i l o s a s
esconde en la cabina de tu aeropleno el
– santo–y–seña de la América joven –
y clávalo
– para que toda Europa lo contemple
los ejércitos de
le hagan los saludos de ordenanza
si tu sueño se rompe en el canto de una ola
no llegues a los dominios de lo
rezando–padre nuestro, que estás
en los cielos
–sino regalando el oído
de los proletarios exámines
con un

Poem of the aviator woman who would cross the Atlantic

woman aviator who wants
to cross in one bound
t h e a t l a n t i c
in the engine falling into step with a
red flag
and a song that's
in order to cleanse everything soiled from
the ambition
that throws you at the conquest
of distance
you don't ascend through coquetry
you ascend because the intense clamor of
people who suffer
l e n d s y o u w i n g s
you stretch above the marine vastness

two continents
the fraternal arch that in the same
longing for
for America
and for
from a height of 2,000 meters
let fall across the sea
and across the land
so that we'll see it in the night
a zig
o f j u b i l a n t c o n s t e l l a t i o n s
hidden in the cabin of your airplane is the
– sacred–and–signal of the young America–
and drive it home
– so that all Europe will see it
the multitudes of
will make their comradely greetings the norm
if your dream breaks on the song of a wave
you won't arrive at the domains of what's
praying–our father, who art
in heaven
– not conforming to the rule
of the watchful proletariats
with a

Translation: Claudia Lars

Here’s my chapter on Claudia Lars. I found this a hard poem to translate. Though I could’t do it justice, I enjoyed trying. Vanguardist poetry is hard, in general. I think because it is built on so much symbolism from other poems, but is trying to break free of that dependency; it feels like shorthand. Sometimes the poems I like the most, or like the most to translate, don’t come out that well. Maybe it’s overthinking. I’d like very much to translate her little book on Laika the cosmonaut dog.

Of course, I am especially fond of Lars because of my love of feminist science fiction. She’s a little bit science-fictiony, don’t you think? And this is certainly a feminist response to patriarchal poetics — a description of “woman” in poetry, but not with the metaphors and language that describes women in terms that are disempowering. It is possibly a difficult poem for that reason too; because it is trying to evade something.

Claudia Lars

Claudia Lars (1899-1974)

Margarita del Carmen Brannon Vega is her birth name; she is also called Carmen Brannon Beers or Carmen Brannon de Samoya Chinchilla. She was born in El Salvador. She studied and lived in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Her early work in the 1920s and 1930s was compared to Agustini, Mistral, Storni, and Ibarbourou. She lists as her early influences Cervantes, Fray Luís de León, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Góngora, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Burns, Coleridge, Whitman, Poe, Dickinson, Shelley, Byron, Yeats, Blake, and Darío (Barraza 142). Critics called her a lyrical postmodernist. Later, she was considered part of the Vanguard, writing in both formal and free verse.

Her books include Tristes mirajes (1916); Estrellas en el pozo (1934), and Canción redonda (1937). She also wrote poems and books for children, sonnets to famous women writers of many countries, and, later in the 20th century, she wrote a poem cycle on the cosmonauts of the United States and Russia–including the dog Laika.

“Dibujo” sets out a bold feminist vision of the future. The poem’s woman “que llega,” who’s coming, arriving now, or will soon arrive, transcends the usual gendered metaphors. Her ascension is not like flight, and not like the growing of a plant that is rooted in the earth. Instead, Lars describes a woman who stands up, who has agency and raises herself up with all her intelligence and power.

Dibujo de la mujer que llega

En el lodo empinada,
No como el tallo de la flor
y el ansia de la mariposa . . .
Sin raíces ni juegos:
más recta, más segura
y más libre.

Conocedora de la sombra y de la espina,
Con el milagro levantado
en los brazos triunfantes.
Con la barrera y el abismo
debajo de su salto.

Dueña absoluta de su carne
para volverla centro del espíritu:
vaso de lo celeste,
domus áurea,
gleba donde se yerguen, en un brote,
la mazorca y el nardo.

Olvidada la sonrisa de Gioconda,
Roto el embrujo de los siglos,
Vencedora de miedos.
Clara y desnuda bajo el día limpio.

Amante inigualable
en ejercicio de un amor tan alto
que hoy ninguno adivina.
con filtrada dulzura
que no daña ni embriaga a quien la prueba.

Maternal todavía,
sin la caricia que detiene el vuelo,
ni ternuras que cercan,
ni mezquinas daciones que se cobran.

Pionera de las nubes.
Guía del laberinto.
Tejedora de vendas y de cantos.
Sin más adorno que su sencillez.

Se levanta del polvo . . .
No como el tallo de la flor
que es apenas belleza.

Sketch of the woman of the future

Standing tall in the mud.
Not like the flower's stalk
and butterfly’s desire . . .
No roots, no flitting,
more erect, more sure
and more free.

Knower of shadow and thorn,
With miracle held high
in her triumphant arms.
With obstacle and abyss.
beneath her stride.

Absolute queen of her flesh
returned to the center of her spirit:
vessel of the celestial,
domus aurea, home of the golden;
clod where shoots burst forth into
maize and fragrant flower.

Forgotten: the Mona Lisa's smile.
Broken: the spell of centuries.
Conquered: the fears.
Bright and naked in the pure, clean day.

Unequalled lover
in enjoyment of a love so lofty
that no one today could predict it.
with controlled sweetness
that doesn't hurt or intoxicate the drinker.

Maternal still,
without the caress that holds back flight
nor tenderness that traps,
nor submission and giving in, that little by little, smothers.

Pioneer of the clouds.
Guide to the labyrinth.
Weaver of veil and song.
Adorned only in her simplicity.

She stands up from the dust . . .
Not like the flowering stem
that’s not so beautiful.

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.


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!
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!


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!
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.


¡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.


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.
The greatest strength that time has launched
is his incarnation.

Translation: Jesusa Laparra (1820-1887)

Here’s another chapter of my thesis. I hope someone enjoys this or finds it useful! Someday I’d love to spend a few years traveling around to different libraries in Spanish America looking up old issues of these journals, finding and collecting and translating poems.

Jesusa Laparra (1820-1887)

Jesusa Laparra and her sister Vicenta, originally from Guatemala, founded and edited a women’s journal, La Voz de la Mujer, in the mid-19th century; started a literary magazine, El Ideal; and wrote for other progressive and feminist journals. Jesusa wrote poetry on mystic, romantic, and religious themes. Her books include Ensayos poéticos (1854) and Ensueños de la mente (1884) (Méndez de la Vega).

Her sister, Vicenta Laparra de la Cerda (1831-1905) was a poet, playwright, and essayist on the rights of women. With Jesusa, she published several journals. A mother of eight children, Vicenta was known as a singer and soloist, collaborating and performing with other artists for benefit of the Teatro Carrera. She is also known as the creator and founder of the Teatro Nacional in Guatemala. Her political essays in El Ideal resulted in her being forced into exile from Guatemala to Mexico, where she founded a school for girls. Vicenta published books of poems, including Poesia and Tempestades del alma; plays such as “La hija maldita,” “Los lazos del crimen,” and “El ángel caído;” the novel La Calumnía (1894); and other works of history and literary criticism.

The Laparra sisters and Vicenta’s husband went into exile again, from Mexico to El Salvador and Costa Rica, where they continued their commitment to teaching women “self-improvement.” Jesusa and her sister fought not only for the rights of women but for the rights of Native Americans. Though she was partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair for many years, known as “La poetisa cautiva” or ‘The Captive Poetess,’ she continued her careers of writing, teaching, and public speaking (Laparra de la Cerda).

The Laparra sisters’ political and literary circle included María Cruz, Elisa Monge, J. Adelaida Chéves and her sisters, Dolores Montenegro y Méndez, Lola Montenegro, and Carmen P. de Silva. There might be connections between the Laparra sisters and another set of interesting sisters: the Guatemalan poets and editors Jenny, Blanca, and María Granados, who wrote for El Grito del Pueblo and who founded the magazine Espigas Sueltas in 1929.

Many, in fact most, Latin American anthologies and biographical dictionaries that I consulted did not include information on the Laparra sisters despite their extensive international publishing and editing history. A small selection of their verses can be found in Acuña Hernández’s Antología de poetas guatemaltecos (1972).

“La risa” (1884) is written in redondillas, that is, rhymed quartets of octosyllabic lines de arte menor. It describes the emotions behind a laugh of despair and the impossibility of communicating grief and pain in words.

La Risa

Hay una risa sin nombre,
sólo de Dios comprendida
risa sin placer ni vida,
risa de negro dolor;
funeraria, envenenada,
más dolorosa que el llanto,
porque es engañoso manto
donde se oculta el dolor.

Risa que, al salir del labio,
para animar el semblante,
deja una huella punzante
de amargura y sinsabor.
Infeliz desventurado,
es aquel que así se ría,
que esa risa es de agonía,
es de muerte, es de pavor.

Como el esfuerzo supremo
que estremece al moribundo,
al desprenderse del mundo
para nunca más tornar:
dilatada la pupila,
ríe con indiferencia,
despreciando la existencia
que por siempre va a dejar.

Así es la risa funesta
de un corazón desdichado
por un dolor desgarrado
que no se puede arrancar.
Lleva la muerte consigo,
y ríe sin esperanza,
porque nada, nada alcanza
su martirio a disipar.The laugh

There's a laugh that can't be named,
that only God understands;
a laugh without life or joy,
a laugh of black sorrow;
funerary, dripping venom,
more painful than a lament,
because it's a cloak of deceit
to hide pain and grief.

Laugh that, as it leaves your lips
to liven your face,
leaves a heartrending trail
of bitterness and discontent.
Unlucky devil,
that's why you laugh;
it's a laugh of agony,
of death, of terror.

Like the last throes
that shake the dying
when they give up this world
never to return;
eyes open and staring,
you laugh with indifference,
despising an existence
you're leaving forever.

That's how it is: the fatal laugh
of a heart undone
by clawing pain
that can't be rooted out.
You endure your own death,
and you laugh without hope,
because nothing–nothing could match
or dispel your martyrdom.

Photo of Vicenta Laparra de la Cerda – Jesusa’s sister

Translation: Feminismo, by Alfredo Arteaga

This poem is by the Argentinian writer Alfredo Arteaga and was published in 1917 in Antología Contemporánea de poetas argentinos. It is guaranteed to annoy. I stuck it in my anthology of women poets, in Appendix B. This is what our poetisas had to deal with — damning praise, the gist of which is, “Shut up, look pretty, quit writing poetry!”

Don’t be fooled; it is not a feminist poem. It’s a critique of the feminists of 1917, who were fighting for rights, for education, for the vote, and to be taken seriously as writers. It’s a great example of how feminization can be used by patriarchy to infantalize and silence women, to deny them agency.


Porque es vuestro, mujeres, el encanto
que ilumina y perfuma la existencia;
porque vertéis amor–eterna esencia
de toda la alegría y todo el llanto;
porque, al pasar vosotras, los más nobles
y fuertes corazones se estremecen
y juncos, tiemblan los que fueron robles;
porque gemas y flores nos parecen
creadas sólo para vuestro lujo;
porque no hay en el mundo quien ejerza
función sagrada o soberano imperio,
sin estar sometido a vuestro influjo;
porque dáis, aunque débiles, la fuerza
que penetra al abismo del misterio
y sube del ensueño hasta la cumbre;
porque la irradiación de vuestra gracia
a todas las tinieblas presta lumbre,
y nos brindáis un bálsamo divino
para cerrar heridas del destino;
porque formáis la excelsa aristocracia
de virtud, de bondad y de belleza,
a la que sólo el vil infiere agravios;
porque sóis la suprema fortaleza
(que dijo Salomón en sus Proverbios)
ante la cual se humillan los soberbios;
porque son siempre necios los más sabios,
si en vuestra copa no han bebido un día
la ignorante, esencial sabiduria;
porque es vuestra la luz de las leyendas,
el alma musical de los cantares
y el fecundo calor de los hogares;
porque recibe Dios nuestras ofrendas
con agrado mayor, si vuestras manos
o labios la elevan; porque el cielo
os desterró para adornar la tierra
y aquí extender de la ilusión el velo;
en fin, porque, entre títulos humanos,
os pertenece el título que encierra
toda la majestad y la dulzura –
ese nombre de madre–¡oh bellos seres
que derramáis primaveral frescura
en los tiempos más foscos de la historia
y que santificáis nuestros placeres,
contentaos por siempre con la gloria
y con la suavidad de ser mujeres!


Because it's yours, women, the enchantment
that illuminates & perfumes existence;
because you shed love–eternal essence
of all happiness and all sorrow;
because, on meeting you, the noblest,
strongest hearts tremble
and oaks turn to shivering reeds;
because to us you seem to be gems and flowers
created only for our luxury and enjoyment;
because there isn't anything in the world that exercises
sacred function or imperial sovereignity
without being submitted to your influence;
because, though weak, you give strength
that penetrates the abyss of mystery
and you mount in dreams to the summits of mountains . . .
Because the radiation of your grace
brings hunger to all that’s dark and and hidden
and you bring us a divine balm
to heal the wounds of fate:
because you form the highest aristocracy
of virtue, of kindness, and of beauty
to which only the evil give offense;
because you are the supreme fortitude
(just as Solomon said in Proverbs)
before which soveriegns make themselves humble;
because even the wise are most foolish
if they never drink, from your cup,
your naive, essential wisdom:
because it's yours, the light of legends,
the musical soul of the singers
and the fertile heat of the hearths;
because God hears your prayers
with greater amiability if your hands
or lips lift them to heaven;
because heaven exiled you to adorn the earth
and extends here the veil of illusion;
in fin, because, among human titles
you have the title that encompasses
all majesty and sweetness,
this name of mother–oh lovely beings
that spill over with primeval freshness
in the greatest focal points of history;
you who sanctify our pleasures,
content yourselves for always with the glory
and the softness of being women!

Translation: María Luisa Milanés (1893-1919)

María Luisa Milanés was an ardent feminist and Cuban nationalist who killed herself in part because of an unhappy marriage (Davies 58). She wrote poems that were deep critiques of patriarchal culture and that were expressions of solidarity with other women and all oppressed people.

Her poems were sometimes published under the pseudonym Liana de Lux. Her passions were philosophy, music, and literature. Her works include Autobiografía, published though unfinished. She destroyed many of her own poems and essays before her death. Amado Nervo was said to be her favorite poet and a great influence on her work.
She read French, English, and Latin, writing in and translating from French, Spanish, and English, publishing in the journal Orto (Fajardo). A 1920 volume of Orto gathered a selection of her verses and was dedicated to her memory (Lizaso and Fernández de Castro 299).

Hago como Spártaco

Ya decidí, me voy, rompo los lazos
que me unen a la vida y a sus penas.
Hago como Spártaco;
me yergo destrozando las cadenas
que mi exisitir tenían entristecido,
miro al mañana y al ayer y clamo:
¡Para mayores cosas he nacido
que para ser esclava y tener amo!

El mundo es amo vil; enloda, ultraja,
apresa, embota, empequeñece, baja
todo nivel moral; su hipocresía
hace rastrera el alma más bravia.
¡Y ante el cieno y la baba, ante las penas
rompo, como Spártaco, mis cadenas!I’ll do what Spartacus did

I've decided: I'll go, breaking the ties
that bind me to life and its sorrows.
I'll do what Spartacus did;
I'll stand tall to destroy the chains
that have saddened my being,
I'll look towards morning and the past and declaim:
I was born for greater things
than being a slave and having a master!

The world is a vile master; filth, insult,
snare, mind-numbing, soul-narrowing, below
all moral standards; its hypocrisy
makes the bravest soul despicable.
And considering the mud and slime, considering sorrow,
I break, like Spartacus, my chains!

No puedo comprender . . .

Me abisma no entender, bello Narciso,
la ingenua admiración que te arrebata
y te fascina en la onda azul y plata . . .
Claro, que para ti es un paraíso
mirar tus ojos bellos y tu boca,
tu sonrisa, tu frente y tu figura
llena de majestad y de dulzura . . .
Pero ¿no piensas que haya algo de bueno
que distraiga tus ojos y tu mente,
fije más alto tu mirar sereno
y entretenga tus horas dulcemente?
¡Quisiera comprender mi alma sencilla
la perfecta hermosura de tu frente,
donde jamás el pensamiento brilla!

I just don’t get it . . .

Lovely Narcissus, I'm afraid I don't understand
the naive admiration that grips
you bewitched in the blue and silver wave . . .
Sure, for you it's Paradise
to look into your own beautiful eyes and your mouth,
your smile, your brow and your figure
full of majesty and sweetness . . .
But don't you think there's something better
that might amuse your eyes and mind,
might direct your calm gaze to something higher
and fill the hours with sweetness?
My simple soul longs to understand
the perfect beauty of your brow,
where no thought ever sparks!

Translations: Bolivian poet Adela Zamudio (1854-1928)

Here’s another chapter from my (unpublished) anthology, Spanish American Women Poets (1880-1930).

Adela Zamudio was a Bolivian poet, essayist, novelist, teacher, and school director. She was also an activist and an advocate of women’s higher education. In her early years, her poems were published under the pseudonym “Soledad” (Aguirre Lavayen 12). Throughout her life, well into her sixties, Zamudio fought for divorce laws, secularization, women’s labor movements, and other feminist liberal causes. She was also a painter, though most of her paintings are lost. Zamudio wrote a long narrative poem, “Loca de hierro” ‘Iron madwoman.’ She was one of the founding members of Feminiflor, a Bolivian feminist magazine.

Her publications include: Ensayos poéticos (1887); Ensayos politicos (1887); Intimas (1912); Peregrinando (1912); Ráfagas (1912); and Cuentos breves (1921). Her books were published in Bolivia, Paris, and Buenos Aires. Íntimas was a romantic epistolary novel about and for women, meant to expose the hypocrisy of the upper classes (García Pabon vii).

Her poems, romanticist and controversial, were called “virile” and “rationally masculine” by her contemporaries; they considered her a “mujer-macho” (Cajías Villa Gómez 38). She read and admired Byron, de Musset, Becquer, José Zorrilla, and José Espronceda. The all-male La Paz Literary Circle, who considered themselves to be romanticists, elected her an honorary member in 1888. An entry in the Diccionario de Mujeres Celebres of 1959 lists her as a leader of the women poets and novelists of Bolivia, who included: Hercilia Fernández de Mujía (“la ciega Mujía”), Lindaura Anzoátegui, Mercedes Belzu, Sara Ugarte, and Amelia Guijarro. In 1926 she was given a medal by the president of Bolivia (Sáinz de Roblez 1200). October 11th, her birthday, is Bolivian Women’s Day.

There are biographies of Zamudio written by Gabriela de Villarreal, Alfonsina Paredes, Augusto Guzmán, and Sonia Montaño.

Much of her work remains unpublished.

She compiled a spelling book in Quechua for use in schools, and composed many poems in Quechua, among them “Wiñaypaj Wiñayninkama” ‘Para siempre / Forever’ (Taborga de Villarroel 181). Her translation of the poem into Spanish puts it into octosyllabic lines, a romance de arte menor. I have translated it from Spanish. Though I do not know Quechua, I include the original here because it was useful to refer to the word patterns. For example, the original used repetition in a way that the Spanish version does not duplicate.

“Nacer Hombre,” her most famous short poem, was published in 1887. It is a poem “pie quebrado,” ‘broken meter,’ with verses of octosyllabic lines and one line shortened to four or five syllables, and thus is de arte menor, in a popular form for poetry and folk song.

Nacer Hombre

Cuánto trabajo ella pasa
Por corregir la torpeza
De su esposo, y en la casa,
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Tan inepto como fatuo,
Sigue él siendo la cabeza,
Porque es hombre!

Si algunos versos escribe,
De alguno esos versos son,
Que ella sólo los suscribe.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Si ese alguno no es poeta,
Por qué tal suposición
Porque es hombre!

Una mujer superior
En elecciones no vota,
Y vota el pillo peor.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Con tal que aprenda a firmar
Puede votar un idiota,
Porque es hombre!

El se abate y bebe o juega.
En un revés de la suerte:
Ella sufre, lucha y ruega.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
Que a ella se llame el "ser débil"
Y a él se le llame el "ser fuerte."
Porque es hombre!

Ella debe perdonar
Siéndole su esposo infiel;
Pero él se puede vengar.
(Permitidme que me asombre).
En un caso semejante
Hasta puede matar él,
Porque es hombre!

Oh, mortal privilegiado,
Que de perfecto y cabal
Gozas seguro renombre!
En todo caso, para esto,
Te ha bastado
Nacer hombre.

To be born a man

She works so hard
to make up for the sloth
of her husband, and in the house
(Pardon my surprise.)
he's so inept and pompous,
that of course he's the boss
because he's a man!

If some poems get written,
a person must have written them,
but she just transcribed them.
(Pardon my surprise.)
If we're not sure who's the poet,
why assume it was him?
Because he's a man!

A smart, classy woman
can't vote in elections,
but the poorest felon can.
(Pardon my surprise.)
If he can just sign his name
even an idiot can vote
because he's a man!

He sins and drinks and gambles
and in a backwards twist of luck
she suffers, fights, and prays.
(Pardon my surprise.)
That we call her the "frail sex"
and him the "strong sex"
because he's a man!

She has to forgive him
when he's unfaithful;
but he can avenge himself.
(Pardon my surprise.)
In a similiar case
he's allowed to kill her
because he's a man!

Oh, privileged mortal
you enjoy lifelong
honor and perfect ease!
For this, to get all this,
it's enough for you
to be born a man.

Wiñaypaj wiñayninkama Para siempre

Ripunaykita yachaspa Al saber que ya te irías
Tuta-p'unchay yuyask'ani noche y día me atormento,
Sonqoy ukhu pakasqapi y sangra mi corazón
Waqaspa tukukusqani. como una sombra en tormento.

Ripuy, ripuy waj llajtaman Véte a ciudades lejanas,
Waj kausayta kausarqamuy anda a vivir otra vida,
Kaypi ñak'arisqaykita, y lo que yo haya sufrido
Chay kausaypi qonqarqamuy. olvídalo en tu existencia.

Ya(. . .)huyu, lakha phuyu Nubes negras, celajes oscuros
Uyaykipi rikukusqan se aborrascan en tu frente,
Chay shhika llakikusqayki y el dolor que he sentido
Llakiyniywan tantakusquan. brota en cascada de lágrimas.

Rejsisusqaymanta pacha Desde el día en que te vi
Wasiykita saqerpariy, nimbé mi alma en tus ojos,
Sonqoyki rumiyachispa y saturé mi corazón
Waj kausayta kausarqamuy! con unos pétalos rojos.

T'ikachus sonqoypi kanman, Si en mi pecho hubieran flores
Umphu sonqoy ch'akisqapi desde este corazón lánguido
T'kata t'akarpariyman, y marchito, alfombraría con pétalos
Purinayki yan patapi. el pasar de tu camino.

Ripuy, ripuy waj llajtaman, Véte a esas tierras lejanas,
Waj kausayta kausarqamuy, corre a vivir otra vida,
Ripuy, ripuy qonqarqamuy y sepulta en el olvido
Tukuyta kaypi kaj kama. todo cuanto aquí ha existido.


Knowing that you're leaving
torments me night and day
my heart bleeds
like a damned soul in hell.

Depart, depart for distant cities
keep on living your other life
and forget whatever I've suffered
as you enjoy existence.

Black mists, jealous clouds of darkness
obscure your brow in storm,
and the pain that I've felt
bursts forth in a torrent of tears.

Since the day I saw you
my soul glows haloed in your eyes
and my heart is full
of scarlet petals.

If in my chest there could be flowers
since this heart languishes, withering,
it would carpet with petals
the road where you walk.

Depart, depart for distant lands
go on living your other life
and bury in forgetfulness
everything that's existe d here.