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.

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)

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.