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Poems by Miguel Hernández

June 17, 2013 by Reader's Connection

Miguel HernándezIf I’m going to squirt any personal, trivial goop into this Miguel Hernández post, I’d better do it before I remind you about his short, momentous life. So here goes.

“Letter,” the first poem here, reminds me of the Moody Blues song “Knights in White Satin” (letters I’ve written, never meaning to send) and also of the end of Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” where we learn that poor Bartleby’s lapse may have been triggered by his having worked in a dead letter office.

Mostly, it reminds me that I haven’t written a full-fledged letter in ages. And that’s embarrassing. (the inkwells stir,/the cold black inkwells/blush and tremble,/and a bright human warmth/rises from the dark depths.) My sad excuse: I live with my wife, am not separated from her by wartime or incarceration. But isn’t there anyone else for whom I could make the inkwells blush and tremble?

“Letter” and “War” and “In the Depths of Man” and “To Sing” and “Goodbye, Brothers” are all from Miguel Hernández, selected and translated by Don Share, © 1997, 2013, published by New York Review Books. Used by permission. NYRB was so friendly, in fact, that I went berserk with my permissions request. Five poems in one post.

Letter

The pigeon-house of letters
begins it impossible flight
from the shaky tables
on which memory leans,
the weight of absence,
the heart, the silence.

I hear the ruffling of letters
sailing toward their centers.
Wherever I go, the women,
the men I meet,
are wounded by absence,
worn out by time.

Letters, stories, letters;
postcards, dreams,
bits of tenderness
tossed into the sky,
launched from blood to blood,
from longing to longing.

Although my loving body
is under earth now,
write to me on earth
so I can write to you.

Old letters, old envelopes,
grow quiet in the corner,
the color of age
pressed into the writing.
The letters perish there,
filled with shivering.
The ink suffers death throes,
the loose sheets weaken,
and the paper fills with holes
like a crowded cemetery full
of passions gone by
and loves yet to come.

Although my loving body
is under earth now,
write to me on earth
so I can write to you.

When I start to write you
the inkwells stir,
the cold black inkwells
blush and tremble,
and a bright human warmth
rises from the dark depths.
When I start to write you
my bones are ready to write you:
I write with the indelible
ink of my love.

There goes my warm letter,
a dove forged in fire,
its two wings folded
and the address in the center:
A bird that homes in early
on your body, your hands, and your eyes,
the space around your breath,
for its nest and air and sky.

And you will stay naked there,
inside your feelings,
without your clothes on, so you can feel
it all against your breast.

Although my loving body
is under earth now,
write to me on earth
so I can write to  to you.

Yesterday a letter was left
abandoned, unclaimed,
flying past the eyes
of someone who had lost his body.
Letters that stay alive
talk to the dead.
Wistful paper, nearly human,
with no eyes to see it.

While the eye-teeth keep growing,
I feel the small voice
in your letter more and more
as a great shout.
It comes to me while I sleep,
if I don’t stay awake.
And my wounds will become
spilling inkwells,
trembling mouths
that recall your kisses,
and they will repeat,
in an unheard-of voice: I love you.

miguel2

Miguel Hernández reading in the street, 1936

Miguel Hernández was born in the south of Spain in 1910, and was raised to be a shepherd. He began to write poems when young. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he was quick to join the Republican Army.

After the war, Fransisco Franco condemned Hernández to death for his poetry, but then reduced the sentence to an imprisonment that lasted until Hernández’s death by tuberculosis in 1942, at the age of 31.

If I have this right, “Letter” was written during the war, and the rest of these poems were written while Hernández was imprisoned, which affects the way I read, for example, “To Sing,” his rapturous poem about his wife and home.

War

Old age in the villages.
The heart with no master.
Love with no object.
Grass, dust, crow.
And children?
In the coffin.

The tree alone and dry.
Woman like a log
of widowhood lying on the bed.
Incurable hatred.
And children?
In the coffin.

In the Depths of Man

In the depths of man,
unruly water.

In the clearest water,
I want to see life.

In the depths of man,
unruly water.

In the clearest water,
shadow with no outlet.

In the depths of man,
unruly water

To Sing

The house is a dovecote
and the bed is a bed of jasmines.
The door is wide open
to the whole world.

The child: your motherly heart
grown large.
In these rooms:
everything that has blossomed.

The child makes you into a garden,
and you, my wife, make the child into
a room full of jasmine,
a dovecote of rose.

Around your skin
I bind and unbind my own.
You exude a noontime
of honey: a noon.

Who entered this house
and took it from the desert?
I remember:
I am somebody, and he has died.

Roundest light comes
to the whitest almond trees.
Life, and light digs deeply down
among the dead men and the gullies.

The future is prosperous,
like those horizons
of pure porphyry and marble
where mountains breathe.

The house,kindled
by kissing and love’s shadow, burns.
Life can’t go on
more deeply, more charged than this.

Mute and overflowing, milk
illuminates your bones.
And the house, with child and kisses,
is flooded with it.

You, your abundant womb,
the child and the dove.
My wife, over your husband
the sea’s passage resounds.

Goodbye, Brothers

The following lines were found after Hernández’s death, scribbled on the wall above his cot.

Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends,
let me take my leave of the sun and the fields.

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