Ever since I first read this poem years ago, it has been one of my all-time favorites. It's by a woman considered Puerto Rico's greatest female, Julia de Burgos (1914-1953). A native of Carolina, PR, she later lived in New York City. Her feminism, use of irony and self-conciousness approaches to lyric poetry prefigure subsequent generations of female poets across the Americas. And Burgos also wrote a number of famous poems about her African heritage, including "Ay, ay, ay de la grifa negra."
The poem below, however, is something else, an astringent, movingly truthful autocritique of the divided self, that is redolent, in Spanish-language poetic tradition, of such pieces as Jorge Luis Borges's "Borges and I" and Jaime Gil de Biedma's "Contra Jaime Gil de Biedma." (The translation is by the poet Jack Agüeros, and is one of the best I've seen.)
TO JULIA DE BURGOS
by Julia de Burgos
Already the people murmur that I am your enemy
because they say that in verse I give the world your me.
They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.
Who rises in my verses is not your voice. It is my voice
because you are the dressing and the essence is me;
and the most profound abyss is spread between us.
You are the cold doll of social lies,
and me, the virile starburst of the human truth.
You, honey of courtesan hypocrisies; not me;
in all my poems I undress my heart.
You are like your world, selfish; not me
who gambles everything betting on what I am.
You are only the ponderous lady very lady;
not me; I am life, strength, woman.
You belong to your husband, your master; not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean feeling and in my thought.
You curl your hair and paint yourself; not me;
the wind curls my hair, the sun paints me.
You are a housewife, resigned, submissive,
tied to the prejudices of men; not me;
unbridled, I am a runaway Rocinante
snorting horizons of God's justice.
You in yourself have no say; everyone governs you;
your husband, your parents, your family,
the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall,
the auto, the fine furnishings, the feast, champagne,
heaven and hell, and the social, "what will they say."
Not in me, in me only my heart governs,
only my thought; who governs in me is me.
You, flower of aristocracy; and me, flower of the people.
You in you have everything and you owe it to everyone,
while me, my nothing I owe to nobody.
You nailed to the static ancestral dividend,
and me, a one in the numerical social divider,
we are the duel to death who fatally approaches.
When the multitudes run rioting
leaving behind ashes of burned injustices,
and with the torch of the seven virtues,
the multitudes run after the seven sins,
against you and against everything unjust and inhuman,
I will be in their midst with the torch in my hand.
Copyright (c) 2005, Julia de Burgos. All rights reserved.
Translation (c) 2005, Jack Agüeros.