Thursday, July 28, 2011

Poems: William Butler Yeats & Federico García Lorca

Apropos of the current geopolitical economic crises, here are two poems that came to mind recently as I thought about the craziness we're witnessing.  They both speak for themselves, so I won't provide a long introduction for either. The first, a standard of English literature classes, is Irish Nobelist poet and playwright William Butler Yeats's 1919 poem "The Second Coming," which he originally published in The Dial in 1920, and later included in the collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer in 1921.  The version below is the one that originally appeared in this volume (there are other versions online and in print).

The second is the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca's (1898-1936) "Danza de la muerte" (Dance of Death), written in 1929 during his sojourn as a Columbia University student in New York. It appears in his posthumous collection Poet in New York.  Both were written at times of sociopolitical crisis; Yeats' poem appears at the end of the First World War and comes just after the Russian Revolution, while Lorca's marks the year of the US Stock Market Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression; in fact, Lorca was on Wall Street the very day--October 24, 1929--of the great crash.  Wars, economic and political crises, apocalypses, sound familiar? "The center cannot hold...." "Ay, Wall Street!"

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Copyright © William Butler Yeats, 1920, from Michael Robartes and the Dancer. Chruchtown, Dundrum, Ireland: The Chuala Press, 1920. (as found in the photo-lithography edition printed Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1970.).

===

DANCE OF DEATH

The mask! Look how the mask
comes from Africa to New York.
 
They are gone, the pepper trees,
the tiny buds of phosphorus.
They are gone, the camels with torn flesh,
and the valleys of light the swan lifted in its beak.

It was the time of parched things,
the wheat spear in the eye, the laminated cat,
the time of tremendous, rusting bridges
and the deathly silence of cork.

It was the great gathering of dead animals
pierced by the swords of light.
The endless joy of the hippopotamus with cloven feet of ash
and of the gazelle with an immortelle in its throat.

In the withered, waveless solitude,
the dented mask was dancing.
Half the world was sand,
the other half mercury and dormant sunlight.

The mask. Look at the mask!
Sand, crocodile, and fear above New York.

Canyons of lime imprisoned an empty sky,
where the voices of those who die under the guano were heard.
A pure and manicured sky, identical with itself,
with the down and the keen-edged iris of its invisible mountains--

it finished off the slender stems of song
and was swept away towards channels of sap,
through the stillness of the last profiles,
lifting pieces of mirror with its tail.

While the Chinese man wept on the roof
without finding the naked body of his wife,
and the bank director examined the nanometer
that measures the cruel silence of money,
the mask arrived on Wall Street.

It isn't a strange place for the dance,
these cemetary niches that turn the eyes yellow.
Between the sphinx and the bank vault, there is a taut thread
that pierces that heart of all poor children.
The primitive impetus dances with the mechanical impetus,
unaware, in their frenzy, of the original light.
Because if the wheel forgets its formula,
it will sing naked with herds of horses;
and if a flame burns the frozen blueprints,
the sky will have to flee before the tumlt of windows.

This isn't a strange place for the dance, I tell you.
The mask will dance among columns of blood and numbers,
among hurricanes of gold and groans of the unemployed,
who will howl, in the dead of night, for your dark time.

Oh, savage, shameless North America!
Stretched out on a frontier of snow

The mask. Look at the mask!
Such a wave of mire and fireflies above New York!


* * *

I was on the terrace, wrestling with the moon.
Swarms of windows riddled one of the night's thighs.
Placid sky-cattle drank from my eyes
and the breezes on long oars
struck the ashen store windows on Broadway.

The drop of blood looked for light in the star's yolk
so as to seem a dead apple seed.
The prairie air, driven by the shepherds,
trembled in fear like a mollusk without its shell.

But I'm sure there are no dancers
among the dead.
The dead are engrossed in devouring their own hands.
It's the others who dance with the mask and its vihuela.
Others, drunk on silver, cold men,
who sleep where thighs and hard flames intersect,
who seek the earthworm in the landscape of fire escapes,
who drink a dead girl's tears at the bank
or eat pyramids of dawn on tiny street corners.

But don't let the Pope dance!
No, don't let the Pope dance!
Nor the King,
nor the millionaires with blue teeth,
nor the barren dancers of the cathedrals,
nor builders, nor emeralds, nor madmen, nor sodomites.
Only this mask.
This mask of ancient scarlet fever.
Only this mask!

Cobras shall hiss on the top floors.
Nettles shall shake courtyards and terraces.
The Stock Exchange shall become a pyramid of moss.
Jungle vines shall come in behind the rifles
and all so quickl, so very, very quickly.
Ay, Wall Street!

The mask. Look at the mask!
And how it spits its forest poison
through New York's imperfect anguish!

December 1929


Translation (with slight changes by me) © Copyright by Greg Simon and Steven F. White, from Poet in New York, translated by Greg Simon and Steven F. White, Edited and with an introduction and notes by Christopher Maurer, Volume I of The Poetical Works of Federico García Lorca, Edited by Christopher Maurer. New York: Noonday Press, 1988. All rights reserved.


DANZA DE LA MUERTE

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
¡Cómo viene del África a New York!

 
Se fueron los árboles de la pimienta,
los pequeños botones de fósforo.
Se fueron los camellos de carne desgarrada
y los valles de luz que el cisne levantaba con el pico.
Era el momento de las cosas secas,
de la espiga en el ojo y el gato laminado,
del óxido de hierro de los grandes puentes
y el definitivo silencio del corcho.
Era la gran reunión de los animales muertos,
traspasados por las espadas de la luz;
la alegría eterna del hipopótamo con las pezuñas de ceniza
y de la gacela con una siempreviva en la garganta.
En la marchita soledad sin honda
el abollado mascarón danzaba.
Medio lado del mundo era de arena,
mercurio y sol dormido el otro medio.

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
!Arena, caimán y miedo sobre Nueva York!



Desfiladeros de cal aprisionaban un cielo vacío
donde sonaban las voces de los que mueren bajo el guano.
Un cielo mondado y puro, idéntico a sí mismo,
con el bozo y lirio agudo de sus montañas invisibles,
acabó con los más leves tallitos del canto
y se fue al diluvio empaquetado de la savia,
a través del descanso de los últimos desfiles,
levantando con el rabo pedazos de espejos.
Cuando el chino lloraba en el tejado
sin encontrar el desnudo de su mujer
y el director del banco observando el manómetro
que mide el cruel silencio de la moneda,
el mascarón llegaba al Wall Street.
No es extraño para la danza
este columbario que pone los ojos amarillos.
De la esfinge a la caja de caudales hay un hilo tenso
que atraviesa el corazón de todos los niños pobres.
El ímpetu primitivo baila con el ímpetu mecánico,
ignorantes en su frenesí de la luz original.
Porque si la rueda olvida su fórmula,
ya puede cantar desnuda con las manadas de caballos:
y si una llama quema los helados proyectos,
el cielo tendrá que huir ante el tumulto de las ventanas.
No es extraño este sitio para la danza, yo lo digo.
El mascarón bailará entre columnas de sangre y de números,
entre huracanes de oro y gemidos de obreros parados
que aullarán, noche oscura, por tu tiempo sin luces,
¡oh salvaje Norteamérica! ¡oh impúdica! ¡oh salvaje,
tendida en la frontera de la nieve!

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
¡Qué ola de fango y luciérnaga sobre Nueva York!


* * *

Yo estaba en la terraza luchando con la luna
Enjambres de ventanas acribillaban un muslo de la noche.
En mis ojos bebían las dulces vacas de los cielos.
Y las brisas de largos remos
golpeaban los cenicientos cristales de Broadway.
La gota de sangre buscaba la luz de la yema del astro
para fingir una muerta semilla de manzana.
El aire de la llanura, empujado por los pastores,
temblaba con un miedo de molusco sin concha.
Pero no son los muertos los que bailan,
estoy seguro.
Los muertos están embebidos, devorando sus propias manos.
Son los otros los que bailan con el mascarón y su vihuela;
son los otros, los borrachos de plata, los hombres fríos,
los que crecen en el cruce de los muslos y llamas duras,
los que buscan la lombriz en el paisaje de las escaleras,
los que beben en el banco lágrimas de niña muerta
o los que comen por las esquinas diminutas pirámides del alba.
¡Que no baile el Papa!
¡No, que no baile el Papa!
Ni el Rey,
ni el millonario de dientes azules,
ni las bailarinas secas de las catedrales,
ni constructores, ni esmeraldas, ni locos, ni sodomitas.
Sólo este mascarón,
este mascarón de vieja escarlatina,
¡sólo este mascarón!
Que ya las cobras silbarán por los últimos pisos,
que ya las ortigas estremecerán patios y terrazas,
que ya la Bolsa será una pirámide de musgo,
que ya vendrán lianas después de los fusiles
y muy pronto, muy pronto, muy pronto.
¡Ay, Wall Street!

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
¡Cómo escupe veneno de bosque
por la angustia imperfecta de Nueva York!

 
Diciembre 1929

Copyright © Federico García Lorca, 1929.

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