Monday, December 24, 2012

Shadows of Paradise, Vicente Aleixandre

   Aleixandre, Nobel laureate in 1977, was a prolific poet, if relatively unknown in North America.  I came across a bilingual selection of his work in a Philadelphia bookstore in 1980, A Longing for the Light, and was struck by the lyrical beauty of his Spanish.  Shadows of Paradise, translated in the late '70's, is still in print, and I have been savoring the collection since being given a copy two months ago.  Shadows of Paradise was composed during World War II and published in 1944--the sense of loss and longing that pervades the poems, the classical and austere style, and the melancholy of Aleixandre's voice seem appropriate both to that age and to our own:

Confundes ese mar silencioso que adoro
con la espuma instantanea del viento entre los arboles.

Pero el mar es distinto.
No es viento, no es su imagen.
No es el resplandor de un beso pasajero,
ni es siquiera el gemido de unas alas brillantes.

Aleixandre has been fortunate in his translators.  Hugh A. Harter, who rendered Shadows of Paradise faithfully into sad cadences that unfold, poem by poem, to the lachrymose "Final Love," doesn't have to do much with Aleixandre's lovely lines:

Let the world spin on, and give me,
give me your love, and let me in futile
knowledge die, as kissing you we wheel
through space, and a star ascends.

Reading through this collection--and it's best to read Shadows as an unfolding lyric narrative rather than as individual poems thematically related--I thought of Antonio Machado's Fields of Castilla (1906-1917), also evocative of a lost age, also wistful and intimately connected both to Spain's history and its earth: "No todo/se lo ha tragado la tierra."  But then again, most things are.

Shadow of Paradise

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