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Monday, 17 March 2014

Juan Gil-Albert: La Siesta ("What is the Earth?")


Highway 85, Arizona: photo by James S Patterson, 21 February 2014 

..................To Antonio Diaz Zamora

When I arrive at that secret confine
and they question me, “What is the Earth?”
I should say a cold place where the dictator overbears
and the oppressed cry long tears
and where, in shadows and gold teeth,
injustice does the rounds
taking up his profits from the men of property
and mankind’s permanent tragedy; it is a wasteland.
But again, I should have to say,
when in clear altering situations
the land exhales the somnolence
of not knowing the source of one’s fatigue,
when the blue sky pulses like an hallucination
and fruit follows fruit on the white tables
and great windows set ajar cool
in the semi-light, we seek out a bower
where we may fall beneath that soft weight.
It is then that I should tell them that the Earth
is an original happiness, an inward impulse,
like an unprecedented temptation,
composed both of ardour and renunciation,
a giving up and a giving in, a slow love potion.

Juan Gil-Albert (Alcoy, 1904-Valencia, 1994), La Siesta, from Obra poética completa, Pre-Textos, Valencia, 1981; English translation by John Stammers
If someone should ask me one day,
when I reach that secret boundary: what is the earth?

I would say a place where it’s cold
to those whom the strong oppress, a place

where the weak cry out, where like a shadow

injustice moves with billowing cape,

gathering up the rich man’s loose change

and the tragedy of the homeless: a sudden place.

But also I would say that other times
in clear but changing situations,
when summer comes and the land seems to dispense a somnolence

and one grows tired without knowing why,

while high above, a dazzling blue sky hums,

and fruits appear in succession on white tables,

under great, half-open windows, in cool penumbral light,

we look for a corner where we might surrender ourselves

to this sweet weight,

then yes, I would say

that the earth is an irreplaceable good,

a flowing happiness, an entrancing touch.

Like a temptation without precedent,

made of both ardor and renunciation.

A pleasant immersion, a slow acting love potion.

Juan Gil-Albert: La Siesta, alternate translation by Hazen Robert Walker

Hampstead Pond, London, summer: photo by Kate Kirkwood, 10 July 2013

.................A Antonio Díaz Zamora
Si alguien me preguntara cuando un día
llegue al confín secreto : ¿qué es la tierra?
diría que un lugar en que hace frío
en el que el fuerte oprime, el débil llora,
y en el que como sombra, la injusticia,
va con su capa abierta recogiendo
el óbolo del rico y la tragedia
del desahuciado : un sitio abrupto.
Pero también diría que otras veces,
en claras situaciones alternantes,
cuando llega el estío y los países
parecen dispensar la somnolencia
de un no saber por qué se está cansado,
mientras vibra en lo alto, alucinante,
un cielo azul, los frutos se suceden
sobre las mesas blancas, y entornados
los ventanales, frescos de penumbra,
buscamos un rincón donde rendirnos
al dulce peso, entonces sí, diría
que la tierra es un bien irremplazable,
un fluido feliz, un toque absorto.
Como una tentación sin precedentes
hecha a la vez de ardor y de renuncia.
Una inmersión gustosa, un filtro lento.

01904 [Untitled]: photo by Junk Male (borrowed_time), 31 December 2007


TC said...

From an obit by James Kirkup, The Independent, 7 July 1994:

Juan Gil-Albert, poet, novelist, critic, essayist: born Alcoy, Valencia 1 April 1906; died Valencia 4 July 1994.

Juan Gil-Albert, a fine poet and writer of prose, was outstanding in more ways than one. He produced extremely subtle and innovative work; he fought with the Republican Army against Franco in the 1930s; he went into exile, first in a French camp at Saint- Cyprien, then in Mexico, where he collaborated with Octavio Paz on the review Taller and was admired by Juan Rulfo, then in Argentina, where he was befriended by Jorge Luis Borges who introduced him to the literary life of Buenos Aires.

But Gil-Albert returned to Mexico in 1947, before going once more into exile - what he called his 'interior exile' - in Francoist Spain, abstaining from all contacts with official institutions and Francoist writers, living in total isolation in his native region, Valencia. Even after Franco's death and the democratic revolution in mid-Seventies Spain, he was rarely seen in public, though he was greatly honoured by his birthplace and became president of the Valencia Cultural Affairs Council, which in 1982 awarded him his only public honour, the Premi de les Lletres Valencianes. Ever since his return to Spain, he had been unjustly ignored by most critics and writers, a literary persecution of a virulence unknown by any other Spanish writer.

Gil-Albert was born in Alcoy, a small inland town between Valencia and Alicante, the oldest of four sons of a prosperous family of industrialists. He liked to recall that he was born on All Fools' Day, which happened to be also a Good Friday, at three in the afternoon, the hour of Christ's death on the cross. He felt this auspicious date had a permanent influence on his life and gave certain of his writings their mystical quality, which can be felt in his third book, a collection of discreetly personal sonnets, Mysteriosa presencia (1929), published to the acclaim of fellow poets such as Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Cernuda.

Gil-Albert's parents were devout Catholics, and the religious atmosphere of the family strongly marked his early years, during which the entire household moved to Valencia. There he took courses in philosophy and law, and graduated with honours in 1926. It was also in Valencia that he made the acquaintance of painters and writers, and in the Thirties in Madrid made close friends with a host of young poets of what was called 'Generacion del 27' - Lorca, Cernuda, Antonio Machado, Rafael Dieste, Manuel Altolaguirre, Jose Bergamin and Rosa Chacel. But Lorca was murdered in 1936, Machado died in exile in 1939 in Colliure, near Perpignan, and all the others went into exile in France and Latin America.

TC said...


Gil-Albert had published his first two exquisitely formal works, La fascinacion de lo irreal and Vibracion de estio in 1927 and 1928, followed by Como pudieron ser, Galerias del Museo del Prado (1929) and Cronicas para servir al estudio de nuestro tiempo (1932). During the civil war he collaborated in the avant-garde Republican reviews Hora de Espana and El Mono Azul ('The Blue Monkey'). He became secretary of the Alianza de Intelectuales Antifascistas at the request of its president, Jose Bergamin. He published a violently anti-Fascist text, Candente horror (1937) whose very title, 'Incandescent Horror', is an indication of Gil-Albert's view of the war and his commitment to the Republican cause. He also took part in the great Congress of Anti-Fascist Writers held in Valencia in 1937. Two years later he was forced into exile. He was in the refugee camp at Saint-Cyprien for only one month, but later he said it felt like years.

During his stay in Mexico and Argentina, Gil-Albert contributed to many periodicals; but he published only one collection of poems, Las ilusiones, whose bitter tone marked a departure from the Mallarme-like style praised by Cernuda.

After his return to Valencia in 1947, his publications were sporadic: Concertar es amor (1951), Poesia (1961), La trama inextricable (1968) and a good selection of his poetry, Fuentes de la constancia (1972), none of which received much critical or public attention. It was as if this exile in his own land had been banished from Spanish literary life. But then began the publication of his collected works at the devoted hands of his small band of admirers by the Valencia Institute of Studies and Researches. Among the fine works produced after Franco's fall were a treatise on homosexual passions, Homenaje a Plato ('Homage to Plato', 1975), and the beautiful, well-researched novel Valentin: homenaje a Shakespeare (1974), an evocation of Shakespeare's times and the ambiguous loves of adolescent boy actors and their aristocratic patrons.

Its only translation is in French (Actes Sud, 1987). It well deserves an English translation, as do the other works of this very unusual Spanish hellenist and intellectual who set himself apart from his countrymen by calling himself 'a Spaniard who thinks'.

Barry Taylor said...

Gil-Albert's completely new to me, but clearly he knew about continuing to say yes in spite of all the excellent reasons for saying no.

Thanks Tom, it's very good to have you back.

TC said...


Lovely to hear from you always, and yes, those reasons for saying no seem always to be stacking up before one's limited consciousness until soon enough, one can't see over to the other side.

To rise up just that bit higher surely requires courage, and the life of this poet would seem an exemplum of that noble virtue.

Michael Peverett said...

Fascinating... I'd never heard of him either, will add to my list of alicantino escritores I hope to read much more of...

Nin Andrews said...

Wow, that's great.

Hazen said...

Tom, Much obliged for bringing Gil-Albert to my attention. His poem here, in the original, is beautiful, strong, and moving. The translator,though, seems to have taken great liberties with Gil-Albert’s reflections on what it means to have spent some time in this earthly neighborhood. Stammers’ poem is lovely in its own right, but it is another poem.

TC said...

Many thanks, people.

Liberties may have been taken, but the translation does evoke for me something of the sunlit beauty of Valencia and its environs, evoked, perhaps, from the melancholy distance of exile. I think a lot depends on accepting the archaic sense of "filtro" -- the English sense of philtre or philtre: a potion.

TC said...

Our good friend Hazen Walker (without whose wise and generous contributions over the past six years this blog might well have given up the ghost), has once again shown his ability to walk the walk by sending along his own translation of La Siesta. It is now posted here along with John Stammers' version.

There have been a number of swell back-channel comments from poets to whom the work of Juan Gil-Albert comes as a surprise.

Sometimes it takes a while for those who need to hear something to get the opportunity to hear it, and then -- reward, delight.

The great American poet Aram Saroyan writes:

"Wonderful Gil-Albert. Never heard of him, a flower out of nowhere."


Wooden Boy said...

Lovely to come to both translations and watch two poet minds each make something alive and shining and distinct.