The Sunflower (Part I)

The Sunflower [El Girasol] is a small book of love poems written by Octavio Paz, the most eminent Mexican poet and Nobel laureate. These poems are dated between 1943 and 1948. No translation of the entire book exists, only of poems in isolation. Since the poems have recurrent themes and metaphors I decided to pursue its translation considering it as a comprehensive whole. For the purpose of posting the translations into this blog I divided the book in two parts, this is the first one.

Translations of Nocturnal Water [Agua Nocturna] and Lightning at Rest [Relámpago en Reposo] by Muriel Rukeyser have been consulted. Her translations have been revised in the most respectful manner and some of her verses have been kept intact. All major disagreements are explained thoroughly in footnotes.

Contents

  1. Gun Salute
  2. Your Eyes
  3. Body Sighting
  4. Nocturnal Water
  5. Lightning at Rest

Gun Salute

Tower of amber walls,
lonely laurel in a stone plaza,
unforeseen gulf,
a smile in a dark hallway,
river-gait flowing among palaces,
sweet comet blinding me and flying away…

Low bridge under whose arcs life is ever flowing.

Your Eyes

Your eyes are the country of thunder and tear,
speaking silence,
windless tempests, waveless sea,
birds in jail, drowsed golden beasts,
topazes unclean like truth,
autumn in a forest glade where light sings to
&nbsp the shoulder of a tree and all birds are leaves,
beach which the morning finds constellated 1 with eyes,
basket of fire fruits,
feeding lie,
mirrors of this world, doors to the netherworld,
quiet pulse from midday sea,
blinking absolute,
wasteland2.

Body Sighting

3 And shadows opened again and showed a body:
your hair, thick autumn, solar waterfall, your mouth and the white disciple of your cannibal teeth,
aflame prisoners,
your skin of barely toasted bread and your eyes of burnt sugar
places where time does not pass,
valleys known only by my lips,
between your breasts a moon-cliff ascending to your throat
petrified waterfall your nape,
high plateau your midriff
endless beach your flank.

Your eyes are the fixed eyes of the tiger
and a minute later they are the wet eyes of the dog.

There are always bees in your hair.

Your back flows calmly under my eyes
like the back of a river lit by a wildfire.

Sleeping waters hit your clay waist day and night
and in your shores, immense like moon sandscapes,
wind blows through my mouth and its long groan covers with its two
gray wings
the night of bodies,
like the shadow of an eagle over the wasteland’s solitude.

Your toenails are made of the crystal of summer.

Between your legs there is a well of sleeping water,
bay where the night-sea quiets, black horse of foam,
treasure cave at the foot of the mountain, door from the oven where hosts are made,
smiling lips, slightly open and cruel,
wedding of light and shadow, of all things visible and invisible
(there flesh awaits resurrection and everlasting life).

Blood homeland,
the only land I know and that knows me,
only homeland I believe in,
only door to infinity.

Nocturnal Water

Night with eyes of trembling horse in the night,
night with water eyes4 in the sleeping field,
is in your eyes of trembling horse,
is in your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water,
eyes of well-water,
eyes of sleep-water.

Silence and solitude,
two little animals moon-led,
drink in those eyes,
drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes,
the night of moss doors opens,
the secret kingdom of water
which flows from the center of night opens.

And if you close your eyes,
a river, a sweet and silent stream,
floods you within, flows forward, darkens you:
night bathes shores in your soul.

Lightning at Rest

Lay down,
stone made of midday,
half-open eyes whose whiteness turns to blue,
squinting smile5
You arise half-heartedly and shake your lion’s mane.
Then you lie down again,
thin lava striation in the rock,
sleeping ray of light.
While you sleep I caress you, I polish you,
slender axe,
arrow with whom I set fire to the night.

The sea is fighting far off with swords and feathers.


1. Paz uses the word ‘constelada’, a word derived from the non-existent verb ‘constelar’, which would mean to create constellations. I took the liberty of adapting the neologism.

2. The word paramo is now accepted in English usage, however in the Mexican imagery the word páramo has a heavy literary load in part by the influence of Juan Rulfo’s works. For that reason, and in attention to the English reader, the word ‘wasteland’ is used; since its meaning is close to the original and it also carries literary baggage of its own.

3. The title in Spanish is structured around the phrase that sailors will use to indicate the sighting of land: ‘¡Tierra a la vista!‘. Since the literal translation will be extremely prosaic I decided to translate by keeping the original intent of the title.

4. The term ‘ojo de agua’ is literally translated as ‘eye of water’, which stands for the place where underground water emerges. The Spanish term can also be rendered as ‘eye made out of water’ or ‘water eye’, this latter meaning is largely exploited in this verse

5. The verb used in this verse is entornar, which refers to the action of half-closing the eyes. This verb would rarely be used to describe a smile. Rukeyser renders it as half-ready smile which I omitted due to the accumulation of similar adjectives. The choice of using ‘squint’ was inspired from Havard’s translations of Lorca’s Romance the la Luna, Luna.

Cobb, C. W. (1983). Lorca’s Romancero gitano : a ballad translation and critical study. University Press of Mississippi.

García Lorca, F. (1990). Gypsy ballads = Romancero gitano. Aris & Phillips.

Paz, O. (1973). Early Poems 1935-1955. Indiana University Press.

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