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By Juan Ramon Jimenez
Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957
English translation by J. B. Trend
97 pages

Bob Corbett
January 2015

In an introduction to this volume of Juan Ramon Jimenez’s poetry translator J.B. Trend says of the task of the translator:

“The object of a translation from Juan Ramon Jimenez should not be to produce a second-hand poem in English on the same subject, but to convey in English the exotic impression of the original poem in Spanish.”

Given that I don’t read Spanish at all, I have no idea whether or not J. B. Trend achieved that goal. However, I was delighted with the result which Trend produced and hope that the goal was achieved. In any case, I came away from the volume with a deep respect for Juan Ramon Jimenez’s poetry.

“Southern Sea” is a marvelous early poem which starts the collection. It is soft, meditative, painting a vivid picture of Spain’s southern coast.

“In the deep blue and fevered lethargy of the siesta
the garden flames in the sun.
A smell of burnt roses.
The tide heaves between the unmoving leafy garlands:
A million million diamonds gleaming from sunny waves.

Amber cupolas and towers take fire in the far distance
in an oceanic city of veiled phantasy:
leaping, laughing and twinkling; momentary reflections
of gleaming tiles, of bronzes, of rows of crystal panes.

The water opens cooling fans of beaten silver,
deep down, as the green slumber of hushed leaves;
and through the solitary silence moves a frigate:
white with swelling sails, among the rocks of flame.”

He continues his love of painting with words, overcome by the colors of winter with its dominating snow.

“Where, oh where have they hidden all the colours
on this wan day of white and black?
The foliage, black; the water, grey; the earth
and sky a deathly white and black pallor;
only an old romantic etching.

Men on the road are black;
black, the frightened bird
that darts across the garden like an arrow.
Even the silence is hard and colourless.

The evening falls. The sky
has nothing of kindliness. And now at sunset
a livid yellow gleam, hardly resplendent,
or hardly a gleam at all. Out in the country,
all rust-red iron.

Night comes on like a funeral.
Everything is draped in mourning,
and all is cold; no stars at all, but white
and black, just as the day is: white and black.”

“The Poet To His Soul” seems to me an instructive poem on Juan Ramon Jimenez’s view of his task as a poet and his mode of writing.

”Day after day you keep the branch protected
in case the rose may come; you go alert
day after day, your ear warm at the gate
of your body, for the arrow unexpected.

No wave of thought can flow from non-existence
and not derive, from your receptive shade,
the larger gleam. All night, you are awake
in your particular star, to life’s persistence.

On things you leave indelible impresses;
then, turned to an afterglow upon the height,
revive in things whereon your seal is set.

Your rose shall be the pattern of all roses;
your ear, of harmony; of every light
your thought; of every waking star your state.”

He is attuned to the everyday of life that most of us tend to ignore, though we live in it each day. However, Jimenez is pulled up short by the importance of so much which we, so many of us, just take for granted, mainly ignored and missed. I think his poem “Sky” illustrates this.

“I had almost forgot you,
sky, and you were nothing
more than a vague existence formed from light;
seen – without thinking –
by wearied eyes and shameful indolence.
And you appeared among the words there spoken
in the idle and unenthusiastic talk of a traveler
and in the oft-repeated vision of lakes
in a watery landscape seen between dream and waking.

Now I regard you with due notice,
and you have proved yourself to be worthy of your name.”

Most the poems in this collection are very short reflections on a wide range of topics, most rooted in nature rather than the “human” world. “Hill Top” is a lovely example of this favorite topic, nature, but coupled with another key theme, the love of a woman, each blended beautifully into a short 7 line poem.

“The enormous almond in flower!
White to the top, in the great, full silenced of white moonlight;
the trunk all black in the total peace of the dark shadow.
So while I climbed up by the steep rock to you,
I thought that you plunged your great trunk
right to the depths of my being,
and starred the whole of heaven with my soul.”

I especially loved a poem very late in this collection. It has no name but it’s about the importance of stars to his life and self-understanding.

“I would that all my verses
could be such as the sky is in the night time:
truth of the moment – without history.

That, like the sky, they would yield at every instant
all things, with all their streaming stars, and
neither childhood, nor youth, nor age could rob them,
nor cast a spell on the immensity of their beauty.

A thrill, a bright flash, music,
before my eyes and upon me!
The thrill, the bright flash,
the music, right between my eyes, -- the whole sky in my heart – the naked book!”

This volume was a short peek at the work of Juan Ramon Jimenez, but I would imagine I will return in the near future to seek out another volume. His poetry was quite pleasing and interesting for me.

Bob Corbett

Bob Corbett


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