Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Here is an old blog entry from 2005, which I salvaged from my Myspace profile, that I no longer use…

“Hello my friends, just thought I’d share something with you all. Back in the 80’s, when I was in High School, in Mexico City (no, I am not Mexican, I just lived there for 4 years; I am actually a mixture of Puerto Rican and Spanish, and I understand that somewhere down the line is some French blood as well), I took an Intermediate Spanish course. During that course, we read a bunch of Spanish language authors, most of whom were 20th century Latin American authors writing in the Realismo Magico genre. The majority of this stuff was too political and too culturally foreign for me to really relate to; however, there was one author whom we spent some time on that, although I had a hard time understanding some of the language he used, I enjoyed the Gothic Romanticism of his work, which harkened to the likes of Poe, yet still keeping a genuine Spanish flavor. That author was Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870), a young man from Sevilla, who wrote some amazing short tales and poems before dying of tuberculosis in his 30’s.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, (February 17, 1836 - December 22, 1870) Spanish poet and writer of short stories. I was introduced to his "Leyendas" in my High School Spanish class and was intrigued by his Romantic style and use of folklore. His "Rimas" are very famous in the Spanish speaking world.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, (February 17, 1836 – December 22, 1870) Spanish poet and writer of short stories. I was introduced to his “Leyendas” in my High School Spanish class and was intrigued by his Romantic style and use of folklore. His “Rimas” are very famous in the Spanish speaking world.

Recently, at work, I came across a dual-language book of Spanish Poetry by Dover, which contained several selections from Becquer (as well as Cervantes, Lorca, etc.) in both English and Spanish. This is notable because up until now, I have only been able to find books in the original Spanish. This is fine for me, but makes it difficult to share with most of my friends. Now I can though, and there is one poem in particular that will appeal to anyone who has a taste for the Romanti-Goth. It comes from his “Rimas” (or “Rhymes”) and doesn’t have a specific title, but is rather identified by it’s opening line, which is “Cerraron sus ojos…”, “They closed her eyes…”. I shall transcribe it soon as a blog entry, so keep an eye out for it. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.”

Of course, I did the transcription for my next entry and it goes like this:

This poem was written by Spanish poet, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-70), and translated by Muriel Kittel. I changed a few words here and there to better suit the original intent of the poet, as the Kittel translation is a bit loose and overly Anglacized.

They closed her eyes

They closed her eyes

That she still kept open;

They covered her head

With a white linen cloth;

Then some with sobs,

Others in silence,

One and all left

The sorrowful room.

The light in a glass

Burned on the floor;

It cast on the wall

The shadow of the bed;

And within that shadow,

Intermittently seen,

Was stiffly outlined

The shape of the body.

Day was awakening,

And at its first dawning,

With a thousand noises

The village was waking.

Faced with that contrast

Of life and mysteries,

Of light and darkness,

I thought for a moment:

“How lonely, my God,

Do we leave the dead!”

From the house, on their shoulders,

They carried her to church,

And in a chapel

They set down the bier.

There they surrounded

Her pale remains

With yellow candles

And black draperies.

As the bells at sunset

 Pealed their last chime,

An old woman ended

Her final prayers;

She crossed the narrow nave,

The doors groaned,

And the holy alcove

Was left deserted.

The measured pendulum

Of a clock was heard,

And the sputtering

Of a few candles.

So terrible and sad,

So gloomy and stiff

Was everything there…

That I thought for a moment:

“How lonely, my God,

Do we leave the dead!”

From the lofty belfry

The iron clapper

Whirled and rang out

Its sad farewell.

Mourning on thier dress,

Friends and kindred

Passed in procession

Forming the cortege.

For her last refuge,

Narrow and dark,

The pickax opened

The niche at one end.

They laid her there,

Quickly walled it up,

And with a bow

The rites were ended.

Pickax on shoulder,

The gravedigger,

Singing between his teeth,

Was lost in the distance.

Night was approaching,

Silence reigned;

Lost in shadows

I thought for a moment:

“How lonely, my God,

Do we leave the dead!”

During the long nights

Of icy winter,

When timbers creek

Under the wind

And fierce showers

Lash the windowpanes,

Alone, I remember

The poor young girl.

There falls the rain

With eternal sound;

There struggles with it

The north wind’s blast.

Laid in that hole

In the damp wall,

Perhaps her bones

Freeze with cold!…

Does dust turn to dust?

Does the soul fly to heaven?

Is all vile matter,

putrefaction and filth?

I know not: but there’s something

That I cannot explain,

Something that fills us

With repugnance and sorrow

At leaving so sad,

And lonely, the dead.

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