Saturday, July 20, 2013

It Is Night, in My Study

Miguel de Unamuno

Translated by Willis Barnstone

It is night in my study.
Deepest solitude; I hear the pounding
in my turbulent chest
it feels alone
and blanched by my mind
and I hear my blood
whose even whisper
fills up the silence.
You might say the water clock's liquid thread
is dropping to the bottom.
Here, in the night, alone, this is my study.
The books don't speak.
My oil lamp
cools these pages with a light of peace,
light of a chapel.
The books don't speak.
Sleeping are the spirits
of the poets, the thinkers, the learned.
It's as if cunning death
were all around me.
I turn at times to see if it's waiting there,
I squint into darkness.
Among the shadows I try to spot
its wary shadow.
I think of heart failure,
at my strong age. Since my fortieth year
two years have gone by.
Silence turns me about
to face a bullying temptation.
Silence and shadows.
And I tell myself, "Maybe soon
when they'll come to say
that supper is waiting for me
they'll find a body
colorless and cold
-the thing I was, waiting-
like these quiet and stiff books,
blood already stopped,
jelling in the veins,
the chest quiet
under the weak light of soothing oil,
a funeral lamp."
I tremble as I end these lines
that don't seem
an unusual testament
but rather a mysterious presentiment
from the shade on the other side,
lines dictated by hunger
for eternal life.
I finished them and am still living.

This is indeed a magnificent poem . Unamuno, who in his solitude sees very clear things that are not true. It is world of the self--and it is also the world of the other worlds beyond the self. What I love about is its piercing passion--about life and death --no qualms about it. And yet, these are our daily preoccupations too.

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) was a Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher. His major philosophical essay was The Tragic Sense of Life (1913). He was a member of the group of Spanish intellectuals and philosophers known as the "Generation of '98," and a writer whose work dramatically influenced a wide range of 20th-century literature.

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