by Angel Gonzalez
Translated by Steven Ford Brown and Gutierrez Revuelta
I notice it: how I'm slowly getting
less certain, confused,
dissolving in the daily
tatter of myself, frayed
and ragged at the cuffs.
I understand: I've lived
another year, and that's a hard thing to do.
To move one's heart almost a hundred
times a minute every day!
Just to live a year one has to
die over and over.
(from Astonishing World: Selected Poems of Angel Gonzalez)
Ángel González Muñiz (September 6, 1925 – January 12, 2008) was a major Spanish poet of the twentieth century.
Time is something mysterious, beyond human comprehension and control. Yet, human beings are so fond of measuring it for practical reasons. This poem that measures the slow impact of time on physical and psychological aspects of our persona is typical of it. Its primary effect is to keep the reader poised between assent and dissent. The speaker's comparing himself to a worn-out part of clothing (frayed and ragged at the cuffs), is credible to his reader when he describes how time and experience have aged him.
But in explaining why he is frayed, his credibility itself wears thin. ThIs reasoning conflicts with common sense perceptions of what makes one feel eroded by life. What seemed suitable as a concrete metaphor (the person as a garment that wears out) has become all too concrete and physical. Not only does the speaker overemphasize precise numbers (hundred times), which gels with the birthday aspect since it is also often tagged with a number, but he attributes complex aging process to a single facet of physical existence insufficient to explain his psychic disorientation. The involuntary beating of the heart- a basic animal level of aliveness- has little to do with the emotional wear and tear that the reader accept. In attributing the stress on one more year to a single aspect of being alive, the speaker suddenly turns the attention to the ennui of existence itself. The speaker is trapped in a meaningless world where his life is a living death can be understood as an expression of the absurdity of human existence.