The 1950s and 1960s saw a rediscovery of the Romantic modality and a reinvention of poetry in the Americas. That Neo-Romantic strain came into English at the hand of Allen Ginsberg, probably the most prominent poet of the Beat Generation, and into Spanish, at the hand of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik.
Her major works include Tree of Diana, The Musical Inferno and Extraction of the Madness Stone. While Tree of Diana is likely her most refined work, Extraction… is the most revealing of her poetic vision and literary strategy, thus allowing the reading to approach it as a sort of manifesto. The following English version has been selected from my translation (in progress) of her complete poetry, still in need of more editing, but nonetheless readable, me thinks, for those who are still unfamiliar with the great South American necromancer.
EXTRACTION OF THE MADNESS STONE
by Alejandra Pizarnik
Elles, les âmes (…), sont malades et elles soufrent et nul ne leur
porte-remède; elles sont blessées ey brisées et nul ne les panse.
The evil light has shone & nothing is certain. & if I consider all I read about the spirit… I closed my eyes, saw luminous bodies that twirled in the fog, in the place of ambiguous vicinities. Don’t be afraid, nothing will strike you, there aren’t any tomb-raiders anymore. The silence, always the silence, the golden coins of the vision.
I speak like they speak in me. Not my obstinate voice that resembles a human voice but the other that bears witness to the permanent residence I’ve taken in the forest.
If you could see her who sleeps without you in a rotting garden of the memory. Over there, drunk on a thousand deaths, I speak about me to myself just to know if it’s true that I am under the shrubs. I know not the names. Who might you tell that you don’t know. You desire to be other. The other you are desires to be other. & just what happened in the canopied avenue? It just so happens that it isn’t green & there isn’t even a canopied avenue. & now you play the slave in order to hide your crown—granted by whom? Who has anointed you? Who has consecrated you? The invisible people of your oldest memory. Lost with your own plan, you’ve renounced your reign for the ashes. The one who makes you ache reminds you of ancient homages. Nonetheless, shattered you cry & mistake your madness & would even like to extract it as if it were a stone, it being your only privilege. On a white wall you draw the allegories of repose, & it is always a mad queen who lies beneath the moon on the garden’s sad grass. But speak not about the gardeners, speak not about the moon, speak not about the rose, speak not about the sea. Speak about what you know. Speak about what vibrates in your jaw & casts lights & shadows on your gaze, speak about the unending pain of your bones, speak about the vertigo, speak about your breath, about your desolation, about your treason. So dark is the process I’m bound to in such silence. Oh, speak about the silence.
Suddenly possessed by a sinister omen of a black wind that blocks the breath, I sought the memory of some happiness that might serve me as a shield, or a weapon of defense, or even of attack. I resembled Ecclesiastes: I searched through all my memories & nothing, nothing beneath the black-fingered midnight. My profession (in my dream as well I work) is to relinquish & exorcise. At what point did the disgrace begin? I don’t want to know. I want nothing else than a silence for me & for those whom I was, a silence like a little hut in the woods that lost girls find. & what do I know about what must be if nothing rhymes with nothing.
You give in. It’s an awakening seraphim, the same & yet contrary to the night of the bodies, a morning-glory ceases, another appears at the edge of the water.
Without the water’s forgiveness I can’t live. Without the sky’s marble finale I can’t live.
Night has fallen inside you. Soon you’ll join the soulful search for the animal that you are. Oh, heart of the night, speak.
To have died in whom one was & in whom was loved, to have & have not like a sky turned stormy & blue at the same time.
It goes & comes speaking itself only in solitary flux. Losing the meaning of the days drop by drop. Scarecrows of concepts. Traps of vowels. Reason shows me to exit the scene where they raised a church in the rain: the shewolf deposits her seed at the entrance & flees. The saddest of lights from the tapers is espied by a malignant breeze. The shewolf’s pup cries. None of the sleepers hears her. All the pestilence & plagues for those who sleep in peace.
This avid voice arrived from ancient tears. Cunningly you exist, you disguise yourself as a little assasine, you startle yourself in front of the mirror. To hide myself in the earth & that the earth may enclose upon me. Ignoble ecstasy. You know that they humiliated you even when they showed you the sun. You know that you’ll never know how to defend yourself, that you only wish to present them with a trophy, I mean a cadaver, & that they’ll eat it & drink it too.
The dwellings of consolation, the consecration of innocence, the unadjectivizable joy of the body.
If all of a sudden a painting comes to life & a Florentine boy at whom you cast a burning gaze extends his hands & invites you to stay at his side in the terrible fortune of being an object of observation & adoration. No (I said), to be two it’s necessary to be distinct. I am outside the frame but the way of offering oneself is still the same.
Blades of grass, headless dolls, I call to myself, all night long I call to myself. & in my dream a circus tent full of dead privateers in their caskets. A moment before, with beautiful outfits & black patches on the eye, the captains were leaping from one rowboat to the next, gorgeous as suns.
The way I dreamt of captains & caskets of delicious colors & now am afraid of all the things I don’t have, not a privateer’s chest, not a well buried treasure, but so many things in movement, so many little blue & golden figures make gestures & dance (but speak they do not), & then it is a black space—let yourself fall, let yourself fall—threshold of the highest innocence or perhaps only of madness. I comprehend my fear of the little blue & gold figures’ revolt. Departed soul, shared soul, I have roamed & welcomed so much to form unions for the boy painted as an object of contemplation, & nevertheless, after analyzing the colors & the forms, I found myself making love with a boy at the same time as he in the painting was undressing & possessing me behind my closed eyelids.
He smiles & I am a rosey miniscule marionette with a light blue umbrella. I enter his smile make my little house on his tongue inhabit the palm of his hand he makes a fist of golden dust a bit of blood goodbye oh goodbye.
Like a voice not far from the night the most exact fire burns. Skinless boneless animals walk through the ashen woods. One time the song of a single bird brought you closer to the sharpest heat. Seas & urchins, seas & serpents. Please, look how the little canine cavalry hanging from the blue painted drop ceiling sways with dry leaves that flutter fro. Cracks & holes in my fire escaping person. To write is to search through the burning rubble for the arm bone that corresponds to the leg bone. Miserable mixture. I restore, reconstitute, walk like this surrounded by death. & it is without grace, without halo, without respite. & that voice, that was choosing the first cause: a scream, a sigh, a breath between the gods. I relate my vesper & what can you do? You leave your hideout & don’t understand. You return to her & understanding or not she no longer understands. There is nowhere to breath & you, only speaking about the sighing of the gods.
Speak not to me about the sun for that would mean its death. Carry me off like a blind princess as slowly & carefully autumn is made in the garden.
To me you’ll come with your voice barely colored by an accent which will make me mistake an open door for your shadow of a beautifully named bird, for what that shadow leaves in the memory, for what remains when the ashes of a dead girl are released, for the outlines that last on the page after a drawing that portrayed a house, a tree, the sun & an animal has been erased.
If it didn’t come it’s because it didn’t come. It’s like making autumn. You expected nothing from its coming. You expected everything. Life of your shadow, what do you want? A break for a delicious feast, a language without limits, a shipwreck in native waters, how greedy.
Every hour, every day, I’d rather not have to speak. Wax figures the others & above all me, for I am more other than them. I intend nothing in this poem if it doesn’t undress my throat.
Quickly, your most hidden voice. Transforms itself, transmits you. So much to do & I undo me. They banish you. I suffer, then don’t know. In the dream the king was dying out of love for me. Here, little beggar, they immunize you. (You still have got a baby face; many years from now you won’t get a smile even from the dogs.)
my body opened up to the knowledge of my existence
& my being, confusing & diffusing,
my body vibrated & breathed
to the tune of a now forgotten song
I wasn’t still the fugitive of music
I knew the place of time
& the time of place
in love I opened myself
& dreamt the old gestures of love
heiress of the vision
of the prohibited garden
She whom I dreamt, whom was dreamt. Prodigious landscapes for the most loyal infancy. Due to that lack—which is not much—the voice of injury is in the right.
Murky luminosity of suffocated dreams. Painful water.
The dream too late, the white horses too late, to have left with a melody too late. The melody plucked my heart & I cried for the loss of my only good, someone saw me crying in the dream & I explained (within the realm of possibility), using simple words (within the realm of possibility), with words good & true (within the realm of possibility). I took ownership of my person, yanked it out of the beautiful delirium, astonished it after serenading someone’s fear that I might die in her house.
And me? How many have I saved?
To have kowtowed to the suffering of the rest, to have kept quiet in the horror of the rest.
My red elemental violence withdraws. The blooming sex of the heart, the way of ecstasy between the legs. My violence of red winds & black winds. The true feasts take place in the body of the dream.
Doors of the heart, a dog beaten, I see the temple, it trembles, what’s happening? Doesn’t happen. I was envisioning an entire scripture. The animal panting in my arms with the scent of living organs, heat, heart, breathing, everything musical & at once silent. What does it mean to be translated into words? & the long-term projects of perfection: To every day measure the likely elevation of my spirit, the disappearance of my grammatical errors. My dream is a dream without alternatives & I want to die at the foot of commonplace’s letter which ensures that to die is to dream. The light, the prohibited wine, the vertigo, for whom do you write? Ruins in a forgotten temple. If celebrating only were possible.
Lashed vision, flogged, of a garden of broken statues. On the verge of the early dawn your bones ached. You flog yourself. I prevent you & prevented you. You disarm. I tell you & told you. You undress. You let yourself fall. You break the union. I predicted it. Suddenly it comes apart: no birth at all. You hold yourself, uphold yourself. Only you know this shattered rhythm. Now your vertigos, you gather them one by one, a great disgust, a place to leave them. If I had held her close, I would have sold my soul instead of making myself invisible. Drunk on myself, on the music, on the poems, why didn’t I speak about the hole of absence. In a threadbare hymn sorrow surrounded my face. Why don’t they say anything? Why this huge silence?