"Words"

A poem by Dana Gioia / Spanish translation by José Emilio Pacheco

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other –
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert. 
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper –
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa 
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always –
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

 

Palabras

El mundo no necesita de palabras. Sabe expresarse 
En luz solar, hojas y sombras. Las piedras en el sendero 
No son menos reales por yacer 
Sin que nadie las catalogue ni las cuente. 
Las hojas desenvueltas sólo hablan el dialecto del puro ser. 
El beso es siempre beso por completo. No hacen falta palabras.

Y una palabra se transforma en algo menos o en otra: 
Casto, ilícito, superficial, conyugal, furtivo. 
Aun al llamarlo beso traicionamos el agitarse de las manos 
Que recorren la piel o se aferran a un hombro, 
El lento arquearse del cuello o la rodilla, 
El silencioso encuentro de las lenguas.

Sin embargo, las piedras se vuelven menos reales 
Para quienes no pueden nombrarlas ni leer 
Las mudas sílabas sepultadas en el sílice. 
Ver una piedra roja es menos que verla como jaspe, 
Metamórfico cuarzo, pariente del pedernal que los kiowa 
Tallaron como puntas de sus flechas. 
Nombrar es conocer y recordar.

La luz del sol no necesita elogios cuando punza 
Las nubes de la lluvia, cuando pinta 
De claridad las piedras y las hojas y al final 
Disuelve cada gota luminosa en las nubes que la engendraron. 
La luz del día no necesita elogios
Y sin embargo siempre la elogiamos 
 – Es mayor que nosotros y que todas 
Las ligeras palabras que reunimos.

Translation from the English
By José Emilio Pacheco

 

Dana Gioia is the author of three collections of poetry, including the 2002 American Book Award winner Interrogations at Noon. Also an influential critic, Gioia's 1991 collection of essays, Can Poetry Matter?, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His new collection, Pity the Beautiful, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2012. A translator, librettist, and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia spoke with WLT's managing editor about the revival of form and narrative in poetry, his "idiosyncratic poetics," and his collaborations with artists in different disciplines inside the September 2011 issue.

José Emilio Pacheco is a Mexican author, poet, and translator. His poetry and literature have earned a number of prestigious awards, such as the Miguel de Cervantes prize recognizing lifetime achievement in Spanish language literature. Pacheco has taught at several universities in Mexico and the United States, and he is a member of the Mexican Academy of Language and the National College.

Editorial note: From Interrogations at Noon. Copyright © 2001 by Dana Gioia. Reprinted by permission of the author. Translation copyright © 2010 by José Emilio Pacheco. Reprinted by permission of Ediciones el Tucan de Virginia. To read another poem by Gioia and translated by Pacheco, see the current issue of WLT.


Recommended Reading: