Two Bilingual Poems from Chile

May 22, 2017
translated by 
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), oil on canvas, 147 × 89.2 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art / The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), oil on canvas, 147 × 89.2 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art / The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

Desnudo bajando una escalera

Este es el traje
con el que el alma cubre
sus vergüenzas
el traje
que un día se convierte
en polvo
                        en sombra
                                                en nada
y deja el alma a la intemperie
sin manos con que taparse
las partes pudendas
Entonces en algún closet por ahí
en algún colgador cuelga el alma
en la
                        más triste


Nude Descending a Staircase

Herein the suit
the soul covers
its shame with
the suit
that one day becomes
leaving the soul in open air
with no hands to cover
its private parts
Hence in some closet somewhere
in some hanger hangs the soul
in its


Por la región del agua y la del fuego

Llamas que nadan en el agua viva
Agua que baila en medio de las llamas

Calor líquido y frío incandescente

Rodeado de contrarios vive el hombre
Conceptos enemigos que son uno:

el agua espiritual y el fuego físico
el fuego inmaterial y el agua pétrea
lumbres acuosas y ríos flamígeros

La madera crepita el fuego escucha
El manantial hace ruido en las piedras
El agua cae y se oye a sí misma

Duerme el agua en los brazos del fuego
Mece el fuego la cuna del agua

Agua y fuego: pareja original
de donde fluye el ser

Como quien dice la vida y la muerte
Como quien dice el hombre y la mujer


In the Region of Water and Fire

Flames swimming in living water
Water swimming amid flames

Liquid color and incandescent cold

Man lives surrounded by opposites
unfriendly concepts that become one:

spiritual water and physical fire
immaterial fire and stone-like water
watery fire and flaming rivers

Wood crackles fire listens
The spring makes noise over the stones
Water falls and listens to itself

Water sleeps in fire’s arms
Fire rocks the water’s cradle

Water and fire: the original couple
from which being flows

As life and death are being uttered
As man and woman are being named

Translations from the Spanish
By Ilan Stavans

Óscar Hahn / Courtesy of Alchetron

Óscar Hahn is one of Chile’s most important poets today and has been the nation’s poet laureate. For years he taught at the University of Iowa. He is known worldwide as a master of the sonnet form. His books include Poetic Sum (1965), Flower of the Enamored (1987), Profane Appearances (2001), and The Communicating Mirrors (2015), from which these two poems are derived.

Photo by Kevin Gutting

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and publisher of Restless Books. His latest books are I Love My Selfie (Duke, with Adál) and Quixote: The Novel and the World (Norton). He has translated into English the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rubén Darío, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda, among others. He is also the editor of The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry (2011).

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