Verses (from the Spanish of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer)

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I know a strange, gigantic hymn that hails
a dawn that breaks upon the night-bound soul:
these pages are the rhythm of that hymn
drawn out in darkness by a breath of air.

If I could only write it down, I would—
a man, taming our mean rebellious tongue
with words, but words that all at once could be
colors and notes, and laughter and a sigh.

How vain to struggle—ciphers all must fail
to capture it. And yet, my beautiful,
perhaps I might, with both your hands in mine,
just barely sing it in your ear, alone.


Just like the breeze that gently dries the blood
upon the field of battle in the dark,
and brings its perfumes and its harmonies
and wanders through the silence of the night:

a symbol of the tenderness and pain
from that cruel drama by the English bard,
the sweet Ophelia, all her reason gone,
collects her flowers, singing as she goes.


In darkness, in a corner of the room,
perhaps forgotten by its master there,
in silence and beneath a coat of dust
there stood a harp.

How many notes lay sleeping in those strings,
as birds that take their rest on every branch,
all waiting for some snowy hand to grasp
and draw them out!

“But oh!” I thought, “How often genius lies
asleep down at the bottom of the soul,
and waits, like Lazarus, for a voice to say,
‘Arise and walk!’”


How can that rose remain alive,
when pinned beside your heart?

In all the world, I’ve never seen
volcanoes bloom with flowers.




Yo sé un himno gigante y extraño
que anuncia en la noche del alma una aurora,
y estas páginas son de ese himno
cadencias que el aire dilata en las sombras.

Yo quisiera escribirle, del hombre
domando el rebelde, mezquino idioma,
con palabras que fuesen a un tiempo
suspiros y risas, colores y notas.

Pero en vano es luchar; que no hay cifra
capaz de encerrarle, y apenas, ¡oh hermosa!,
si, teniendo en mis manos las tuyas,
pudiera, al oído, cantártelo a solas.


Como la brisa que la sangre orea
sobre el oscuro campo de batalla,
cargada de perfumes y armonías
en el silencio de la noche vaga:

Símbolo del dolor y la ternura,
del bardo inglés en el horrible drama
la dulce Ofelia, la razón perdida,
cogiendo flores y cantando pasa.


Del salón en el ángulo oscuro,
de su dueño tal vez olvidada,
silenciosa y cubierta de polvo
veíase el arpa.

¡Cuánta nota dormía en sus cuerdas,
como el pájaro duerme en las ramas,
esperando la mano de nieve
que sabe arrancarlas!

¡Ay! pensé; ¡cuántas veces el genio
así duerme en el fondo del alma
y una voz, como Lázaro, espera
que le diga: “¡Levántate y anda!”


¿Cómo vive esa rosa que has prendido
junto a tu corazón?
Nunca hasta ahora contemplé en el mundo
junto al volcán la flor.


Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer was born in Seville in 1836 and orphaned before his twelfth birthday. His godmother’s library introduced him to the Romantic writers Espronceda, Hugo, Byron, and Hoffman. Bécquer devoted his short life to letters, and apart from a prosperous stint as official censor of novels, he lived in poverty. He died of tuberculosis in Madrid in 1870. His poetry belongs to the Late Romantic or “Post-Romantic” movement of Spain. Published in book form only after Bécquer’s death, his Rimas [Verses] speak in a melancholy, intimate voice, and rely on muted rhymes and—at times—faintly irregular meter.