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Alluring dark poems of South American poets

Alluring dark poems of South American poets

Light projections depicting Second World War images are seen on the west face of St Paul's Cathedral as part of the forthcoming 'Where Light Falls' illuminations and poetry readings, London, Britain, October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Mama told us of a white forest in Russia: “... and we made little men out of snow and put hats we stole from great-grandfather on their heads ...”

I eyed her with distrust. What was snow? Why did they make little men? And above all, what’s a great-grandfather?

(Distrust by Alejandra Pizarnik translated from Spanish by Cole Heinowitz)

Her fame may not match that of her fellow South American Poet, Nobel Laurette, Gabriela Mistral, but Pizarnik is viewed as among Argentina’s most bold and daring poets of the mid-century, who redirected her gaze from the world to focus on her dark inner voices.

Her poems, published posthumously, portray the darkness engulfing her. During her brief career, she produced at least eight poetry books, including Extracting the Stone of Madness (1968) and A Musical Hell (1971).

“Her poem touches deep. I am fighting depression and her works gives me comfort,” stated literature degree holder Miguel Ramon, who began reading Pizarnik a decade ago during his freshman days at a private university in Manila, Philippines.

Pizarnik long battled depression before committing suicide at 36. Her poems echo social isolation, exile, and feeling alone.  

Cover the memory of your face with the mask of who you will be and scare off the girl you once were.


My endless falling into my endless falling where nobody waited for me –because when I saw who was waiting for me I saw no one but myself.

(Paths of the Mirror by Pizarnik translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert)

Her poem’s unique, haunting style mirror the life of South American women in a patriarchal world, with focus on childhood and death. She wrote in her diary in November 1971, “To write is to give meaning to suffering.”

“In her unique way, she helps me grasp the meaning of life. At a time when we have to self-isolate over the coronavirus outbreak, her works hold significance,” Miguel noted during a video call.

Poetry isn’t always rainbow and light but also dauntingly dark, echoing the poet’s internal battles.
Memorable dark poems describe humanity’s deepest sufferings; social criticism of life from the poet's viewpoint, oftentimes painful and disturbing. However, a dark poem is a gentle eye-opener to sufferings coexisting with the century’s most beautiful romance.

Pablo Neruda is among several poets known for his passionate love poems, including Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924), which sometimes border on somber, blending love and sadness.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

(I do not Love You by Neruda translated by Mark Eisner)

“None wrote a love poem as Neruda. His choice of words is stunningly perfect. I used a fragment of his poem in my wedding invitation, years ago,” Elisabeth Chrisandra Faras, fond of Neruda’s love poems, stated.

Faras, who tattooed a fragment of Neruda’s poem on her back, said her favorite is “Tonight I can write the saddest lines”.

“It is heartbreakingly sweet, right?” she questioned.

Neruda won a Nobel Prize and was a Chilean politician-diplomat. He once campaigned for presidency, running as the Chilean Communist Party candidate.

During his time, his poetry portrayed the struggling working class that felt ignored by their government and the elite. He later resigned from the nomination.

Neruda’s political career shaped his life and death reportedly murder so as in December 2011, Chile's Communist Party urged Chilean Judge Mario Carroza to order the exhumation of his remains.

‘I explain a few things,’ is among his well-known political poems describing the bombing of Guernica, Spain, during the Spanish civil war in the mid-1930s.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

(I explain a few things, Neruda translated by Nathaniel Tarn)

“I memorized his love poem but not his more serious work, as usually it’s harrowing,” Faras opined about Neruda’s other poems.

Neruda’s teacher Mistral had a major influence on his undeniably romantic or strictly political poems.

Born in 1889, Lucila Godoy Alcayaga used Mistral as her pseudonym. She was a Chilean poet, educator, and diplomat, who became the first Latin American author to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.

Mistral is known for her fondness of lyrical poetry, highlighting nature, motherly love, and Latin American identity.

Her unforgettable works comprise ‘Sonnets of Death’ (1941), ‘Poems of Chile’ (1967), ‘Readings for Women’ (1923), and ‘Tenderness’ (1924).

“I don’t think Mistral’s work is as famous as Neruda’s. However, her works are very particular,” Jozef Fazaresta Hartoyo, Mistral’s reader, stated.

Though not identifying himself as Mistral’s fans, he read few of her works as a literature student a decade back.

“I think ‘The Sonnets of Death’ is the best. I read somewhere that the poem was penned following her lover’s suicide,” he stated.

Mistral's Sonnets of Death was influenced by the suicide of her lover, Romelio Ureta. In three sonnets, Mistral tries reconciling with the resulting grief, anger, and guilt. However, in the poem’s final portion, she finds closure since despite lamenting of not being reunited, she vows to join him eventually. Mistral wrote Despair (1923) in memory of her nephew, who also ended his life.

From the icy niche where men placed you,
I shall lower you to a humble and sunny meadow.
The men didn’t know that I am to sleep, too,
and that we are to dream upon the same pillow.

(Sonnets of Death I, Mistral translated from Spanish by Doris Dana)

Just as Neruda, Mistral used poetry to fight for her country’s people and her cause.

Albeit raised in a rural environment, she has progressive ideas and strove to lend a voice to Chilean women and fight for their rights. She published controversial articles and poems highlighting the problems, including Harvesting (1938), wherein she defended Chilean cultural identity against North American dominance, supporting the Sandinista guerrilla movement in Nicaragua and reaffirming her indigenous origins.

And I was saying like a drunken woman
“Homeland of mine, Homeland, the Homeland!”

(Country of Absence by Mistral translated from Spanish by Dana)

Poetry reflects human cultural and linguistic expressions, from Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving epic poem, to haiku, unrhymed Japanese poetry, and sonnet to address political topics in late Middle Ages, and it will continue throughout human civilization.

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