Delmira Agustini, a lifelong resident of Montevideo, Uruguay, was a key figure in Latin American literature, the first woman to deal forcefully with powerful sexual themes in poems of passionate sensuality. She began publishing her poems as a teenager in journals such as La Alborada (The Dawn), and published three collections before her life was cut short in a murder and suicide committed by the husband she had just divorced after less than a year of marriage.
As an early modernist, Agostini belonged to the “generation of 1900,” whose other members, largely male, were not immune to the prejudices and stereotypes of the period. The youthful Agostini was objectified in terms of her youth, beauty and presumed purity. The influential Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, whom she considered her mentor, compared her to St. Theresa of Avila. Her first book of poems, El libro blanco (The White Book, 1907), was a critical success, but the sensuality of her subsequent books posed problems for male reviewers, who used terms like “sexually obsessed.” Agostini herself used fantasy, exoticism and mythology to approach her themes, with Eros, the Roman god of love, as an important figure. (Poesías Completas, Spanish, 1993; Selected Poetry of Delmira Agustini: Poetics of Eros, bilingual, 2008 )
¡Si la vida es amor, bendita sea!
¡Quiero más vida para amar! Hoy siento
Que no valen mil años de la idea
Lo que un minuto azul de sentimiento.
Mi corazón moría triste y lento…
Hoy abre en luz como una flor febea;
¡La vida brota como un mar violento
Donde la mano del amor golpea!
Hoy partió hacia la noche, triste, fría,
rotas las alas mi melancolía;
Como una vieja mancha de dolor
En la sombra lejana se deslíe…
¡Mi vida toda canta, besa, ríe!
¡Mi vida toda es una boca en flor!
If life were love, how blessed it would be!
I want more life so to love! Now I feel
A thousand years of ideas are not worth
One blue minute of sentiment.
My heart was dying slowly, sadly…
Now it opens like a Phoebean flower:
Life rushes forth like a turbulent sea
Whipped by the hand of love.
My sorrow flies into the night, sad, cold
With its broken wings;
Like an old scar that continues to ache—
In the distant shade it dissolves…
All my life sings, kisses, laughs!
All my life is a flowering mouth!
Translation by Valerie Martínez
Eros, yo quiero guiarte, Padre ciego…
Pido a tus manos todopoderosas
¡su cuerpo excelso derramado en fuego
sobre mi cuerpo desmayado en rosas!
La eléctrica corola que hoy despliego
brinda el nectario de un jardín de Esposas;
para sus buitres en mi carne entrego
todo un enjambre de palomas rosas.
Da a las dos sierpes de su abrazo, crueles,
mi gran tallo febril… Absintio, mieles,
viérteme de sus venas, de su boca…
¡Así tendida, soy un surco ardiente
donde puede nutrirse la simiente
de otra Estirpe sublimemente loca!
Eros, I want to guide you, blind Father …
I ask of your all-powerful hands
his sublime body spilled on fire
over my body lying in a bed of roses!
The electric corolla that today I wear
offers the nectar of a garden of Wives;
for his vultures in my flesh I give
an entire swarm of pink doves.
Give to the two cruel serpents of his embrace
my great feverish stem … Absinthe, honey,
pour me out of his veins, of his mouth …
Lying like this, I’m an ardent furrow
where the seed of another sublimely
crazy lineage can be nurtured!
Translated by José Wan Díaz