Reading: Pieces of Shadow by Jaime Sabines

Today I found a poem by the Mexican poet Jaime Sabines (1926-1999) in a translation by W.S. Merwin. According to Octavio Paz he was one of the greatest. The original Spanish poem can be found here.

I don’t know it for certain, but I imagine
that a man and a woman
fall in love one day,
little by little they come to be alone,
something in each heart tells them that they are alone,
alone on the earth they enter each other,
they go filling each other.

It all happens in silence. The way
light happens in the eye.
Love unites bodies.
They go on filling each other with silence.

One day they wake up, over their arms.
Then they think they know the whole thing,
They see themselves naked and they know the whole thing.

(I’m not sure about this. I imagine it.)

The first strophe sounds fresh, yet mysterious. Did they come to be alone (‘se van quedando solos’) after they fell in love, realizing that they have to act on their love? And acting they do: they penetrate each other (not just the man penetrating the woman, but reciprocal) and then ‘go filling’ each other. In Spanish it says ‘se van matando’. ‘Matarse’ also means to exhaust oneself, if I’m not mistaken. The ‘filling’ is a creative find but I had to read it thrice before realizing that other meaning: filling as if filling an animal.

So far, it’s a pretty standard description of ferocious love. But it all happens in silence, like the way light happens in the eye. I imagine mute lovemaking. After the superfluous ‘love unites bodies’ the poet repeats the filling. This time, the Spanish original also uses ‘llenarse’. The act of lovemaking must be repeated, lest the silence and the spell of love be broken.

Then they wake up ‘sobre brazos’. Perhaps they have slept on their arms so they have become numb? So they can enact a distance to their naked bodies and ‘know the whole thing’. The added phrase, repeating the opening line, frames the poem quite brilliantly. The I is not a voyeur, but perhaps the other way around: The couple who knows the whole thing also knows that they are imagined by the poet.

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