Lay and Other Poems

Ode to Venice Before the Sea of Theaters (from Arde el mar, 1966)


The false cups, the poison, and the skull

Of the theaters.

García Lorca


The sea has its mechanics as love has its symbols.

With what racket the red curtain rises

Or in this proscenium above an empty stage

Sounds a rumor of statues, iris fronds, cutlasses,

Doves that descend and softly alight.

A chessboard of verdure, composed of cravats.

The blight on my cheek recollects time past

And in my heart seethes a droplet of lead.

My hand was to my breast, the clock corroborates

The reason for the clouds and the stiffening of their sails.

A rising tide, roses on tightropes

Over the voltaic arc of Venice’s night

That year of my lost youth,

Marble on the Dogana, as Pound has remarked

And the table of a casket in the density of the canals.

Go on, much further, deep inside the night,

Over the ducal tapestry, shadows interwoven,

Princes or nereids laid waste by time.

What purity, a nude or an ephebe deceased

In the boundless halls of clouded reminiscence.

Was I there? Must I believe I was he,

And he the suffering impaling my flesh?

How fragile I was then, and why.

                                                            Is it true

You differ, snowflakes, in the snowcapped park,

The one that today harbors your love on its face

Or the one that died there in Venice of beauty?

The live stones speak of a memory present.

As the vein impels its conduits of blood,

It comes, leaves, returns to the planet,

And life thus expands in the silence of tenters,

The past is affirmed at this uncertain hour.

So much have I written, so much I wrote then. I don’t know

If it was worth it or is. You, for whom

My life is more certain, and you others,

Who hear in my verse a discrepant sphere, will know its signet or art.

Speak it, you, or speak it, you others, and sweetly, perchance,

Beguile my sorrow. Night, night in Venice

Five years now, how so long? I am

Who I was then, I know how to tauten, let pure beauty

Wound me as then, violin

That slices in two a night in summer

When the world has foundered beneath its impatience

For beauty. I cried, and rested my elbows on the balcony

As in a hackneyed romantic poem, and the air

Engendered disturbances of blue smoke and camphor.

It rowed in the alcoves, beneath the damp granite,

An archangel or swallow or courser of flames

That the aftermost powers dispatched to my dream.

                                                            I cried, I cried, I cried.

And how could it be so lovely and so sad?

Water, cold ruby, diabolic transparency

Burned in my flesh a tattoo of light.

Frozen night, blazing night, night of my own

As if I lived it today! It is somber and sweet

To have left behind Venice where we all

Were punished by being so young,

And to chase us today through the cavernous chambers

Surrounded by horsemen dissolved by a mirror

Negating, with their double, the truth of this poem.




Lay (from Castell de puresa, 2014)


Farewell, to you, my delectation…

Ausiàs March


If, for such affliction and so many gems

We’ve learned nothing but to live askance

Ever igniting approximate fires,

The sibyl of the waters in the grotto,

Mineral words, damp in mute light,

If with so many honed adzes

We’ve learned naught but to speak words of darkness,

Plowing the field, rich with eyes, of the gloom

The gold with the spectacles of the night,

We’ve learned but to utter the absent snow,

For so many desiccated gales,

If we’ve known to abstain from the snow

As the rook abstains from the word

If we are naught but the thumb of the snow,

Aimed at the rock of parched light,

Light-parched, snow-parched, and there in the word

We know to speak splendor ablaze in its cages,

As the moribund nightingale states

When the mares of the darkness shall come.

If for so many censures and conquests  

The territory cannot shatter the wasteland,

In the vineyard of the country of air,

Like the barrens of the bristling water

The catafalque of conflagrated clarity,

The church submerged in Nostalghia,

The harlequinade of clarity,

If we know not what utters absolution

Of dead air, of air buffered by wind,

The plutonic blister of air,

Still we know that to live is the Latin

The bird spoke that chanted to Percival,

It is the melodious Latin in the foliage,

It is the trilling of luminance

(love: the trilling of luminance),

We know it all, like Chrétien de Troyes

Or Carlos Riba, we know it all, we clasp

The burning air of obstinacy,

The flickering wick of the bomb

That scorches our hand, the chloratite flashes

Of Red Brigades in the Siennese night; Etruscan light

Of Etruscan masks in search of the absolute,

The intransigent light of the morning,

The dawn and the night of our love, life:

A red kerchief daubed with blood.




Signs (from Mirall, espais i aparicions: Poesía 1970-1980)


The world is an allegory.

Cabalistic the design

By which the sky absolves

The bird, a substanceless shadow.


Nothing: just a scratch

In the tranquil uniformity

Of the clarified sky.


Clearings! The region

Hides another, concealed

In an invisible script.






(Barcelona, 1945) has published numerous books of essays, poetry, criticism, fiction and translation in Spanish and Catalan. His poem cycle Alma Venus has just been published in English by Antilever Press, and his novel Fortuny will be released in 2015 by David R. Godine.

Adrian Nathan West is a writer and translator based in the United States and Spain. His recent translations include Pere Gimferrer’s Alma Venus and Austrian Büchner Prizewinner Josef Winkler’s Natura Morta: a Roman Novella. He lives with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco.



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