Mario Benedetti, 1920-2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mario Benedetti, the great Latin American writer and poet, died last sunday. The LA Times wrote:

Although he wasn’t widely known in the United States, Benedetti’s more than 60 volumes of poems, prose, essays and drama helped secure a prominent place for Latin America in global literature, along with the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.

He was up there with the best of ’em…, and a devout Leftist. The NY Time’s obit finished with:

“It wasn’t an easy life, frankly,” Mr. Benedetti said in one of his last books, “Songs of Someone Who Doesn’t Sing.” But, he added, it was the causes he believed in, even in defeat, that kept him going. “Thanks to them,” he said, “I can sleep tranquilly.”

He was a childhood friend of my father’s, the printmaker Antonio Frasconi. They we both Uruguayan born children of Italian immigrants (quite a common backround in Uruguay). I met him a few times, once in Montevideo in the mid-80s. Unfortunately we could not converse, with him knowing no English and I no Spanish (nor Italian). It was probably one of the few times I truly regretted not speaking Spanish, in that I was unable to get even a hint of how the man thought.

I’ve always been surprised by how little of his work has been translated into English. Yet, he is extreemly well known in Latin America. He did do a book in English with my father, long out of print; Unstill Life, (Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1969).

Here are a couple of his poems I just found on line. You can sort of tell how difficult these are to translate.

Little Stones at My Window

Once in a while
joy throws little stones at my window
it wants to let me know that it’s waiting for me
but today I’m calm
I’d almost say even-tempered
I’m going to keep anxiety locked up
and then lie flat on my back
which is an elegant and comfortable position
for receiving and believing news

who knows where I’ll be next
or when my story will be taken into account
who knows what advice I still might come up with
and what easy way out I’ll take not to follow it

don’t worry, I won’t gamble with an eviction
I won’t tattoo remembering with forgetting
there are many things left to say and suppress
and many grapes left to fill our mouths

don’t worry, I’m convinced
joy doesn’t need to throw any more little stones
I’m coming
I’m coming.


Don´t Save Yourself

Don’t Save yourself,
Don´t be immobile
On the edge of the road,
Don’t freeze the joy,
Don’t love with reluctance,
Don’t save yourself now
or ever,
Don’t save yourself,
Don’t fill with calm,
Don’t reserve of the world
Just a calm place,
Don’t let fall your lids
Heavy as trials,
Don´t speak without lips,
Don’t fall asleep without sleepiness,
Don’t think of you without blood,
Don’t judge yourself without time.

But if in spite of everything
You cannot avoid it
And you freeze the joy,
And you love with reluctance,
And you save yourself now,
And you full with calm,
And you reserve of the world
Just a calm place,
And you let fall your lids
Heavy as trials,
And you speak without lips,
And you fall asleep without sleepiness,
And you think yourself without blood,
And you judge yourself without time,
And you are immobile
On the edge of the road,
And you save yourself,
Don’t stay with me.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ana bertucci March 4, 2012 at 8:27 am

Maybe interesting to see this video with the argentinien actor Miguel Ángel Solá. He told us the poem “Dont save yourself” on spanish.

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