Desolation of the Chimera
The whole day's heat, distilled Into a suffocating vapor, the sand releases. Against the deep blue background of the night Like an impossible drizzle of water, The frozen splendor of the stars Is proudly aligned alongside the full moon Which, from a great height, disdainfully illumines The remains of beasts in a boneyard. Jackals can be heard howling in the distance. There is no water, palm frond, underbrush or pond. In its full splendor the moon looks down On the pitiful Chimera, its stone corroded, In its desert. Its missing wings, like stumps; Its breasts and claws mutilated by time; The hollows where its vanished nose and hair Once curled are now home To the obscene birds feeding On desolation, on death. When moonlight touches The Chimera, it seems to come alive with a sob, A moan that rises not from the ruin But from the centuries rooted inside it, immortally Crying over not being able to die, as the forms That man gives life to always die. Dying is hard, But not being able to die, if everything dies, Is perhaps harder still. The Chimera murmurs at the moon And its voice is so sweet it eases its desolation. "No victims, no lovers. Where did the people go? They no longer believe in me, and the unanswerable riddles I posed, like the Sphinx, my rival and sister, No longer tempt them. The divine survives, In all its protean forms, even though the gods die. That's why this deathless desire is alive in me, Though my form is wasted, though I'm less than a shade; A desire to see humanity humbled In fear before me, before my tempting indecipherable secret. "Man is like an animal tamed By the whip. But how beautiful; his strength and his beauty, Oh gods, how captivating. There is delight in man; When man is beautiful, how delightful he is. Centuries have passed since man deserted Me and disdainfully forgot my secrets. And while a few still pay me some attention, I find no enchantment among the poets, As my secret scarcely tempts them and I see in them no beauty. "Skinny, flaccid, balding, bespectacled, Toothless. That's the physical aspect Of my former servant; and his character Looks the same. Even so, not many seek my secret now, Since they find in woman their personal sad Chimera. And it's just as well I'm forgotten, because anyone Changing infants' diapers and wiping noses while he thinks About some critic's praise or bad review Has no time to pay me any attention. "Can they really believe in being poets If they no longer have the power, the madness To believe in me and my secret? Better for them an academic chair Than barrenness, ruin and death, The generous recompense I gave my victims, Once I had possession of their souls, When men and poets still preferred A cruel mirage to bourgeois certainty. "Clearly for me those times were different When with a light heart I danced happily through the labyrinth Where I lost so many and so many others I endowed With my eternal madness: joyful imagination, dreams of the future, Hopes of love, sunny voyages. But the prudent ones, the cautious men, I strangled With my powerful claws, since a grain of madness Is the salt of life. Now that I've been and gone, I don't have any more promises for man." The moon's reflection sliding Over the deaf sand of the desert Leaves the Chimera stranded among shadows, The captive music of its sweet voice quieted. And as the sea pulls back the tide Leaving the beach denuded of its magic, The voice's spell, pulled back, leaves the desert Even more unwelcoming, its dunes Blind, dulled without the old mirage. Mute, in darkness, the Chimera seems to have retreated Into the ancestral night of primal Chaos; But neither gods, nor men, nor their creations Are ever nullified once they've been; they must exist Until the bitter end, disappearing into the dust. Immobile, sad, the noseless Chimera can smell The freshness of dawn, dawn of another day When death will not have pity on it, But its desolate existence will continue.
From Desolation of the Chimera by Luis Cernuda, translated by Stephen Kessler. Copyright © 2010 by Luis Cernuda and Stephen Kessler. Used by permission of White Pine Press. All rights reserved.