Lord, I Ask a Garden . . .

translated from the Spanish by William George Williams

Lord, I ask a garden in a quiet spot
where there may be a brook with a good flow,
an humble little house covered with bell-flowers,
and a wife and a son who shall resemble Thee.

I should wish to live many years, free from hates,
and make my verses, as the rivers
that moisten the earth, fresh and pure.
Lord, give me a path with trees and birds.

I wish that you would never take my mother,
for I should wish to tend to her as a child
and put her to sleep with kisses, when somewhat old
she may need the sun.

I wish to sleep well, to have a few books,
an affectionate dog that will spring upon my knees,
a flock of goats, all things rustic,
and to live off the soil tilled by my own hand.

To go into the field and flourish with it;
to seat myself at evening under the rustic eaves,
to drink in the fresh mountain perfumed air
and speak to my little one of humble things.

At night to relate him some simple tale,
teach him to laugh with the laughter of water
and put him to sleep thinking that he may later on
keep that freshness of the moist grass.

And afterward, the next day, rise with dawn
admiring life, bathe in the brook,
milk my goats in the happiness of the garden
and add a strophe to the poem of the world.



Señor, yo pido un huerto 


Señor, yo pido un huerto en un rincón tranquilo
donde haya una quebrada con aguas abundantes
una casita humilde cubierta de campánulas,
y una mujer y un hijo que sean como Vos.

Yo quisiera vivir muchos años, sin odios,
y hacer como los ríos que humedecen la tierra
mis versos y mis actos frescos y de puros.
Señor, dadme un sendero con árboles y pájaros.

Yo deseo que nunca os llevéis a mi madre,
porque a mi me gustara cuidarla cual a un niño
y dormirla con besos, cuando ya viejecita 
necesite del sol.

Quiero tener buen sueño, algunos pocos libros
un perro cariñoso que me salte a las piernas,
un rebaño de cabras, toda cosa silvestre,
y vivir de la tierra labrada por mis manos.

Salir a la campiña, y florecer en ella;
sentarme por la tarde, bajo el rústico alero,
a beber aire fresco y olorosa a montaña,
y hablarle a mi pequeño de las cosas humildes

Por la noche contarle algún cuento sencillo,
enseñarle a reír con la risa del agua
y dormirle pensando en que pueda, a la tarde,
guardar esa frescura de la hierba embebida;

y luego, al otro día, levantarme a la aurora
admirando la vida, bañarme en la quebrada,
ordeñar a mis cabras en la dicha del huerto,
y agregar una estrofa al poema del mundo.


From Hispanic Anthology: Poems Translated From the Spanish by English and North American Poets (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920), edited by Thomas Walsh. Translated from the Spanish by William G. Williams. This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

Alfonso Guillén Zelaya’s poem “Lord, I Ask a Garden . . . ” (originally titled “Señor, yo pido un huerto”) appeared in an English translation by William George Williams in Others: A Magazine of the New Verse vol. 3, no. 2 (August 1916), a themed issue of the magazine dedicated to Spanish American poetry. The poem expresses the pastoral desire to withdraw into a peaceful, rustic lifestyle, and ends with the thought of adding a strophe, a term that originally designates the opening section of a Greek choral ode but that also carries the meaning of a distinct grouping of verses in a poem or song, “to the poem of the world.” However, in the Spanish version of the poem, estrofa carries the simpler connotation of a stanza. In the foreword to By Word of Mouth: Poems from the Spanish, 1916–1959 (New Directions, 2011), Julio Marzán, under the assumption that the translations credited solely to William George Williams that were included in Others are actually the result of a collaboration between Williams and his son, William Carlos Williams, writes that “[a]utobiographical resonances are even more evident in [William Carlos] Williams’s translations of his Latin American contemporaries. [. . .] The speaker’s caring for his aged mother in Alfonso Guillén Zelaya’s ‘Lord, I Ask a Garden’ evokes Williams caring for his mother.” Raquel Hélène Rose Hoheb Williams, wife of William George Williams and mother of William Carlos Williams, lived with her son from 1924 until her death in 1949.