José Eustacio Rivera
José Eustacio Rivera, born in 1888 in the Huila department, is one of the most
important figures in Colombia’s literary history. He is mostly known for his
novel La Vorágine, published in 1924: a modernist fiction through which
he intended to denounce the inhuman labour conditions of the rubber exploitation
in the Amazon (mostly inflicted against indigenous communities) and the
lawlessness that reigned in the Colombian jungle, with which Rivera was well
acquainted because of his experience as a civil servant and traveling diplomat
of the Colombian government. This novel was first published in English as
The Vortex, translated by Earle K. James, in 1928. The same year Rivera
died in New York from a mysterious brain disease that historians claim to be
related to a form of malaria he had acquired when traveling through the jungle.
Recently, Duke University Press published a new version of his novel, translated
by John Charles Chasteen. Though his poetry is far less known, Rivera published
more than 150 poems in his lifetime; most of them appear in the sonnet
volume Tierra de promisión (1921), from which “Simple Singer”
has been taken.
Ranald Barnicot (born 1948) has a BA in Classics from Balliol College, Oxford
and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Birkbeck College, London. He has published
or is due to publish original poems and translations—of Anacreon, Catullus,
Horace, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Lorca, Hernandez, Vallejo, Alfonso X (El
Sabio) of Castile, Violante do Céu, D’annunzio and La Compiuta Donzella—in
Priapus, Acumen, Poetry Strasbourg Review, Transference, In Translation Brooklyn
Rail, Ezra, The Rotary Dial, Meniscus, Sentinel, Poetry Salzburg Review, The
French Literary Review, Better Than Starbucks, The HyperTexts, Orbis, Stand, The Dark Horse
and Metamorphoses. By Me, Through Me, a book of original poems
and translations, came out in December 2018.
Felipe Botero Quintana, born in 1990 in Bogotá, studied Philosophy in Colombia’s
National University and later a Masters in Philosophy and the Arts in the
University of Warwick, in England. In November 2018 Out-Spoken Press published a
selection of the Colombian poet Giovanni Quessep titled A Greek Verse for
Ophelia and Other Poems, which he translated in collaboration with Ranald
Barnicot. In May 2019, Editorial El Peregrino published his translation of
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in Colombia. Additionally, since February
2018 Felipe has a monthly section of translation in Revista Arcadia,
one of Colombia’s most important cultural publications, where he has published
different literary texts from authors such as Antonin Artaud, Fernando Pessoa,
Anthony Anaxagorou, Robert Hayden and Guy de Maupassant.
by José Eustasio Rivera
translated by Ranald Barnicot and Felipe Botero Quintana
Simple singer of a great discontent,
Among the shrubs the canopy keeps hidden,
Troubling the foliage with soft lament,
Nibbling myrtle, sour grape pips – wood pigeon!
Sings coo-roo-roo, glimpsing day’s first ascent
And later evening’s brief reflected vision,
Sees from the gúaimaro’s¹ overspreading tent
Silent peace fill the slopes, that tree’s dominion.
Half-open the wings iridescent in the light,
Solitude – poor soul! – saddens its delight,
And it fluffs up its head feathers, a light hood.
To the maternal heartbeat of domains it holds
In its own entrails, it croons to mountains, folds
Them in sleep; light drowns in a dark wood.
¹ The gúaimaro is a species of breadnut tree native to South America.
(First published in
por José Eustasio Rivera
Cantadora sencilla de una gran pesadumbre,
entre ocultos follajes la paloma torcaz
acongoja las frondas con su blanda quejumbre
picoteando arrayanes y pepitas de agraz.
Arrurú, canta viendo la primera vislumbre
y después, en las tardes, al reflejo fugaz
en la copa del gúaimaro que domina la cumbre
ve llenarse las lomas de silencio y de paz.
Entreabiertas las alas que la luz tornasola
se entristece la pobre de sentirse tan sola
y esponjeando el plumaje como leve capuz
al impulso materno de sus tierras entrañas
amorosa se pone a arrullar las montañas
y se duermen los montes y se apaga la luz.