The Dead Hours

Poem by Cesario Verde
The lofty ceiling of air, of oxygen,
Runs between the facing rooftops;
The stars’ tired eyes shed tears of light;
Blue dreams of transmigration exalt me.

Below all that, what portals! What streets!
I hear, in the dark, a screw hit the ground,
The clacking of shutters, the jangle of locks;
And the bloodshot eyes of a buggy scare me.

I follow, like lines on a music stave,
The stately double row of façades
While pastoral notes from a distant flute
Trill, in the silence, a gloomy warning.

Oh, if I’d never die! If forever
I’d seek and attain the perfection of things!
I lose myself envisioning wives
Who chastely nest in clear-glass mansions!

Dear sons! What swift dreams, alighting,
Will bring sharp clarity to your lives!
I want the mothers and sisters you love
To live in luminous, fragile homes.

Ah! Like our grandfathers’ fleets, like fervent
Nomads, like the ruddy race to come, (5)
We’ll go and explore every continent
And sail across the watery expanses!

But how, if we live enclosed by stone
In a dark and treeless valley of walls?
I think I see knives flash in the shadows
And hear a strangled cry for help.

And along these murky corridors
The taverns, if I peer in, appall me.
Some sorry drunks are staggering home
And sing, arms joined, for old time’s sake.

But I’m not afraid of being robbed;
The dubious characters fall behind me.
The scrawny and mangy dogs don’t bark;
They look a little like yellowish wolves.

And those keepers of keys, the night watchmen,
Scan with their lanterns each entryway;
Above them loose women, in scanty robes,
Smoke and cough at the balcony windows.

And looming out of that jagged mass
Of tomblike buildings tall as hills,
Human Pain, like a baleful sea,
Seeks vast horizons for its bitter tides!

Translated by Richard Zenith
(Contributed by Jery on Friday, March 18th, 2011)
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