¿por qué publicar a Cadenas y no a otros poetas latinoamericanos también ilustres? Esta pregunta carecería de sentido si el libro mencionado perteneciera a una colección de poesía o la inaugurara. No es así. Se trata de una edición aislada y bilingüe: Memorial aparece en español, que es su lengua, y en inglés. ¿Hay alguien en el Perú, o en la propia Venezuela, interesado en leer a Cadenas en inglés? ¿Por qué San Marcos lo cree?
El día de hoy, muy de temprano, me llama por teléfono el académico Zachary Payne, asentado en Utah-USA, y me avisa que esta semana está viajando a Bogotá-Colombia para una entrevista y unas traducciones que está haciendo con el gran poeta Jotamario (ya les contaré de esto y de una historia que empieza en mi casa, dentro de unas conversaciones nada académicas), por mientras me manda la introducción al ensayo que escribiera sobre Rafael Cadenas, "Life and Work", para el doctorado en la Universidad de Hawai, va en inglés y no hay tiempo para las traducciones; también van unos poemas.
RAFAEL CADENAS: LIFE AND WORK
Rafael Cadenas lives with his family in La Boyera, in southeast Caracas, a mixed working and middle class neighborhood, and works as a professor at the Central University of Caracas. His poetic production can be divided into three periods: 1) the early poetry, which includes his first published poetry at the age of 16; 2) politically engaged poetry (1951-1966) which includes Cadenas’ involvement in the Communist Party, and his forced exile to the island of Trinidad. Cadenas’ politically engaged poetry ends with his return to a democratic Venezuela, where he suffers an intellectual crisis, brought about by his disillusionment with the Left because of the atrocities committed by Stalin; 3) personal poetry (1967-until present) begins with the publication of Intemperie, with which he ends a ten year period of self imposed poetic silence.
Like other Latin American poets of the 20th century Rafael Cadenas participated in various poetic movements and styles throughout his life. Each of the three periods in his poetic production represents different poetic movements and influences. The early poetry of Rafael Cadenas bears the mark of “pure poetry” or “poesía pura,” which came to Cadenas in two ways. First, through his readings of the poetry of Juan Ramón Jiménez and the Spanish Generation of 27 and second, through the influence of the French writer Paul Valéry.
The politically engaged poetry contains a different poetic tone than his early poetry. Rafael Cadenas explained in an interview with Claudia Posada that, “the poems were written from a depression, caused by his disillusionment with the political Left” (Posada, 2003). During this period, Rafael Cadenas wrote poems that dealt with political activism. Finally, as Rafael Cadenas recovers from his disillusionment, he is influenced by esoteric thinkers such as Carl Jung and Jiddu Krishnamurti and his poetry becomes heavily influenced by Eastern philosophies.
1: The Early Poetry: (1930-1950)
On April 8, 1930, Rafael Cadenas was born in the small, provincial town of Barquisimeto in the state of Lara in Venezuela. In his early years, Rafael Cadenas’ family moved regularly. He jumped from one old Spanish style home to another. The constant in the poet’s life was family; a large extended family and houses full of people. Because Rafael Cadenas’ father was a salesman who possessed a fine taste for classic literature and writing styles, the young Rafael and the Cadenas family had access to a very good library of the Spanish classics. Much of Rafael Cadenas’ interest in literature came from his shyness; as a child he preferred to read books rather than to play with other children. Another strong influence in the young poet’s life was his grandfather who was a military man and often entertained him with stories (Ramírez Ribes, 1997).
One of the poet’s good friends in his youth was Salvador Garmendia, a sickly boy whose illness confined him to bed, where he spent a large amount of his time reading. Cadenas enjoyed discussing literature with Salvador Garmendia, who had read more widely than he had. Rafael Cadenas attributes his early love of books to these conversations. It was during his early teenage years that Rafael Cadenas also began to write. In 1946, at the age of sixteen, he published his first book of poems entitled Cantos iniciales.
Cantos iniciales opens with a note about the author written by Garmendia, his close childhood friend, who had become a novelist and who describes Cadenas’ first poetry in the following manner:
There is something in it that reminds one of Juan Ramón Jiménez… There is purity and delicate expression; there is also a human and fraternal palpitation. It is not all biases of form and intrascendental insistence (this cold beauty and marble, lacking of blood and life, with which many false poets have wanted to hide their incapacity in showing their intuitions of the true artistic feelings). (Serra 21-22)
J.A. Escalona-Escalona, in an article that he wrote for La Revista Nacional de Cultura analyzed this early work of Rafael Cadenas and wrote that, “The simple title of the notebook, like the essence and accent of its contents, responds with fidelity to the actual experience of the author, and his ingenious way to feel life and conceive the world” (Escalona 172). Even though Cantos iniciales received great reviews by the few critics that had the opportunity and the pleasure to read it, the book was never reedited nor has there been a second edition. It also does not appear in the recent anthology Obra entera published in 2002. The reason for this is that Rafael Cadenas himself thinks of Cantos iniciales as a sin of his youth and has not wanted his childish writings to be further scrutinized by critics.
The publication of Cantos iniciales as well as the major part of Rafael Cadenas’ school years took place in Barquisimeto. After the publication of Cantos inciales, Rafael Cadenas became politically engaged, and the second period of Rafael Cadenas’ artistic expression began. The poet, who was expelled from high school in Barquisimeto because of his political involvement in the Communist Party of Venezuela, was forced to finish his studies in Valencia. After completing his studies in Valencia without further incidents Rafael Cadenas moved to the capital, Caracas, in order to start his university studies.
2: Politically Engaged Poetry: (1951-1966)
The period of politically engaged poetry commenced in 1951, when Cadenas actively participates in the Communist Party, and ended in 1966, with the beginning of a 10 year, self-imposed silence. The two publications from this period are: (1), Los caudernos del destierro (1960); and (2), Falsas maniobras (1966).
In 1951, Rafael Cadenas enrolled in the Department of Humanities determined to study law. He attended classes for a short while until his participation in a student strike earned him a five month stay in jail, with other Venezuelan artists and friends such as Jesús Sanoja, Guillermo Sucre, Manuel Caballero, Darío Lancini and other friends (Ramírez Ribes 32). In 1952 the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez exiled Rafael Cadenas to the island of Trinidad and the others to France and Chile.
While in exile in Trinidad, Rafael Cadenas learned English, and this provided him the opportunity to read English literature in the original as well as translations into English that until that point had been impossible. Exile also presented him with the opportunity to discover and learn about other cultures. Cadenas became familiar with the Hindu faith so prevalent on the island of Trinidad where about half of the population is Hindu. Rafael Cadenas also read the English translation of the Tao of Lao-Tse. More importantly, he was also able to observe cultural expressions in art and literature taking place at that time, expressions that had bypassed Venezuela because of the dictatorship. In 1958, with the forced evacuation of Marcos Pérez Jiménez by a bloodless coup led by the Democratic Action Party and supported by the military, more than four years in exile ended and Rafael Cadenas returned to the capital of Venezuela.
As Rafael Cadenas and the other exiled artists returned to a democratic Venezuela, they continued to be inspired by the new tendencies in art and thought that they had been exposed to while living abroad; avant-garde poets like Vicente Huidobro and his creationist movement and the social realism of Pablo Neruda and the politically committed poetry of Cesar Vallejo. The new tendencies sparked a boom in the arts in Venezuela and a number of literature groups arose. Cadenas frequently visited the literary group known as Sardio, and with various fellow exiled artists he founded the group Tabla redonda. It is in this flowering of the arts in Venezuela where Cadenas for the second time falls in love with literature, as he had in his early childhood through conversations with Salvador Garmendia. With friends such as Jesús Sanoja, Manuel Caballero, Arnaldo Acosta Bello, Jesús Guédez, Darío Lancini and others, he began to read and to discuss Rainer María Rilke, D. H. Lawrence, Martin Heidegger, Zen Buddhism, the Spanish Classics, the Spanish Generation of 98, Henri Michaux, Alfonso Reyes, Allan Watts, and Carl Jung. These writers and their writings influenced Cadenas’ thought and poetry. Another influence was Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Hindu philosopher, whose writings Rafael Cadenas began reading in 1960.
Tabla redonda, besides being a literary group, was also the publisher that in 1960 published Rafael’s second book of poems called Los cuadernos del destierro, a title that reflects directly on the author’s time in prison and in exile. In Los cuadernos del destierro, Rafael Cadenas includes poems written in a beautifully elaborate prose that reflect his experiences and his nostalgia while in exile. Also represented are his decisions, his indecisions, his problems with existence and poetry, his virtues, his fears and his weaknesses.
The book starts with a nostalgic description of his people:
Yo pertenecía a un pueblo de grandes comedores de serpientes, sensuales, vehementes, silenciosos y aptos para enloquecer de amor. (Cadenas 63)
* * * * *
I belonged to a sensual, vehement, and silent people of great serpent eaters, capable to be driven mad by love.
The poem continues describing the ancestors of the poet, their Romantic greatness, and explains that the poet, too, because of this lineage, is also bound for that kind of excess. However this is not the case. Rafael Cadenas finishes the poem writing,
…la silenciosa locura me guarda de la molicie manteniéndome alerta como un soldado fiel a quien encomienda la custodia de su destacamento, y como un matiz, sobrevivo en indecisión. Sin embargo, creía estar signado para altas empresas que con el tiempo me derribarían. (Cadenas 63-64)
* * * * *
...the silent madness guards me from the softness keeping me alert like a faithful solider to whom the detachment entrusts their care, and like a nuance, I survive in indecision. However, I believed to be designated for high enterprises but with time they would knock me down.
The poet, in his alertness, becomes aware that even though he thought that he was bound for success, the pursuit of these “high enterprises” would only destroy him. Furthermore Cadenas stresses the point that though he descends from these passionate people unlike his ancestors, Cadenas does not believe his destiny lies with them.
Falsas maniobras (1966), written six years later, is thematically on the same line as Los cuadernos del destierro, although stylistically it is written in a more condensed prose. In this new book full of moving poems, Rafael Cadenas completely strips himself and exposes his nakedness with all of his shortcomings to the world. In the poem “Fracaso,” the most well known poem from the book, the poet reflects on his life and deduces that he is a failure.
However this failure teaches Rafael Cadenas and leads him to discover that if he is able to not fear failure, he will be able to grow and succeed. Cadenas ends this poem repeating in the last six verses his gratitude to failure and the progress that it has spurred in his life.
Gracias por quitarme espesor a cambio de una letra gruesa.
Gracias a ti que me has privado de hinchazones.
Gracias por la riqueza a que me has obligado.
Gracias por construir con barro mi morada.
Gracias por apartarme.
Gracias. (Cadenas 132)
* * * * *
Thanks for removing from me thickness in exchange for the bulky letter.
Thanks to you for depriving me of inflations.
Thanks for the richness that you have forced on me.
Thanks for building my dwelling out of mud.
Thanks for making me distinct.
With the publication of Los cuadernos del destierro and his following book Falsas maniobras in 1966, Rafael Cadenas became the mouthpiece for Venezuelan poetry of the generation of 58 and also for many young poets. Yet at the same time he is writing and publishing these books, Rafael Cadenas is suffering an inner crisis, an intellectual crisis. Upon returning to his native land, Cadenas began to feel depressed, a feeling that was very strange to him. In the twenty-six years that he had lived, sadness and a feeling of guilt were not a regular part of the daily emotions of the poet. These feelings caused Cadenas to enter into a crisis and to become conscious of the world in which he lived. In his conversations with María Ramírez Ribes, Cadenas explained what had happened,
When I returned to Venezuela in 1956 I began to feel very badly. Truly, I began to see everything. I believe that the years in exile influenced me, they produced a change in me; the political activity before and after the fall of the dictatorship, an affectionate conflict, all had to do with a rupture. All of this produced a crisis; but this crisis forced me to see myself and to see many things. It was like being born. (Ramírez Ribes 24)
In a later conversation with María Ramírez Ribes, Cadenas expounds on the crisis that brought him much sadness and caused in him a new consciousness. Two important events coalesced to shatter the ideals of Cadenas and forced him to rearticulate his political compromises in more intimate and almost silent meditative terms. First Cadenas returns to a politically altered Venezuela and second the denunciation of Stalinism created a depression in Rafael Cadenas and caused him to focus on the human being, not a doctrine or organization. Cadenas said,
You know that Stalin was presented as…. a guide, a teacher and wise…then all of a sudden, it was obvious that he was none of these things. You know what he was. Everything said of Stalin for years was a brutal lie, and at the end everything that the capitalist presses were saying, not only was right but an understatement…So all of this led me to think about the problem of man, as the central point. Meaning, that the matter didn’t depend on any doctrine, but that there is something that is more important than the ideas, and that is man. All my worries about man’s problems stem from this. (Ramírez Ribes 32-33)
Cadenas was not alone in these feelings, the 1956 official denouncement of Stalin by Nikita Khrushchev, in the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, shook the ideological foundations of many other Latin American artists and writers such as Jorge Amado and Pablo Neruda (Larsen 64-78).
Around this time, Rafael Cadenas finds solace in the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Hindu philosopher who in 1929 dissolved the very group which had been preparing for 18 years to accept him as their leader and world teacher. In this farewell Jiddu Krishnamurti stated,
I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. (Krishnamurti, 1929)
So with his disillusionment with the Left and the teachings of Jiddu Krishamurti, Rafael Cadenas began to rework his political thinking and beliefs. Ironically, just as Cadenas became the most visible poet in Venezuela, he ceased publishing poetry and focused wholly on teaching at the Central University of Caracas, in the Department of English Literature. Ana Nuño, in her article, “La vía elocuente del silencio. Aproximación a la obra de Rafael Cadenas” writes:
Cadenas continues being until today the only Venezuelan poet that, having known a certain level of popularity, forces himself to highlight…that the craftsmanship of poetry should not be confused with that of searching for honors, unless one wishes to lose one’s soul. (Nuño 61)
Rafael Cadenas’ personal retirement or withdrawal from the limelight lasted until 1977 when he published two new collections of poems: Intemperie and Memorial.
3: Personal Poetry: (1967-Present)
After a decade of silence, Cadenas finally decided to publish. In his new poetic production, he broke away from politically engaged poetry, and began publishing his personal poetry. I utilize the term personal poetry insofar as his poetry provides the means for an odyssey of self discovery, and gives new meaning to art and life. His publications during this period are: Intemperie (1977), Memorial (1977), Realidad y literatura (1979), Amante (1983), Anotaciones (1983), En torno al lenguaje (1985), Gestiones (1992), Dichos (1992) and “Apuntes sobre San Juan de la Cruz y la mística” (1995).
In Intemperie, Cadenas returns to his reflection on poetry and what it means to be a poet, and is always conscious of the dangers of vanity and his fear of pride. Rafael Cadenas concludes this collection of poems, and the first book published since his silence, following in the western tradition of Horace with the poem “Ars poetica,” a personal description of his beliefs on the art of poetry.
In “Ars poetica” Cadenas stressed the essential relationship between poet and poem, saying that the words possess the writer as much as he possesses them. He also warns about adorned falsehoods and stresses the importance of truth. Cadenas writes:
Tiemblo cuando creo que me falsifico. Debo llevar en peso mis palabras. Me poseen tanto como yo a ellas. (Cadenas 157)
* * * * *
I tremble when I believe that I falsify myself. I should carry the weight of my words. They possess me as much as I them.
This is in direct contrast to Huidobro’s “Arte poética” perhaps the most famous poem of its kind in Latin American, Huidobro writes:
Por qué cantáis la rosa, ¡oh Poetas!
Hacedla florecer en el poema.
Sólo para nosotros
Viven todas las cosas bajo el Sol.
El poeta es un pequeño Dios. (Oviedo 308)
In this poem Huidobro describes the poet as the Sun or center of the universe and also a God.
Cadenas at no time esteems himself to be more than poetry or a god who creates. Instead Cadenas, equals himself to poetry, writing that he possesses words no more than they posses him, and that the poet and the poem construct each other. He also calls for poetry to be his eyes and to participate with him in the process of telling the truth. If poetry for Huidobro serves to create, poetry for Cadenas serves to help see.
Memorial is a collection of poems that was written between 1970 and 1975 and is divided chronologically into three parts: Zonas (1970), Notaciones (1973), and Nupcias (1975). In Memorial, Rafael Cadenas continues his reflections about poetry and the importance of language, but also approaches and reflects upon and describes his own spiritual evolution. These poems take on the form of an autobiographical diary, or as the French would say a journal litteraire. I will expand on this collection in the next chapter, “Selected Translations and Exegesis of Memorial.”
In 1979, continuing with his work at the Central University of Caracas, Rafael Cadenas published the essay “Realidad y literatura.” In this essay which was written and presented as part of his advancement to the position of associate professor at the Central University of Caracas, Rafael Cadenas presents his views on the human crisis of the 20th century, and through logic and personal experiences he strives to find solutions to this crisis. “Realidad y literatura” begins with a letter that John Keats, the American poet, wrote to a friend, Richard Woodhouse, on October 27, 1818. After the presentation of Keats’ letter, Rafael Cadenas comments on the letter and probes the possible role of literature and how it can help man.
He concludes that the main role of literature is to lead humans to a space of silence where they can observe reality without the distortions of the their preconceived or inherited ideas.
Entonces la realidad ha de mostrarse tal como es, con su peso propio, su fuerza, su misterio, libre de la cortina de ideas que impedía sentirla. (Cadenas 489)
* * * * *
Then reality should show itself as it is, with its own weight, its own force, its own mystery, free from the idea curtain that was impeding feeling it.
Cadenas believes that at no time should reality be sacrificed in the name of imaginary productions as these productions are obstacles that come between humans and their contact with reality.
Amante (1983) is Rafael Cardenas’s sixth book of poetry. Amante takes on the form of a long lyrical poem that analyzes love and the myth of love. Rafael Cadenas writes about anguish and the battle with the ego. Also in Amante, we find poems that celebrate his amorous union with himself, reality, and language. In Amante the beloved is either reality, language, a woman, or all of them.
Traes el espacio
donde el solo existir
sobrepasa todo quehacer.
Secreta religión del asombro
Que devuelve a las manos la tierra de origen. (Cadenas 354)
* * * * *
You bring the space
where to merely exists
exceeds all tasks.
Secret religion of astonishment
That returns to the hands the land of origin.
For Cadenas it is through loving and existing that makes wholeness possible.
That same year, Rafael Cadenas also published Anotaciones. In Anotaciones, the poet followed the example and poetic line of Gide’s Journal or the famous Carnets written by Camus. Anotaciones is the intellectual journal of Rafael Cadenas and provides us, the reader, with the deep reflections of a poet about poetry and life.
In 1985, Rafael Cadenas returns to the art of the essay and writes, “En torno al lenguaje,” for which he is given the Premio Nacional de Literatura. In this essay, Rafael Cadenas links the lack of care of and for language to societal problems. Cadenas expresses in this essay, that inasmuch as language is an intimate part of culture, if as a society we neglect language, we neglect our culture and lose our ties to our ancestors and the knowledge of where we came from.
Rafael Cadenas’ last poetic works to date are Gestiones, which was published in 1992, the same year he published Dichos, a collection of aphorisms that he had been writing and saving since 1970. For Gestiones, Rafael Cadenas received the Premio Interncaional de Poesía de Pérez Bonalde. Although this poetic work was prized, some critics, like Luis Moreno Villamediana, believe that “this book is too academic and has no real feeling” (Moreno Villamediana 152). Moreno Villamediana adds, “Cadenas now doesn’t appear to create, but, simply, to write with neatness” (Moreno Villamediana 152). There is no denying that the intelligence and care that Rafael Cadenas puts in his poems is great. However the poet never permits this to take away from his feeling of respect for poetry and life. In the poem “Matrimonio,” Rafael Cadenas expresses his love for distilled poetry and everyday life:
sin los aderezos que usa la retórica,
sin esos atavíos con que se suele recargar el misterio.
Líneas puras, sin más, de cuadro clásico.
Un transcurrir lleno de antigüedad,
de médula cotidiana,
Como de gente que abre a la hora de siempre. (Cadenas 398)
* * * * *
without ornaments of rhetoric,
without the ostentation that over adorns mystery.
Pure lines, unelaborated, from a classic scene.
A passing away full of antiquity,
of daily marrow,
Like people opening shop at the same time today and forever. (Cadenas 1995, 37)
In 1995, Rafael Cadenas took on the Spanish mystic, Saint John of the Cross in, “Apuntes sobre San Juan de la Cruz y la mística.” Cadenas wrote this essay at the request of a friend, who needed it for a magazine. Cadenas beautifully describes the writings of Saint John of the Cross and the beliefs of the mystics and mysticism, and restates that the mystery is life and that it must be lived. At times in the essay Rafael incorporates interruptions like telephone calls or other daily tasks, and at other moments he digresses to talk about the importance of marriage. Not only does this essay concern mysticism, it is also an eloquent essay about quotidian life, and in their juxtaposition, Cadenas blurs any differences in the status between them.
Venezuelan and Latin American Poetry
Rafael Cadenas is one of the best known contemporary poets in Venezuela, and in order to appreciate his poetic production it is necessary to understand his influences and the history of poetry in Venezuela. For this purpose, I will focus on the place of Rafael Cadenas within the history of Venezuelan poetry and Latin American poetry.
The great critic of Venezuelan poetry, Joaquín Marta Sosa, in his anthology of Venezuelan poetry, divides the modern poetry of this nation into three groups: 1) the precursors; 2) the founder of the avant-garde; and 3) contemporary poets. (Marta Sosa 2003) Marta Sosa’s use of the term precursor to refer to certain poets can be problematic, implying that the poems which came first are less valuable than those that followed. Throughout my thesis, I will use the term precursor in a purely temporal and not evaluative sense.
Three poets constitute the precursors group: Andrés Bello, Juan Pérez Bonalde and Francisco Lazo Martí. These three poets established the styles, forms and topics of the poetry of Venezuela in the 19th century and became the poetic base on which the future poets would build their artistic expression.
Any attempt to write the history of Venezuelan poetry must start with the great poet, philosopher and politician Andrés Bello. Andrés Bello lived from 1781 to 1865 and burst onto the national scene when he published the poetry collection Silva a la agricultura de la zona tórrida in 1825. In his first book, Bello established poetic themes that would continue to play a very important role in Venezuelan poetry for years to come. He realized and emphasized the importance of the Spanish language, its grammar, and proper word usage. His most important contribution in this area is the book La gramatica de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos published in 1847. Three of Bello’s favorite themes are the following: 1) the “American” i.e. the characteristics of the land of Venezuela and how it differs form Europe; 2) a great respect for the land and a felling of oneness with it; and 3) the Americas as a political utopia. Rafael Cadenas is heavily influenced by Andrés Bello, especially in the importance that Bello placed on grammar and his respect for the language. This respect for the language is apparent in Cadenas’ poetry, and also in essays like “En torno a lenguaje” where Rafael Cadenas defends the proper use of the language.
The second precursor, another Romantic poet of importance in the development of Venezuelan poetry, is Juan Pérez Bonalde (1846-1892), who, ahead of his time, wrote with a very intimate vision of his city, Caracas. His brilliant poetry is full of emotion and Bonalde is able to portray in his verses the strong inner reflection of a philosophical and metaphysical poet who was in search for the meaning of life, while surrounded by pain, love, doubts and deceptions. Bonalde’s confrontation with his personal abyss produced poetry of a depth unusual for his times. Like Pérez Bonalde, it is the depth of the early works of Rafael Cadenas that placed his poetry in the forefront of Venezuelan poetry, the way that in poems like “Derrota” Rafael Cadenas bared his broken and troubled soul for the world to see.
The third and final precursor poet is Francisco Lazo Martí, who lived from 1864-1909. His poetry uses los llanos, the flatland areas of Venezuela, to frame the attack on the individual made by the growing infrastructure of the city and the modern world. His poetry contains elements of spiritual ecology, or metaphysical feelings, tied to the land which the poet employs in the ongoing debate about the ideal of nature being destroyed by the cosmopolitan. The poetry of Francisco Lazo Martí is echoed in the poetry of Rafael Cadenas, as he expresses feelings of being tied to the earth.
From the precursors we move into the 20th century and the avant-garde poets. Deeply imbedded in the history of the poetry of Venezuela is its tie to the history of the country itself. The 20th century was a troublesome time politically for Venezuela. More than half of the first 58 years of the century were spent under oppressive dictatorships. The first, and the longest, was that of Juan Vicente Gomez, which lasted from 1908 to 1935. It is under this dictator that Juan Antonio Ramos Sucre wrote, and introduces into Venezuela some of the new forms coming from the avant-gardes.
Juan Antonio Ramos Sucre was born in 1890. He was a great forerunner of avant-garde and one of the first to master the art of writing poetry in prose. Juan Antonio Ramos Sucre lived a troubled life and committed suicide at the age of forty in Switzerland. He was also one of the first to take on the powers of the government and push for social change through his poetry. While living in Venezuela under Vicente Gomez, Sucre was able to critique the government by referring back to different historical events that had taken place in Europe, a technique that some of the Spanish Romantics had used in their writings’ a century earlier.
Even though Ramos Sucre wrote and died in the early 20th century, many modern critics place him in the group of writers known as the “Generation of the Sixties,” which will be discussed below. His avant-garde use of form and the political tone of his poems earned him this great honor. He was also exalted by later poets of the “Generation of the Sixties” for his execution and care of poetry as an art and his interest in reading the great poetry of the world in the original languages. One of the poets of the “Generation of the Sixties” who commended Ramos Sucre’s desire to read the poetry of the world in the original is Rafael Cadenas, who also followed in the footsteps of Ramos Sucre by writing his entire second book of poems, Los cuadernos del destierro, in prose.
After the Juan Vicente Gomez years Venezuela again was ruled by a dictator from 1952 to 1958. The strongman Marcos Pérez Jiménez, exiled many of the young artists and students who opposed him. Rafael Cadenas, was politically active in the Communist Party at this time, and for this he and many of his artistic counterparts were exiled from Venezuela. Some ventured to Chile, where they came in contact with Huidobro and the avant-garde movements, while others like Cadenas ended up in Trinidad. The exile of these artists and students exposed them to new forms and art movements that at that time were not known in Venezuela under the dictatorship. Upon receiving the news about the bloodless coup that forced the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez to leave Venezuela, the artists and students returned to their native land. But this time they returned to Venezuela not under the control of a dictatorship, but that of a new democracy; and with them they brought the knowledge and experiences that they had obtained while living in exile.
This return sparked a boom and blossoming of the arts in Venezuela. The returning artists who had been exposed to the new tendencies in art and thought quickly incorporated the new avant-garde movements in their own works. The three most important poets who influenced the returning artists were the three Latin American poets of the avant-garde; the creationist, Vicente Huidobro from Chile, where several of the exiled artists had spent their time in exile, and the social realist Pablo Neruda and the politically engaged surrealism of Cesar Vallejo.
Part of the artistic boom in the field of literature resulted in the formation of many literary groups. Two of the most important of these groups were El techo de ballena and Tabla redonda. Tabla redonda was founded by Rafael Cadenas and included fellow friends and artists such as Jesús Sanoja, Manuel Caballero, Arnaldo Acosta Bello, Jesús Guédez, and Darío Lancini, among others. It is from this blossoming of the arts that the most important group of Venezuelan poets arose, the “Generation of 58,” also known as the “Generation of the Sixties,” for it marks a very significant moment in Venezuelan history: the fall of the dictatorship.
Rafael Cadenas is the most important poet of this generation. With the publication of Los cuadernos del destierro (1960) and Falsas maniobras (1966), the young Rafael Cadenas quickly became the mouthpiece and leader of the generation. Most of the artists of this generation continue to write and publish poetry. At the same time many, like José Balza, have become literary critics while others, like Cadenas, are professors and teachers, thus insuring a promising future for Venezuelan poetry.
The poetic evolution of the 20th century as seen in Venezuela is part of a broader phenomenon throughout Latin America. Octavio Paz in his book, Los hijos del limo, states that the central factor in Latin American Poetry of the last century is “ruptura,” or the breaking away from tradition (Quiroga 109-114). By examining these breaks from one poetic movement to another, it is possible to situate Rafael Cadenas within the broader tradition of a continental Latin American poetry, to establish him as more than a national poet, and to place his poetry and the poetry of Venezuela into the general context of Latin American Poetry.
At the turn of the century it was the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, and the Modernist movement which ruled the poetic stage of Latin America. Modernism was a poetic movement preoccupied with the creation of a poetic language that would combine the best elements of Spanish Gongorism, French Parnassus, and French Symbolism. With these elements, Modernism worked toward creating art or poetry in the name of beauty, while heavily relying on the senses and sensory descriptions. Modernism was also the first poetic movement that originated in Latin America and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to inspire the writers of Spain. The poetry of Darío and the other Latin American Modernists influenced the Spanish Generation of 27 and their early style of “poesía pura,” or poetry based on beauty and art.
The First World War had a devastating effect on the ideals of the time. The killing and wartime atrocities emphasized the fact that humankind was not progressing towards a better world. Not everything was beautiful, and the artists and thinkers of the time began to question the standards and the traditions of both artistic and literary thought. From the questioning of Western art and thought, new movements and styles arose. Along with Dadaism and Surrealism many “isms” were born and a group of artists known as the avant-garde began to break with tradition. When the avant-garde reached Latin America, it reacted against Darío and Modernist poetry and it infused the Creationist movement of the Chilean, Vicente Huidobro and the Ultraism movement founded by the Argentine, Jorge Luis Borges. The avant-garde movement that had the most lasting effect in Latin America was that of Surrealism: it and the other avant-garde movements sought to break with traditions, which included the thematic traditions of poetry and traditional use of the language.
It was in this atmosphere of linguistic and thematic ruptures that Rafael Cadenas evolved and developed as a writer. For example, after becoming disillusioned with the Left, Cadenas published no poetry for ten years, only to return from this poetic silence to publish poetry of a personal nature, not hindered or laced with any dogma, but praising and promoting poetry as the way to personal wholeness. Another Latin American poet with a similar poetic history to Rafael Cadenas is Gonzalo Rojas from Chile.
Gonzalo Rojas was born in 1917 in Lebu, Chile. Like Cadenas, Rojas was a professor at various universities and began writing in literary groups. Rojas was a member of the group named Mandrágora for a short time. Mandrágora was a literary group strongly connected to radical Surrealism. It was the group’s affiliation to André Breton and its violent surrealism that prompted Gonzalo Rojas to leave the group. Thus in the same way that Rafael Cadenas broke away from the center of Latin America poetry, Gonzalo Rojas broke his ties with the prevailing movement of surrealism and strove for a more personal poetry. Cedomil Goic describes this break and Rojas’ desires by saying, “Gonzalo Rojas no es Mandrágora ni quiso serlo, sino gonzálico, rojo, rojizo o rojamente rojano./ Gonzalo Rojas is neither Mandrágora nor wants to be it, however gonzalic, red, reddish or redder red” (Goic 22). Much like Rafael Cadenas, Gonzalo Rojas’ contribution was to break with the tradition of revolution and create personal poetry.
Cadenas and Rojas broke away from the newly formed center of revolutionary poetry and developed their own themes and styles. Both poets wrote intensely personal poetry that searched for the meaning of “self.” This new poetry lived within the space of silence, and silence exists in opposition to their words. Within the dynamic equilibrium of poetry and silence, the poets discovered the necessary energy to create poetry of deeper meaning.
Another Latin American poet who shares the poetic ideals of Rafael Cadenas is the Mexican, Octavio Paz. Paz was born in 1914 in Mixcoac, Mexico, three years earlier than Rojas. He is one of Latin America’s best known poets and literary critics of the 20th century. Towards the end of Paz’s poetic production, he too incorporated Eastern philosophies into his poetry in the same way as Cadenas. Both are hermetic poets that share the belief that poetry is a tool with which humans can break through their persona and ego, and ultimately become self-realized.
Paz and Rojas share similarities with Cadenas in poetic structure and themes. Like Cadenas, they also broke away from the prevailing tradition of poetry in Latin America in the middle of the 20th century, poetry strongly influenced by the Left, and decided to stand alone. These three poets separated themselves from political dogmas and mainstream movements to write poetry concerned with their inner selves, concerned with how poetry could free them or make them better. Significantly, this separation from mainstream literary movements make them poets not of escapism but of rearticulation. It is Cadenas’ courage to separate himself from the mainstream and search in solitary silence for his own voice that makes his poetry powerful and unique.
Selected Translation and Exegesis of Memorial
The word “translate” comes from the Latin word “latus, ” which contains two separate meanings of the word: 1) being a process of rendering one language into another; and 2) of interpreting or explaining in terms more easily understood. Cole Swensen states, “translation is the process whose primary goal is the light shed by its own activity and the expression and investigation this light makes possible” (Swensen 99). For Swensen, in the process of rendering something from one language to another, one gains insight and knowledge because it is a process which allows for a more in depth interpretation. For this reason, translation is a hermeneutic process.
Hermeneutics is the theory or science of interpretation. In Greek mythology, Hermes was the winged-footed messenger of the gods, whose job was to carry encrypted messages from the gods to mortals (Kerby 90-93). Just as Hermes carried messages from the gods to the mortals, the discipline of hermeneutics developed with the exegesis of the scriptures or the intent to interpret the scriptural messages of God. Interpretation became a significant part of Reformation debates because at that time, Catholic dogma stated that the Church alone was competent enough to interpret the scriptures, whereas Protestant reformers, like Martin Luther, insisted on the intelligibility of the holy texts and the ability of men to interpret them.
Martin Heidegger in the 19th century built his own theory on the Reformation debates and deepened Hermeneutics into a general philosophy of human understanding, concerned with the interpretation of human language. Friedrich Schleiermacher was the first scholar to seek a broader theory of interpretation; one that dealt with more than religious texts. Schleiermacher formulated what is called the Hermeneutic circle; a theory that states the part of something is always understood in terms of the whole, and that the whole is understood in terms of the parts. Therefore a word is understood in its use in a sentence or a phrase, yet the sentence or the phrase can only be understood through the words that compose it.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, a 20th century theorist and student of Martin Heidegger, accepts that the goal of textual interpretation is not one of authorial intentions, but of the text itself. The goal of the hermeneutical understanding of a text or artistic work is not what it meant to their original audience, but what it can mean to us at the present time or the time of contact. A text is fully realized only in the reading process, in which the world of the text and the world of the reader fuse. This fusion creates a mutual enrichment for both the text and the reader: the reader is enriched because he/she gains a personal understanding, and the text is enriched because a deeper understanding of it is developed.
John Felstiner, in Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu, describes this enrichment of the fusion process between the reader and a poem and the importance of translation; “a translation converts strangeness into likeness, and yet in doing so may bring home to us the strangeness of the original. We need translation in order to know what in us a poem is like or not like” (Felstiner 5). Judeo-Christian belief states that at the time of the tower of Babel, humankind was divided because its language was divided into many languages. Thus, since that time it is only through translation that one can communicate with another in diverse languages. Octavio Paz justified the need for translation in his article, “Translation: Literature and Literality,” addressing the confusion after the tower of Babel: “translation responded to the diversity of languages with the ideal of a universal intelligibility. Thus, translation was not only an extra proof but a guarantee of the unity of the human spirit” (Paz 13). If it was not for translation, humankind would live disjointed and disconnected from their brothers and sisters in a cultural prison.
My translations of Cadenas’ poems are close, lexically accurate translations. In the original, awkward syntax and uncommon Spanish phrasing force ruptures and pauses in the reading of the original poetry. By remaining close to the original syntax and phrasing, my aim has been to maintain and transfer a more precise meaning of the poem into English. Through such translation, the reader can experience the “strangeness” of the original.
In The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory, Kelly defines “scope as word consideration based on the pragmatic and social meanings of a word, not only its semantic meaning” (Kelly 214). An example of word selection based on the “scope” of a word is found in the second part of the poem “Evil.” Cadenas uses the Spanish word “desplazarse” to represent the difference between spatial movement and that of being detained. The English equivalent would be the verb to displace; however, because of the “scope” of the word displacement in English, with its negative connotations of being displaced or feeling displaced, I opted to substitute a different word in English and used the word “travel.”
Following the understanding of translation as a hermeneutic process, the “code” of the word is also very important, which includes not only the relationship between signified and signifier, but also the purpose of translation for communication. (Kerby 90-93) In section 2 of the poem “New World,” I came across the word “Hojas,” which in context and in close proximity to the phrase, “papers of dawn,” would seem to fit the definition of a sheet, as in a sheet of paper. However, because of the later use of the same word in Spanish, “Hojas” in section 5, and this time with the English meaning being “leaves.” I decided to use “leaves” instead of “sheets” to maintain the word play in both versions and to communicate that the papers are the leaves where the shadow gets lost.
What follows is mutual enrichment: both reader and poem, understanding and meaning of Memorial, made possible through the hermeneutics of translation and the exegesis of Memorial brought about by the translation process.
Memorial is the fifth book of poetry published by Rafael Cadenas, and it deals with his journey towards wholeness in a way that closely parallels Jung’s own description of individuation. The English word “memorial” is a cognate and is defined in the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary as “a written statement of facts presented to a governing body in the form of or along with a petition” (819). Therefore, with the book Memorial, the reader is presented with a list of facts that are those of the life of Rafael Cadenas and an explanation of his journey.
In Memorial, the “written statement” that is presented to “a governing body,” which is the reader, comes in the form of poetry. The petition that Rafael Cadenas makes to readers is a simple one: that through the silence of his poems, readers can be lead to a space where they may see reality without the distortion of the imagination, cultural prejudices, or mental processes, so they can reencounter their lives and rediscover that they exist. In his essay, “Realidad y literatura,” Cadenas states:
Este silencio suspende al personaje que realiza la actividad, al actor. Lo reemplaza la acción, que incluye todos los términos de la realidad y se puede decir que es ella misma realidad….La acción es el presente, la vibración de la realidad, el movimiento del misterio. (Cadenas 517)
* * * * *
This silence suspends the character that carries out the activity, the actor. It replaces the action, which includes all of the ends of reality and it can be said that it is reality…The action is the present, the vibration of the reality, the movement of the mystery.
For Rafael Cadenas, silence is an action. It is the action of ceasing of the mental process, the cultural prejudices and imaginations that cloud one’s reality.
In the poems of Rafael Cadenas silence is not an absence of sound or noise, but rather an action of putting doubts, fears, preconceived notions and thoughts at rest, which allows one to be quiet. In this quietness it becomes possible to hear and understand that which previously was drowned out. Cadenas provides the reader with the space for the reader’s reencounter. So important is this quietness and space that when Cadenas organizes his poems, he divides them into aphoristic phrases and usually only places one single phrase on each page. This has a double effect on the reading of his poetry: first of all, visually, the reader is faced with a page where blankness outweighs writing, thus creating a visual silence; and secondly, the blankness or visual silence of the pages leads to a slower reading of the poems and creates natural moments of silence for the reader as they turn the pages.
Structurally Memorial is divided chronologically into three separate parts, each written at a different time: Zonas (1970), Notaciones (1973), and finally, Nupcias (1975). In Memorial, we encounter a collection of poems that form a hermeneutic circle. Where the parts are always understood in terms of the whole and the whole is understood in terms of the parts. “New World” is the beginning and end of that circle and of the entire process of transcendence. Through its understanding, understandings of the rest of the poems are achieved. The reader understands the entirety of the poems in the book and by understanding the remainder of the poems, the reader can return and gain much more insight into the journey to wholeness.
Memorial is a collection of poems where the structure is perfectly balanced with its meaning. As a “memorial” it leaves the reader with a written statement of the poet describing his process to attaining wholeness, and through the poems Cadenas doesn’t only leave a record of his journey but creates a space for the reader to understand and begin their own process of transcendence. The space of silence, created by Cadenas, throughout the pages of Memorial leaves room for the reader to fill. Cadenas invites the reader to occupy this space with their own contemplation in hopes that with his poetry the reader can begin their own journey towards wholeness.
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