Poetry by José Asunción Silva

Nocturne III

……….A night
A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume
…..And incanting wing,
……….A night
Where phantasmagoric glowworms bump in nuptial blackness,
At our own pace, linked together,
……….Mute and glittering,
As if we could portend ruin,
And your hot fibers all slopped and tangled,
Along the path strung with flowers, which crosses emptiness,
……….We walked,
……….And the disc of silvery water
In tumbling azure splashed and laughed,
……….And your shadow,
……….Fine and dripping,
……….And my shadow,
Which the rays of the moon nailed down
On the sad sands
Of the pathway, our shadows joined
And became one
And they became one horn of shadow!
And they became one horn of shadow!
And they became one horn of shadow!
……….Here I am, myself,
Full with the black cakes of loneliness and of your death,
Separated from you by all—time, tomb, earth—
……….And by the nothing
……….Where no voice can reach;
……….Mortally then and silent,
……….Along the path I roamed,
And the dogs’ snapping at moonlight rang out
……….At the splendor
……….And the chirping
……….Of the frogs—
A chill. It was the chill that in the tomb
Your face and hands sang with
……….Under a starry vibrance
……….Of funereal linens.
It was the grave’s face of pebbles, death’s slick,
……….It was the coldness of nothing.
……….And my shadow
……….Frayed by wild silver,
……….Walked alone,
……….Walked alone,
……….Walked alone amid nothings,
……….And your shadow, trim and quick,
……….Fine and dripping,
As in that luxuriant spring night expiring,
As in that night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume
…..And incanting wing,
……….Came and creased through mine
……….Came and creased through mine
……….Came and creased through mine…Oh the shadows fuse!
Oh the puzzle pieces of the shadows interlocking,
Oh the shadows chew through each other across zodiacs of sorrows
…..And tears.

To One Sick

So you go too? So you’re weak?
So you lack the breath of life and thirst
For the pure air, the wild auroras?
Then look: In purple afternoons,
In the clear ember of mornings,
In the humid mists roped like
Candles at the foot of the mountain,
In December’s blue skies,
In the verdancy where life sings,
In those sweet poems that murmur
Under shadows and along cascades that hit
The stones and become strands of intangible
Silver: Look and you will find new life,
Color rushing again to your cheeks,
Smiles traveling again to your mouth,
And dreams like a child’s to your soul.


It holds moments of horrible bitterness,
This inner thirst like a glove of thorns,
And the sweet One’s face doesn’t smile
Across the sky’s towering heights.

Nothing’s done, o Faith, when you
Pin a prayer to your infinite dread
And an afterlife pretends to stir,
A better life, hours more pure.

No column of light in the desert
Guides your passage home,
Continuous sojourner who,

Weary, stumbles on an uncertain future—
An empty locket or scorpion under a stone—
After all the suffering of your painful trek.

Poesía Viva

It’s night, love.
Lamps pour their light
And bathe the wall and roof
In dusty pink.

In the shaded corridor
The wind whispers,
But the cold can’t reach
The cheek of this hearth,

She who, loving and fine,
And like a bracelet of smiles,
Leans on her cheek,
Meditates and dreams.

With profound sympathy
She considers the cradle
Where a child rests,
White as snow,

While her husband reads
With an anxious voice
By the bright light
Of a pink lamp:

“In the sunsoaked days
Of these beloved months,
The soul is stocked with dreams
Like forests with nests.

One sees, behind the haze,
As through thick lace,
Contours of green:
Dark foliage.

The purple shadows
That mass on the horizon
Envelop sea and meadow,
Plain and mountain.

Night provokes no fear,
Nor the breaking of veils,
Nor the dilating of pupils,
Nor stars in the sky.

Look: The moon shines up
In the forest, trembling
Like a shawl of crystals
Dragged across the river!

It lights the realms of men
With fugitive visions,
Whipping up a milky gauze
Of ideal abodes.”

The poet, lifting his head,
Seeks to gauge a response,
But sees only her black eyes
Dreaming over a basket of snow.

Into their calm feeling speak
They with uncertain voices,
Those of the closed eyes,
Those of the open souls.

He feels a power
Born in the silence
That on a trembling lip
Dies without a phrase,

And, gathered into the work
Of some interior melody,
He lets the poem fall
On the dark carpet.


All evening,
Uncertain, distant, and mysterious,
Melancholy surges, leading us
From earth to the ideal.

I’ve seen intimations of that sky
In the brilliance of fire,
Which drives away shadows—
A glance from those blue eyes.

Golden chain
That soul to soul unites
With a thread of hidden sympathy,
Deep in the unknown….

And which by life’s
Realities is consumed,
A drop of dew dissolved
On graves grasses cover.


(To Théophile Gautier)

Under ancient trees
Whose shade bathes the floor,
I see a small hut
Lost in the distance.

Everything there is still.
The windows are closed,
And grey mosses gather
Along the threshold.

Like a warm breath
The cold condenses,
Clouds of smoke rise,
Blue, in faint spirals.

That little hut’s
Ribboning cursive
Carries news to God
Of a soul that now rests.


When near your window
On moonlit nights, you tell me—
One by one—your beautiful illusions;
When from your resonant eyes
Dawn’s heat lightning scatters
Swarms of visions;

When you rest your head
On my shoulder to alleviate my sadness,
And you accompany me on my crazy dreams;
When under staggering fortunes you sealed
My happiness with the fiery kiss
Of pink lips and laughter,

Then like a shipwreck’s sundered
Papier-mâché table, remembering
The placid shore where the night,
Black and cold, where the immense,
Mute and somber expanse, where the sea’s
Hall docks in tempests and extends,

We watched the calm horizon
Stride forth, bluish mountain
Off which a gold cloak slides…
Revealing, in the hazy distance,
Caches of life and light, raw bonanza,
Spring, the beauty of the earth.

When amid the shadows of this life
The light of a new day rises
Without the dawn or twilight’s indecisions:
In the shine of your black eyes,
In the red whispering of your lips,
Who could fail to forge a heaven?

Fragment of a Letter

When all has grown calm, in hours
When the sleeping soul wakes,
The sweetest visions of life
Return to the mind,

Which flies between midnight shadows
And white mansions. My thoughts
Linger for a moment in all the crystals
That filter the light to your room,

Kissing the climbing honeysuckles
That embrace your window bower,
Set between delicate apparitions
That open in the morning light.

I see you before the crucifix,
A heart fixed on its promises,
And I hear the mysterious prayer
Whose sweet rhythm and fine cadence

Flies from your lips into arms of snow.
If only I could speak the soul fully
And with the voice of feeling, but who
Could faithfully sketch your calm sense?

Who recounts the freshness of your voice?
Who sees you open and without limit
Under the form your fire folds and unfolds,
Who sees the life that under the rhyme is set?

Of the passions is the poem, holy,
Spoken only to you and to the soul
Which, like a pipe raised to the lips,
Sticks and glows with a kiss.

Fixed Stars

When the soul
Has broken from the body
And sleeps in the tomb’s night,
Longer than any other,

My eyes, mindful
Of the infinity of things,
Will retain only, as in a dream,
The shine of your depthless gaze.

Decomposing in the pit,
In the stillness of the grave,
I’ll see, through death’s unknowns,
Your eyes, standing in shadows.


José Asunción Silva

José Asunción Silva (1865-1896) is Colombia’s most celebrated poet and, along with Rubén Darío, Delmira Agustini, Julián del Casal, and others, one of the founders Latin American modernismo, a movement that transformed Hispanic literature. Gabriel García Márquez has written that Silva was “by nature and family sturdy and good-looking, but ghostly pale, of exquisite manners, great human and artistic sensibility, a lucid intelligence, a seductive verbal fluency, and an armoured dignity.” The child of a wealthy Bogotá merchant, Silva suffered a number of personal and familial hardships, among them the loss of his beloved sister, Elvira. He took his own life at the age of thirty. Silva is also the author of a novel, De Sobremesa.

Robert Fernandez

Robert Fernandez is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Pink Reef (Canarium) and Scarecrow (Wesleyan), and is co-translator of Azure, poems by Stéphane Mallarmé (Wesleyan). A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, his poems have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, Boston Review, Conjunctions, PEN American, A Public Space, and elsewhere. He was selected, by Robyn Schiff, as a New American Poet for the Poetry Society of America, and was awarded a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative American Poetry, and a Yaddo residency.

English translation copyright (c) Robert Fernandez, 2017.