ALFONSINA STORNI Three Poems (translation by Nicholas Friedman)

Translator’s note: Although Alfonsina Storni died in October of 1938, we might well add her to the running list of so-called “nasty women” demanding to be heard. Indeed, Storni’s unyielding feminism is a hallmark of her poetry, and her resistance to the iniquities of gender is no less necessary today. Such resistance is often the overt subject of her poetry, but it is also intrinsic to her poetic forms. Storni was a masterful composer of the sonnet, a poetic tradition long used by men to aggrandize, undercut, and simplify (as objects of love and unattainable sex) their female objects. Storni’s rebuttals are better thought of as “anti-sonnets” (the poet’s own designation), as they often ironize and challenge the form’s conventions. It would be an oversimplification, however, to begin and end with a description of her work as “feminist.” Storni’s poetry is radical in its confessionalism (dealing as it does with depression and suicidality), bold in its theological and philosophical sparring, and unflinching in its unfashionable and idiosyncratic style. In nearly every sense, Storni hacked her own path through an overgrown, male-dominated poetic world. What she left behind is the remarkable chronicle of a struggle no less beautiful for its difficulty.

Dos palabras

Esta noche al oĂ­do me has dicho dos palabras
Comunes. Dos palabras cansadas
De ser dichas. Palabras
Que de viejas son nuevas.

Dos palabras tan dulces, que la luna que andaba
Filtrando entre las ramas
Se detuvo mi boca. Tan dulces dos palabras
Que una hormiga pasea por mi cuello y no intento
Moverme para echarla.

Tan dulces dos palabras
Que digo sin quererlo—¡oh, qué bella, la vida!—
Tan dulces y tan mansas
Que aceites olorosos sobre el cuerpo derraman.

Tan dulces y tan bellas
Que nerviosos, mis dedos,
Se mueven hacia el cielo imitando tijeras.

Oh, mis dedos quisieran
Cortar estrellas.

Three Words

Tonight you spoke three ordinary words
in my ear. Three words grown tired
of being spoken. Words
which, though old, are always new.

Three words so sweet that the moonlight
filtering through the branches
came to rest in my mouth. Three words so sweet
that an ant strolled right along my neck
and I didn’t try to flick it off.

Three words so sweet
that I said, unwittingly, “Oh, life is lovely!”
So sweet and so meek
that fragrant oils spill over my body.

So sweet and lovely
that my restless fingers
make for the sky, pretending to be scissors.

Oh, my fingers would like
to cut down the stars.

Yo en el fondo del mar

En el fondo del mar
hay una casa
de cristal.

A una avenida
de madréporas,

Un gran pez de oro,
a las cinco,
me viene a saludar.

Me trae
un rojo ramo
de flores de coral

Duermo en una cama
un poco más azul
que el mar.

Un pulpo
me hace guiños
a través del cristal.

En el bosque verde
que me cricunda
—din don… din dan—
se balancean y cantan
las sirenas
de nácar verdemar.

Y sobre mi cabeza
arden, en el crepĂşsculo,
las erizadas puntas del mar.

Me at the Bottom of the Sea

At the bottom of the sea
there’s a house
made of crystal.

It’s at the edge
of a street lined
with stony coral.

At five,
a huge golden fish
comes to greet me.

It brings me
a red bouquet
of coral flowers.

I sleep in a bed
slightly bluer
than the sea.

An octopus
winks at me
through the pane.

In the green woods
that surround me
—ding dong… ding dang—
the nacreous
sea-green mermaids
sway and sing.

And overhead,
little risen peaks of the sea
flare up in twilight.


AsĂ­ es

Unas veces mis versos han nacido
Del ideal.

Otras del corazĂłn y de la angustia
En tempestad.

Otras de algunas sed como divina
Que pide hablar.

Pero otras muchas, hombres, los ha escrito
Mi vanidad.

Soy, como todos, una pobre mezcla
De lo divino al fin y lo bestial.

So It Is

Occasionally my poetry is born
of the ideal.

Other times of the heart, and in a tempest
of distress.

Still others of a godlike thirst that begs
to speak.

But often, gentlemen, it’s authored by
my shallowness.

I am, like everything, a lowly mix
of the divine, the bestial.



Nicholas Friedman is the author of Petty Theft, which won the 2018 New Criterion Poetry Prize. He currently works as a Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University.