In March of this year, the most popular -- "beloved" would not be too strong a word -- of Mexican poets died at the age of 72. Jaime Sabines was born in 1926 in the state of Chiapas, the son of a Lebanese immigrant father and a Mexican mother. He studied medicine and gave it up to write poetry. For six years in the middle 1970s, he served in the federal legislature. I think it's safe to say that we've never had such a congressman. In later years, I've been told, when he read his poems in public, the audience would chant them word for word. Here, in the translation of W.S. Merwin, is one of his best-known poems:
The lovers say nothing.
Love is the finest of silences,
the one that trembles most and is the hardest
The lovers are looking for something.
The lovers are the ones who abandon,
the ones who change, who forget.
Their hearts tell them that they will never find.
They don't find, they're looking.
The lovers wander around like crazy people
because they're alone, alone,
surrendering, giving themselves to each moment,
crying because they don't save love.
They worry about love. The lovers
live for the day, it's the best they can do, it's all
They're going away all the time,
all the time, going somewhere else.
not for anything in particular, they just hope.
They know that whatever it is, they will not find it.
Love is the perpetual deferment,
always the next step, the other, the other.
The lovers are the insatiable ones,
the ones who must always, fortunately, be alone.
The lovers are the serpents in the story.
They have snakes instead of arms.
The veins in their necks swell
like snakes too, suffocating them.
The lovers can't sleep
because if they do the worms eat them.
They open their eyes in the dark
and terror falls into them.
They find scorpions under the sheet
and their beds float as though on a lake.
The lovers are crazy, only crazy
with no God and no devil.
The lovers come out of their caves
They laugh at those who know all about it,
who love forever, truly,
at those who believe in love as an
The lovers play at picking up water,
tattooing smoke, at staying where they are.
They play the long sad game of love.
None of them will give up.
The lovers are ashamed to reach any agreement.
Empty, but empty from one rib to another,
death ferments them behind the eyes,
and on they go, they weep toward morning
in the trains, and the roosters wake into sorrow.
Sometimes a scent of newborn earth reaches them,
of women sleeping with a hand on their sex,
of gentle streams, and kitchens.
The lovers start singing between their lips
a song that is not learned.
And they go on crying, crying
for beautiful life.
No translation can catch very well the music of the Spanish rhymes. Try saying the last lines, even if you don't know the language. The v is pronounced as if it were near to b, the double ll as if it were y:
Los amorosos se ponen a cantar entre albios
una cancion no aprendida.
Y se van ilorando, llorando
la hermosa vida.
His poems can be found in a beautiful bilingual edition, Pieces of Shadow: Selected Poems of Jaime Sabines, translated by W.S. Merwin, from Ediciones Papeles Privados in Mexico City. If it's not in your bookstores, it's distributed in this country by Marsilio Publishers in New York.
(From "Pieces of Shadow: Poems of Jaime Sabines," translated by W.S. Merwin.
Ediciones Papeles Privados, Mexico City and Marsilio Publishers, N.Y. Copyright 1995)