Santiago de Chile
29 marzo 1953
Los Surcos Inundados
(The Flooded Furrows)
Editorial Cruz del Sur
by Miguel Arteche
The Flooded Furrows, the second book by David Rosenmann-Taub, is something more than a promise from a writer of our generation. Rarely have I seen a voice that brings more richness pregnant with true – and very contemporary – poetry than that of Rosenmann-Taub. At last, and it was about time, here is a poet who does not pursue novelty just for its own sake.
The Flooded Furrows brings something that is rather unknown in our young poetry: an awareness of the trade. To write in a state of hallucination was something very entertaining at a certain time; with that, much foolishness was justified. Write some loose lines, let out some incoherent howls, and the poem was done. Or the thought was: someone wrote free verse; I can do that too, and it’s easy. Or: someone invented that delightful scale of sounds – the twelve-tone scale – and here is my chance. The master has genius, and the disciples take it upon themselves to discredit him. Thus it has been and thus will it be. Behind enormous possibilities for authentic artists – the ones for example who started the Vienna School in music, and super-realism – hid legions of incompetents and frauds.
Rosenmann-Taub is not going back to anything. He knows his personal technique, he knows the technique of his trade, and, most important, with those two areas mastered, he writes a strange, moving poetry. An in-depth analysis of the book would reveal the command of adjectival usage, the expertise in the technique of verse: think of the metrical variation of his poems, the creation of words, the richness of the vocabulary that he possesses and uses with familiarity, not letting the bookishness behind be seen.
However, within the precise, hard architecture of his poetry floats a primal world, of elemental beings, not in the manner of shining, graceful creatures of a past or future paradise, but endowed with all the strength and warmth, the bitterness and disillusionment of some inhabitants of any modern city. From them spring forth a furious debating, an interrupted sleep, a world of semi-nightmare, that do not, at times, exclude the touch, the thread of tenderness and of eclogue-like tranquillity. The latest poems of Rosenmann-Taub insist on the theme of love, never monotonously; it is always treated with consummate technical skill. But the boiling center of this poetry is what has been mentioned above; because from there has issued all of his strange art and because this poetry (which, in general, has not particularly evolved since his first book – not that this matters, although some people believe that a poet must always be in a continual thematic ferment) has its inception in that formless world of death, of desolation, of tragic tenderness, of a joy mixed with irony, bitter irony. A world composed of love, primitive sounds, frantic gasping.
The “Segunda sonata” (“Second Sonata”), which ends the book, contains one of the best and most extraordinary moments of David Rosenmann-Taub. The process of division into tempos is unmistakable – the three parts titled “Pórtico” (“Portico”), “Abismo” (“Abyss”), “Réquiem” (“Requiem”) do not, naturally, have the same pace, the same dramatic tension, with which Rosenmann-Taub has invested the poem. The way of treating that division shows a closeness to musical technique. Let’s be clear: it is not musical poetry, an absurd thing that some believe to exist, but simply an external similarity to sonata form. This can be seen from the title. But it is in the depths of the poem, in the world that the reader of poetry creates, in the emotion imparted to the reader, in that landscape which passes from the poet to the one who reads, that the relation with music is found, and not in the use of words with any musical value or in the accenting of the line. The differences of “tempo”are vibrating in the depths of the poetry, moving in a sea that is constantly helped by external form.
The theme is eternal: death. The death of a child. At the end of the third movement of the sonata, the atmosphere is a mixture of a very profound, desperate tenderness and a soft, warm, pleading playfulness. The first two tempos part company. The first: a kind of mocking prelude, with a childish tone in which there does not exist the slightest hint of death, not even in the first lines, where a note of nostalgia seems to appear. The second: the landscape changes completely. Once the ironic, mocking tone has disappeared, one enters, directly, and in the first line, a dark, mortal terrain, with a fateful omen:
The shadow of death at the threshold stops.
Oh dandún, oh dandún, don’t look at its face.
Dandún is the son. When love struggles to emerge transformed into words, and the word does not come forth, there only remain syllables which do not mean anything in terms of semantics, but which, uncertain, fragile, arbitrary, are rendering the whole tragic depth of despair that language cannot deliver. Those syllables leap out – two, three, however many – and a noun is delineated: “Dandún,” “bomberún,” “burburbur”: words in which tenderness accrues, in which the syllable means nothing if not the immense desire to express a love that knows no bounds. Gradually the atmosphere of anguish increases. A refrain that announces every so often – at least every two stanzas – the presence of death, charges the poem with concentrated tension. A hemstitch keeps constantly recurring:
The shadow of death...
The other half of the line changes, which helps to emphasize, to magnify the proximity of death which, in the final refrain, ends up lying in the bed of the sick child. First it stops at the threshold. Then:
The shadow of death from the threshold advances.
Oh dandún, oh dandún, cover yourself with the sheets.
And now it has arrived:
The shadow of death is next to your bed.
Be good, my dandún, better look at the dawn.
Death looks at the child:
The shadow of death has leaned toward you,
(the pillow has turned blue):... they look like two brothers”
Until the refrain ends:
The shadow of death has lain down in your bed.
My son, dandún, you no longer belong to me.
And as the refrain recedes, the tone alters immediately. With death in the bed, with the heartrending sensation that the child’s life no longer belongs to him, Rosenmann-Taub changes the heretofore relative calm. The rhythm becomes breathless, like a maelstrom; repetition is used to accentuate the feeling of despair, of powerlessness. The words strive to express grief, and come out vertiginous. He repeats the negative, the verb, the very name of the child, and up to the end of this second tempo, everything gushes out of the poem in an interminable stream of swift adjectives, of blazing visions of powerlessness before death. Finally, the rhythm calms down again, becomes quiet in a few assonant alexandrines:
From the threshold the sun, lying like a dog,
gazes at the still bedspread, comes down as far as your still
chest, proceeds as far as your pallidly still face
and in your closed eyes places a blind glint,
in your closed eyes, terribly open.
Everything announces stillness, death. The stillness of the recumbent sun and the immobility of the body in those terrible, simple adjectives: your “still” chest, your pallidly “still” face, the “still” bedspread. Until the final line, with the two hemistitches in apparent contradiction: “closed eyes” and eyes “terribly open,” which is to say: eyes closed for us, lifeless for us, but terribly open for death.
The last movement – the “Requiem” – is interspersed with another refrain that, in the same way as the previous one, serves to emphasize the ambiance of powerlessness before death. But the rhythm is different. The octosyllables give the line a more rapid pace. Here the light, elusive tone fits naturally. Certain themes of the previous two movements now appear in a modified form, as if diluted. The tenderness becomes much more intense because of the desperation of the parting, and the refrain takes on a doubly funereal tone which destroys everything that might refer to the life of the child. If during his life the child was
Teddy bear sleep, insomnia,
white on white, white mount,
a lot of taloned thistle,
a lot of breeze, barely winged,
a smidgen of snow, candle,
without face with face,
without voice with voice, oh trataro,*
lute, dandún, puff, nobody...
rose syrup, pupa, runrún...
Upa, triguito, ravé,
ota naanca, sweetness...
the moment of his death is drawn in four lines in which can be heard, with a truly horrifying note, that decisive “tris”of separation, of farewell:
Already tris bracelet is closed,
already tris necklace is closed,
although we shall always look at you
we shall never see you.
And from Spain one wonders what hidden power, what invisible hand, what underground currents, irrigate, continue touching and fertilizing the earth of our poetry, making it always new and always flowing.
Madrid, March 1953.
*A number of words have been left in the original: they are Spanish baby talk.