Santiago de Chile
September 27, 1998
The Greatest Poet
“The most important and profound living poet in the entire Spanish language is David Rosenmann-Taub.”
by Armando Uribe Arce
This is no Chilean-style boast.
In this century the scope of Chilean poetry is vast, but in no way is it superior to poetry in other Spanish-speaking countries or to poetry in other languages.
There is no championship in poetry, culture, or beauty. But Rosenmann-Taub's poetry, for its taste, for its knowledge, and in all justice, is peerless and reveals a temperate yet unbridled beauty. And, for the depiction of a tormented contemporary life, it is the poetry of a superlative author.
What a fortuitous gift that this poet Rosenmann-Taub should be among us in our time.
His body of work is very extensive, even the number of volumes that have so far been published. His work has been known to the public for fifty years, and he is turning seventy. Known to the public? He is virtually unknown. Unrecognized in Chile. And why? It says nothing against Rosenmann-Taub, but is very telling about the Chilean infirmity. How can it be thought that he does not exist and even - for some of the few who have heard his name - that he is a kind of literary invention?
The fact that his character may be difficult to deal with for those who have met him does not explain the appalling ignorance of the fullest poetic ideal in Chile still alive. Where is he? Well, in his works; and physically in North America, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. He continues to write on his own.
Gabriela Mistral generated antipathy in Chile: this is why she left, and saw her homeland again precious few times; and died abroad. Yet she obtained, albeit grudgingly, some acknowledgment in her country during her life. Rosenmann-Taub has not.
This man born in Echaurren Street, in the wretched, dilapidated, and incoherent capital of the country Chile, may as well never have been born at all as far as the others, his contemporaries, are concerned - in spite of the fact that his first book, the ineffable Cortejo y Epinicio, was favored with a certain admiration by a number of good Chilean voices, those of Hernán Díaz Arrieta, Roque Esteban Scarpa, Hernán del Solar.
After the publication - also by the outstanding Soria brothers of Cruz del Sur - of his subsequent two short books of poetry in the first years of the fifties, almost nobody said anything about them. And yet, poems of his continued to appear, previously unpublished or not, whether in anthologies or in a hand-printed edition by Taller 99, with engravings. And in the seventies, five phenomenal books by the publisher Esteoeste in Buenos Aires came out. Only one of these books is known to have received a review - by Hernán del Solar; it went unnoticed. That was the only echo these books raised.
Rosenmann-Taub's entire oeuvre has, over time, remained largely neglected. A scarce few of us, in Chile or abroad, have asserted his supreme value. But almost no one has been listening.
What is going on in Chile?
What country are we in, that a poet, unique in letters as well as in the spirit of those who speak, think, and feel in Spanish, should be left aside, forsaken, dispossessed? Is it for us to dispossess ourselves of him, as if we were rich in genius?
Everything, of the worst kind, comes to pass in Chile. Thus Chile will pass. With pain, and without glory.
But the poet endures; his poetry is perdurable. We would say imperishable if we did not know that eventually, in the end, everything will die in this world.
Rosenmann-Taub's voice, choked by pain and love, is heard in poems of more than forty years ago. And read, if you find it, the extraordinary metaphysical, divine poem in the last book of his that we know of, brimming with the fatal wine of one single poem spilt into multiple stanzas: El Cielo en la Fuente (The Sky in the Fountain).
[In another book, Los Surcos Inundados (The Flooded Furrows), the poet speaks of the child "dandún," who is dying:]
"The shadow of death at the threshold stops.
Oh dandún, oh dandún, do not look at its face.
The shadow of death from the threshhold advances.
Oh dandún, oh dandún, cover yourself with the sheets.
In his hands the kernel of the burburbur: window
wide open, almond that crackles, caterpillar,
bricks, steps, wheels: the chair gujgujguj,
the teaspoon (....)
The shadow of death is next to your bed.
Be good, my dandún, better look at the dawn.
A short corridor (....)
From the threshold the sun, lying like a dog,
gazes at the still bedspread, (....)
in your closed eyes, terribly open."
[The child is now dead, and a Requiem is said for him:]
although we shall always look at you
we shall never see you.
Chunk of husk, oh rascal,
dandún, shy murmur:
there with the banderilla,
here with the battalion
of the dead, oh dandún,
such a clot, so dulí:
there swoons of weeping
here you burst out laughing.
Already tris bracelet is closed,
already tris necklace is closed,
although we shall always look at you
we shall never see you.
Already he is closed, he is closed,
it is not the boogie man, my blood,
he is already closed, he is closed,
it is not death, my blood,
if oblivion does not rot
nonever will I forget you, (....)"
More stirring poems cannot be found in Chilean poetry. Neither [Gabriela] Mistral nor anyone else achieves the abomination of pathetic sorrow that Rosenmann-Taub fully attains with his "claw, despair" [the last two words of the poem]. There was already another poem dedicated to this same "rotten child" with "diapers of moss" in a "lullaby" from Cortejo y Epinicio.
And why is Rosenmann-Taub not known, not heard, not seen? Because of the spiritual sin of us Chileans, who are used to living with ills. And because of stupidity.
If a few lucid people survive him, they will be good and sorry when the poet is no more, and when nobody capable of singing of dandún remains. For all that, this is worth saying!
He who is now speaking will someday cease to speak, the paper of this article will be gone. Silence will abide. Perpetually. Ah, no! Somebody will emerge from the wombs that can bear fruit for this country, and he will know.
David Rosenmann-Taub is the paramount living poet; he is alive on earth or in heaven. He is the spring of living waters from which Yehuda Halevi wrote almost a thousand years ago.
It may be that this letter to no one needs a billboard.
Rosenmann-Taub is not a poet for children; or for childish trivialities. There is the conviction that he is more profoundly serious in his poetry and perhaps in his mysterious life than Neruda, Mistral or, certainly, Huidobro. Why even mention Parra or anyone else?
The discretion with pride, but without vanity, of the great poet who composes, stores up, and sometimes publishes if the opportunity arises, also sets him apart from our stumbling traditions. It does not matter to him whether people think about him or what they think about him. He is a unique kind of writer among us.
At the same time, he belongs to the primordial features that have made Chilean poetry in verse, in this century that is ending, a true poetry.
Being, in the final analysis, very much of here, he is far, far beyond. And, if I may say so, of the beyond.
Armando Uribe Arce is a poet, translator, and essayist who has published several volumes of poetry as well as books about Eugenio Montale, Ezra Pound, and Paul Léautaud. He has served as a diplomat in the United States and China, and has lectured at the University of Chile and the Sorbonne. He received the Premio Nacional de Literatura, Chile, 2004.