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Santiago de Chile
April 26, 1998

From “Three Chilean Poets”

by Francisco Véjar


Within the diversity that Chilean poetry has shown for much of this century, there is a phenomenon that attracts the attention. That is, the continuity of a tradition that spans at least the last eighty years of the poetry written in Chile, and is a phenomenon that cannot be envisioned in other latitudes where continuity has been lost. In Chile, the richness of the poetry is unquestionable and by the same token is a vast subject to tackle.

In this brief space at our disposal, we will concentrate on the work of three poets: David Rosenmann-Taub, Alberto Rubio, and Guillermo Trejo. Although the work of each of them has taken different turns, at some moment they collected similar influences. This can be seen as much in the way they treat the Spanish language in writing their texts as in the perspective and unity that their books present.

We shall begin these notes with David Rosenmann-Taub (1927), a mythical and almost unknown figure. Among his multiple activities he has been a professor of comparative literature and Spanish grammar, besides being a teacher of piano, harmony and counterpoint. A grant awarded by the Oriental Studies Foundation keeps him away from Chile and allows him to continue producing his books. Among his numerous works: El Adolescente (1941), Cortejo y Epinicio (1949), Los Surcos Inundados (1951), La Enredadera del Júbilo (1952), Los Despojos del Sol (1976), El Cielo en la Fuente (1977), among others. In Trilce (Poesía chilena, 1960-1965), Armando Uribe Arce presents the poetry of David Rosenmann-Taub: "What is the secret of this poet whose deep contradictions unfold in the depths, and who offers a surface more polished than that of any other Chilean poet, a wisdom of the verb and of the noun and a deftness of the adjective that no one matches? He says in a poem in this review: 'beget me again'. Has he created himself? Perhaps he has. His first book, Cortejo y Epinicio, was probably the major revelation of the decade of the fifties, although actually its colophon indicates that it was published on December 20, 1949. Its LXVII poems include some written when the author was eleven or twelve years old and demonstrate the same prodigious formal perfection, the awareness of knowing what is said and why it is said: the complete mastery of an adult."

In an interview given to Malú Sierra, David Rosenmann-Taub speaks to us of the poet as bard, in the sense of augury, of prophecy. "When poetry contains an element of knowledge that goes beyond immediate knowledge, where through the voice of the poet the whole of the human being is speaking, that is a bard." He then states: "The author does not matter at all; what matters is the work. You, like me, in some time more will be ashes. But what we make of ourselves, our truth (if we have been capable of following it), is the only thing that will endure."

According to David Rosenmann-Taub, every life is a path, but in most cases it is a wrong path or a dead end. The point is to find one's own path. So, as each individual has his own finger prints, he also has his own route. The only route for him.

In one of his most remarkable poems, Rosenmann-Taub says:

How I would like to be that dark marsh,
free of yesterday, what a relief, dark marsh,
to let time flow like that dark marsh.

How I would like never to have been born,
free of yesterday, never to have been born,
to let time flow, never to have been born.

How I would like to be able to die now,
free of yesterday, to be able to die now,
to let time flow, to be able to die now.

How I would like to roll through emptiness,
free of yesterday, to roll through emptiness,
to let time flow, to roll through emptiness.

How I would like to be the naught of dust,
free of yesterday, to be the naught of dust,
to let time flow, to be the naught of dust.

To not remember myself, to never return,
my God, I would believe in you in order not to be...

And what am I if not the son - burning - of death.
Oh mother, you worry about your hurting son,
and you carry him off to sleep so innocently

that your innocence hurts like a pure scream,
that your rest hurts like awakened fingernails...

[From the poem: "Ciénaga" ("Marsh").]

Mysterious and wrenching poetry in which there are constant references to death, to pain and even despair, taking daily life as a starting point.

The presence of God:

Between the wardrobe and the bed, God looks at me.
I must be silent.

[Los Despojos del Sol, Ananda Primera (The Spoils of the Sun, First Ananda): Poems VII and IV]

Search and reflection:

Why do I undress? Why do I come near? Why, holding back tears
and blood, do I write this?

The well-known critic Alone in his time saw him as a forerunner, able to shake up the routine of twenty or thirty years. It has been said that Rosenmann-Taub's poetry is, first and foremost, hermetic and obscure, but I would dare to assert, along with Hernán del Solar, that "Poetry called hermetic, as we have very often realized, opens up once we force it, and then it speaks to us with complete clarity."

"In prose, I have lived two experiences that are above all others: the Gospels of Christ and the first volumes of Proust. The Gospels in the translation of Cipriano de Valera: the best of Spanish literature. In each paragraph Spanish is purified to the maximum." "I have not encountered myself in any writer. That is why I have written." Although he was reluctant to accept influences of other writers, we believe that at certain moments his voice can be related to that of the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin.

For some he is an invention, and for others, like Kenneth Douglas of Yale University, he is one of the greatest poets of all time. David Rosenmann-Taub is a living myth, who has published a large part of this work outside of the country. In Chile his books cannot be found.

Fish look for water.
Men look for the light.

Let us hope that his poems continue through the labyrinth of time in search of the light.