by Juan Ramon Jiminez

Translation by Robert Bly

   I took off petal after petal, as if you were a rose,
in order to see your soul,
and I didn’t see it.

   However, everything around-
horizons of fields and oceans-
everything, even what was infinite,
was filled with a perfume,
immense and living.

The original Spanish:

   Te dehojé, como una rosa,
para verte tu alma,
y no la vi.

               Mas todo en torno
–horizontes de tierras y de mares–,
todo, hasta el infinito,
se colmó de una esencia
inmensa y viva.

© 1973, 1997 by Robert Bly.

Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1958) was a member of the modernistas, a group of writers who, in the wake of Spain’s loss of her colonies to the United States in 1898, staged a literary revival. He published his first two books of poetry at the age of eighteen in 1900, and went on to author an extensive library of books of poetry as well as to translate works of other authors. Jimenez is considered one of the greatest Spanish poets of the 20th century, and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956.

Editor’s Note: In addition to his poetry and his translations, Jimenez is perhaps best known for some of his famous quotes. Among them is the quote that inspired today’s post: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” (Thank you to my mother for the quote.) I also quite appreciate this one: “Literature is a state of culture, poetry is a state of grace, before and after culture.”

For a fun experiment in translation, visit this Google translation of some of Jimenez’s poems. I think it shows that the modern world is not ready to replace translators with technology just yet, particularly in the medium of poetry. A great companion read is Okla Elliot’s article, “The Art of Translation.”

Want to read more by and about Juan Ramon Jimenez?
Preview Lorca and Jimenez Selected Poems Chosen and Translated by Robert Bly, and then go buy it from your local used book store or an!
Juan Ramon Jimenez on The Self

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
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  1. maya elashi says:

    “poetry is a state of grace … before and after culture” indeed, a great line! I’ll have to give credit to Tom Robbins – a true trickster/Crazy Wisdom man – for turning me on to this dude, in his compilation of articles, “Wild Ducks Flying Backwards.”

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