Archive for August, 2010

Juana de Ibarbourou – El Dulce Milagro

I have been working on a short cycle, comprised of three poems I had set to music. There were already two poems, His Dream by W.B. Yeats, Evven by Nurit Zarhi, and I wanted the third one to be in Spanish. I’d consulted a friend of mine, Carla Harpaz, an Argentinian born and a poet herself (if I’m not mistaken) and she had recommended a few poems. Among them was El Dulce Milagro by the late Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou. As a preparation for composition I had examined several aspects of the poem. The English translation is mine, with Carla’s kind amendments and corrections. It is a technical translation with no poetic pretensions, for the sake of fully understanding the simple meaning of the text.

Right after the awed, declamatory first stanza, a large part of the poem is dedicated to the people’s opinion of the miracle and its possessor. The passing people in the lane, at the public domain, refer to her as mad and advise to send her back to her home. From this point germinates a conceptual layer of space – private (the woman’s home) the public (the lane) half private (the cell) and references to much remote places as the wheat fields and France.

The participants in this poetic world are the narrator – a girl or a woman – and the people on the street. They are all active, present and verbally articulate. Then, there are the greyhound (also present but naturally taciturn) and finally the lover and a general example of mankind (“Que cuando uno dice:…”; ” when one says…”).
The narrator’s communication with the other participants are as follows: it is not clear whether she speaks directly to the people on the lane, she may be just announcing her enchantment to whoever may hear her. She definitely addresses the dog, but it is a song now, not quite an objective, direct communication. It seems she is mainly speaking to a general listener or to herself.

Examination of the rhymes indicates that five of the stanzas are constructed of two pairs of lines that end with the same vowel. Two of them (stanzas II, V) are restricted to the same vowel, one of them (II) has almost perfect “feminine” rhymes (stressing the penultimate syllable). Stanzas III and IV have a pair of lines that end with the same vowel, but in the plural form, e.g. casa, pasa, rosas, mariposas. Only the first and the last stanza contain two different pairs of syllabels. Regarding the rhymes in general, I’m not acquainted with Ibarbourou’s poems so I can’t assert whether it’s a characteristic poetic idiom or a deliberate artistic or stylish poetic tool, specifically used here. However, this element contributes to the poem sense of structure. First, it stresses the edge quality of the first and last stanza: they are made of different pairs of rhymes. The juxtaposition of the first stanza to the monorhymed stanza II emphasizes its role all the more. The last stanza is approached through stanza’s VI poor rhyming, as though announcing the end of the internal section idiom. Then, as mentioned above, the monorhyming imbues stanza II a strong and rushed temperament.

I believe that the key to understand the poem may be found at stanza IV. The narrator herself reprimands the people for actually believing her! It may be that she is complaining about the people’s pathetic tendency to perceive her proclamation as real rather than conceiving it as, say, poetry… If so, that would explain her somewhat facetious behavior in the last two stanzas and the repeated gaudy description of the roses, with a flamboyant and seemingly irrelevant mention of France. The proceeding stanza V starts with a relatively logical tone, where she explains the difference between her announcements, her art, and between reality. Again, she seems to pity the people’s limited ability to apprehend poetry or even their inability to search for such one at all.

Juana de Ibarbourou

1 Comment


A few years ago I was invited to a concert. As usual in the rather small, culturally-challenged vicinity of my hometown, I was invited by one of my students, who was working at that time at the venue of the performance. Neither was I surprised to find that more than half of the performers – and it was quite a large ensemble – are either students of mine or former ones. If I remember correctly, I have already read an article in the news about that show: the producer, who was also the main performer and presenter was an MIT doctoral student and an almost forgotten student of mine. He was developing digital, software-controlled devices that perform and manipulate music, and the concert integrated these machines with live performers. There were two electronic beetles that were activated by two assistants, manipulating sound that they’ve just recorded, a robot-drummer and, as a centerpiece, a collaboration with the audience.
I have sat at the second row, so I could see clearly all my acquaintances on stage. I’ll skip the details and get to the point: the concert was a boring exhibition of digital toys and a complete waste of human musicians and other resources, so important to this town’s insufficient cultural life. After no more than five minutes I wished I’ve been elsewhere, but alas, my choice of seat was that of a foolish novice: leaving such a central position would have been a downright insult.

Then, frustrated and bound to the seat, I started contemplating the good old booing habit. I tried to recollect if I ever witnessed such audience response, and the only occurrence I could think of was a symphonic orchestra concert in 1985. They’ve been terrible, and the climax was a crucial point in Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The french horn uttered such a miserable squeaky solo, that the bravo shout that ensued was clearly a sarcastic mock. But that was it. Even then, I doubt if any ticket purchaser would have stood on his feet and bluntly boo at the performers.

This case was different: even if booing was a norm, I wouldn’t have disgraced my students and acquaintances. But suppose I was an innocent ticket holder, dressed in my best attire for an evening of cultural enrichment or amusement (both were lacking in that show) after considerable time on the road, the parking ordeal, the line to the ticket booth and all. Wasn’t I entitled for a thunderous angry boo? Or even were I just a conscientious music zealot (which I am not), defending art from dissolution, shouldn’t I have protested using this ultimate mean?

Attitude may be different in other places, but in Israel it would seem inappropriate to criticise an artist during performance. Why is it so? Is it because of the frequent acquaintances between the Israeli performer (or his aunt) and the ticket holder? Probably not, as later, sometimes venomous excoriation, is often expressed, both written and verbal. Jeering can be found at the Israeli sports stadiums and at political conventions. I’m afraid that this leniency evinces low expectations, both from the performer and from one’s own discernment. These may be due to either lack of knowledge and appreciation or a post-modern mutant of the provincial tolerance for any artistic endeavor, may it be good or bad.