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. #1 by chacho on August 15, 2010 - 6:59 pm

    Hi Ittai

    It’s a nice poem and you did a great job with the translation, even if with no poetic pretensions, like you said.
    I’m looking forward to hear the music.
    I don’t have any tools to analyze the poem but my own understanding. It feels pretty simple, a woman in love that clearly sees what others can’t; and she doesn’t care that they will confine her to the margins of society, she’ll continue to sing her tune.

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