Miguel Hernández: Poet, Republican,Shepherd

The summer edition of The High Window  contains a bumper supplement of poems translated by various hands from Spanish.  Although Glen Hubbard’s version of ‘The Old Men/(Los Hombres Viejos’ by Miguel Hernandez was a little too long for the translation supplement we didn’t want to lose it. We are therefore publishing it here as a preview to the full supplement.

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In passing, regular readers of The High Window may be surprised at the early publication date of this quarter’s issue (21 May). Like all journals with a mailing list we are having to build up a new list from scratch to comply with  GDPR. The editors have been heartened by the positive response to our recent email with many of our regular readers opting in to email communications.  However, the new law comes into effect on 25 May and the launch of this summer’s issue will be the last one based on our current mailing list.

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Miguel Hernandez (1910 – 1942) is revered by many as the poet of the Spanish Second Republic, especially of the Civil War. Hernandez was born into a poor family and worked as a goatherd. He received some formal education but his father forced him back to shepherding. Tending goats, he wrote his first poems. He eventually moved to Madrid, where his poetry took on a political tone. During the war he continued to write but also addressed troops at the front. Imprisoned by the Nationalists at the end of the war, he died of tuberculosis in 1942. When told of his son’s premature death, his father infamously replied: “He brought it on himself!”

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Miguel Hernández: Poem

THE OLD MEN (Los Hombres Viejos)

I

They are born wearing glasses, bald and feeble,
with a frock-coat for skin,
and an obscene goatee like the arse end of an acorn.
And the hunch that deforms their souls will never disappear.

Farts behind barbicans, ceremonious farts,
from their senile childhood of frock-coated dust,
they retire with dust between their fingers,
sounding like a burial and smelling of forefathers.

They look like unhappy candlesticks, brooms
with no bristles, stiff as boards in their togas and bonnets:
a community of dapper humps
with calluses and warts, sat on the toilet seat.

With calluses and warts, and cabbages and missals,
the dignity of the ass rebels under the pack-saddle
at the sight of these spiritual swine,
their souls entirely covered in calluses and warts.

Your callused and warty souls.
You were born stiff like tailor’s dummies,
and you live on tiptoes, lifting you right hands
to wax your voices and moustaches.

You greet with your arses, and never crease your suits,
and conceal your horns with laurels made of tin.
You do not spend time on Earth, alway travelling
through countries like dumb and mechanical moons.

Before you are born you are already part of the inventory,
and you die following an undertaking that you will be buried under statues and crowns.
You walk like men accused by the sun, which prosecutes
whatever indicates a person’s crimes.

You feed on the blood-drenched air of a trial
in a sinister prison of lawyers and judges.
And you leave the farts of the hearing unpunished
while at the same time fucking, sometimes pissing.

All day and every day, eyes filled with compassion,
you wound and crucify cadavers:
false autos-da-fé, fodder for the archives,
you talk a lot of nonsense from pulpits.

May I never have dealings with these doctors,
these murderous a-human encyclopedias!
May the moods of these philosophers never affect me
because their insights work like laxatives!

Because they lay eggs just like chickens
in order to burp and bring up nonsense, believing themselves to be profound:
because in order to think they have to go visit the toilets
and search in abysms full of moribund documents.

Sententious, hollow earthenware jars,
they crease up their foreheads like accordions
and move their heads up and down like worried tortoises
while they suffer palpitations.

Fallow fields were not made for this dung,
apples were not made for these worms.
There are only pots of hot chocolate and broken armchairs
for these rheumatic and grey-haired bundles of incoherence.

Elegant lavatories, they shit as it should be done.
Sons of bitches dependent on politicking,
publicity and bass drums, they adjust their foreheads
and rehearse gestures for photographers.

Tremble in fear, sons of bitches, for your fucking luck,
to be decided by soldiers with pitiable souls:
they are the ones who deal with real death,
who ask for rude life.

Life is something else, dear dirty sirs,
cleaner, not the murk of documents and offices.
Their bright bodies swim in the rivers
and they do not have the faces of corner boys.

You were never boys and your wish
is that the flashy world of stretched cardboard should persist,
a world where cardboard cutouts limp like tourists,
monarchs amongst mannequins with frozen pulses.

You come from the Middle Ages, where you were not born
since you are not from this time or absent times.
A truth kills you in your derelict nests:
the truth imposed by the permanent adolescent.

I am old: so old that the first man beats
within my life of twenty seven years
because I combat time and time combats me.
You, the defeated, it treats like strangers.

II

Rags, transfers, deaths, objects,
rubbish heaps for all sorts, jars, cavities,
memorial stones, catafalques, files, tomes,
inscriptions, shrouds, trifles, base acts.

Dust, hot air, woodworm and paper,
cornices; chamber pots trying to be taken seriously,
and they wear their rubber beards round their waists
and sleep surrounded by centuries and hats.

Coming apart at the seams, pale with avarice,
what most worries them is their pockets.
Gouty, disastrous, evil, they are injustice
formally minuted on yellowed paper.

You will see them attached to various ministries,
to various offices furnished for leisure.
With their sex in their greying mouths, they are earnest,
tricky and manipulative in their pursuit of embassies.

You will see them amidst junk and cunts
paid for internationally and well-known:
they take their inexperienced testicles for a walk around Geneva
with faces of mortally bored inventors.

They are those who recommend and are recommended.
Their standard procedure is the recommendation.
Recommended, they suffer and slowly die, sat
where a comfortable death has its official residence.

When they go to bed, they take off their masks,
their daytime disguise, their everyday posture.
Currencies become blurred confronted by such sordidness,
the most solid of statues is weakened by their patience.

Sometimes the lives of many, blessed by the sign of the dove,
depend on the poor digestion of these ravens
who wish to impose on us their old age, their language,
who wish us to be their slaves, servants.

Sometimes they are marchionesses on intimate terms with ambition,
insatiable for jewels, ostentatious in company:
titled failures, horsey shareholders,
happy to wear the whole world on their shoes.

Jumped-up whores, they widen their smile
depending on the standing of the person:
shameless politicians, they wear out their shirts
fucking while talking of the drama of war.

The world is on its last legs with so many rogues.
Sons of deformed and squinting routines,
they value a man by the price of his suit,
shit, and build a memorial where they have shat.

They go from hotel to bank, from hotel to promenade
with antlers of conspicuous dullness.
Their most noble desire is to humiliate their fellow man
and they make their greatest effort straining to have a piss.

We will destroy you in your legations,
in your theatres of operation, in your diplomatic representations.
With warm machine guns and songs
we will gun you down, prehistoric wretches.

Because you should know that we carry a lot of truth
in our hearts, bleeding from the mouth:
and the iron youth of life will defeat you,
since so much badness is little when faced with so much strength.

Youth, engines, enormous impetus,
is raining down on you, old ex-men:
moving their fructiferous muscles in unison,
the machines of April are moving against you.

Old ex-men: not even old.
Age is a gift that I will grant,
and by your side it is as young as the spring.
You are walking, evil-smelling decrepitude.

You are my pathetic enemies: enemies of the world
which I feel turning in my breast more strongly each day.
And with just one hot breath,
with this breath, I pass a sentence of death on you.

(From Man Lies in Wait (El Hombre Acecha) 1937-1939)

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Glenn Hubbard is from the UK but has been living in Spain for 30 years. Fluent in Spanish but poetic only in English, he has been writing since 2012 and has had poems published in a number of magazines, including The High Window. One of his poems has been submitted for the Forward Prize. He first became aware of the poetry of Miguel Hernandez as a member of the Solfonica, the choir and orchestra of the 15M movement.

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