Luis Cernuda







Phantoms of Desire


I never knew you, earth;

With my useless eyes, my fluttering hands,

I cried in my blindness under your green smile,

Even though, in my childish breathing, I could feel at times

A turbulence thirsting to be humbled,

Like a hurricane churning in my chest;

Not knowing you, my earth,

Not knowing your breathing hurricane turbulence,

Just like this melancholy bubble I’ve become

That your steel voice might have inspired to live a little.


Now I know that you’re the one

Who gave me this form, this longing;

Finally I know the slender ocean,

The enamored light, the smiling boys,

Are nothing more than yourself;

That the living, the dead,

Pleasure and grief,

Friendship, solitude,

Misery, the stupid boss,

The man in love, the lowlife,

Are as worthy of me as I of them:

My arms, earth, are spread still wider, stronger,

The better to hold your insatiable hunger.


Love doesn’t take just this or that form,

It never really stays in any being;

We are all equally vile and dreamy.

Pleasure that never dies,

Kisses that never die,

I find them in no one but you, my earth.


Auras of youth, dark or blond hair,

Curly or straight like springtime

On coppery bodies, on radiant bodies

I’ve loved so much so uselessly,

Life is not in you but in the earth,

In the faithful earth that waits forever

With its parted lips, with its open arms.


Just let me hold them and know for a few moments

This divine world that is mine for now,

Mine as I myself am,

As were other bodies that my arms once held,

Like sand kissed by my lips

That pretends to be other lips yielding to desire

Until the wind blows away all its lying grains.


Like sand, earth,

Like sand itself,

Caresses are a lie, love is a lie, friendship a lie.

You alone stay true to desire,

This desire that feels like mine and isn’t mine,

But everyone’s desire,

The wicked, the innocent,

Lovers, lowlifes.


Earth, earth and desire.

A lost embodiment.



From Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda (Black Widow Press)

Translation copyright © 2015 by Stephen Kessler


LUIS CERNUDA  translated by Stephen Kessler




September Wind in the Poplars


In this clear weather,

Summer’s excitement over,

My vain desire’s still chasing

Something through the woods.


A who knows what, a shadow,

Body of my desire,

A leafy joy somehow

Near a serene river.


But listen; an echo,

A starlike melody

In slender air

Sounds among the poplars.


I can hear soft caresses,

I can hear softer kisses;

Wings beating over there,

Secrets moving here.


No, you don’t even exist,

Quiet streams and hollows,

Fragile fallings in love

As if with human shadows.


No, luminous youth,

You don’t play with my fate;

I’m not in search of that grace

Nor that brief smile’s mouth.


Run down there, in the reeds,

Whispering harmony;

A voice is singing, singing

Like mine, a little ways off.


I’m letting down my hair,

I’m looking for lips, glances,

Behind the restless leaves

Of these slender bodies.


I take deep breaths of darkness;

I hear my own desire.

Sing, my longing, sing

The song of my happiness.


You tall mortal shadows:

I leave you life, desire, song.

I want my spirit submerged

And turned to yellow glory.



From Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda (Black Widow Press)

Translation copyright © 2015 by Stephen Kessler


LUIS CERNUDA  translated by Stephen Kessler






Dark rain is rumbling.

On the pounded countryside

Hills dense with trees

Lean toward winter.


Windows are mist

Where a wet iris

Reflects gray branches,

Wood smoke, clouds.


Sometimes, when the sky

Clears, the yellow

Light of a lost Eden

Still falls on the fields.


A deep feeling

Of past happiness,

Forgotten, under

Ground, suffuses the afternoon.


Disturbing the calm air

With raucous squawks,

Like shadows, the sharp

Crows circle and glide away.


There are people’s voices,

Peaceful, a little ways off,

They’re working the land

The way their fathers did.


Their hands, when they reach out,

Find the hands of friends.

They share the same faith,

Live the same hopes, together.


Up there, above the rain,

Where the stars nest,

God in his heaven looks down

On nice gray havens.


Everything’s been created,

Like me, from darkness:

This earth estranged from me,

These alien bodies.


A dream that he

Implanted in me forever

Set me apart, like a poplar

Among stout oaks.


It’s hard to be alone

Amid so many bodies.

Yet that form has

Its love: a naked cross.


That’s the love I want,

To wake in its lap

And some pure daybreak find

Communion with others.


But light is leaving the land.

It’s late and it’s getting cold.

The door is shut,

The lamp lit.


Down dark paths

The wind is in pain now

Like a soul set apart in struggle.

Night won’t last long.



From Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda (Black Widow Press)

Translation copyright © 2015 by Stephen Kessler


LUIS CERNUDA  translated by Stephen Kessler




A Spaniard Speaks of His Land


The beaches flat and empty

Asleep in the blond sunlight,

The hills, the serene dunes

All alone in the distance;


The castles, monasteries,

Farmhouses and convents,

Life with its history,

So sweet in memory,


And they, the conquering

Everlasting Cains,

Uprooted me from it all

And left me in exile.


The hand of some god raised

Your earth inside my body

And ordered my voice

To speak your silences.


I was alone with you,

Believing only in you;

To think of your name now

Poisons my dreams.


The days of life are bitter

When living is merely waiting

And hoping for so long

On the strength of memories.


One day when you’re free

Of all their lies, you’ll come

Looking for me.  But then

What can a dead man say?



From Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda (Black Widow Press)

Translation copyright © 2015 by Stephen Kessler
















LUIS CERNUDA (1902-1963), one of Spain’s leading twentieth-century poets, was born in Seville, left Spain during the Civil War, and spent the rest of his life in exile in Great Britain, the United States, and finally Mexico.  His books in English, translated by Stephen Kessler, include Written in Water: Prose Poems (City Lights Books), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Poetry; Desolation of the Chimera: Last Poems (White Pine Press), winner of the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award of the Academy of American Poets; and Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems (Black Widow Press), winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Translation, and from which the selection here is taken.





STEPHEN KESSLER  is a poet, prose writer, translator, and editor living in California. His most recent books include Where Was I? (prose poems, Greenhouse Review Press), Save Twilight: Selected Poems by Julio Cortázar (City Lights Books), and Need I Say More? (essays, El León Literary Arts), as well as Cernuda’s Forbidden Pleasures.  His essay “The Architecture of Memory” recently appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books.  From 1999 through 2014 he was the founder and editor of The Redwood Coast Review.


Copyright (Foto): Dina Scoppettone

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