Thursday, January 1, 2015

Song of the Simple Truth

“If my love is thus, like a torrent,
like a river swollen in a full tempest,
like a lily starting roots in the wind,
like an intimate rain,
without clouds and without sea…
if my love is of water,
why do they try to tie it to immovable courses?”
Julia de Burgos

 Julia de Burgos’s poetry is like a torrential rain falling on a desert. Her free spirit is a volcano that erupts in her verses, flooding us with the lava of her imagination. 
 Nature is present in most of her poems. It is the language of her soul. Her poetry is a wellspring of passion and intense emotions.
Reading her verses makes me cry, laugh, think, feel, fly. The themes deal with love, freedom, identity, solitude, and political concerns.
 Neglected by the literary world during her lifetime, Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) was an accomplished poet and journalist who was censored and persecuted due to her political ideas.  I came across this poet for the first time when I read Edward Hirsch's anthology entitled "Poet's Choice". His essay on Julia de Burgos’s poetry piqued my curiosity, so I got the compilation of her poems that Mr. Hirsch recommended.
     I’m glad I did.
    Jack Agueros did an excellent job of gathering all her poems in a bilingual edition entitled Song of the Simple Truth.  Mr. Agueros also indulges us with a fascinating chapter about her life.
  Julia de Burgos was a free thinker, and she expresses this in her poem “My Soul”.

“The madness of my soul
cannot repose,
it lives in the restlessness
in the disorder
in the imbalance
of things dynamic,
in the silence
of the free thinker, who lives alone,
in quiet exile.”

 In the 1930's, when Julia was still living in Puerto Rico, the economic situation was a disaster. Unemployment was at an all time high of sixty percent according to some sources, and Julia  was affected by the upheavals of this period.
   Julia de Burgos went through a variety of jobs which included working in a milk station offering free breakfasts to children, and writing for a radio program called the School of the Air, where it is reported that she was fired for her political beliefs. She also worked as a school teacher in a rural area.
  How can we not be seduced by Jack Agueros' s poetical description of Julia de Burgos?
“Julia de Burgos was one of those persons who burst into life like a comet sizzling through our solar system. We watch such persons with a mixture of great awe and trepidation—we enjoy seeing the fiery aura and tail, but worry about them crashing into us, or burying us in their smoking wake.
“There is no doubt they are beautiful and brilliant—but perhaps they would make us happier if they buzzed some farther planet. After they are gone—burned out—or looped out in their elliptic trajectory heading back to whence they came, our enthusiasm for them grows.”

 Julia de Burgos evokes the beauty of her homeland and her intimate connection to it in her famous poem “Rio Grande de Loiza”

Rio Grande de Loiza!... Elongate yourself in my spirit
and let my soul lose itself in your rivulets,
finding the fountain that robbed you as a child
and in a crazed impulse returned you to the path.

Coil yourself upon my lips and let me drink you,
to feel you mine for a brief moment,
to hide you from the world and hide you in yourself,
to hear astonished voices in the mouth of the wind.

Dismount for a moment from the loin of the earth,
and search for the intimate secret in my desires;
confuse yourself in the flight of my bird fantasy,
and leave a rose of water in my dreams.

Rio Grande de Loiza!... My wellspring, my river
since the maternal petal lifted me to the world;
my pale desires came down in you from the craggy hills
to find new furrows;
and my childhood was all a poem in the river,
and a river in the poem of my first dreams.

Juan Ramon Gimenez, the 1956 Nobel Literature Prize winner, said: “Since I met her in Washington, I admired profoundly the writing of this extraordinary woman for her endowment of creativity and expression.”
 I will take the liberty to share the first poem of Song of the Simple Truth. It is provocative and breathtaking. 

To Julia de Burgos

 Already the people murmur that I am your enemy
because they say that in verse I give the world your me.

They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.
Who rises in my verses is not your voice. It is my voice
because you are the dressing and the essence is me;
and the most profound abyss is spread between us.

You are the cold doll of social lies,
and me, the virile starburst of the human truth.

You, honey of courtesan hypocrisies; not me;
in all my poems I undress my heart.

You are like your world, selfish; not me;
who gambles everything betting on what I am.

You are only the ponderous lady very lady;
not me; I am life, strength, woman.

You belong to your husband, your master; not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean feeling and in my thought.

You curl your hair and paint yourself; not me;
the wind curls my hair, the sun paints me.

You are a housewife, resigned, submissive,
tied to the prejudices of men; not me;
unbridled, I am a runaway Rocinante
snorting horizons of God’s justice.

You in yourself have no say; everybody governs you;
your husband, your parents, your family,
the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall,
the auto, the fine furnishings, the feast, champagne,
heaven and hell, and the social, “what will they say”.


  1. Just popped in to wish you all the best for 2015.

    1. Happy New Year, Patsy!
      We started it with poetry and dancing, so we are off to a good start!

  2. Amazing poetry from an amazing woman! I must confess that I have never heard of Julia until I read this post. You are a great source of good literary material. Happy New Year to you, Julia!

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  4. Thank you for your kind comment, Nellie.
    Yes, she was indeed a talented poet and an amazing woman, well ahead of her times. Jack Agueros did an amazing job. I wanted to contact him to discuss some of the translations, but I found that he died in May 2014. I was deeply sad to read this. He was also a remarkable person.

  5. That's beautiful. Unbelievable that one person can touch so many people's hearts.

    Happy New Year :)

    1. She's touched many hearts.
      "May the tribe increase," said Jack Agueros.
      My husband is in love with the last poem I shared: "To Julia de Burgos".
      Happy New Year, Blue.

  6. thanks for sharing this information on this superb poet Julia & also about Jack who did justice to poetic talents.What i was surprised the name sounds same u & she both Julia..u r also a nice writer:))

    1. Thank you for appreciating this post, Adhi.
      Reading her poetry is like meeting a good friend.
      Happy New Year.

  7. The best poets bare their souls and undress their hearts, and form a deep and invisible connection to our hearts and souls with their words. Julia de Burgos had that kind of talent. Thanks for introducing us to some of her work.

    Happy New Year!


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