Manuel Acuña

Manuel AcunaMexican poet Manuel Acuña was born in Coahuila on August 27, 1849 and died in Mexico City on December 6, 1873. He was an important exponent of Mexico’s Romantic movement, and member of a literary circle that included important figures of Mexican literature like Ignacio Manuel Altamirano and Agustín F. Cuenca. Although he took his life at 24, he had an extremely productive literary life and is recognized as a major Mexican literary figure. One of his most outstanding works is “Nocturno”, translated below, which he dedicated to Rosario de la Peña, with whom he had fallen in love and who is believed to be one of the reasons for his suicide.

Nocturnal – To Rosario

Well then! I need
To tell you I adore you,
To tell you that I love you
With all of my heart;
That it is greatly I suffer,
That it is greatly I weep,
That I can no longer do so,
And in the cry that I implore you
I implore you and I speak to you
In the name of my last hope.

I want you to know
That for so many days now
I have been sick and pallid
From so many sleepless nights;
That I have seen the death
Of all of my dear hopes;
That all my nights are black,
So very black and gloomy,
That I no longer know
Where the dawn may rise.

At night, when I lay my brow
Heavily upon the pillow
And to another world I wish
That my spirit may return,
I walk ever on and on,
And at the journey’s end
The outline of my mother
Fades into oblivion,
And once again I see you
In my soul appear.

I understand your kisses
Will never belong to me;
I know that in your eyes
I will never see myself;
And I love you, and in my ravings
So fervent and demented
I bless your derision,
Adore your evasion,
And rather than love you less,
I only love you more.

Sometimes I wish to say
Goodbye to you forever,
Erase you from my memories
And drown you in my passion;
But if all this is in vain
And my soul does not forget you,
What do you want me to do,
Oh, weight upon my life;
What do you want me to do
With this heavy heart!

And once your holy shrine
Was finished once and for all,
Your lamplight set a-burning,
Your veil upon the altar,
The morning sun a-shining
There behind the steeple,
The torches there a-flickering
The censer full and smoking
And out there in the distance
The open door to the hearth…

How beautiful it would have been!
To live under that roof,
The two of us joined forever
And loving one another;
You always in love,
I always fulfilled,
The two a single soul,
The two a single breast,
And there in our midst
My mother as a God!

Just imagine the beauty
Of the hours of that life!
How very sweet the journey
Through such a lovely land!
And I have dreamed of this,
My promised holy one.
And turning my shaken soul
To such a wild delusion,
I have thought of being good
For you, only for you.

God knows well that it was
My most beautiful dream,
My ambition and my hope,
My joy and my pleasure;
God knows that my resolve
Was set on nothing else,
Except to love you dearly
By the cheerful hearth
That enveloped me in kisses
When it saw me born!

That was my one hope…
But now against its brilliance
Is set the deep abyss
That lies between us two,
Farewell for the last time,
Love of all my loves;
Light of all my shadows,
Scent of all my flowers;
Farewell, my poet’s lyre,
My youthfulness, farewell!

Translated by Martin Boyd

3 thoughts on “Manuel Acuña

  1. The Spanish poem rolls into our subconscious with a timeless musicality drawing on universal human suffering. The English version seems more personal like someone sharing what’s in their heart – coming no less from the heart but we respond to it from a different part of ourselves. A beautiful and poignant poem.

  2. Thank you, Annie, for your insightful observation. I agree that the poem in Spanish has a quality that evokes the universal archetype of lost love, almost like a speech from a Greek tragedy. I think my translation was influenced by the knowledge of the very personal nature of this poem, which Acuña conceals behind a veil of classical rhetorical devices. Given the poet’s subsequent suicide, it’s hard for a translator not to feel the personal pain in that final farewell, and to almost unconsciously unveil it in the translation. Thanks again for your comment.

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