Desolation Of The Chimera

By Luis Cernuda

The whole day’s heat, distilled
Into a suffocating vapor, the sand releases.
Against the deep blue background of the night
Like an impossible drizzle of water,
The frozen splendor of the stars
Is proudly aligned alongside the full moon
Which, from a great height, disdainfully illumines
The remains of beasts in a boneyard.
Jackals can be heard howling in the distance.

There is no water, palm frond, underbrush or pond.
In its full splendor the moon looks down
On the pitiful Chimera, its stone corroded,
In its desert. Its missing wings, like stumps;
Its breasts and claws mutilated by time;
The hollows where its vanished nose and hair
Once curled are now home
To the obscene birds feeding
On desolation, on death.

When moonlight touches
The Chimera, it seems to come alive with a sob,
A moan that rises not from the ruin
But from the centuries rooted inside it, immortally
Crying over not being able to die, as the forms
That man gives life to always die. Dying is hard,
But not being able to die, if everything dies,
Is perhaps harder still. The Chimera murmurs at the moon
And its voice is so sweet it eases its desolation.

“No victims, no lovers. Where did the people go?
They no longer believe in me, and the unanswerable riddles
I posed, like the Sphinx, my rival and sister,
No longer tempt them. The divine survives,
In all its protean forms, even though the gods die.
That’s why this deathless desire is alive in me,
Though my form is wasted, though I’m less than a shade;
A desire to see humanity humbled
In fear before me, before my tempting indecipherable secret.

“Man is like an animal tamed
By the whip. But how beautiful; his strength and his beauty,
Oh gods, how captivating. There is delight in man;
When man is beautiful, how delightful he is.
Centuries have passed since man deserted
Me and disdainfully forgot my secrets.
And while a few still pay me some attention,
I find no enchantment among the poets,
As my secret scarcely tempts them and I see in them no beauty.

“Skinny, flaccid, balding, bespectacled,
Toothless. That’s the physical aspect
Of my former servant; and his character
Looks the same. Even so, not many seek my secret now,
Since they find in woman their personal sad Chimera.
And it’s just as well I’m forgotten, because anyone
Changing infants’ diapers and wiping noses while he thinks
About some critic’s praise or bad review
Has no time to pay me any attention.

“Can they really believe in being poets
If they no longer have the power, the madness
To believe in me and my secret?
Better for them an academic chair
Than barrenness, ruin and death,
The generous recompense I gave my victims,
Once I had possession of their souls,
When men and poets still preferred
A cruel mirage to bourgeois certainty.

“Clearly for me those times were different
When with a light heart I danced happily through the labyrinth
Where I lost so many and so many others I endowed
With my eternal madness: joyful imagination, dreams of the future,
Hopes of love, sunny voyages.
But the prudent ones, the cautious men, I strangled
With my powerful claws, since a grain of madness
Is the salt of life. Now that I’ve been and gone,
I don’t have any more promises for man.”

The moon’s reflection sliding
Over the deaf sand of the desert
Leaves the Chimera stranded among shadows,
The captive music of its sweet voice quieted.
And as the sea pulls back the tide
Leaving the beach denuded of its magic,
The voice’s spell, pulled back, leaves the desert
Even more unwelcoming, its dunes
Blind, dulled without the old mirage.

Mute, in darkness, the Chimera seems to have retreated
Into the ancestral night of primal Chaos;
But neither gods, nor men, nor their creations
Are ever nullified once they’ve been; they must exist
Until the bitter end, disappearing into the dust.
Immobile, sad, the noseless Chimera can smell
The freshness of dawn, dawn of another day
When death will not have pity on it,
But its desolate existence will continue.

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