Edward Smallfield’s translation of Jaime Gil de Biedma’s poem «A Través del Espejo» is the first in a series of poems in translation that will appear in Philadelphus.
Behind the Mirror
In memoriam Gabriel Ferrater
Like dwarves and monkeys in the margins
of the tapestry you were weaving
drunk, chasing sweet young chicks…
Or like your faithful assistants—
while you enchanted us—
in the sacred sacrifice of the fame
of your excessive intelligence:
we were everything for you. The work
of lost seductions was your life.
And your poems, the residue
left over after the binge,
to keep us with you.
—Jaime Gil de Biedma
—Translated by Edward Smallfield
A Través del Espejo
Como enanos y monos en la orla
de una tapicería en la que tú campabas
borracho, persiguiendo jovencitas…
O como fieles, asistentes
—mientras nos encantabas—
al santo sacrificio de la fama
de tu exceso de ser inteligente,
éramos todos para ti. Trabajos
de seducción perdidos fue tu vida.
Y tus buenos poemas, añagazas
de fin de juerga, para retenernos.
—Jaime Gil de Biedma
About the Poet
Jaime Gil de Biedma was born in 1929 and died in 1990. In Spain he’s considered a member of “the generation of the 1950’s” and was especially close to Carlos Barral and Gabriel Ferrater in that group. Gil de Biedma was the scion of a wealthy Catalan family and spent a number of years in the Philippines working in the family’s tobacco business. He was fluent in several languages, and studied at Oxford; the influence of English language poetry, especially of Auden, seems to me to be quite important in his work. The influence of Auden is certainly more evident than the influence of the Spanish poets he admired (Antonio Machado and Luis Cernuda).
Obviously, given his dates of birth and death, Gil de Biedma experienced the major events of 20th Century Spanish history directly: the Civil War, the Post War period, the death of Franco and the transition to democracy. While his family wealth and position sheltered him from the suffering of the war and the poverty of the Post War period, his homosexuality and his aesthetic and political beliefs alienated him from the values of his family and class and the Spain of Franco.
His work is personal, even confessional, but also complex; in his most interesting poems, he creates a dialogue between two selves, one very critical of the other, very much in the manner of Borges’ “Borges y yo.”
Gil de Biedma is not a particularly popular poet in Spain or in Catalunya. His work feels more international than Spanish, and resonates more with English and French poetry than with the work of García Lorca, Machado, or Cernuda. His decision to write in Spanish (and his indifference to specifically Catalan issues) certainly helps to account for his lack of popularity in Catalunya. (The decision to write in Spanish isn’t an affectation. He would have spoken Spanish at home with his family and Spanish was definitely his mother tongue.) Gabriel Ferrater is a much more popular poet among Catalans than Gil de Biedma.
The best place to begin reading his work is with Poemas póstumos (Posthumous Poems).