To all Jews in the world, my friends, my brethren
Those infernal poets,
Dante, Blake, Rimbaud…
keep it quiet…
don’t play so loud…
Any inhabitant of Earth today
knows more about Hell
than those three poets together.
I am sure Dante plays his violin very well
Oh, what a virtuoso!...
But he shouldn’t pretend now,
with his wonderful tercets,
and his perfect hendecasyllables,
to scare that Jewish boy who has been ripped
from his parents;
he is alone.
waiting for his turn
in the crematories of Auschwitz.
Dante… you descended deep into the Inferno
guided by Virgil’s hand
(Virgil, “Gran Cicerone”),
your Divine Comedy was a funny adventure
of music and tourism.
This is different… something else.
How should I explain it?
if you don’t have imagination!
You… don’t have any imagination,
remember, in your Inferno
there is not a single boy
and the one you see there…
He is alone! With no Cicerone…
waiting for the gates of Hell to open,
a hell that you, poor Florentine,
could not have even imagined it.
This is different, let me explain.
Look! This is a place where nobody
can play a violin;
all the violin strings in the world will break here.
Do you understand that, Infernal Poets?
Virgil, Dante, Blake, Rimbaud…
keep it quite!
Don’t play so loud... Shh!...
I am also a great violinist
and I have played in Hell many times…
But now, here
I break my violin… and remain silent.
Listen to the poem read in Spanish by León Felipe (click here)
Translation into English: Jesús Jambrina
Touchstone, Art & Literature Magazine, Vol. 82
Viterbo University, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA
León Felipe (Zamora, 1884 – Mexico City, 1968) is considered one of the major poets of the Spanish language in the twentieth century. He was also a playwright, and translator of American writers Walt Whitman and Waldo Frank. He graduated from Pharmacy, which brought him a nomadic life by working in different cities and towns. In 1920 León Felipe published his first poetry book in Madrid, titled The Walker’s Verses and Prayers. Soon after, he traveled to Equatorial Guinea to work at a hospital, and in 1922 he went for the first time to Mexico from where he visited the United States, and Panama.
In 1936, León Felipe returned to Spain to fight in favor of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco’s fascist insurrection. In 1939, after a brief visit to France and Cuba, he returned to Mexico where he lived in exile until his death in 1968.
León Felipe’s literary style was strongly prophetic with Biblical and Whitmanian influences, meaning a strong humanistic orientation. His writings delve deep into historical thinking as a call for a hopeful and socially just world. Since the arrival of democracy to Spain in 1975, León Felipe’s poetry has been valued as a testimony of the exiles during the Spanish Civil War; many of his poems have been musicalized, and are greatly appreciated in both sides of the Atlantic as part of the Spanish American literary tradition.
In 2002, the Zamora City Council in Spain acquired León Felipe’s original manuscripts, including many unpublished works, as the foundation for a future center of studies that will have his name. In 2010 the prestigious Spanish press Visor put in circulation the–so far–most complete collection of his poems. “Auschwitz” is included in the book Oh! This Old and Broken Violin(1965).