Aurelio Arturo: the poet of paradise lost



Essentially a contemplative poet, with very different concerns from those of his avant-garde contemporaries, Aurelio Arturo was inspired above all by the natural world and the memories of his native region of Nariño in southern Colombia. His is “an idealising poetry”, writes María Mercedes Carranza, “which revives the experience of paradise that we all carry inside ourselves”.

Aurelio Arturo was born in the small southern town of La Unión, near the Ecuadorian border, in 1906; he died in Bogotá in 1974. He graduated as a lawyer, and published his first poems in the university review as a student. He worked as a lawyer all his life, held some public offices and wrote and translated poems in his free time. Morada al sur (A Home in the South), his only book – consisting of 14 poems – was published in 1963 and won the Guillermo Valencia National Poetry Prize. He is one of the poets most respected by the new generations of poets, is considered one of the best Colombian poets of all time and has had a great influence on some young poets.

Those who knew him, friends like the poets Rafael Maya, Alvaro Mutis, Fernando Charry Lara and Mario Rivero, talk about a shy person, “very sparing in his words, almost monosyllabic”, with a “vague air of a Harvard dandy of the 1920s”, confirmed by his bow tie in classic designs, and his suits.

He was an isolated figure, not linked with his contemporaries as partryed the history books in. He is a kind of bridge between Los nuevos (the new ones) and (Stone and Sky), the movements that came before and after him. Nor is he in tune with the Latin American avant-garde of the time. His work is very short: in 33 years of publishing, he gave his approval to only 31 poems, his canonical work.

Even though the poems of Morada al sur have a thematic and stylistic unity – despite having been written at different times: 1931, 1934, 1942 and 1960 – critics have divided the book into two cycles, one dedicated to his childhood, the other to love. Although the two cycles are not mutually exclusive, the one that reconstructs childhood is the determining one.

Childhood, for Arturo, is that lost paradise which, metaphorically, is found in the South, in his native region of Nariño. This paradise is embodied in a complete way in nature: everything is absorbed by it, even the “ . . . green poem [that], leaf by leaf,/ is rocked by the fertile, southwest wind;/ this poem is a country that dreams,/ a cloud of light and breeze of green leaves”. He even, as the critic Eduardo Camacho Guizado has noted, came near to naturalising the human, that is to say, fusing men and women with the earth.

Nature in Morada al sur is “murmorous,” “mestizo,” “nocturnal,” “of celestial foliage”; winds are “eternal”; stars, “rustling,” fragrances and herbs, “magical”. And reality is beautiful: “sweet is life”, and also “life is beautiful,” “the earth is good”, the “wind is faithful”, the sun “generous”, the night “balmy”. It is, in sum, an idealising poetry, which revives that experience of paradise that we all carry inside ourselves, deep inside. It is also a very serene contemplation of the surrounding world, as if it were our first look at this world, at others and at oneself.

It is a poetry that seems almost like a soliloquy written in a trance. In this sense, the poet seems to be an ancient child in an enigmatic and half-somnambulistic state, condensing the habits of the night, the language of water, the ecstasy of the woods, the murmur of grass.

Knowledge is remembrance, and the poet is the conscious being who remembers paradise lost.

It seems that, cooped up in the city, Arturo always pined for the days and nights of that lost paradise and that he wanted to recapture these by telling a story: “I speak to you of days surrounded by the finest of trees./ I speak to you of vast, lit-up nights.”

Translated for Poetry International Web by Nicolás Suescún

Originally published on the Jornal de Poesia website

© María Mercedes Carranza  
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