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I Am Not I

I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.

I n   t h e   o r i g i n a l   S p a n i s h

Yo No Soy Yo

Yo no soy yo.
Soy este
que va a mi lado sin yo verlo;
que, a veces, voy a ver,
y que, a veces, olvido.
El que calla, sereno, cuando hablo,
el que perdona, dulce, cuando odio,
el que pasea por donde no estoy,
el que quedará en pie cuando yo muera.


In his introduction to Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems (1973), Robert Bly, the translator and editor of this smallish volume tells us: Jiménez does not write of politics or religious doctrines, of the mistakes of others, not of his own troubles or even his own opinions, but only of solitude, and the strange experiences and the strange joy that come to a man in solitude. His books usually consist of emotion after emotion called out with great force and delicacy, and it must be said that his short, precise poems make our tradition of the long egotistic ode look rather absurd.

We learn that for Jiménez the difference between prose and poetry is that the latter embodies ecstasy, a sudden being-lifted-out-of-oneself, out of one’s situation in the moment; as she hears or reads the poet’s words, the reader is seized by the intensity of his encounter, so that she lives the poet’s own experience, his own life in that moment. Such participation by the reader in the enraptured understanding of the poet now embodied in his words, constitutes poetry.

“I Am Not I” may well be the best-known and most-translated of this writer’s poems. (The words seem so simple, as though a translation would be a perfectly straightforward matter. And yet, everyone’s turns out distinct, unique: I find this fascinating.)
Jiménez hungrily sought out the solitude he required for his work; Raphael Alberti, a younger poet and one of Jiménez’s many protégés, recollects:
In that darkroom of poetry, the poet from the country, the poet of purple and yellow sundowns, of walks with his silver burro through the narrow streets of Moguer, worked on with the fervour of a mystic, of a solitary, listening to the circulation of his own blood, drawing out the poetry that rose from it.
A short essay containing these impressions (“First Glimpse of Juan Ramón Jiménez”, 1945; translator Hardie St. Martin) appears at the close of the Jiménez section of this volume.

For the benefit of a younger reader: the word darkroom in the Alberti quote above refers to a small room from which normal light is shut out, in which photographic film is chemically (non-digitally) developed into photographs.

Moguer is a town in Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region, the poet’s beloved boyhood home.

Another short poem (“This Day That Is the Whole of My Life”) and a biographical sketch of Juan Ramón Jiménez appear in the next-to-previous post.