Poems from Prison and Life by the Spanish communist poet Marcos Ana (1920–2016), translated by David Duncombe and published by Smokestack Books, fills one with hope and despair. Hope comes from the motto found in the author’s note to the book: To live for others is the best way of living for oneself.
This wonderful sentiment is inspiring and gives all of us, whatever our political or spiritual values may be, some cause for hope. As we read on, however, gloom sets in: “These poems were written in prison, in the depth of night, by the poor light of a peculiar lamp, assembled from an old inkwell, a little alcohol that I smuggled from the sick bay and a wick plaited from the lace of an espadrille . . .”
Ana was Spain’s longest-serving political prisoner, wrongly convicted, he claimed, for the murder of a priest, a postman, and a farmer.
Marcos Ana makes no great claims for his poetry but prays that his poems might “open a path of fire and rebellion in the hearts and minds of the new generation . . .”
Marcos spent twenty-three years in Franco’s prisons. Poemas de la Prisión y la Vida was published when the author was ninety-one. The Irish-Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara had his poems with him when he was executed by the Bolivian army.
Here is an Irish version of Ana’s poem “Autobiografía,” followed by the original. It’s short enough to make an effective postcard or poster-poem:
Is uafásach é an peaca atá déanta agam: Theastaigh uaim croí an duine a líonadh le réaltaí. Dá dheasca sin, ar feadh seacht ngeimhreadh déag anseo laistiar de na barraí chailleas-sa earrach i ndiaidh earraigh. Im’ chime dom ó laethanta m’óige ar aghaidh agus daortha chun báis, loinnir mo chuid súl ag meath in aghaidh na gcloch. Ach níl rian dorcha ar bith de scáil ardaingeal an díoltais i m’fhéitheoga: níl ach scairt amháin—an Spáinn— ó arraing mo bhrionglóidí…
Mi pecado es terrible; quise llenar de estrellas el corazón del hombre. Por eso aquí entre rejas, en diecinueve inviernos perdí mis primaveras. Preso desde mi infancia ya muerte mi condena, mis ojos van secando su luz contra las piedras. Mas no hay sombra de arcángel vengador en mis venas: España es sólo el grito de mi dolor que sueña.
■ Gabriel Rosenstock is a bilingual poet, tankaist, haikuist, playwright,
translator, novelist, short-story writer, essayist. and children’s author.
Blog: https://roghaghabriel.blogspot.com/. Web site: https://www.rosenstockandrosenstock.com/. His latest bilingual volume of poems is Conversations with Li He: Comhrá le Li He (tinyurl.com/cschaa9w).