Thursday, October 29, 2009

Essences



"We lost the fight, we didn't lose the argument" Noemi Klein

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If you don't speak Spanish, the video featured above will probably seem like a spirited rendition of gibberish, but in fact the song "La Muralla" (The Wall) is one of the battle hymns of Salvador Allende's Chile.

The words of this song were written by the Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillen and set to music by the Chilean folksingers Quilapayún.

Quilapayún and Victor Jara sang the songs that still identify the Salvador Allende period.

In the video, "La Muralla" is sung by the post-Allende Chilean folk group "Ventiska", and "the special guest star", singing lead (the old guy with the beard) Ricardo Venegas, is one of the original Quilapayún. 

When Pinochet lowered Chile into the "night and fog" of the torture chamber, the mass grave and the Chicago School of Economics, the members of Quilapayún managed to escape, but Victor Jara didn't... he was arrested, tortured and killed. 

The song, "La Muralla" became an instant classic. It is sung at every memorial to Salvador Allende (they fall on September 11th) and in itself has become a hymn of the Spanish speaking left, both in  all of Latin America and Spain itself. In any concert where it is sung it brings the audience to their feet.

To anyone who lived through that period in the Spanish language it brings back memories of a time when young people believed that a better world was possible and were ready to sacrifice their lives to make it happen. Thanks to the Chicago School of Economics and the CIA, many of them did.

Now that George W. Bush, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher have crashed and burned it is time for the left to crawl out of the rubble, dust itself off and get busy.

The left has been buried under the rubbish that neoconservatism has dumped on it for so long that many people, including (especially?) many people of the left have forgotten what the left is.

This is where poetry can help.

Poetry exists in the place where the heart and the mind speak fluently to each other.

Guillen's verses express in a very few words what the left is about: human beings joining together to defend their humanity and all the simple, humble things that make life human, against the people, things and situations that make being human impossible. "Solidarity" is a clumsy word for brotherhood.

The song expresses these ideas, but more than anything else it expresses the emotion that is felt when these ideas are put into practice

I've translated Guillen's poem into English as best I can, unfortunately in the process I've destroyed the cadences of its beautiful Spanish.

The Wall – Nicholas Guillen
To make this wall, bring me all the hands:
From the Blacks, their black hands, from the Whites, their white hands.

A wall to go from the sea to the mountains, from the hills to the sea,
all the way to the horizon...
- Knock, knock!
- Who’s there?
A rose and a carnation ...
- Open the wall!
- Knock, knock!
- Who’s there?
The Colonel’s sword ...
- Close the wall!
- Knock, knock!
- Who’s there?
The dove and the bay leaf ...
- Open the wall!
- Knock, knock!
- Who’s there?
The scorpion and the centipede ...
- Close the wall!

The heart of a friend, opens the wall;
the poison and the dagger, closes the wall;
the myrtle and mint, opens the wall;
the tooth of the serpent, closes the wall;
the nightingale in the flower, opens the wall ...

Let's raise a wall
joining all our hands;
The Blacks, their black hands
The Whites, their white hands.
A wall to go from the sea to the mountains, from the hills to the sea,
all the way to the horizon...
Here it is in Spanish just in case anybody wants to sing along:

Para hacer esta muralla,
tráiganme todas las manos:
Los negros, su manos negras,
los blancos, sus blancas manos.
Ay,
una muralla que vaya
desde la playa hasta el monte,
desde el monte hasta la playa, bien,
allá sobre el horizonte.

—¡Tun, tun!
—¿Quién es?
—Una rosa y un clavel...
—¡Abre la muralla!
—¡Tun, tun!
—¿Quién es?
—El sable del coronel...
—¡Cierra la muralla!
—¡Tun, tun!
—¿Quién es?
—La paloma y el laurel...
—¡Abre la muralla!
—¡Tun, tun!
—¿Quién es?
—El alacrán y el ciempiés...
—¡Cierra la muralla!

Al corazón del amigo,
abre la muralla;
al veneno y al puñal,
cierra la muralla;
al mirto y la yerbabuena,
abre la muralla;
al diente de la serpiente,
cierra la muralla;
al ruiseñor en la flor,
abre la muralla...

Alcemos una muralla
juntando todas las manos;
los negros, sus manos negras,
los blancos, sus blancas manos.
Una muralla que vaya
desde la playa hasta el monte,
desde el monte hasta la playa, bien,
allá sobre el horizonte...
That ought to get it. DS

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when you get a painter to cover politics and current events. You get a pretty poem and that's it. Interesting that the poem is all about putting up a wall. What does putting up a wall have to do with brotherhood?

If the left had a real alternative to free trade, then people would flock to it. Maybe what you should consider is living in a capitalist system is more "human" than anything else. And also more ethical. After all, Adam Smith was a moral philosopher. Marx was a bloodsucking lawyer.

There will be no rise of a progressive era with a movement that's so intellectually bankrupt. You lost the fight because you lost the argument.


Adam

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

If you had understood what this post was about, there would have been something wrong with it. Adam.

Nowhere Man. said...

Although bay leaf means laurel in Spanish in this case I believe that Guillen is not refering to the leaf but more of the robust of the tree. I am not sure how the literally translation fits in on this one?