“Solitude Is a Life’s Work” by Belén Atienza

Belén Atienza


Give me back the hours you swore mine forever
and take away this grief hidden in my wardrobe
and when you remember me, do not whisper my name
nor think of me as yours, though yours you know I was.

I shall be asleep and forget the scent of you
I shall awaken alone, as then, before, in your bed
I shall find consolation, tender, in silent poems
in songs of long ago, lost in oblivion now.

Solitude is a life’s work, a life’s work, as is grief.


—translated from the Spanish by Rhina P. Espaillat



Devuélveme las horas juradas para siempre
y quítame esta pena escondida en el armario
y cuando me recuerdes no murmures mi nombre
ni pienses que fui tuya, aunque tuya me sepas.

Me quedaré dormida olvidando tu aroma
me despertaré sola como antes en tu cama
me consolaré tierna con versos silenciosos
con canciones antiguas olvidadas del tiempo.

Lo soledad es oficio, como oficio es la pena.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020


Rhina P. Espaillat: “From my very first acquaintance with Belén Atienza and her work, I spotted her as a poet who deserves to be better known by readers of both our native Spanish and our second language, English. I find her poetry moving without sentimentality, beautifully crafted, accessible to the reader, and profoundly universal in its thematic scope. It does what good poetry is best at: it defies difference and teaches us, quietly but persuasively, how much more we human beings have in common than whatever it is we imagine divides us. I hope to translate much more of her work, and am delighted that this poem of hers is appearing, in my translation to English, in a publication I so respect and enjoy.”

Belén Atienza is a Spanish poet and Associate Professor of Hispanic Literature at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1998, she was selected by Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez as one of the twelve bilingual Spanish/English writers to participate in their atelier about narrative. Prof. Atienza has published two volumes of poetry: Mi tierra es una lengua (El Salvador: La Chifurnia, 2020), where she narrates the experiences of her family during the Spanish Civil War in Spain; and Saltaparedes (Pontevedra: El taller del poeta, 2011). As a cultural historian, she is also the author of El loco en el espejo: locura y melancolía en la España de Lope de Vega (Rodopi: Amsterdam, 2008), a monograph about the history and representations of madness in Baroque Spain. This is the first time that one of her poems has been published in English, in a translation by Rhina P. Espaillat.

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