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These sonnets were rounded like rustic pitchers, formed from precious clay, and Matilde’s white hands made them shine like supreme emeralds. Along the lengthy coastline, I take these sonnets and raise each one of them, as if they were drinks: Health, oh oceanic night with unassailable eyes.
—Pablo Neruda, 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature winner
Translation is the art of deception. The translator convinces the reader that this poem is an original, the correct brilliant version. Unless the translator achieves this deception, it will fail. Pelky and Young convince. Indeed, we may feel the original a plagiarism. Read Pelky and Young’s translations as the real McCoy with a happy boost. You will be literarily joyful.
—Willis Barnstone, Mexico in My Heart: New and Selected Poems(Carcanet) Poets of the Bible (WW Norton)
Matilde Ladrón de Guevara was born August 18, 1910 in Santiago, Chile. An intellectual, writer, and feminist, Ladrón de Guevara’s studies took her to the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the University of Chile, and eventually the Sorbonne in France. After living for a few years in Rapallo, Italy, Ladrón de Guevara returned to Chile, where she became one of the founders of the Chilean Women’s Party in 1946.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s, she served as a correspondent for several magazines and newspapers, and in 1948 she released her first collection of poetry, Amarras de Luz. Ladrón de Guevara is a member of Chile’s Generation of ’50 literary movement, which also includes the poets Marta Jara, Elisa Serrana, Elena Aldunate, and Mercedes Valdivieso.
In the 1960s, Ladrón de Guevara lived briefly in Cuba, and during this time struck up a friendship with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, which was the basis of her books Ché (1969) and Cubanía y Ché (1998). Although sympathetic to their views, Ladrón de Guevara disapproved of their methods of imprisonment and repression, which she wrote about in her book Adiós al Cañaveral (1962). She was a supporter of Chile’s Popular Unitary Government, led by President Salvador Allende, but after the 1973 coup overthrew the government, Ladrón de Guevara fled to Argentina to seek exile, and did not return to Chile until 1979.
During her life, Ladrón de Guevara wrote nine collections of poetry, six novels, and eight books of nonfiction; she was a candidate for the National Prize for Literature in 2006; and in 2009 she received the Career Award of the Society of Latin American and European Writers. Ladrón de Guevara died on August 22, 2009 at the age of 99.
Matilde Ladrón de Guevara’s third book of poems, Desnuda, or Naked, consists of a collection of sonnets. Much or her work relies on surrealist imagery to explore conceptions of femininity, motherhood, and sexuality. Central to the collection is her focus on the body and on the landscape of the natural world, even as the intensity of her gaze blurs any lines dividing the two. This union is perhaps most clearly illustrated in her poems in which Ladrón de Guevara presents readers with a unique perspective on the image of the garden, recreating it as a surreal space where female sexuality is prioritized as a natural and independent strength.
In Desnuda, Ladrón de Guevara exposes her own vulnerabilities, but in doing so she also reveals her strength and fortitude. Once exposed, the poems’ narrator does not resist nakedness of body and soul, but rather allows herself to wallow in the emotions inherent in baring oneself to the world, or even just to a single person. Confronted with life’s desires, Ladrón de Guevara navigates the turbulent seas of love, sensuality, and passion. The worlds she brings to light for her readers burn brilliantly, and as we follow her on her journey we come to recognize in our own lives the yearning, joy, anguish, and acceptance that permeates the dreamscapes of her poems.
Yet, even as these poems meditate on the passions and connections between people, there is also a sense of isolation in Ladrón de Guevara’s poetry, as if she alone inhabits these surrealist landscapes in which the natural world is transformed into a metaphorical cast of characters who people her lonely world. Somewhat ironically then, Ladron de Guevara’s poems reveal how we are all continually caught in the pull between isolation and connection. This is a collection that asks us to follow Ladrón de Guevara as she navigates life’s tempestuous voyage, stranded between birth and death, where we find the joys and sorrows that bring us together. These poems are a kind of communion—with nature, each other, our own mortality—and by the end, Ladrón de Guevara reveals that these series of unions are what makes a life worth living.
In translating this collection, we have tried to remain as honest as possible to the original text. Throughout, we took into account the particularities of Chilean Spanish, such as syntactical differences and geographically specific vocabulary. The formal elements of the sonnet presented certain difficulties, such as the ways that Ladrón de Guevara uses the form as a mechanism for crafting her unique and often purposefully obscure grammatical constructions; yet the occasional lack of any clear subject–verb–object order, though sometimes challenging, we felt greatly contributed to the dreamlike surrealist tone of her work.
The sonnet form also imposed certain constraints, such as line length and stanzaic structure, that allowed us to create what we feel is still clearly a unified collection of sonnets even as we loosened and often abandoned the strict syllabic count and rhyme scheme. Overall, our approach has been to focus more on meaning than on form, still maintaining what we consider to be the essential sonnet nature of each poem while crafting a faithful re-creation of Ladrón de Guevara’s work.
It is with great pleasure that we introduce to you the poetry of Matilde Ladrón de Guevara, translated into English for the first time. We hope you enjoy this astounding collection as much as we did during the time we lived and breathed the beautiful words of Ladrón de Guevara.
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