The Solitudes

Hamish Ballantyne

Hamish Ballantyne (b. 1994) is a poet and translator from Vancouver Island. His first chapbook, Imitation Crab, is forthcoming from KFB in 2020. Hamish works on the Downtown Eastside for half the year and as a mushroom picker for the rest.

The Solitudes is the last work that Luis de Góngora published in his lifetime. Originally envisioning it as an epic comprising four parts, or “solitudes,” Góngora had completed less than two at the time of his death. At the heart of the text is an act of time-travel. What begins on the terms of a colonial narrative — spurned in love, the protagonist (known only as the wanderer / stranger / pilgrim) leaves the court to try his luck in the New World — pivots impossibly out of historical time after the protagonist’s boat is shipwrecked. The only survivor, the wanderer is washed ashore on a mythical island, a castaway in the generic conventions of the pastoral. My translations perform a similar act of time travel, refracting the text through the poetics and registers of several of its Spanish-language descendants: the works of Borges, Lezama Lima’s Paradiso, Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel. In the poem’s dedication, Góngora offers his concept of the poem: ‘Steps of a pilgrim these / wandering verses.’ Language is the space the poem traverses. The wanderings of the stranger — the narrative substance of the text — feel secondary. So little is revealed about the protagonist, some readers have commented, that language is the real hero of the tale.
 If this is the case, then the antihero of this translation (devilish reflection) is misinterpretation. I seek to estrange my own use of English, taking direction from Spanish constructions and sonic patterns, and to reproduce elements of Góngora’s poetic forms (rhyme, metre) in fragmentary, stilted glimpses. I make interpretive leaps in bad faith. I treat Góngora (this is maybe justifiable) as a loose cannon whose work constantly escaped his designs for it, and I seek to follow him in this.”

                     he slept
     and remembered
     when the birds clinked
     the bell of morning—
     the sun—stumbles
     off his foamy porch
                to the car
     Like an obelisk light
     crashes into the shack


     the grateful pilgrim departs
     led by a goatherd who shows him
                 a ridge
     once a theatre for fauns
     who lived in these mountains


     arrives there and the sight so
     much—standing green and green
           on a leaf
     still as lentil


     as a map unfolds
     sorting itself
     out—sun still puzzling the sense
           of zero distance
     as a brother dim-eyed
     shy barely listening but
           rapt awe scans
     the river’s garbled disquisition
     delivered wearing an apple


     Silver castle

     From spring to jasper
           sea—forgets pride
     where memory hides