John Peale Bishop
The Poetry of Jorge Carrera Andrade
Published as the Preface to Jorge Carrera Andrade, Secret Country: Poems, translated by
Muna Lee, New York: MacMillan Publishers, 1946
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WHEN I WAS A CHILD and first went to school, I was taught that the Equator was an imaginary line
encircling the globe midway between the poles. Later, in that book from which I first learned how
the sensation of distance can be evoked by the strange names of far places, I was told of a country
called Ecuador. Its name had been given it because it lay athwart that line which, first and last,
is a convenience of the imagination. It was, nevertheless, a real country. On the maps, I drew and
crudely colored it was bounded on one side by blue to describe a Pacific shore, while across the
interior crawled lines, fuzzy as caterpillars, to indicate mountains, whose peaks bore remarkable
names like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo.
Jorge Carrera Andrade was born in 1903 in the city of Quito, in the very shadow of that Hospital which had been founded, some three hundred years before, by Hernando de Santillan. His father, Don Abelardo Carrera Andrade, was distinguished in his profession no less for his liberal views than for the position, which he long held, of Minister of the Supreme Court of Justice. His mother, Dona Carmela Baca Andrade, was descended from a colonel in the Ecuadorian army. The poet’s childhood was passed, however, not in the city, but on a country estate. The great house and the surrounding buildings, the gardens and orchards, the fields of alfalfa stretching endlessly in the sun, all were to remain in his memory and become — when the property was no longer his- a permanent possession. Even the pond, with its impartial reflection of geese and clouds, has been retained in his poetry.
Naci en el siglo de la defuncion de la rosa
The time has been most carefully defined in his Biografia para Uso
de los Pajaros. Quito had seen the last stagecoach roll by and disappear; the first streetcars
had yet to run in the capital. Each morning the boy watched his father mount his horse and ride
away toward the Court of Justice. His mother remained in charge of the household. Yet, though her
care included eleven children she never failed to find time for reading and, from the moment when
one of her sons manifested his inclination toward literature, encouraged his bent and urged him to
follow it without faltering. It was she, too, who taught him to sing with her, to the accompaniment
of her guitar, the sentimental folk songs of Ecuador. From other and older members of the family,
the boy heard of his ancestors, conquistadores and men-at-arms, and in especial of the
fabulous Diego Carrera who, in the midst of the Revolution of the Alcabalas in the XVIth century,
was proclaimed King of Quito. Presently, his followers condemned him to death and it was only the
Spanish soldiers who saved him; he survived to be named Royal Ensign by the King of Madrid. The
boy’s father laughed at these stories; so far as he knew, he said, the family was descended
from Indians, and, in any event, he preferred the company of common people.
This is why, strictly speaking, no poem can be translated. Once a vision which is essentially private has found its form, it is henceforth available to all who share the same speech. But the words of the poem are immutable.
Mi madre, revestida de poniente,
This has been rendered into English:
My mother, clothed in the setting sun,
No one can, I believe, cavil at the accuracy of the translation. The
substance is there; but the translator has been obliged to put away the music.
Here, at the center, I live
Escape is impossible from the Secret Country and to enter there would
be equally impossible were it not that Carrrera Andrade is a poet. For with these poems he has
provided us with passports.
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