Excerpt from
El bosque de Birnam / The Birnam Wood

by José Manuel Cardona; translated by Hélène Cardona

The human condition, exile, love and death, freedom and fate, renunciation and resignation, the homeland of Ibiza and the diaspora are themes dominating The Birnam Wood. A very clear thematic unity is discernible in the work of José Manuel Cardona: an unflinching look at identity through heightened language. These poems form part of a major on-going tradition in Spanish poetry. His work is marked by a predilection for the classical Castilian hendecasyllable as well as free verse, and by a strong interest in social themes.

The book reflects a social conscience and expresses great pain and love, in particular the poet’s love for his native island of Ibiza. It is also filled with literary influences. Its title, El bosque de Birnam, is a metaphor drawn from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The Birnam Wood speaks against abuse of power and for overthrowing all illegitimate governments. Lady Macbeth is foretold that she will have cause for worry when the Birnam Wood rises and marches against her, yet she does not heed the warning. Franco’s rise to power after a military coup launched a Civil War against a republic democratically elected in peace. The Birnam Wood stands for resistance to illegitimate and illegal regimes.

The poems in El bosque de Birnam, an anthology, are drawn from the collections Poemas a Circe and El Vendimiador, in addition to other poems spanning six decades. Cardona is literary heir to the group Cántico of Córdoba and belongs to the Poets of the Fifties. His major influences are Jorge Manrique, Luis de Góngora, Francisco de Quevedo, Juan de la Cruz, Odysseas Elytis, Giacomo Leopardi, Vicente Aleixandre, Blas de Otero, T.S. Eliot, Machado, Lorca, Cernuda, Hölderlin, Keats, Shelley, Rilke, Whitman, Blake, Nietzsche, and Homer.

Cardona chose not to pursue a political career but had a great desire to live in peace and liberty. He was forced into exile in France and Switzerland and blacklisted. He has said that “one never loses one’s roots, even when living abroad. My real homeland has been Ibiza and I have always maintained bonds with it, like my friendship with the poet Marià Villangómez.” José Manuel Cardona is an “Ibicenco” of the diaspora, yet faithful to the island he kept in his heart, no matter where destiny led him.

               — Hélène Cardona

Cimetière de Montrouge

Uno hay que descansa en los vivos

su muerte de ciprés resucitada.

Germina el trigo en sus manos de hierba

porque a manos y a trigos

se volvó.

César de trueno y rabia,

pregonero hermoso de la paz.

Yo revivo tu rostro de pan quemado,

puño sin hiel abierto a la esperanza.

Sobre la torre Eiffel

percibo tu osamenta de dios encadenado,

tu arquitectura ronca

de hombre de pan, de César y Vallejo.

               París, 1955


Montrouge Cemetery

There is one who among the living rests,

his death resuscitated by cypresses.

The wheat sprouts in his hand of grasses

because to wheat and hands

he fell.

César of rage and thunder,

town crier

for peace nonpareil.

I relive your bread burnt face,

unscathed fist open to faith.

Over the Eiffel tower

I perceive your chained god bones,

your raucous architecture

of the man of bread, of César y Vallejo.

               Paris, 1955


Os voy a decir un nombre como escrito en la cal

por el índice de fuego de un arcángel selvático.

Hay nombres que son el fuego,

como cortados a pico.

Este es el nombre que llevo en las rayas de mis manos,

el nombre que dice una leyenda

y escribe la historia de mis veinticinco años.

Es hermoso nacer como los pájaros

sobre un nido de piedra,

alzar las alas como una antena de luz

sobre la mar amarga,

llevar en las alas escrito

el nombre de la amada.

Pero más hermoso todavía

es ser esta ave rara, esta espada silente

como una lengua de ofidio,

esa hoguera encendida de lava y rocas,

ese nombre alargado en los arroyos,

ese cuerpo esperado en la canícula,

esa voz, esas manos, esa boca,

ese arañazo íntimo de fábulas o cristales.

He aquí por qué soy como soy,

por qué me llamo de esta manera y no de otra,

por qué la tierra me ha hecho prisionero.

Este es el misterio,

un nombre, una palabra, una hoguera,

un poco de geografía.

Estoy atenazado por amor

entre cuatro paredes de cal viva.

Bajo los limoneros,

a la sombra olorosa de los granados,

donde huelen la albahaca y los romeros,

del talle de palmeras como hermosas mujeres.

Ya sabéis el misterio de mi vida,

ese nombre de laca que os descubre

la sed mis salinas.

Ya sabéis ese nombre de tortura,

ese nombre de higuera y de membrillo,

ese oloroso ramo de azahares,

ese velo espumoso de mar embravecida

donde anidan las aves,

esa mujer lasciva de cabellera roja

que ha escrito la leyenda de mis veinticinco años.

Ya no tengo misterio a vuestros ojos.

Soy el hombre de la isla de Ibiza.



I will tell you a name as written in lime

by the fiery index finger of a forest archangel.

There are names that are the fire

as if roughly sewn.

This is the name I bear in the lines of my hands,

the name that tells a legend

and writes the story of my twenty five years.

It is beautiful to be born like birds

on a stone nest,

lift the wings like an antenna of light

over the bitter sea,

carry the name of the beloved

on the wings.

But more beautiful still

is to be this rare bird, this sword silent

like a snake tongue,

this blaze of burning lava and rocks,

this name stretched in the brooks,

this body awaited in the midsummer heat,

this voice, these hands, this mouth,

this innermost scratch of fable and glass.

This is why I am the way I am,

why I am named this way and no other,

why the land has made me prisoner.

This is the mystery,

a name, a word, a blaze,

a little geography.

I am crushed by love

between four walls of live lime.

Under the lemon trees,

in the scented shade of pomegranate trees,

where basil and rosemary exude their aromas,

the figure of palm trees as if beautiful women.

Now you know the mystery of my life,

this lacquer name unearthed for you

by the thirst of my salt works.

Now you know this name of torture,

this name of fig tree and quince,

this fragrant branch of orange blossoms,

this frothy shroud of rough sea

where the birds nest,

this lustful woman with red mane

who wrote the legend of my twenty five years.

Now I have no mystery for you.

I am the man from the island of Ibiza.

© José Manuel Cardona, from The Birnam Wood
(El bosque de Birnam, Consell Insular D’Eivissa, 2007)

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