To the Atoyac

Ignacio Manuel Altamirano
1834 – 1893


July sun burns down on the sandy beaches
lashed by the breakers of the angry sea,
and in their turbulence the arrogant waters
pit their harsh roar against the ardent rays.

You flow softly in the pleasant shade
shed for you by the branchy mangrove-tree:
and on the mossy carpet spangled o’er
with sweet spring flowers your sleeping pools repose.

You frolic in the grots your banks recess
among the vast wood’s mahoes and cotton-trees,
and murmur tranquilly beneath the palms
slenderly mirrored in your crystal wave.

This heavenly Eden that here the coast secludes
is sheltered from the sun’s candescent rays;
its light falls warm and gentle through the trees
and takes a green tinge from their spreading boughs.

Here all is hush of sweet unnumbered murmurs,
the whisper softly flowing of your waters,
the growing plant, the music of the birds,
the sighing breeze and rocking of the branches.

The flowers flaunt that from your canopy hang
in countless garlands to adorn your brow,
and the huge lotus, springing from your bed,
with its fresh clusters bends towards you too.

The papaw-tree stoops quivering to your lap,
the mango with its gold and carmine drupes.
And in the poplars the gay parrot flutters
with the harsh pecker and the tuneful linnet.

Sometimes your glassy sheen is struck to foam
on every side by your dark wantoning nymphs;
you fondle them with many a secret clasp
and languidly receive their loving kisses.

And when the sun is hidden by the palms
and in your wilding temple darkness gathers,
the birds salute you with their parting songs
borne by the last breath of the wind away.

Night falls warm; already the white moon
hangs shining in the midst of sapphire sky,
and in your wildwood all is rapt and stilled
and on your margins all begins to sleep.

Then in your sandy bed, bemused, beneath
the melancholy mantle of the palms,
scarcely illumined by the silver light
of the great star of night, you also sleep.

Thus soft you glide; and neither the faint stir
of boats and oars disturb your rest, nor yet
the sudden leaping of the fish that flies
in fear towards the rocks the fisher shuns;

nor the chirp of crickets from the creeks,
nor the snails’ roundelay upon the air,
nor the curassow, whose plaintive cries
distract the cayman’s sleep among the reeds.

What time the fireflies with gleaming dust
sprinkle the shady herbage of the canes
and the dark mallows of the springing cotton
that grows in the ditch, amid the stalky maize.

And the maiden in the cabin, rocking
on the light hammock languid to and fro,
sings the samba’s saddening lullaby
and singing sighs and sighing ever sings.

But of a sudden from the shore a harp
sounds on the air with urgent clanging strings,
tumultuous prelude to the flower of songs,
the sweet malaguena that makes glad the heart.

Then from the villages hard upon the harp
the joyous throng begins to scour the woods,
and soon upon your margin all is joy
and dance and song and love and merriment.

So haste away the brief unheeded hours.
And from the torpor of your gentle dreams
you hearken to your dark enticing daughters
intoning to the moon their hymns of love.

The nestling birds are tremulous with joy;
the opening magnolias shed their nectar;
the zephyrs wake and seem to sigh; your waters
feel how they palpitate within their bed.

Alas! in these hours when burning sleeplessness
revives the memory of blessings gone,
who does not seek the absent love’s soft breast
whereon to press his lips and lay his head?

The palms together twine; caressing light
evinces dismal darkness from your bed;
the flowers flood the breezes with their sweets. . . .
The soul alone feels its sad solitude!

Farewell, quiet stream; the doles of sorrow
do not grieve your green and smiling banks;
for they are for the lonely rocks alone,
lashed by the breakers of the angry sea.

The moon sleeps mirrored in your crystal waters
that overlap your shrubby banks and rock
the bluey sedges and green galingale
drooping now in drowsiness again.

You flow softly in the pleasant shade
shed for you by the branchy mangrove-tree;
and on the mossy carpet spangled o’er
with sweet spring flowers your sleeping pools repose.

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