Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos

Dialogues

The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos translated by Magda Bogin is a book of intimate poetry written by one of the most influential Mexican
women. The publisher's note on the back cover calls Castellanos a mystic and a feminist who opened the way for other Mexican women writers. She
published eight volumes of poetry and, in 1972 she anthologized them in a book entitled Poesia No Eres Tu (Poetry is Not You). The Selected Poems come from her anthology and it is the largest collection of her poetry available in translation in the United States. The following is a link to a page that has been set up by Arizona State University and where her book can be purchased.
http://www.asu.edu/brp/dist/LASLCE/RCasMBog.html

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  Dialogues


"Messenger in the Wind" by Rufino Tomayo

Nocturne

Para vivir es demasiado el tiempo;

Para saber no es nada.
A que vinimos, noche, corazon de la
noche?
No es possible sino sonar, morir,
Sonar que no morimos
Y, a veces, un instante, despertar.


Nocturne

Time is too long for life;
For knowledge not enough.
What have we come for, night, heart of night?
Dream that we do not die
And, at times, for a moment, wake.

-Rosario Castellanos

One of the many beautiful things about this poem is that it can be related to many different cultures and individuals. It can be related to the young and the old. It can be related to women and to men and it can be compared across all nations and cultures of this world. Because Rosario Castellanos was a feminist in her actions and her writings I am going to relate this poem mainly to women. My line by line analysis follows:

"Time is too long for life" because there is hurt involved in each day. Hurt comes out of all of the energy spent in being a mother, only to have your child die before your eyes. From the war torn societies to the war torn streets to the homes that deal with sickness and abuse, families that lose loved ones too early, there is a war in every household in the world on some level or another. In many of these cases it is the women who bare the guilt and carry on their shoulders the weight of instances that they cannot always control. When a mother loses her child to the fight for the survival of her people who does she turn to for comfort? Who does the mother blame? Does she then blame herself? Time is too long for life because of all of the pain and struggle that it takes to make it through the day.

“Time is too long for life;/ For knowledge not enough,” because by the time you think you are on your way to knowing how to survive the doors close or they open and the revolution begins or it ends and there is another set of rules to be learned and there is more knowledge to be gained and there is never enough time to truly learn it all and life is just too exhausting for the power of the body to subside it all. The spirit may return and the soul may go on living but the current physical apparatus is no longer able to endure. The wars and fighting outlast the people that spend lifetimes dying for the causes they believe in—dying to find the answers to the questions that have long since been asked. Mothers are raising their babies only to see them burned to death in front of their eyes. The questions remain the same, the answers remain un-answered, and life ends over and over like a record skipping. It gets monotonous (we) begin to ignore the noise, (we) begin to build walls and shut our eyes and plug our ears.

“What have we come for night, heart, of night?” In the night we can embrace the darkness and come out and ask our questions openly, we cannot see who may be listening, we cannot see their clothing, the color of their skin, the religion that they follow, we cannot see the orientation of their sexuality we cannot see anything, all we can do is hear and breath and hope for understanding. We can search blindly but openly for the right answers. Is there a way to face all of these things in the daylight with the same open mind?

“Dream that we do not die” The mothers’ dream that their children will not die, the mothers’ dream that their families will not die, the young were supposed to follow the old all the way through life and into death, revolutions will come.

“And, at times, for a moment, wake.” In the blink of an eye, in a waking moment, the mother sees all that she was able to create, she feels a moment of lightness and her shoulders lift, she floats like a leaf swaying down from the tallest red wood. If she falls too quickly, if she blinks again, will the children come back? Will the dead return for more knowledge? Will she go before her young ones? Will the leaders of nations step down to end the killing and to fight their own fight? Will a mother ever rest peacefully, in dark or light?


When people reread her work it will be evident that nobody in her time had as clear a consciousness of the twofold condition of being a woman and a Mexican.”

-Jose Emilio Pacheco

Women of Tehuantepec, by Rufino Tomayo, 1939

  Notes

Jose Emilio Pacheco says of Castellanos, "Seeing this epoch in perspective, it appears that after reflecting on the significance of being a woman who wrote poetry, she became wary of sensual themes, suspicious of grandiloquence, and acquired an ironic perspective, a desire to experiment, and an acceptance of the disagreeable as material for poetry. Her experience in the theater put her in contact with colloquial language and made her versification a precise and transparent instrument."

The awareness that Castellanos used while viewing her culture, as a woman and an artist, floats through her poems. Her feminist interests led her to study many of the roles that women have played throughout history all over the world. Castellanos has a way of telling her story through the characters in her books and through the speaker in her poems. She knows the roles of women from her studies and also because she has an ability to hear and see into the situations that surrounded her life. These situations are widely apparent across the globe and because of this she relates to women on a personal level. She embraces herself and her culture, she becomes aware of how she is treated and looked at because she is a woman in a male dominated society. Her awareness leads to her feminist perspectives and it is an important point that should be made, because of the fact that much of what she has to say many women across the world would agree with and understand because of the roles that women are put
into. Whether it is a mother, a wife, a sister, a teacher, a writer, a doctor, a construction worker etc. women ultimately face many of the same situations.

As Pacheco says above Castellanos was involved in theatre. Her involvement in theatre gave her the ability to separate her own life situations from others and to put herself into these different ways of life. On many occasions in her writing the circumstances that she describes are those of women. She portrays many different roles of women in Balun Canan (Nine Guardians) and it is evident that her poetry as well has taken on its own plight in the involvement of the study and the fight for women’s rights and consciousness-raising. The study of these roles is reflected in her poetry through her urge to experiment and write with a thought process that is unconventional for woman of her time. In her poem Selection from The Joyful Mysteries, she writes in section four…

“With a gesture of earth I spread my arms.

With a gesture of the earth

Whose lap cradles all creatures.

Love raises me,

Sustains me, ecstatic as if in a great light,

Singing my destiny of root

And my obedience.

I do not seek the face of a motherhood

That overflows all measure.

You do not seek a crowd of sons.

But look upon my actions

Springing forth like thick and silent milk.”

And section five as follows:

“This place I am, like sand with rivers,

has long known visits from the sky.

A whole procession of birds crosses my face

And I follow ecstatic,

Not feeling the stones that strike me, break me, reject me.

I walk without measuring my strength or step.

Ah, but I shall reach the sea and the sky will fly beyond my grasp.”

Castellanos becomes the earth, she becomes the mother, and yet she rejects the motherhood that the sky forces down on her. She does not shy away from the role of mother, as it is a woman’s role to be a mother. Physically the speaker takes on her duties, she knows the sky will pay its visits regardless of what she does. Her mind however does not surrender as easily and she walks across the 'stones that strike' her and attempt to break her and reject her. She fights with all of the power she has to keep her head up and her fight for her beliefs to stay alive. As the speaker of the poem, Castellanos becomes a woman of courage, a mother, a fighter; she takes herself past the place that society wants to leave her. She out smarts the rules through her ability to control her strength through her mind and the knowledge it holds within. She makes her journeys and carries out her missions and she has not been knocked down.

The speaker of the poem is an important figure because she relates to the
roles of women all over the world. She is the same woman who is considered a witch because of her independence from men. She is the same woman who was burned and tortured, she is the same woman who is called a slut and a horror because she is trying the only way she knows how to survive on her own. She is the teacher, the healer, and the warrior. She is evil and good, she gives life and she takes life. The struggles are similar, the times change, the situations of the struggles change, but somehow very little change is made in how we treat one another.

Her poetry possesses an honest element. It captures her way of fighting
“roles” and also of discovering her own role in life and how she related to the women around her. Castellanos’ fight to reject what was expected of her writing came through the honest truth telling of a woman’s feelings and a woman’s opinion on how she (speaking for all women) was treated. Her fight is through words and through her art and her fight came by embracing women’s roles in history and explaining them from the female point of view instead of the male. This alone was a great step in trying to change the popular beliefs and stereotypes.

Destiny

We kill what we love. What’s left

Was never alive.

No one else is close. What is forgotten,

What else is absent or less, hurts no one else.

We kill what we love. Enough of drawing a choked breath

Through someone else’s lung!

There is not air enough for both of us. And the earth will not hold

Both our bodies

And our ration of hope is small

And pain cannot be shared.

Man is an animal of solitudes,

A deer that bleeds as it flees

With an arrow in its side.

Ah, but hatred with its insomniac

Glass eyes; its attitude

Of menace and repose.

The deer goes to drink and a tiger

Is reflected in the water.

The deer drinks the water and the image. And becomes

-before he is devoured – (accomplice, fascinated)

his enemy.

We give life only to what we hate.

  Links

Some related links that I have found use full are:

http://artscenecal.com/ArtistIndex/ArtistsT.html **
The website listed above has a small collection of Rufino Tomayo pieces
available for viewing on the web. It is a part of the Art scene web page that is a guide to art museums and galleries in California.

http://www.epdlp.com/castellanos.jpg **
This is part of one of the Rosario Castellanos websites that I found on Yahoo. It has a younger picture of her to look at. I couldn’t get it to copy to my page so I am listing the address for anyone that is interested.

http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/books/casros.html **
The name of this web page is: A Rosario Castellanos Reader. It is a short page with some brief comments on Castellanos. The exciting part is that the book that she wrote with the same name as the web page is available for ordering from this site. The site is part of the Texas Pan American Series. The book is the first comprehensive study of Castellanos’s work.

http://www.cocc.edu/hum299/colleen/latinawomen/RosarioCastellanos.htm
This is a web page that also has a brief bio of Rosario Castellanos. It also has many links at the bottom of it that will take you to related websites.

http://www.ilstu.edu/class/hist263/castbib.html
This web page has a huge bibliography of works by and on Rosario Castellanos.

 

  Teaching

Addressing different topics for the teaching of writing can often be difficult. My suggestion for a creative writing assignment would be to either have the class read a poet from another country and then write something that was inspired or influenced by the poetry, or to read a poem in class from The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos (although other poets can be
used) and have the students respond through writing which could be in the form of poetry. Also after reading a poem from the book open a discussion on the poem and what it could mean or from where the voice in the poem comes. Then have the students do some writing in a journal entry to be turned in, or they could read their responses out loud to the class. If this assignment is going to lead into a larger area of study, having the students conduct some research on Mexico and the Mayan societies during the time
that Rosario Castellanos was alive (1925-1974) could be useful. Discuss the politics that were going on and how the Mayan civilizations were getting along. History, geography, cultural differences, politics and government and writing can all be covered when reading Rosario Castellanos and other writers from around the world.

  Citations

Vicuna, Cecilia and Bogin, Magda, eds. The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos. Graywolf Press, Saint Paul Minnesota © 1988.

 

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