José Asunción Silva: “Juntos Los Dos” (“Together, We Two”)

José Asunción Silva: “Juntos Los Dos” (“Together, We Two”)

The poem, “Juntos los dos” (“Together, We Two”) seems unusual for José Asunción Silva, most of whose works were very pessimistic and even macabre.  My father suggested his poetry, perhaps because like Silva, he lost a beloved sister in his youth.  Silva was born on November 27, 1865 (shortly after the end of the United States Civil War), in Bogota, Colombia, the eldest child of an aristocratic but financially inconsistent family, and ended his own life on May 25, 1896.  He spent a number of years in France and was significantly influenced in his writing and style by literary currents flowing there and then, as well as by the works of United States author, Edgar Alan Poe.  During his lifetime, Silva preferred to read his poems aloud to groups of friends rather than to publish them; consequently, most of his poems and other writings were published posthumously. Despite recognition as one of Latin America’s major and most innovative writers, his single novel has remained controversial as a worthy literal work (critics having criticized it as flighty and disorganized).  It has only recently been recognized as involving major innovative features.

“Juntos los dos” is included in Poesías. José Asunción Silva. Edición de Rocío Oviedo y Pérez de Tudela. Clásicos Castalia – 228. Editorial Castalia, but I have not found English translations of the poem and may post this one on a relevant Wikipedia site.  In fact, it seems that many of Silva’s poems may not yet be translated and present interesting opportunities for future exploration, if that can be verified.  The theme of the poem appears to be an evolving complex relationship: love, that on the one hand provides joy and on the other sorrow and tears.  It is set in contrasts, laughter and crying, laughter and memories of traces of tears and then, somewhat confusing sighs; references to an orgy (probably not of the sexual variety but involving overabundant exuberance) that generates deep sighs; and then, a symbolic contrast between briny ocean waters, perhaps reminiscent of the reference to crying and tears in the other two stanza, and the formation of pearls, perhaps a symbol of purity, but perhaps not.  Pearls have a broad range of meaning, from the prurient to the sublime (although to some of us, that may well be an overlap).  One interesting feature noted in a paper by Armand F. Baker[1], is the “so much crying, so much enchantment” result of reading the last words in the second and fourth lines of the first two stanzas.  While there has been lurid speculation about Silva’s sexuality, many believe that there was one major love in his life and that “Juntos los dos” may have been a reference to his relationship with Isabel Argáez Ferro.[2]

The poem is comprised of three quatrain stanzas, each line alternating in length with end rhyme patterns being limited to the second and fourth lines.  The source text has significant assonance, mainly involving “a” and “o” sounds.  Assonance in the translation involves long “e” sounds in the first stanza, and alliteration is more prominent, especially with “l” sounds in the first stanza, “t” sounds in the second, and “s” again in the first line of the third stanza, then “p” sounds in the fourth.  The meter in Spanish is alternating, mainly hendecasyllabic and heptasyllabic, both meters imported from Italian poetry, although it also includes one line of docasyllabic meter, and several octosyllabic lines.  The translation hints at ballad meter, with alternating three and four foot lines in the first two stanzas, but with inconsistent stress.

As is the case with short poems, this was probably the most difficult to translate, with wild variations in the attempt.  The initial efforts, which seemed promising at first, sounded like limericks when revisited, and other versions that seemed to work for a while, on review seemed a bit too cute.  The fourth stanza was symbolically difficult, especially the first two lines, where it was difficult to make the connection between “copas calidas” and “orgías”.  Eventually, after finding a definition for the word “calid” as hot, burning or ardent at, I elected to use that word leaving the issue of the nature of the line’s orgiastic aspect deliberately vague.

Trying to duplicate end rhyme in the first two stanzas was an adventure that took up a great deal of time and many, many drafts.  Eventually, the word “touch” was added as a rhyme with “much”, duplicating the even line end rhyme pattern in the first two stanzas.  The word “encanto” in the last line of the second stanza seemed simple but provided a challenge as it has connotations of both delight and magic that did not seem adequately expressed by its English equivalent, enchantment”.  I initially resolved the ambiguity by adding clarifying modifier, rendering the phrase “delightfully wondrous enchantment”, then I abandoned it for purer simplicity and meter.  One haunting aspect of the translation for me was that I was drawn to use of the word “dust” to end the first stanza, although I don’t know why, but I refrained from that strong and continuing impulse because it was clearly not consistent with the author’s intent.

At one point, I elected not to translate the title literally because the versions of the translated text at the time no longer included a literal translation of the phrase (“together, the two of us”, or, “together we two”), because, after numerous attempts, it too negatively impacted both rhythm and rhyme without compensating benefit (other than in coincidence with the title).  Thus, it seemed at the time that its connection to the poem had been severed.  The phrase “laughter and tears’ seemed the crux of the poem and a decision was made to use that as the title, especially after I read “The all-important title” in Clifford E. Landers’ Literary Translation.  Then … after several dozen more rewrites, lo and behold, well, anyway, —


Together, We Two

Together, we two laughed one day …
And, ah – we laughed so much
that soon it seemed our boisterous laughs
had turned to tears’ sad touch!

Then, together again one night,
we laughed and laughed so much
that the hazy trace of our trailing tears
left a strange enchantment’s touch!

Amid the orgy of the calid cups,
deep long sighs are born
and in the oceans’ briny depths,
pure pallid pearls take form!

On the other hand, instead of a translation, an inspired interpretation, perhaps from soul to soul, might sound like this:

Together, the Two of Us

Together we laughed so much that day
So completely lost in mirth
That we hardly noticed when gradually
Our tears had lost their bliss.

Together again on another night
Engulfed in mirth and joy,
The trace of happy tears return
Left a strange enchantment’s touch.

Amidst the sweet decadence of joy
Dulcet sighs are born
While in the ocean’s’ briny depths,
Pure pallid pearls take form.

Introduction and Translation © Guillermo Calvo Mahé, Ocala, Florida 2007.  All rights reserved.

[1]              Baker, Armand F., “José Asunción Silva, Risa y llanto”.  Antología comentada del Modernismo. Medellín, Colombia: Porrata y Santana, 1974.


[2]              Santos Molano Enrique.  El corazón del poeta: los sucesos reveladores de la vida y la verdad inesperada de la muerte de José Asunción Silva.  Edición original: Bogotá, Nuevo Rumbo Editores. 1992.