No dormiréis, malditos de la espada,

It looks like Rafael Alberti wrote this poem almost immediately on hearing of the death of the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (featured a number of times on this blog). Neruda died a few days after a military coup in Chile, and it was rumoured that Neruda might have been targetted and killed by the new military rulers, who were indeed rounding up and sometimes killing known leftist sympathizers. I turned out that Neruda actually died of sickness and old age, the timing of his death was a coincidence, but since Alberti himself was in exile as a result of the military dictatorship in Spain, this poem is as much about the poet’s anger at events as it is about the death of Neruda.

A Pablo Neruda, con Chile en el corazón
(Rafael Alberti)

No dormiréis, malditos de la espada,
cuervos nocturnos de sangrientas uñas,
tristes cobardes de las sombras tristes,
violadores de muertos.

No dormiréis.

Su noble canto, su pasión abierta,
su estatura más alta que las cumbres,
con el cántico libre de su pueblo
os ahogarán un día.

No dormiréis.

Venid a ver su casa asesinada,
la miseria fecal de vuestro odio,
su inmenso corazón pisoteado,
su pura mano herida.

No dormiréis.

No dormiréis porque ninguno duerme.
No dormiréis porque su luz os ciega.
No dormiréis porque la muerte es sólo –
vuestra victoria.
No dormiréis jamás porque estáis muertos.

Fustigada Luz, 1978

From <http://www.poetasandaluces.com/poema.asp?idPoema=569&gt;

So, right from the beginning of the poem, it is addressed to the new military rulers of Chile (led by General Pinochet, who, years later, was arrested and held for a while in London). The first words, “you will not sleep” are repeated throughout the poem, either as a call to their conscience or as a reminder that they will always be subject to revenge. They are “malditos de la espada”, accursed wielders of the sword; and the vituperative language continues – the military are crows with bloody claws, cowardly shadows, rapers of the dead.

The second stanza immediately contrasts this dark picture of the generals with praise of the poet Neruda, his noble verse, his enormous stature and his connection to the voice of the people who will one day overthrow the soldiers.

The third stanza invites us to contemplate the poet’s house, the results of the soldier’s hate and Neruda’s heart trampled by the military.

After repeating again the refrain, “you will not sleep”, the fourth stanza begins every line, with this phrase, finishing with the ultimate rejection “you will not sleep because you are already dead”.

So this poem is not so much about Neruda himself, but it is a cry of anger and protest at yet another bloody military insurrection, repeating what Alberti had himself lived through under General Franco. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much that the premise of the poem turned out to be false; the anger itself was entirely justified and is conveyed very effectively by Rafael Alberti.

The Poetry Dude

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