Ruben Dario, is probably the only late 19th century Nicaraguan modernist poet that anybody has ever heard of. With that kind of pressure, he had to be good. This poem is dedicated to Antonio Machado, who must have been quite a bit younger than Dario, and living and writing arcoss the Atlantic in Spain. It’s not obvious to me that this poem is in any way a tribute or a reference to Machado’s poetry, but the dedication is a nice touch anyway.
The title, Caracol, usually means snail, particularly the snails you eat with butter and garlic sauce, but here the poem is about the shell, a conch shell which you can blow into to make a loud somewhat musical sound. So this shell is much bigger than a snail’s shell, unless Nicaragua is like Texas and everything is bigger there.
A Antonio Machado.
En la playa he encontrado un caracol de oro
macizo y recamado de las perlas más finas;
Europa le ha tocado con sus manos divinas
cuando cruzó las ondas sobre el celeste toro.
He llevado a mis labios el caracol sonoro
y he suscitado el eco de las dianas marinas;
le acerqué a mis oídos, y las azules minas
me han contado en voz baja su secreto tesoro.
Así la sal me llega de los vientos amargos
que en sus hinchadas velas sintió la nave Argos
cuando amaron los astros el sueño de Jasón;
y oigo un rumor de olas y un incógnito acento
y un profundo oleaje y un misterioso viento…
(El caracol la forma tiene de un corazón.)
The first four lines of this sonnet establish the exceptional nature of the conch shell which the poet finds on a beach. It is made of gold and inlaid with pearls and seems to have been used by the goddess Europa when she was being seduced by Zeus in the form of a bull. It is interesting that such references to classical mythology were still current in poetry as recently as just over 100 years ago – how any poets today would attempt such a reference in the expectation that their readers would immediately comprehend the allusion. In the second four lines, the poet does what anybody would do on finding a beautiful conch shell – he first blows into it and then puts it to his ear to listen to the wonders of the seas.
The next three lines anchor the poem even more firmly in classical mythology, referring to Jason and the Argonauts; in the conch shell the poet hears the echo of the wind that filled the sail of the Argo as it set sail to seek the golden fleece. In the final three lines the poet hears the sound of waves and another wind, more mysterious this time, and reveals that the shell is in the shape of a heart.
So the poem creates an atmosphere of mystery around a beautiful object and allows the mystery to be expressed without defining an outcome or a significance. We must admire the beauty of the language and the references as expressions of the beauty of the shell and the experience of the poet.
The Poetry Dude