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Poetry > Nov 21 - Lullabye of the Onion - Miguel Hernández

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message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9374 comments Miguel Hernández (1910 - 1942), was a leading 20th century Spanish poet and playwright. Born into a peasant family in Spain in 1910, Miguel Hernandez had little formal education but succeeded in publishing his first book of poems by age 23. Arrested several times for opposing Franco, he died at 31 of tuberculosis contracted in prison.

Perhaps Hernández's best known poem is "Nanas de cebolla" ("Onion Lullaby"), a reply in verse to a letter from his wife in which she informed him that she was surviving on bread and onions. In this poem, the poet turns his wife's body into a mythic symbol of desperation and hope, of regenerative power desperately needed in a broken Spain He reflects on the present condition of and future prospects for his baby son.
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Lullaby of the Onion
(dedicated to his son, after receiving a letter from his wife
in which she said she had nothing to eat but bread and onions)

The onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
large and round.

My little boy
was in hunger's cradle.
He was nursed
on onion blood.
But your blood
is frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.

A dark woman
dissolved in moonlight
pours herself thread by thread
into the cradle.
Laugh, son,
you can swallow the moon
when you want to.

Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.

Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips.

Your laughter is
the sharpest sword,
conqueror of flowers
and larks.
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.

The flesh fluttering,
the sudden eyelid,
and the baby is rosier
than ever.
How many linnets
take off, wings fluttering,
from your body!

I woke up from childhood:
don't you wake up.
I have to frown:
always laugh.
Keep to your cradle,
defending laughter
feather by feather.

Yours is a flight so high,
so wide,
that your body is a sky
newly born.
If only I could climb
to the origin
of your flight!

Eight months old you laugh
with five orange blossoms.
With five little
ferocities.
With five teeth
like five young
jasmine blossoms.

They will be the frontier
of tomorrow's kisses
when you feel your teeth
as weapons,
when you feel a flame
running under your gums
driving toward the centre.

Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
it is saddened by onion,
you are satisfied.
Don't let go.
Don't find out what's happening,
or what goes on.

Translated by Don Share from I Have Lots of Heart: Selected Poems 1997 http://www.amazon.com/Have-Lots-Heart...


message 2: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9374 comments This poem has some of the loveliest images I've read in a long time. Which ones particularly speak to you?

What do you think he means in his advice to his son?


message 3: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments This is a wonderful poem. The way the mother shelters the child is touching. She is his world, her breasts, his moons. Her presence and her lullaby are a barrier between the child and the war and poverty. It is a resistance song.

The image of being nursed on onion's blood (second stanza) sticks out for me. The onion or frost coming from nature through the mother to the child reiterates how natural and how humble the relationship is.

I also like the lines that describe the power of his laughter, how it's the "sharpest sword" and how it "gives [her] wings." I think these lines are meant to comfort the mother.

And then finally, the last few stanzas seem to introduce some anxiety. We get the five teeth and the inevitable biting but it is not the pain that she fears, it's his loss of innocence, the possibility of him no longer smiling or laughing. In the third to last line she says "don't let go" hoping that he will suckle forever (teeth or no teeth).


message 4: by Mike (last edited Nov 25, 2010 08:04PM) (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Here's a version put to music with a nice slideshow. It's in the original Spanish but I thought I'd add the link because the photographs give a good sense of the time this poem came from and because the music helps to understand the poem as a lullaby.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=038o8t...


message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9374 comments Thank you, Mike. That was lovely. How did you happen to know about it?


message 6: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Nothing special, I wanted to read the original, untranslated version so I did a search. The youtube link was in the results.


message 7: by Wendy (last edited Nov 25, 2010 08:28AM) (new)

Wendy Brown-Baez | 96 comments Hernandez is one of my favorite poets and not very well known, especially compared to Neruda. My favorite stanza is this one:

A dark woman
dissolved in moonlight
pours herself thread by thread
into the cradle.
Laugh, son,
you can swallow the moon
when you want to.

It makes me think of fairy tales, of magic and childhood innocence, despite the cruel conditions that Hernandez was living under. It astonishes me that a man locked up, away form his family, could write like this, with such love and hope for his son!

I wonder if the reference to teeth and gums, a flame driving towards the center, is reflecting back to himself, the fact that he was compelled to write poetry even though it resulted in imprisonment. Is he sending a subtle message not to be silenced despite the cost?
I find the last lines enigmatic in light of his determination to speak the truth about fascism.


message 8: by Mike (last edited Nov 25, 2010 08:02PM) (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Wendy wrote: "I wonder if the reference to teeth and gums, a flame driving towards the center, is reflecting back to himself, the fact that he was compelled to write poetry even though it resulted in imprisonment. Is he sending a subtle message not to be silenced despite the cost?
I find the last lines enigmatic in light of his determination to speak the truth about fascism."


The way I read it he, and the mother who would sing the lullaby, just want to shield the infant and spare him the ugliness of what goes on beyond the cradle. Victory for them is sheltering the boy as long as possible.


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