‘Cowards’ by Miguel Hernández

[Translator’s note: The blog of Andrés Cifuentes — Eco Social…Ojo Crítico (doff of cap to) led me to this poem by Miguel Hernández. It doesn’t soar as poetry, but it does register a raw and memorable cri de coeur. All translations fail, and mine does so by indulging in flights of paraphrase to offset the flatness of affect of the literal English. JMN]

Cowards
Men I see who of manliness
have none but what they flaunt,
the look and the Marlboro,
the britches and the beard.

At heart they are bunnies,
chickens in their guts,
hounds quick at crapping,
barkers in peace time
who in cannon season
vanish from the map.

These macho cottontails,
commissars of retreat,
hearing miles away
the thunder of bullets,
like matchless heroes
cut and run for the hills,
shitting explosively,
hair standing on end.
Bravely they take cover,
gallantly abandon
the blast radius,
these turds on the run
who’ve kicked for ages
my soul in the balls.

Where will you end up
that’s not dead, paleface rabbits,
untrustworthy curs
with extra paws?
Aren’t you ashamed to see
to this extent in Spain
so many steady women
under so much threat?
A bullet for every tooth
is what your life deserves,
cowards wearing coward hides
with reeds for hearts.
You tremble as if gripped
by a century’s worth of frost
and fade from sun to shadow
quaking in your boots.
For you a basement’s
undefended by its house.

Your yellow streak begs everyone
for battalions of walls
and lead barriers rimming
cliffs and trenches,
saving our threadbare lives
mired in gore and dread.
Not enough for you, defense
by showers of noble blood
shed unstintingly
abundant and warm
day in, day out,
onto Castilian clod.
You’re senseless to the calling
of the splattered lives.
To keep your pelts intact
burrows and dens won’t do,
not rabbit holes,
not toilets even, nothing will.
You flinch and flee, which gives
the people you turn tail on
just cause to drill
your disappearing backs with lead.

Only men alone remain
in the heat of battle,
and you, from far away,
try to rouge your infamy,
but the pallor of cowardice
will not wipe off your faces.

Keep standing your pathetic posts
over your pathetic cobwebs.
Swap your weapon for a broom,
and sweep with your ass cheeks
the caca you leave behind
wherever you set foot.

Wind of the People, 1937
Miguel Hernández
English version by JMN


Los cobardes
Hombres veo que de hombres
solo tienen, solo gastan
el parecer y el cigarro,
el pantalón y la barba.

En el corazón son liebres,
gallinas en las entrañas,
galgos de rápido vientre,
que en épocas de paz ladran
y en épocas de cañones
desaparecen del mapa.

Estos hombres, estas liebres,
comisarios de la alarma,
cuando escuchan a cien leguas
el estruendo de las balas,
con singular heroísmo
a la carrera se lanzan,
se les alborota el ano,
el pelo se les espanta.
Valientemente se esconden,
gallardamente se escapan
del campo de los peligros
estas fugitivas cacas,
que me duelen hace tiempo
en los cojones del alma.

¿Dónde iréis que no vayáis
a la muerte, liebres pálidas,
podencos de poca fe
y de demasiadas patas?
¿No os avergüenza mirar
en tanto lugar de España
a tanta mujer serena
bajo tantas amenazas?
Un tiro por cada diente
vuestra existencia reclama,
cobardes de piel cobarde
y de corazón de caña.
Tembláis como poseídos
de todo un siglo de escarcha
y vais del sol a la sombra
llenos de desconfianza.
Halláis los sótanos poco
defendidos por las casas.

Vuestro miedo exige al mundo
batallones de murallas,
barreras de plomo a orillas
de precipicios y zanjas
para nuestra pobre vida,
mezquina de sangre y ansias.
No os basta estar defendidos
por lluvias de sangre hidalga,
que no cesa de caer,
generosamente cálida,
un día tras otro día
a la gleba castellana.
No sentís el llamamiento
de las vidas derramadas.
Para salvar vuestra piel
las madrigueras no os bastan,
no os bastan los agujeros,
ni los retretes ni nada.
Huis y huis, dando al pueblo,
mientras bebéis la distancia,
motivos para mataros
por las corridas espaldas.

Solos se quedan los hombres
al calor de las batallas,
y vosotros, lejos de ellas,
queréis ocultar la infamia,
pero el color de cobardes
no se os irá de la cara.

Ocupad los tristes puestos
de la triste telaraña.
Sustituid a la escoba,
y barred con vuestras nalgas
la mierda que vais dejando
donde colocáis la planta.

Viento del Pueblo, 1937
Miguel Hernández

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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