Day of the Dead

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Day of the Dead
by José Asunción Silva
Translated from the Spanish by Zach Powell.

The vague light...the dull day,
    The drizzle falls and wettens
With its penetrating threads the city cold and deserted.
Through the gloomy air an unseen hand throws
A dark, opaque veil of lethal melancholy,
And there is not anyone who, deep-down, is not calmed and recovered
When they see the gray clouds of the sombre atmosphere,
    And when they hear above
    Sad and dark
    The sleepy accents
    Also extremely sad and uncertain
    With which the bells sound
The mournful bells that speak to the living
    About the dead!
    And there is something anguished and uncertain
That mixes its sound with that sound,
And resonates unharmoniously in the concert
That rises the bells up to touch death,
    For all those who have been!
    It is the voice of a bell
    That is marking the time,
    Today the same as tomorrow,
    Rhythmic, constant, and pleasant,
    One bell complains,
    And the other bell weeps,
    The former has the voice of an old woman,
    The latter that of a girl in prayer.
The larger bells, that are twice as hard
Ring with an accent of mystic scorn,
    But the bell that gives the time
    Laughs, it does not cry.
It has in its dry tone subtle ironies,
Its voice seems to speak of joys, of happiness,
Of pleasures, of dates, of parties, and of dances,
Of the worries that fill our days,
It is a voice of the century among a chorus of monks,
    And with its notes it laughs,
    Skeptic and mocking,
    Of the bell that begs
    Of the bell that implores
    And of whatever chorus that commemorates,
    And it's because with its jingling
    It measured out human pain
    And marked the pain's end;
That's why it laughs at the serious bell
That rings there above with a funeral sound,
That's why it interrupts the sad concerts
With which the holy bell cries for the dead...
Don't listen to it, oh bells! Don't listen to it,
To the clamor of its serious voice,
Ask the people to sleep now
Far from life, free from desire,
Free from the base human battles!
Follow in the air your swinging,
    Don't listen to it, bells!
Against the impossible what could desire do?
    Over there up high it rings,
    Rhythmic and serene,
    That voice of gold
Without its sisters impeding it
They that pray in chorus
The bell of the clock
Ring, ring, ring now
And says that it marks
With its rich vibration
The forgetfullness of the time,
That after the veil,
Through which every dead person passes,
In a room-in-mourning
And with their families nearby
In a painful state
While the light of the candles
Illuminates the coffin
And the wreaths of iris
That after the sadness
Of their cries of pain,
Of their words of bitterness,
Of their heart-wrenching weeping,
It marked the moment
In which with the lethargy
Of mourning thought fled
From the dead, and feeling...
Six months later or ten...
And today, the Day of the Dead, now that melancholy
floats in the gray fog,
In which the drizzle falls, drop by drop,
And with it sadnesses dulls the nerves,
And envelops in a cloak of the gloomy city,
It has measured the hour and the day
In which to every house, lugubrious and empty
After the brief mourning happiness returns;
It that has marked the time of the dance
In which exactly a year ago, an airy dress,
Worn by a girl for the first time, whose mother sleeps
Forgotten and alone, in the cemetery
It rings indifferent to the monk's voice
Of the serious bell and its serious song;
It that has measure the precise time,
In which to every mouth, that pain had stamped,
As if by magic a smile returned,
That precursor to laughter,
It that has measured the time in which the widower
Spoke of suicide and asked for arsenic
When in the very room, recently perfumed,
Floated the aroma of carbolic acid
And it has marked later the time in which, speechless
With the emotions which which joy overwhelms,
So that they unified it with sacred knot,
In the same church it was with another bride;
It does not understand the mystery
Of those pains that fill the air,
And it sees in life every tragi-comedic thing
And it continues marking in the same way
The same enthusiasm and heedlessness
The flight of time that erases everything!
    And that is what's distressing and uncertain
    That floats in the sound
That is the ironic note that resonates in the concert
    That the bells raise in announcing death.
    For all those who have been!
    That is the final, subtle voice,
    Of vibrations of crystal
    That with young accent
    Indifferent to good and bad,
    It measures the same the vile hour
    As the sublime one or the fateful
    And it resounds,
    In the dark, melancholy heights
    Without having in its sound
    Clear, rhythmic, and rich,
    The sounds
    Lazy and saddest and uncertain
    Of that mysterious chorus,
With which beg the bells, the bells,
    The mournful bells
    That speak to the living
    About the dead!