Pedro Figari. ‘Primeros Pasos’. Oil on paper, 50 x 70 cm. Galería Prato, Montevideo, Uruguay.
Here’s another poem by Julio Herrera y Reissig which I’ve been working on. I’ve accompanied it with a painting by his countryman, Pedro Figari (1861-1938). Figari was born in Montevideo too and would have been about fourteen years old when Herrera y Reissig appeared on the scene as a no doubt most precocious infant. Inevitably with poems, it seems, it doesn’t matter how long I put them into a drawer or hide them away on a shelf: I always feel compelled to rework them. Thus this, like nearly all the others, is merely a working version. The original first appeared in ‘El Diario Español’ in Buenos Aires on April 2, 1905, as part of the series ‘Las Manzanes de Amaryllis’.
This is one of Herrera y Reissig’s pastoral sonnets. And of course it is quite striking for the way in which he personifies and animates nearly everything: the sun convalesces and leaps and keeps itself at a distance; the torrent pants; the countryside vibrates and smiles; a goat considers; the sky contemplates naively; a crease in the earth is pensive; even Delight seems to be portrayed in almost human form, busy seasoning food upon his knees. Only the bowl of figs and berries seems inanimate, and even with them I’m not too sure.
A word on Damócaris and Hebe is in order. These two are perfectly situated in this bucolic scene which is meant to evoke the eclogues or pastoral poems of the ancient world, though Herrera y Reissig is perhaps the first and only person to put them together in this way. Damócaris was a grammarian of the Greek island of Cos who lived at the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th centuries of our era. He is the author of four epigrams in the Greek Anthology. In Greek mythology, Hebe was the goddess of youth, daughter of Zeus and Hera. She was the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses on Mt. Olympus, serving them nectar and ambrosia until she was married to Heracles. Her successor was the Trojan prince Ganymede. She also drew baths for Ares and helped Hera enter her chariot. She is usually depicted wearing a sleeveless dress and was the goddess of forgiveness. Prisoners who had been freed often hung their chains in the sacred grove of her sanctuary at Phlius. I have a strong suspicion that Herrera y Reissig chose Damócaris the grammarian for this scene because he was meant to represent himself.
The Midday Meal
Rain…A convalescent sun frolics in the distance,
A beast of prey springs forth from the rocks,
And to the sound of the dense pantings of the torrent,
The countryside vibrates in rugged smiles.
A goat hanging from the precipice considers,
A golden calf leaps among the brush,
And the rustic sky contemplates naively
The pensive crease enfurrowing the mountain.
Over the hornèd trunk of a snowy spruce
Damócaris and Hebe have just left off loving;
One reanimates the ashes with his staff,
The other dispels idleness with simple chat…
And from the same wooden bowl they eat figs and berries,
Dishes seasoned by Delight upon his knees.