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The poet Blas de Otero was born in Bilbao, Vizcaya, in 1916 and died in 1979 in Madrid. He forms a part of the first post-’27 generation together with luminaries such as José García Nieto (the other epoch-marking generation in modern Spanish letters is that of 1898). Blas Otero and his contemporaries were marked by the general unrest in Spanish society, culminating in the Civil War (1936-39), and are regarded by critics as ‘conservative’, in the sense that they were concerned with the affirmation of those fundamental human values they perceived as being threatened in uncertain times. This social conscience is evident in the piece Mundo, a lament over the absurdities of modern existence.

V. Stevenson August 2002



Blas de Otero

When Saint Augustine was writing his Soliloquies.

When the last German soldier was imploding in disgust and


When the Punic Wars were raging

and women lay beaten on a staircase landing back


when Saint Augustine was writing The City of God with one hand

and with the other made notes to skewer heresies precisely


when being a prisoner of war meant not being dead but

happily finding oneself alive

when perfidious impregnable women set to restoring

the crumbling constellations

and automatic lighters gave up the ghost with posthumous tenderness

then, as I told you,

while Saint Augustine was busy revising the proofs of

his Enchiridion ad Laurentium

German soldiers were urinating on new-bombed


Sad, sad is the world like a girl who,

orphaned of her father, the thieves of embraces

press up against a wall

Many times have we striven to fill the solitude of men with


Many, infinite times we have withheld our hand

and nothing more gained than pieces of grit

wedged tenaciously between our teeth

Oh if Saint Augustine had only known, that European diplomacy

was seeing cabaret artistes

of most dubious reputation on the side

and the US Army was sent packages in which

the least slip in spelling or punctuation

was lauded a happy omen of liberty for those peoples

oppressed by The Inner Light.

I want to weep over so many broken legs

and all that carping ennui

of poets under age eighteen.

Never was there known a disaster such as this

Even the Sisters of Charity speak of crisis

And bloated tomes are written on the decline of shaving

soap amongst the Eskimo

Tell me what end awaits us amidst this anguish

all this pain of parents who are strangers to each other

When Saint Augustine learns our automatic telephones have stopped


and fire insurance premiums have coyly been secreted

in the tresses of perky blondes

ah then, when Saint Augustine knows everything

A great bolt will strike the earth, and in the blink of an eye

we shall all be rendered fools.

From Poesía española: 1935-2000, edición de Carmelo Guillén Acosta. Madrid: Casals, 2000. pp. 103-5

Translation © V. Stevenson, 2001