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Their Own Words, in Their Own Voices

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To read a poem is a quiet joy. To read some authors’ prose is as wonderful as reading a poem. It’s just the poet, or the writer, and you. Right there, in black and white. What could be better?

How about hearing it “in color” as a poet or author reads to you from his own work, out loud?

You might get a whole different interpretation of a poem you thought you knew inside out.   You might get new insight into an author, hearing that author read her work to you.

Pablo Neruda records his work in the Library's lab
Pablo Neruda records his work in the Library’s lab

The Library of Congress, as part of 2015 Hispanic Heritage Month, is going to give you that experience this year–because it has launched a new streaming website where you can hear selections from the Library’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape, audio recordings of world-famous authors and poets from the Iberian Peninsula, Latin America, the Caribbean, and U.S. Hispanics reading from their work. Most of the readings will be in Spanish, but some will be in Portuguese or other languages from places touched by Spanish or Portuguese influence.

I can still remember the first time I read Gabriel García Márquez (in the 1970s), and Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda (in the ’80s). Their books, among my favorites, still wait for me at home. But now, I can hear them as they heard it in their own minds, as they wrote it to be heard.

Gabriel García Márquez reads an excerpt, recorded in 1977, from his novel El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch); Pablo Neruda, who recorded in 1966, reads his poem “Alturas de Machu Picchu” (“Heights of Machu Picchu”). Here’s an excerpt from its Canto Xii, translated into English:

Look at me from the depths of the earth,

tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,

groom of totemic guanacos,

mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,

iceman of Andean tears,

jeweler with crushed fingers,

farmer anxious among his seedlings,

potter wasted among his clays–

bring to the cup of this new life

your ancient buried sorrows.

Show me your blood and your furrow;

say to me: here I was scourged

because a gem was dull or because the earth

failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.

Gabriela Mistral reads, among her other writings, her poems “”Canción Quechua” (“Quechua Song”), and “País de la ausencia”(“Country of Absence”). She recorded these in 1950.

Octavio Paz, who recorded in 1961, reads from his books of poems Piedra de Sol (Sun Stone), Semillas para un himno (Seeds for a Hymn), Salamandra (Salamander), and ¿Águila o sol? (Eagle or Sun?). Here’s a little bit of his “Salamander:”

The salamander

a lizard

her tongue ends in a dart

her tail ends in a dart

She is unhissable        She is unsayable

she rests upon hot coals

queens it over firebrands

If she carves herself in the flame

she burns her monument

Fire is her passion, her patience

There is more, much more to the Library’s celebration this year of Hispanic Heritage Month. See the website for more activities and presentations.



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