CITY CEMETERY (by Luis Cernuda)

(from the Spanish of Luis Cernuda)

[composed, apparently, in Glasgow, Scotland]


Behind the open railings and the walls
Black earth with neither trees nor grass;
Some wooden benches. There, in the afternoon,
Old folk sit in silence.
Houses stand all about and shops nearby,
Streets where children play. Trains
Run past the graves. A poor neighbourhood.

Like patches in the grey façades
Rags damp from the rain hang in the windows.
Inscriptions are eroded
From the stones of the dead of two centuries;
They have no friends to forget them, the faceless dead.
But when the sun comes out for a day or two in June
Those old bones down there must feel something.

Not a leaf, not a bird. Nothing but stone. Earth.
Is Hell like this? Pain without forgetting,
Noise and destitution and hopeless endless cold.
Here the silent sleep of the dead
Is unknown, for always
Life stirs among the tombstones, like a prostitute
Pursuing her business beneath the unchanging night.

When dusk falls from the cloudy sky
And the smoke from the factories settles
In grey dust, voices come from the pub,
Then a passing train
Stirs longering echoes like a trumpet of wrath.

It is not the Day of Judgement yet, O nameless dead.
Stay quiet, and sleep; sleep if you can.
Maybe God, too, has forgotten you.