Te doy, Claudia, estos versos, porque tú eres su dueña.
Los he escrito sencillos para que tú los entiendas.
Son para ti solamente, pero si a ti no te interesan,
un día se divulgarán tal vez por toda Hispanoamérica
According to Achugar’s thesis, the syntax of poems within a poetic text tells us something about how the poems themselves should be read. This is immediately clear in Ernesto Cardenal’s Epigramas whose first three poems are all addressed to the same woman, “Claudia” and demonstrate a progression from intimate language to public language which is reiterated throughout the text. The Claudia poems set the tone for how throughout the Epigramas intimate love becomes discursive and then interacts with politics. For Cardenal, intimate communication, either through conversation or through the writing of love poems is always problematic, due to the intrusion of the state or the hostile environment for lovers created by class divisions.
In this first poem, the lyrical speaker intends the epigram as an intimate communication between the loving subject and the loved object. He writes them for her, “Tú eres su dueña¨ and fashions them out of a simple and direct language so that she would understand them. The potential reticence of the beloved, however, creates an obstacle whose result, strangely enough, converts a private communication a public one. This is emphasized by the centralization of the conjunction “pero” in the third line. The verses meant as private correspondence from lover to beloved (epi-stole) are stopped at this conjunction and diverted outward into public communication (epi-gram).
By moving beyond the personal into public discourse, the poems reach expand their level of effectiveness. They are able to inspire love in not one person but many, both other women who might be receptive to the poet´s feelings “otras” as well as other couples who may come together in “kisses awakened”. The poet, thus, compensates for the miscommunication and rejection by creating a lovers discourse which instead of being private, becomes public, integrated into the collective and accessible to all those who want it. On the level of politics, love will also extend beyond erotic couples to the larger territories of nation and region. Cardenal’s use of the term Hispanoamérica, instead of América Latina or even América –a term which the Latin American Left commonly uses to challenge the United States’ symbolic appropriation of the region through its name—places a strong emphasis on language and through it discourse as a common, a linguistic space connecting disparate regions to each other. The loving communication will move along the discursive space and to connect with others.
This transformation from personal love to public love language is reemphasized in the other two Claudia poems where the lover’s discourse begins to become part of the discourse of the nation. In “Cuidate Claudia…” Claudia´s personal habits “el gesto más leve” “la palabra” “el menor descuido” become fodder for study and parts of public memory. The political undertones of this poem are interesting. Claudia has become the subject of public scrutiny. Her every gesture, even those which are done carelessly or in intimate company, is potentially historicized, inscribed with public and temporal significance. She is discursive, an ideological subject in the Althusserian sense whose being is no longer private, but fully and indivisibly public. Similarly, in the third Claudia poem, (De estos cines) this transformation is extended to the elements of the courtship between her and the poet, the trips to the cinema and parties and horse-races.
These activities also seem to be both mindless distractions and indicators of the social milieu in which Claudia moves. These elements of her public identity as a classed ideological subject are removed in a discursive purification process. One is immediately reminded of Neruda’s “Los Versos del Capitán” in which the beloved who used to be the “compañera del baile” who used to dance “con su traje de seda en la sala” is called to rip apart her dancing shoes on the march. Claudia is essentially a party girl. Her romantic life occurs in a series of territories where love is replaced by entertaining performances and substitutions, films (where love is a literal performance) parties (a public terrain where performances of flirtation begin the love process) and horse races (which simulate sexual pursuit). These elements of an ideological identity, one which implies a class division and thus a barrier between the poet and his love-object are obliterated in the lover’s discourse which the poet commands.
In this third Claudia poem we see the beginning of a theme which will continue to manifest throughout the text, the confusion and blending of the figure of the ingrata or belle dame sans merci the reticent, cruel or disinterested beloved with the tyrant Somoza and the poet´s political enemies. This is one of the particular ways in which Cardenal expresses the fusion of the lover’s discourse with the discourse of history. “ y el nombre de Claudia que yo puse en esos versos/y los de mis rivales, si es que yo decido rescatarlos/del olvido, y los incluyo también en mis versos/para ridiculizarlos” In these lines Cardenal fuses the name of his beloved with the names of his enemies through a series of clauses beginning with the conjunction “y” which serves to create an equivalence between both groups. The only slight differentiation between them is that the one is named, the others have not yet been (and may not be). This creates two different types of discourse-level punishment which the poet metes out to those who betray him. The one who seeks to be forgotten will live in infamy; the other who seeks to be remembered will be forgotten. All of them will made objects of ridicule, in Dantesque fashion, in inverse relation to their ambitions.
The confusion of the tirano and the ingrata reappears constantly occurring at several discursive levels. It´s interesting to note that the two aphorisms which appear in the book, “Tú no escaparás de mis yambos” and the second “Tú no mereces ni siquiera un epigrama” could be addressed to both Somoza or the poet’s beloved, as the Tú is condemned but not identified. Both Cardenal´s poems in condemnation of Somoza and those in reference to his spurned love apply the Yo-Tú discursive model, in which the Tú is characterized as ambitious or arrogant:
Tú que estás orgullosa de mis versos
Pero no porque yo los escribí
Sino porque los inspiraste tú:
Y a pesar de que son contra ti.
Tú pudiste inspirar mejor poesía
Tú pudiste inspirar mejor poesía.
Unlike Neruda who often separates intimate from political poems in poemarios in which both are explored –In both Los Versos del Capitán and Cien sonetos de amor for example, politically oriented verse is given a chapter of its own— Cardenal blends political and amorous epigrams together, failing to establish any difference between the two so that certain epigrams and aphorisms addressed to “Tú” as in the above example in which the poems are described as written “against you” can be read as either addressed to the ingrata, or Somoza:
Este será mi venganza
Que un día llegue a tus manos el libro de un poeta famoso
Y leas estas líneas que el autor escribió para ti
Y tú no lo sepas.
In this epigram, the “ti” is not specified by any markers of gender or relation to the poet, making both readings not only possible, but very much intended. The beloved who spurned the poet and the tyrant who oppressed him are both avenged by receiving the lines of a famous poet of whom they inspired. These lines may be insults and criticisms or statements of love. In the first case, the tyrant is being insulted without realizing it. In the second the beloved is being flattered unknowingly. Once again discursive punishment is being meted out through naming and un-naming, the one is being remembered and snickered about behind his back, the other is being prevented from receiving the ego-boosting benefits of flattery.
Here we see in action not only Barthes notion of a lover´s discourse in which discursive fragments generated by poetry are disseminated into a larger social discourse but also Octavio Paz´s belief that poetry severs an experience from the spatio-temporal circumstances which surround it and allow it to “remain alive” in an intemporal poetic realm until it is evoked again in other circumstances. Indeed, as Urdivinia suggests, Cardenal’s poems exhibit a consciousness of the work of art as something which transcends the circumstances in which it was created. Paz’ concepts provide an apt reflection of Cardenal’s discursive activities in Epigramas. Paz describes the poem as “consecrating” a privileged instant, a particular moment in time which is, by being enshrined in the poetic word, anointed with an especial light and separated from the chronological flow of time. This moment then remains living in the poem as “un instante henchido de toda particularidad irreductible y es perpetuamente susceptible de repetirse en otro instante, de re-engendrarse e iluminar con su luz nuevos instantes, nuevas experiencias” (233). For Paz, the poem is thus a temporal fragment which contains a whole world. Cardenal, very clearly applies this concept of poetry in Epigramas as a kind of warning to both his loves and his political enemies, that as a poet he has a privileged relationship with discourse, and through discourse, history itself.