Dry Leaves by Honorato Vázquez Ochoa

Dry Leaves

If there are no flowers, Madame,
when the summer scorches,
at least there are dry leaves
scattered on the grass;
if there are no flowers, Madame,
a meager affection guards your heart.

Oh! When the wind blows,
it carries away the fallen leaves;
if not, passersby
trample it beneath their feet.
Oh! When the wind blows,
oh, poor garden, withered in our souls!

The sun is scorching,
and in the garden, it scorches
the leaves, if the dawn
does not shed its cool tears;
the sun is scorching…,
for that which dies, only tears…

You see, beloved Mother,
that I only harbor in my soul,
affections that agonize
and will perish tomorrow;
you see, beloved Mother,
that my poor withered garden lies.

And though today it is withered,
I do not wish, beloved Mother,
its leaves carried off by the wind,
trampled by those who pass;
and though today it is withered,
there are leaves that my heart dedicates to you.

What to do with what dies?
Kiss it with the soul,
leave it among the dead
in the final resting place;
what to do with what dies?
Pour our tears into its grave!…

If spring returns
and on its first morning,
my garden blooms with flowers,
amidst emerald leaves;
if spring returns,
yours is the first flower, beloved Mother.

Translator’s Note: I chose to translate Honorato Vázquez Ochoa‘s poem “Dry Leaves” as it beautifully conveys the poet’s deep emotions and serves as a heartfelt tribute to his mother. Vázquez Ochoa was a prominent Ecuadorian diplomat, lawyer, educator, painter, grammarian, writer, and poet, celebrated as one of the foremost figures of Cuencan lyricism in the 19th century. Through this translation, I aim to share the timeless themes of love, loss, and resilience found in Vázquez Ochoa’s poetry with a wider audience, preserving the essence of his sentiment and the simplicity of his language.

Original Spanish Version

Hojas secas

Si no hay flores, Señora,
cuando el estío abrasa,
siquiera hay hojas secas
caídas en la grama;
si no hay flores, Señora,
un pobre afecto el corazón te guarda.

¡Ay! Cuando sopla el viento,
se lleva la hojarasca;
si no, los caminantes
la huellan, cuando pasan.
¡Ay! Cuando sopla el viento,
¡pobre jardín, marchito de nuestra alma!

El sol es ardoroso,
y en el jardín abrasa
las hojas, si no vierte
su fresco llanto el alba;
el sol es ardoroso…,
para aquello que muere, solo lágrimas…

Ya ves, Madre querida,
que sólo tengo en mi alma,
afectos que agonizan
y morirán mañana;
ya ves, Madre querida,
que mi pobre jardín marchito se halla.

Y aunque hoy está agostado,
no quiero, Madre amada,
sus hojas lleve el viento,
las huellen los que pasan;
y aunque hoy está agostado,
hojas hay que mi pecho te consagra.

¿Qué hacer con lo que muere?
Besarlo con el alma,
dejarlo de los muertos
en la postrer morada;
¿qué hacer con lo que muere?
¡verter en su sepulcro nuestras lágrimas!…

Si vuelve primavera
y á su primer mañana,
brota mi jardín flores,
entre hojas de esmeralda;
si vuelve primavera,
tuya es la flor primera, Madre amada.

Medardo Ángel Silva

Medardo Ángel Silva Rodas (Guayaquil, June 8, 1898 – Guayaquil, June 10, 1919) was an Ecuadorian poet and member of the “Generación decapitada” [Decapitated Generation]. He is considered the most pure of Ecuadorian modernists. The “Decapitated Generation” is a moniker given by journalists and historians to to a group of 4 writers in early 20th century Ecuador, because of similarities in their poetry and because they each died at a young age. The four members of the group are Medardo Ángel Silva and Ernesto Noboa y Caamaño from Guayaquil, and Arturo Borja and Humberto Fierro from Quito. The cause of Silva’s death is not certain; he died at 21 while visiting a young girlfriend. He is believed to have committed suicide, but may have been murdered as the result of a love triangle. Among his most famous poems is “El alma en los labios” [My soul on my lips], made famous in a song by Ecuadorian singer Julio Jaramillo.

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