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Odilon Redon, I saw a flash of light, large and pale, 1896. Metropolitan Museum.

Poet: Francisco de Quevedo
Translator: Pamela Greenberg
Language: Spanish
Region: Spain


The greater part of death comes over me

A poem by Francisco de Quevedo, translated from Spanish by Pamela Greenberg. 

Francisco de Quevedo (y Villegas) was born in Madrid in 1580. He studied to become a Jesuit priest, but in 1605 retreated to La Torre de Juan Abad. In 1639 he was arrested with no clear charges, except a rumor that he conspired with the French. He died in 1645, one year after being released from prison. His works were published posthumously by his friend Jose Gonzalez de Salas.

Pamela Greenberg is a poet, writer and translator. Her translation of the biblical psalms, The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation was published by Bloomsbury. She lives in Cambridge, MA, where she works as a mental health counselor.

Enseña a morir antes y que la mayor parte de la muerte es la vida, y ésta no se siente, y la menor, que es el último suspiro, es la que da pena

Señor don Juan, pues con la fiebre apenas
se calienta la sangre desmayada,
y por la mucha edad, desabrigada,
tiembla, no pulsa, entre la arteria y venas;

pues que de nieve están las cumbres llenas,
la boca, de los años saqueada,
la vista, enferma, en noche sepultada,
y las potencias, de ejercicio ajenas,

salid a recibir la sepoltura,
acariciad la tumba y monumento:
que morir vivo es última cordura.

La mayor parte de la muerte siento
que se pasa en contentos y locura,
y a la menor se guarda el sentimiento.

He Teaches How to Die Beforehand and That the Greater Part of Death Is Life, and This You Don’t Feel, and the Lesser, Which Is the Last Breath, Is That Which Causes Pain

Señor don Juan, since taken with fever
it barely heats up, your disgruntled blood,
and much of the time, stripped to the core,
it shivers without pulse between artery and veins

Since the clouds have grown full of snow
your mouth, from many years grown shaky
your sight, sickly, buried in perpetual night
and your virility a hopeless game

go gladly accept the weight of your burial
hold tenderness for the tomb and headstone
“I live in order to die” is the ultimate proverb

The greater part of death comes over me
in moments of insanity and contentment
and the lesser when I gain over emotions control.