I attended one of the many presentations at the Book Fair in MDCC Wolfson Campus on Thursday 18, 199 at 7:30pm. This presentation was called “Art and Literature in Argentina” and it was the introduction of the new translation of “Leaves of Grass” (Hojas de Hierva). “Leaves of Grass” is a book full of inspiring poems; Walt Whitman issued the first of many editions more than 100 years ago in 1895. Many writers translated this book into many languages, especially into Spanish but its best translation was by the famous author and poet “Jorge Luis Borges”.
“Leaves of Grass” is a volume of poetry in a new kind of versification because he praised the human body and glorified the senses. Walt Whitman was forced to publish the book at his own expense and his name did not appear on the title page, but he poses in the inside. Whitman spent the rest of his life striving to become a great poet. In 1855 edition of “Leaves of Grass” contained 12 untitled poems, written in long cadenced lines that resemble the unrhymed verse of the king of James Version in the Bible. No other poem in the first edition has the power of this poem, although “The Sleepers”, another visionary flight, symbolizing life, death, and rebirth, comes nearest. In 1856 Walt Whitman put together another edition of Leaves of Grass, with revisions and additions; he would continue to revise the collection throughout his life. The most significant 1856 poem is “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” he was originally from New York. In his third edition (1860) Whitman began to give his poetry a more allegorical structure. He added musical poems, and poems that dealed with sexual love and male friendship.
In 1865 there was a new edition of Leaves that reflected Whitman’s deepening awareness of the significance of the American Civil War and the hope for reconciliation between North and South. Finally, in 1881, Whitman arranged his poems to his satisfaction, but he continued to add new poems to the various editions of Leaves of Grass until the final version was produced in 1892. All his poems were included in the definitive “Reader’s Edition” of Leaves of Grass (1965), edited by Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. Whitman suffered a stroke the left him partially paralyzed and he dedicated his time writing and revising Leaves of Grass, despite his failing health, until his death. In his later years Whitman also wrote some prose of lasting value, essays in Democratic Vistas.
Today, Whitman’s poetry has been translated into every major language. It is recognized as a formative influence on the work of some other American writers and some Spanish writers as well. One of these writers that brought Whitman’s inspiration into the Spanish knowledge and awareness was Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was born in Argentina and he was a writer and author of famous books and poems such as: “Borges y Yo” whose challenging avant-garde poems and tales made him one of the foremost figures in Latin American and world literature. Borges was the son of a teacher and educated, he helped found several literary and philosophical periodicals and wrote lyrical poetry on historical Argentine themes, as expressed in such collections Cuaderno San Martin, Luna de enfrente, and others.
In 1955 Borges taught English at the University of Buenos Aires and turned from poetry to the short narrative fiction for which he is now famous. Jorge Luis Borges also wrote philosophical and literary essays, he invented a new way of free verse without proses. Borges created a fantastic, totally subjective, and deeply metaphysical world. His work is demanding and difficult to comprehend because Borges created his own symbolism; it is, however, greatly admired by other writers and scholars. Describing his work, Borges wrote: “ I am neither a thinker nor a moralist, but simply a man of letters who turns his own perplexities and that respected system of perplexities we call philosophy into the forms of literature”; Borges died in June 14, 1986 but before his death he translated many works of other English writers. “Leaves of Grass”, “ Leon Felipe” both written by Walt Whitman.
Finally in 1998 The Society of Argentinean writers asked Perez Celis (recognized and famous Argentinean painter) to illustrate the last Spanish edition by Jorge Luis Borges. Perez Celis worked in the book for a whole year, reading each poem, creating and choosing the right picture for each poem. After the completition of this illustrated edition there has been different presentations of the book in different places around the world, one of them here in Miami, Fl at the Miami Book Fair International. Celis says that he had to read each poem in “Hojas de Hierva” and think about what each poem communicated to him and what made each poem made him feel. Inspired by each text, he combined his imagination with his creativity to illustrate the poem without thinking about the text but being motivated by it.
“ A book is always a mystery, a book lets us discover ourselves”, Perez Celis. The book was last printed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Argentinean Consulate was present and author Carlos Paz and art critic Armando Alvarez Bravo who opened the meeting also reviewed the book. After all guests listened to the presentation we were invited to another room to participate of a small cocktail and to small exhibition of Perez Celis’s paintings. I thought it was an excellent and educational experience to participate of a cultural event like this one in which we could learn so much about literature and history that we do not know. I also paid attention to Public Relations works: Squedules of presentations, newspapers used, ads, parking accommodations, etc. I was also able to use this event for another class and I strongly think that students of Literature and other related courses should always be required to attend these types of events because they teach us a lot and enrich our minds.
Word Count: 998