A Miner (Blas de Otero)

January 13, 2009

He’s sitting there, sitting
on top of his acid shadow,
on his right, god, on his left, head bent,
the son. And the holy ghost drifting around in the air.
Who has fitted on this face
like a dead man’s? Who has eaten from his hunger and raised
      a glass
with his thirst? Even god does not shelter him.
There you have his son, a deafmute,
and Teresa, his daughter, in a rest home or
putting it crudely, the nuthouse.
damned mine! The heaven,
under the ground, of some mastermind somewhere.

His woman, they say, was lovely when she was a girl.
Now she’s a broken umbrella. She
doesn’t want to hear anything about heaven
and doesn’t want to talk about it. What she has seen
and sees right here in front of her is enough.


Otero’s poems began appearing in the 1940s when Spain was still suffering the crippling effects of its cival war. While many other Spanish poets were returning to pre-war “religious” stuff, which amounted to comfort food, Otero couldn’t ignore the suffering and injustices he had witnessed. Throughout his life he was haunted by God, and found human love wanting. His early poetry deals primarily with his search for God and human love, and his failure to find satisfaction in either.

Otero’s later poetry, while no less pained or powerful, is more subtle, more intimate. The poem “A Miner” comes later, in a volume called All About Spain, 1964, and is representative of both his early and late impulses, I think. In an interview with his translator Hadie St. Martin, Otero says there is often an “interplay of different themes in one and the same poem and a fusion of the individual with the collective or the historical.” This seems particularly true of this poem which bears both the physical and spiritual weight of an entire historical moment, siphened down to a single family’s suffering.

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