About this Book / Sample Poems

From the Back Cover

Margaret Randall, US poet

Louise Popkin, who spends long periods in Uruguay, knew the poet, heard him read, consulted with him, and has studied his work andentorno, gives us the first really satisfying, accurate, and deeply-felt English translations that capture Mario’s poetic voice throughout all its periods and range. She pays attention to local usage and brilliantly recreates the spoken quality of these poems. Popkin’s is a true labor of love, but it is much more than that. I believe Mario, at long last, would be thrilled. I am.

Claribel Alegría, prizewinning Salvadoran/Nicaraguan poet

It gives me great pleasure to see the work of Mario Benedetti, one of the great poets of our language, made available to US readers in Louise Popkin’s wonderful translations. Louise’s carefully crafted adaptations of Mario’s poems convey all the wisdom, nostalgia and irony that inform his verses in language that retains their musicality. Anyone who has translated poetry will appreciate what an accomplishment that represents.

Sylvia Lago, Uruguayan novelist and President, Fundación Mario Benedetti

This collection of Mario Benedetti’s poems, translated into beautiful English by Louise Popkin—a close friend of the author’s and an insightful interpreter of this work—deserves our grateful admiration. The reader who savors each poem, each strophe, each line and image, can truly delight in these texts by our great poet, rendered with love, sensitivity and exceptional skill by a first-rate translator.


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Table of Contents

Introduction (Margaret Randall)

Translator’s note

Epigraph (Haiku Nook, no. 115)


Sólo mientras tanto / Only Meanwhile (1948-50)

Nocturno / Nocturne
Asunción de ti / Taking Hold of You


Poemas de la oficina / Office Poems (1953-56)

Sueldo / Payday
El Nuevo / The New Guy
Verano / Summer
Dactilógrafo / Typist
Angelus / Angelus


Poemas del hoy por hoy /Poems for the Here and Now (1958-61)

Vuelo 202 / Flight 202
Cumpleaños en Manhattan / Birthday in Manhattan
Padrenuestro latinoamericano / A Latin American Lord’s Prayer
El angel / The Angel


Noción de patria / When I Say Patria (1962-63)

Noción de patria / When I Say Patria
Obituario con hurras / Obituary with Cheers
Turning point / Turning Point
A la izquierda del roble / To the Left of the Oak Tree


Próximo prójimo / Friends and Fellow Creatures (1964-65)

Socorro y nadie / Futile Cry for Help
Currículum / Curriculum Vitae
La trampa / The Hoax
Todos conspiramos / We’re All Conspiring


Contra los puentes levadizos / Down with Drawbridges (1965-66)

Contra los puentes levadizos / Down with Drawbridges


A ras de sueño / At Dream Level (1967)

Consternados, rabiosos / In Grief and Rage


Quemar las naves / Burning our Boats (1968-69)

Quemar las naves / Burning our Boats
Grietas / Rifts


Letras de emergencia / Emergency Poems (1969-73)

Me sirve y no me sirve / My Way
El verbo / The Word
Casi un réquiem / Something of a Requiem
Victoria del vencido / Triumph of the Defeated
Torturador y espejo / Torturer with Mirror


Poemas de otros / Poems of Others (1973-74)

Hombre preso que mira a su hijo / Prisoner Looking at his Son
Táctica y estrategia / Tactics and Strategy
La otra copa del brindis / Drinking a Toast
No te salves/ Don’t Play it Safe


La casa y el ladrillo / The House and the Brick (1976-77)

La casa y el ladrillo (extracto) / The House and the Brick (excerpt)


Cotidianas / Everyday Poems (1978-79)

Piedritas en la ventana / Pebbles at my Window
Esa batalla / That Battle
Grillo constante / Constant Cricket
Lento pero viene / Slowly but Surely
Me voy con la lagartija / I’m off with the Lizard
El paraíso / Heaven
Botella al mar / Bottle Out to Sea
Cotidiana 4 / Everyday Poem 4


Viento del exilio / Wind of Exile (1980-81)

Talantes / Moods
Allende / Allende
Abrigo / Shelter
El jubilado / The Pensioner
Ex presos / Ex-Prisoners


Geografías / Geographies (1982-84)

Eso dicen / From What They Tell Me
Desaparecidos / Desaparecidos


Preguntas al azar / Random Questions (1986)

Preguntas al azar 1 / Random Questions 1
Rescates / Salvage
Infancias / Childhoods
Historias de vampiros / A Tale of Vampires
Soy mi huésped / I’m my Guest
La acústica de Epidauros / The Acoustics at Epidaurus


Yesterday y mañana / Yesterday and Tomorrow (1988)

Tormenta / Storm
Quimera / Delirium
Mañana / Tomorrow
Cavilación del centinela / The Sentry’s Foreboding
Epigrama / Epigram


Despistes y franquezas / Distractions and Straight Talk (1990)

El odio viene y va / Hatred Comes and Goes
La roca / Rock
Seísmo / Earth Tremor


Las soledades de Babel / Babel’s Solitudes (1991)

Mulato / Mulatto
Pero vengo / But Here I Am
Somos la catásatrofe / We’re a Disaster
Las soledades de Babel / Babel’s Solitudes
Distancias / At a Distance
Utopías / Utopias


El olvido está lleno de memoria / Forgetting is Filled with Memories (1995)

Ese gran simulacro / That Colossal Pretense
El porvenir de mi pasado / The Future of my Past
Sequía / Drought
Irrespirable / Unbreathable
Ahi nomás / Right There
Despabílate amor / Wake up Love
Mercaderes / Money-changers


La vida ese paréntesis / That Parenthesis Called Life (1998)

Como si nada / As if it Didn’t Matter
Sonata para adiós y flauta / Sonata for Farewell and Flute
Soliloquio del desaparecido / The Desaparecido’s Soliloquy
Che 1997 / Che 1997
Lluvia / Rain


Rincón de haikus / Haiku Nook (1999)

5 haikus (selección) / 5 Haikus (selection): nos. 32, 63, 73, 97, 116


El mundo que respiro / The World I Breathe (2001)

Mundo que se deshace / The World is Falling Apart
Soledades / Solitudes
Basura / Garbage
El mundo que respiro / The World I Breathe
Cierre / Closing


Insomnios y duermevelas / Tossing and Turning (2002)

Asamblea / Roster
Idilio / Idyll
Poemas a la intemperie / Outdoor Poems


Existir todavía / Still Around (2004)

Infancias / Childhoods
Fantasma / Ghost


Defensa Propia / Self-Defense (2005)

Mundo enfermo / This Sick World
Ausencias / Absences
Como un gallo / Like a Rooster
Sur / South
14 Bagatelas (selección) / 14 Bagatelles (selection)


Adioses y bienvenidas / Goodbyes and Hellos (2006)

Brindis I / Toast 1
Calles / Streets
Testamento / Last Will and Testament
3 haikus (selección) / 3 Haikus (selection): nos. 12, 32,42


Nuevo rincón de haikus / New Haiku Nook (2006)

5 Haikus (selección) / 5 Haikus (selection): nos. 109, 140, 259, 263, 292


Canciones del que no canta / Songs from a Sorry Singer (2007)

Soneto con bruja / Sonnet with Witch
Horizonte / Horizon


Testigo de uno mismo / Witness to Myself (2008)

Canasta / Shopping Basket
Libro dos / Book Two


Biografía para encontrarme / For Who Would Find Me: biographical notes (2008)

Paréntesis / Parenthesis
Mentiras piadosas / White Lies
Ruta / Roadmap
No estoy / I’m not Home
Palabra / Word




Three Poems from Witness


Aquella esperanza que cabía en un dedal,
aquella alta vereda junto al barro,
aquel ir y venir del sueño,
aquel horóscopo de un larguísimo viaje
y el larguísimo viaje con adioses y gente
y países de nieve y corazones
donde cada kilómetro es un cielo distinto,
aquella confianza desde no sé cuándo,
aquel juramento hasta no sé dónde,
aquella cruzada hacia no sé qué,
ese aquel que uno hubiera podido ser
con otro ritmo y alguna lotería,
en fin, para decirlo de una vez por todas,
aquella esperanza que cabía en un dedal
evidentemente no cabe en este sobre
con sucios papeles de tantas manos sucias
que me pagan, es lógico, en cada veintinueve
por tener los libros rubricados al día
y dejar que la vida transcurra,
gotee simplemente
como un aceite rancio.


That tiny thimbleful of hope,
the high curb bordering the mud,
the back and forth from sleep to waking,
the horoscope about a long journey
and the long journey with crowds and farewells
and snowy countries with warm hearts
where each mile brings a change of sky,
the certainty from who knows when,
the vow for who knows how long,
the crossing to who knows where,
the someone else you might have been
with a change of pace and a lucky number or two,
in short, why not come right out and say it,
there’s no room for that thimbleful of hope
in this envelope stuffed with peso bills
dirty from so many dirty hands
which they pay me, of course, at the end of each month
for keeping their books up to date
and letting life go by,
one drop at a time
like rancid oil.

No te salves

No te quedes inmóvil
al borde del camino
no congeles el júbilo
no quieras con desgana
no te salves ahora
ni nunca
no te salves
no te llenes de calma
no reserves del mundo
sólo un rincón tranquilo
no dejes caer los párpados
pesados como juicios
no te quedes sin labios
no te duermas sin sueño
no te pienses sin sangre
no te juzgues sin tiempo

pero si
pese a todo
no puedes evitarlo
y congelas el júbilo
y quieres con desgana
y te salvas ahora
y te llenas de calma
y reservas del mundo
sólo un rincón tranquilo
y dejas caer los párpados
pesados como juicios
y te secas sin labios
y te duermes sin sueño
y te piensas sin sangre
y te juzgas sin tiempo
y te quedas inmóvil
al borde del camino
y te salvas
no te quedes conmigo.

Don’t Play it Safe

Don’t stand idle
at the side of the road
don’t hold off on happiness
don’t love with half a heart
don’t play it safe now
or ever
don’t play it safe
don’t fill up with calm
don’t take cover from the world
in a quiet corner
don’t let your eyelids come down
like a weighty sentence
don’t forget you have lips
don’t sleep but to rest
don’t ignore the blood in your veins
don’t think you have no time

but if
in any case
you can’t help it
and hold off on happiness
and love with half a heart
and play it safe now
and fill up with calm
and take cover from the world
in a quiet corner
and let your eyelids come down
like a weighty sentence
and dry up without lips
and sleep not to rest
and ignore the blood in your veins
and think you have no time
and stand idle
at the side of the road
and play it safe
in that case
don’t hold on to me.



Están en algún sitio / concertados
desconcertados / sordos
buscándose / buscándonos
bloqueados por los signos y las dudas
contemplando las verjas de las plazas
los timbres de las puertas / las viejas azoteas
ordenando sus sueños sus olvidos
quizá convalecientes de su muerte privada

nadie les ha explicado con certeza
si ya se fueron o si no
si son pancartas o temblores
sobrevivientes o responsos

ven pasar árboles y pájaros
e ignoran a qué sombra pertenecen

cuando empezaron a desaparecer
hace tres cinco siete ceremonias
a desaparecer como sin sangre
como sin rostro y sin motivo
vieron por la ventana de su ausencia
lo que quedaba atrás / ese andamiaje
de abrazos cielo y humo

cuando empezaron a desaparecer
como el oasis en los espejismos
a desaparecer sin últimas palabras
tenían en sus manos los trocitos
de cosas que querían

están en algún sitio / nube o tumba
están en algún sitio / estoy seguro
allá en el sur del alma
es posible que hayan extraviado la brújula
y hoy vaguen preguntando preguntando
dónde carajo queda el buen amor
porque vienen del odio


They’re out there somewhere / all assembled
disassembled / bewildered / voiceless
each seeking the others / seeking us
hemmed in by their question marks and doubts
with their eyes on the ironwork in the plazas
the doorbells / the shabby rooftops
sorting through their dreams / forgotten memories
perhaps recovering from their private deaths

no one has told them yet for sure
if they’re gone for good or not
if they’re banners now or tremors
survivors or prayers for the dead

they see trees and birds go by
and wonder which shadows are theirs

when they first started disappearing
three five seven ceremonies ago
disappearing as if they were ghosts
with no trace or face or good reason
they glimpsed through the window of their absence
what was left behind / that scaffold
of embraces sky and smoke

when they first started disappearing
like the oasis in a mirage
disappearing with no last words
they still held in their hands the pieces
of things they loved

they’re out there somewhere / in the clouds or a grave
they’re out there somewhere / of that I’m certain
in the dear southern reaches of my heart
it may be they’ve lost their bearings
and now they wander asking always asking
where the fuck is the road to true love
because they’re coming from so much hate

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Using Witness in the Classroom

Witness: The Selected Poems of Mario Benedetti is designed to be easy to use in both college and high school classrooms. The book is suitable for courses in:

  • Spanish-language literature
  • Social justice/people’s movements
  • Latin American history
  • Modern/20th-century poetry

Desk Copy Requests

If you teach a class and would like to consider the book as a textbook, contact Consortium Book Sales & Distribution to request an evaluation copy. For Consortium’s policy regarding desk copies, see http://www.consortiumacademic.com/policies.php

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