Gracias—this is the word that we use to say thanks. It implies gratefulness; so then, gracias to Askold Melnychuk, founder and director of Arrowsmith Press, and to Nidia Hernandez, Robert Pinsky, Forrest Gander, Sophie Cabbot Black, Alexandra Hall, and Carolin Forsche, and to those from the rest of the team whose names I will always remember: the only way I have to express my gratitude to them. Gracias also to my dear Rowena Hill.
Besides, I wish to send my regards to Amelia Mondragón, Roberto Carlos Pérez, and Margara Russotto, professors at universities of that country, and to Jane Katz, a friend from our days in Boston.
I find the book published there very beautiful—it is a joy for me. But, before going on, I hope you will be indulgent towards my English, a language that I read like my own but that I have not spoken for forty years. Moreover, my relationship with the languages I read, as I say somewhere else, is not a marriage. I remain only a bridegroom.
Now I will strive to clear up my position concerning my exile in Trinidad, an island situated very near Venezuela. When I lived there it was a British colony; then, in 1975, it became independent, and today it is a democratic republic. The reason I was sent there, after several months in jail, was for participating in a student strike against a military dictatorship. At that time, the Acción Democrática party and the Communist Party were fighting against that regime, which was overthrown in 1958. After that came forty years of democratic and civil government.
Now I wish to talk about my links with Boston.
A friend, the well known poet and writer Guillermo Sucre, who taught at several universities there, recommended me to the Guggenheim Foundation, and so I received a scholarship that allowed my family and me to spend a year in that city, which we remember with grateful affection, even longing. Here I should mention Doctor William Montgomery, who treated our son in Mass General Hospital; also Julio Ortega and Juan Marichal, very kind friends when I was there. Both of them were professors at universities in that nation, and excellent writers. Ortega, from Peru, has done much to make Hispano-American literature known, and Marichal did the same for writers from Spain. Incidentally, his wife was the daughter of the great Spanish poet Pedro Salinas.
There is an amusing anecdote. Some people mistook Professor Juan Marichal for the famous Dominican baseball player of the same name. He used to receive letters from many fans asking for autographs, and because of that he had to spend many hours writing letters to clear up their confusion.
During that year in Boston I used to go to Concord, which seems to me the cradle of the great spirit of that nation. I frequently visited Walden Pond, where Thoreau lived, once Emerson’s house.
Now I am going to talk briefly of a giant: Walt Whitman.
I discovered him early in the library of Barquisimeto, my hometown, when I was fourteen, and he has fascinated me to this day. He is so postmodern that many people, including poets, do not believe what he says.
By the way, I translated some passages of Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations by Horace Traubel. The translation was published in Venezuela, and after that by the Spanish publishing house Pre-Textos. Now I ask myself if that book and others like it have been reprinted in North America because they deserve it. I refer to those by Walter Teller and Clifton Joseph Furness, as well as the one by Richard Bucke whose main book, Cosmic Consciousness, is also very modern. They were ahead of their time.
As for me at present, I continue reading a lot: mainly thinkers like Alan Watts, and those who have affinity with him, such as Fritjof Capra, Jeff Foster, and David Bohm, who come from modern physics, which is a true revolution that may change the world.
I am only writing what might be called aphorisms, and I am trying to revise some old poems. This year, much of my prose will be published here.
Now, to please Nidia, I will expose some of my ideas.
Fundamentally, I think that nature does all.
Wonder seems essential to me.
That is why I was glad when I read these words from Goethe: “The highest a man can attain is wonder.” But many people do not feel that.
I think it is time for human beings to become cosmopolitan. So the nationalism that causes most wars may lose strength, until it disappears. Einstein speaks about the cosmic man as a possibility. He is the thinker who insists the most upon the necessity of abandoning nationalism. On the other hand, apart from that danger, the world is threatened now more than ever by totalitarianism. So, we have to be alert.
It seems that life is no longer sacred or that it never really has been; otherwise there would not have been thousands of wars. I should say that every time I speak or write I defend democracy, although I know it is still very defective. It should be renovated, made more engaged with social justice, but that requires a mental change by means of education. Democracy has to be taught.
Politically, I am rather anarchistic, but also pacificistic, in the Taoist way, although I prefer not to define myself. We are ineffable.
Also, I do not see any sense in Power. It is malignant. Everybody can see that, just by paying attention to the daily news.
Finally, I can say that to apply the word “crisis” to Venezuela is a euphemism. The situation is very serious, but I will not go into details now. I intend to write about the themes of this talk in an article in Spanish that I will send to Nidia. Gracias again.
Words read by Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas (online, from Caracas), on June 6, 2021, at the presentation of his book The Land of Mild Light, edited by Nidia Hernández and published by Arrowsmith Press in Boston.