Caracas: Ediciones Camelia. 2023. 144 pages.
The poem “Final sin fin,” whose title could be translated as “endless end,” belongs to Fábula del escriba, the last book of verse by Eugenio Montejo, published in 2006. Three years prior to its release, the Venezuelan maestro, in a gesture both uncommon and magnanimous, presented it to his friend and poet Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, along with twelve typed drafts and an additional handwritten one, which guided the creator towards the final version. Now, fifteen years after Montejo’s death, Arturo can find no better response to the treasure bestowed on him than to share it with his entire readership, thanks to Camelia Ediciones in Caracas.
This book, bearing the same title as the poem that gave rise to it, is described by Miguel Gomes, who wrote the prologue, as “an extraordinarily rare encounter,” as it encompasses thirteen versions by Montejo—upon which he hand-wrote observations, doubts, and constant changes—as well as two meticulous comparative studies authored by Gutiérrez Plaza himself and essayist Luis Miguel Isava. Both, from different but complementary perspectives, delve into the poem’s formal and thematic dimensions, scrupulously tracing its compositional progression. According to Isava, the aforementioned antetexts, as they are designated by genetic critics, once more dismantle the misguided notion that corrections aimed at achieving creative perfection compromise artistic authenticity, as if the poet remained subject to the whims of the ancient muses or a romantic breeze of inspiration. Based on this premise, which gains credibility from Nietzsche’s eloquent testimony and other supporting evidence, Isava delves into the progressive process of abstraction in “Final sin fin.” He reveals how Montejo systematically eradicated, across successive iterations, any elements of nature so common to his poetic style.
“MANY COMPOSITIONS FROM FÁBULA DEL ESCRIBA LEAN TOWARDS FORMAL BALANCE, BUT ONLY SOME KEEP SUCH EXACT STROPHIC EQUIVALENCE”
In line with this process of refinement, Gutiérrez Plaza adeptly conducts a thorough examination of the poem’s metres and rhythms, consistently referencing the evolution of its drafts. If the first of them consists of 35 verses, divided into three stanzas of 12, 11, and 12 respectively, the final version is reduced to 24 of two equal stanzas, exhibiting minimal disparity in syllable count: 138 syllables for the first and 140 for the second. Montejo himself indicates the count in his handwritten notes. This demanding search for symmetry astounds us even further as Gutiérrez Plaza, employing comprehensive tables, reveals how the metrical disparity found in the initial versions gradually gives way to the prevalence of the heroic hendecasyllable, characterised by an iambic rhythm. This shift comes at the expense of the melodically accented hendecasyllable, which was prominent in earlier attempts at rhythmic readjustment. Many compositions from Fábula del escriba tend towards formal balance, but only some keep such exact strophic equivalence.
Presented in this manner, the process of abstraction, according to Isava, unveils not only a yearning for harmonious synthesis but also a transformation in the poem’s meaning. It undergoes a gradual depersonalisation, wherein life detaches from the confines of a singular individual and assumes an immeasurable dimension, beyond the realm of death’s influence. According to this critic, “Final sin fin” is not a criterion but a counterpart to the epigraph by Juan Ramón Jiménez that introduces it, taken from his poem “El viaje definitivo,” where, in contrast to Montejo’s poem, it is the poet who departs, rather than his intimate surroundings of objects and beings: “…Y yo me iré. Y se quedarán los pájaros/ cantando;/ y se quedará mi huerto, con su verde árbol,/ y con su pozo blanco”. […And I will leave. And the birds will stay/ singing;/ and my garden will stay, with its green tree/ and with its white well].
In addition to Isava’s suggestive interpretation, my inclination, aligning with Gutiérrez Plaza, is to perceive the expression “Se irá la vida” (or “life will slip away”) as a euphemistic avoidance of mentioning death, a linguistic tendency deeply rooted even in everyday conversations. For instance, when someone’s life is said to be “slipping away.” Within “Final sin fin” and numerous other poems by Montejo, time challenges its linear nature and spirals back upon itself, leading to a persistent dependence on unsolvable paradoxes. In the words of Gutiérrez Plaza, they develop “a cadence that we could call ‘unhinged,’” “donde se está y no se está y nadie sabe nada” [where you are and you are not, and nobody knows anything], a verse that refers us to “Lo fatal” by Rubén Darío: “Ser, y no saber nada, y ser sin rumbo cierto” [To be, and not know anything, and to be without a definite course]. Both of them, curiously, are Alexandrine verses.
Perhaps due to the conceptual evolution of “Final sin fin,” Luis Miguel Isava argues that it, along with its thirteen variants, should be considered a poem series, where its drafts are not mere drafts, but rather parts of its complex metaphysical evolution. This interpretation would fit perfectly, for example, with “Partitura de la cigarra”—a poem composed of successive songs that, through their dialogue, expand and enrich the whole—but not with “Final sin fin,” which is characterised by continuous corrections in a process of refinement that Isava himself impeccably dissects. If it were as he suggests, why didn’t Montejo publish the drafts, ending with the final version of the poem?
One day in December 2007, in Madrid or in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where our families spent time together in close companionship, Eugenio Montejo spoke to me, with great delight, about this invaluable gift to Arturo. He told me that he presented it not only as a demonstration of his deep affection but also to inspire in him the sense of rigour and the effort required to write a good poem. “Putting words in their rightful place” was a mantra he often repeated in our conversations. This inspiration now touches those of us immersed in the pursuit of poetry, as we receive this legacy in such a comprehensive edition.