The Dreams of Dolphins

Dolphins Near Hawaii

Silvina Ocampo is not only the wife of the great Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, but she is a world class writer and poet herself. The following poem is called, simply:


Dolphins don’t play in the waves
as people think.
Dolphins fall asleep going down to the ocean floor.
What are they looking for? I don’t know.
When they touch the end of the water
abruptly they awake
and rise again because the sea is very deep
and when they rise, what are they looking for?
I don’t know.
And they see the sky and it makes them sleepy again
and they go back down asleep,
and they touch the ocean floor again
and awaken and rise back up.
Our dreams are like that.


“Epitaph for a Lover”

Another Great Argentinean Writer for Your Consideration

Silvina Ocampo

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993) was a renowned Argentine poet and short story writer. She was married to Adolfo Bioy Casares and was the sister of publisher Victoria Ocampo. Here, for your consideration, is one of her poems, entitled “Epitaph for a Lover”:

I will pursue that world promised
by your ecstatic glance. In successive
lives, in countrysides or cities,
when the styles are different,
when entire breeds of animals and flowers
are being exterminated,
my constancy will find you: juniper
bushes likewise live waiting for the sun.

The translation is by Jason Weiss in his New York Review Books edition of Ocampo’s poetry.

The Magnificent Seven

Table for Two at La Biela: Statues of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares

Table for Two at La Biela: Statues of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares

At Recoleta’s busy La Biela Café, a table is permanently reserved for those two lions of Argentine literature: Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. They naturally belong together, as they were lifelong friends and collaborated together on several books.

In my readings of the literature of Argentina, I have come upon seven writers whose works are equal (when they don’t actually surpass) the best of European and American literature. I will confine my comments only to those works written in the 20th century, as earlier works, such as Hernandez’s Martin Fierro and Guiraldes’s Don Segunda Sombra belong more to the Gaucho myth than to literature.

Here are the seven writers whose works I recommend:

JORGE LUIS BORGES is, to my mind, one of the giants of 20th century literature. Although he never wrote any novels, his poems, short stories, and essays are must reads. Start with his collections Ficciones, Labyrinths, and The Aleph.

ADOLFO BIOY CASARES is not only Borges’s friend and collaborator, but is the author of several novels including The Invention of Morel and The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata. He was married to

SILVINA OCAMPO. Together, they were known as Los Bioy. Her Kafkaesque short stories are collected in a volume called Thus Were Their Faces. She is the sister of Victoria Ocampo, founder and editor of Sur, a magazine and a noted publishing house.

CÉSAR AIRA is a recent find for me. I have written several blog postings about him and his highly original narrative style (resembling a Roomba vacuum cleaner that always moves forward). I particularly liked The Hare and The Seamstress and the Wind (my favorite novel about Patagonia).

JULIO CORTÁZAR is known primarily for being the author of the short story which Michelangelo Antonioni adapted into his film Blow Up. I think his short stories are his best work.

THOMAS ELOY MARTÍNEZ has written novels about the Peróns. My favorite is about the long journey taken by the body of Evita Perón after her death by Cancer: Santa Evita. Today, Evita’s corpse is finally at rest at Recoleta Cemetery under her maiden name, Duarte.

JUAN JOSÉ SAER writes about El Litoral, the area along the River Paraná centered around Santa Fe. I think he may be up there with Borges and Bioy Casares. Currently, I am reading The Clouds. Another excellent title is The Witness.

If you feel your reading is in a rut, I highly recommend you turn your attention South—way South—and read one of these Argentinean classics.



Silvina Ocampo and Our Other Selves

Another Great Argentinean Writer for Your Consideration

Another Great Argentinean Writer for Your Consideration

She is incredibly well connected insofar as Argentinian literature is concerned. Her husband was Adolfo Bioy Casares, who was a frequent collaborator with Jorge Luis Borges. Her sister, Victoria Ocampo, published the literary magazine Sur, for which both Bioy Casares and Borges wrote. In her own right, Silvina Ocampo is a superb writer of short stories. (Thus Were Their Faces is an excellent collection published by New York Review Books, which I have just finished reading.) Together with Borges and Bioy Casares, she edited a book of fantasy and horror stories called The Book of Fantasy which was published in 1990.

I like the following poem because it seems to have been influenced by Borges. Or was it she influenced Borges?

In Every Direction

We go leaving ourselves in every direction,
in beds, in rooms, in fields, in seas, in cities,
and each one of those fragments
that has ceased to be us, continues being
as always us, making us
jealous and hostile.
“What will it do that I would like to do?”
we think. “Who will it see that I would like to see?”
We often receive chance news
of that creature . . .
We enter its dreams
when it dreams of us,
loving it
like those whom we love most;
we knock at its doors
with burning hands,
we think it will return in the illusion of belonging to us
mistaken as before
but it will keep being treacherous and unreachable.
As with our rivals we would kill it. We will only be able
to glimpse it in photographs. It must survive us.

New York Review Books has also published a volume of her poetry translated into English that I will probably be ordering soon. The above poem is from that edition.