Delmira Agustini

Jules Pascin, Brothel, 1912

Intermezzo 7: Ximena

After I’d signed Holograms—To Ximena. May you always radiate the light of your own epiphanies. From a man who still dreams of ocean voyages under the stars, of Pedro de Sintra, Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco de Gama. Sprague Harlequin—she told me of her life in Montevideo. I then asked her to read me something from the second book she’d bought, El rosario de Eros by Delmira Agustini. I remember only an image of a marble statue with a head of fire, and I remember the poet’s story: Divorced one month after her wedding, she declared, ‘Marriage is a vulgarity’. Then, shifting from wife to lover, she began seeing her husband in a bordello. Before killing himself, the bastard shot her dead.

Delmira Agustini

Yo, la estatua de mármol con cabeza de fuego,
Apagando mis sienes en frio y blanco ruego…
Engarzad en un gesto de palmera o de astro
Vuestro cuerpo, esa hipnótica alhaja de alabastro
Tallada a besos puros y bruñida en la edad;
Sereno, tal habiendo la luna por coraza;
Blanco, más que si fuerais la espuma de la Raza,
Y desde el tabernáculo de vuestra castidad,
Nevad a mí los lises hondos de vuestra alma;
Mi sombra besará vuestro manto de calma,
Que creciendo, creciendo me envolverá con Vos;
Luego será mi carne en la vuestra perdida…
Luego será mi alma en la vuestra diluida…
Luego será la gloria… y seremos un dios!
— Amor de blanco y frío,
Amor de estatuas, lirios, astros, dioses…
¡Tú me lo des, Dios mío!

René Magritte, Memory, 1948

Agustini, tr. Cathy L. Jrade

I, the marble statue with a head of fire,
Extinguishing my temples in whiteness and cold, implore…
Mount in a gesture of palm tree or star
Your body, that hypnotic alabaster jewel
Carved by pure kisses and burnished by age;
Serene, like having the moon as a breastplate;
White, more than if you were the foam of the Race,
And from the tabernacle of your chastity,
Snow on me the deep lilies of your soul;
My shadow will kiss your cloak of calm,
That growing, growing will envelop me with you;
Then my flesh will be lost in yours…
Then my soul with be diluted in yours…
Then it will be glory… And we will be a god!
— Love of whiteness and cold,
Love of statues, lilies, stars, gods…
May you give it to me, dear God!

From Cathy L. Jrade, Delmira Agustini, Sexual Seduction, and Vampiric Conquest  (Yale University Press, 2012)

By Camil van Hulse

Whoever is even slightly acquainted with the life of the middle classes in Uruguay, knows that there is hardly a more monotonous, a more uniformly conventional routine of daily existence than theirs. Everything, in the life of a young girl, is selected, approved, supervised by the parents or guardians. The young girl is sent to a convento; there every word of print that comes under her eye must have been approved by the Superiora; even the classics are expurgated and duly interpreted. Leaving school, the young woman is properly chaperoned every minute of her life; not a chance for any affair or intrigue, neither inside nor outside the home; should any young hopeful gallant wish to press his suit, he must do so formally. But after all is said and done, it is the family, especially the mother, who will pick a husband for the daughter and will send her off into the stormy seas of matrimony.

Is it any wonder that to a person combining sensitiveness and brain power, like Delmira Agustini, the world was a prison, and that she built her own world inside herself, a world of imagination, ideals and vague desires?

Nobody has ever been able to explain how a seventeen-year-old girl, of middle-class parentage, who had never ventured beyond her little routine of conventionalized life habits, could write poetry with such deep insight, such elevated ideas, and such finished style and form, that it seems as if behind her lay a whole lifetime spent in artistic labors and filled with intense passions and vivid experiences. But she continued in the same environment, submitted to the same inevitable surroundings and conditions. She had very little inspiration outside herself: she barely knew anything about philosophers, doctrines, schools, theories and the like. She kept on withdrawing more and more into herself, into her emotional life and feelings until she found herself lonely and isolated from the rest of the world.

Inevitably, she begins to think of Love, sung in the literature of all times, classic, modern, lyric and epic. She wonders whether Love will satisfy all those vague desires that she feels but cannot formulate. She wants to know what Love has to offer, she wants to feel it, live it. But how?

Rafael Barradas, Portrait of Pilar

Carlos Maria Herrera, Descansando (detail)

She has reached neither the age nor the stage in which she wants to settle down in married life, and married life, in her conventional society, is the only form of love approved and tolerated. Besides, she instinctively recoils from sexual love, as being too crude and superficial for her sensitive nature. So again she creates her own love-life and her own love-emotions within herself. She has her idealized lovers, she confides in them, pampers them and worships them as no woman in real life could do.

But Delmira’s inner life fails to satisfy her. She desires, craves and yearns for she knows not what. Strange, morbid hallucinations begin to take hold of her mind; in one she sees the head of her dead Lover. In another she calls herself the Spring, and she invites the Winter to be her Lover.

Soon she no longer knows what she desires. She has reached the stage where the incessant longing for an unknown ideal takes the shape of constant pain and suffering.

But the Romanticist of the last century has discovered a still greater torture: the one of not knowing where to turn to satisfy his intolerable yearning. He does not even have an outlet in his memories.

So too Delmira Agustini. She feels herself dying, she tells us she has wept until she was unconscious; she is dying, dying from living and dreaming.

Shortly after publishing Los cálices vacíos, she married a cattle-dealer. This was evidently a ‘mariage de convenance,’ arranged by her family, intent only on providing for her physical welfare. The artistic and literary world shook their heads in disgust and apprehension. The inevitable happened. After no more than a few days of married life they separated. Then began a miserable period of pulling and tugging back and forth in vain attempts to adjust two irreconcilable viewpoints. She wanted Love, not jut a ‘him’ —He wanted Her and what he thought was love. At his instance, they arrange lovers’ trysts in various hotels in the suburbs; perhaps the idea of the clandestine meeting appealed to her romantic nature—but the outcome invariably repelled her. Finally one day they were found dead together, shot with the same pistol. Police had no hesitation in explaining the drama as murder and suicide, but intimate friends do not doubt that it was, psychologically at least, a case of double suicide—only her suicide began the day she married him. And so ended the career of a brilliant but ephemeral star in the sky of Spanish lyrical poetry.

If ever there was a poet of the Sehnsucht it was Delmira Agustini. But her Sehnsucht, her yearning, carried her to the sublimest heights.


From Books Abroad, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Winter, 1935). This is an edited version of the original article; the article is available in full from JSTOR.
Mara Marietta