"KLEE" by Ida Vitale

Translated from the Spanish by
George Economou and Luis Cortest

Ida Vitale D'Amico was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1923. In 1942 she entered the Law School of the University of the Republic in Montevideo and later studied at its School of Humanities. She co-edited the literary review Clinamen from 1947 to 1948. She married the critic Angel Rama in 1950, and since 1964 she has been married to the poet Enrique Fierro. She was Professor of Literature at the university in Montevideo from 1956 until 1973, when the military dictatorship forced her and many other intellectuals and artists into exile. In addition to writing poetry, which is noted for being the least autobiographical of her Uruguayan contemporaries, she also translates from several languages. Vitale lived in Mexico from 1974 to 1984, where she was befriended by Octavio Paz, Alvaro Mutis, and other Mexican writers. Since 1990 she divides her time between Montevideo, Austin, Texas, and Mexico.

A brief note on the poem: [Der] Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) is the name (after the title of a painting by Wassily Kandinsky) of a loose association of German Expressionist artists that included Paul Klee and Kandinsky which had major exhibitions in Munich in 1911 and 1913. Die Blaue Vier refers to a group of four artists, including Klee, with ties to Blaue Reiter, which showed in Germany and New York City in the early 1920s.


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KLEE — En clave de infancia mítica, la escala de colores de Klee parte como una nave del crepúsculo. La máquina de gorjear abre la frontera hacia el país fértil y el mundo clarea. ¿Nacerá cuadro y otra cosa? ¿Cristal o sangre? Todo es todo. Las flechas no fatídicas, avanzan lealmente en su espacio. Los laberintos juegan a la libertad. Las ciudades se despliegan en el horizonte. La geometría de Klee es no euclidiana. Reclama el derecho a ser tan móvil como la naturaleza. Del Blauer Reiter al Blaue Vier, su pintura se "forma" y podrá ser "Estrella, Vaso, Planta, Animal, Cabeza u Hombre". Nunca un trazo feliz requirió explicacion. Klee no quiere dar el hombre tal cual es sino el que pordría ser, en otras estrellas, por ejemplo. Klee -esclerosis de la piel- se muere poco a poco, extrañamente, pero danza en sus pinturas, en sus grabados, danza de los afligidos, danza de falena, trocado en árboles rítmicos, en el templo de la aspiración "hacia allá". Al final, cuando la mano no responda, danzará con la espátula. La música lo ha acompañado desde siempre. La música es su otro enclave.

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KLEE — In the key of infancy's myth, Klee's scale of colors furrows like a ship through dusk's daze. The warbling machine opens a frontier on a fertile land and lights up the world. What will be born? A painting? Something else? Crystal? Or blood? Totality. Arrows unforeordained seek their space in good faith. Labyrinths play freely. On the horizon cities unfold. Non-Euclidian Klee's geometry is. It claims the right to be as fluent as nature. From Blaue Reiter to Die Blaue Vier, his painting takes "form" and can be "Star, Glass, Plant, Animal, Head or Man". Never does a single happy trace demand interpretation. Klee does not care to show man as he is but as he might be, for example, on other stars. Klee--skleerosis of his skin--dies bit by bit, strangely, but he still dances in his paintings, in his prints; the dance of the afflicted, the dance of the geometrid, transmuting in rhythmic trees, in the temple of aspiration "over there." In the end, when his hand fails to respond, he will dance with the palette knife. Music has always accompanied him. Music is the other key that unlocks him.


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Luis Cortest is Associate Professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma.

George Economou taught English and Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma from 1983 to 2000.


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