Literature

Sorrow on the Puna, a Translation of Luís Nieto’s Poem

Flower among Harsh Thorns

Wind rushes across the high, grassy land that stretches between Peru’s river valleys and its snowy, mountain peaks as if a world to itself. In fact this land has a name. It is called puna and it is the home of the wind, wayra. They come alive in the great poet of Cuzco, Luis Nieto Miranda’s work, Charango:  (Romancero Cholo) or ”Charango (A Cholo Romance)”.

The people who live on the grassy lands where the wind is a frequent guest are known to be different from those who live in the valleys and are the normal subject of Luis Nieto’s writing. They are herders and maybe grow some bitter potatoes to freeze and dry. But they are mostly known from their herds of alpacas and llamas that seem to grow right out of the tall and tough spikes of grass.

Isolation on the Vast Puna
Isolation on the Vast Puna

The high grassy lands are known to be wild places. Although herders live there, they are also places where neighboring communities meet along boundaries to perform the rainy season ritual battle called chiaraje as if partridges competing for mates.

The highlands are also places where young couples go for courtship, or court while herding their sheep. This is where the courtship dance and competition known as qachwa takes place.

Night Falling Suddenly in the HIghlands
Night Falling Suddenly in the HIghlands

The grassy land also fills with finches and other small birds. Dawn comes in a burst of song, sharper than most other places. Perhaps this is because of the thin, chilly air.

In this place with such rich significance, the puna, Nieto locates this poem about a man missing his love. Only the wind is his companion as it blows or spirals playfully. Powerful, the wind is tricky and not trustworthy, but it is all he has, except for the silent night, the blinking stars, and the demanding sun to keep him company.

For the Incas, as for their descendants, the wind has great meaning. It travels between here and there and can rise up with such force. It can suck the moisture from the earth and plants, at the same time it can come with life-giving rains. It is so important that the side of the hill in Cuzco, down from Sacsayhuaman is called Huayracpunco, the gate or doorway of the wind.

Spines and Tears on the Edge of the Puna
Spines and Tears on the Edge of the Puna

But like so many other things, the wind is just not trustworthy. You want something from it and it ceases to blow. When you do not want it, the wind arises with vigor and pins you down.

In the intensity of the puna, the ambivalence of the wind, and the painful longing of unfulfilled desire Nieto places his poem. He captures so much of Cuzco in it.

A Whirlwind like Spiral Carved in Cuzco
A Whirlwind like Spiral Carved in Cuzco

Sorrow and Not Sorrow

Wind of the high prairies,
dancer and seducer,
fly and tell my woman
I’m here and here I wait.

A whirl of smiles it left.
It just went on its way
while in my two hands sang
its singing, finch-like heart.

While looking at my hut
the sun seemed a beggar.
Night suddenly appeared.
A star began to shine

The wind never returned.
My messenger failed me.
No news comes from my love.
Does she know how I feel?

You will never come back,
treacherous, crazy wind.
Where might you be playing?
Where might you be detained?

Wind of the cold prairies
I’m here and here I wait.
Come back. In my chest dies
your singing, finch-like heart.

Luis Nieto Miranda

(Translated by David Knowlton)

Sunlight like a Beggar on the Puna
Sunlight like a Beggar on the Puna
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