Literature

Wind and Flute Wail in Nieto’s Poem

Playing the Quena, an Andean Flute

Luís Nieto Miranda, the great poet of Cuzco, grasped the Andean landscape and people’s interactions with it in this poem, “The Romance of Wind and Flute”, here in its first translation into English. Wind is a constant presence in the mountainous Andes which rise between the cold Humboldt current and the extensive Amazon. For Nieto it is the counterpart of the flute.

This particular flute, the quena, is a notch on the end of a tube across which people blow, like the gaps and passes in the mountains vibrated by the wind. The wind is a violent, but creative force, that moves between the sky and ground called wayra in Quechua. But, like other masculine powers it is tamed when it encounters love.

Nieto’s genius in his Romancero Cholo, from which this poem comes, is to portray in verse the depths of his land and people. He does so in classic Spanish form here, of rhyming, octosyllabic (eight syllable) lines, which we have not tried to render in English even though they are part of the power of his poem. For now, we are most interested in conveying to an English speaking audience the majesty and detail of his words.

The High Mountain Passes through which the Winds Roar
The High Mountain Passes through which the Winds Roar

Romance of Wind and Flute

Above sleeping eyes
the wind drags a star.
His heart beats under
his poncho like a bird.

Adventurer and restless
his blood screams and burns;
drunk on laughter and song
he does not know sorrow.

By shout and whistle
he rustles up skirts
and since he is wicked
he sinks teeth into legs.

And so, playing and laughing,
he raises the dust of stars.
In the straw steppes of gold
he plants a harvest of light.

II

The wind forgets the heights
and drops down the slopes
with a fistful of songs
while shooting out darts.

He has a pirate’s fingers
and his flesh is dark;
When he leaps from off cliffs
black eagles follow his trail.

Where he goes he leaves a flame
of laughter and of flags;
in his hands he carries a nest
of imprisoned glances.

When he gallops is heard
a jangling of spurs . . .
On the naked ground
his tracks lay bleeding.

III

In a bonfire of stars
the night sings and burns,
shadows and swallows
are playing the guitars.

The wind is wounded,
the wind is complaining.
His playful laughter
doesn’t shine like before.

It’s all because down in
the valley a flute is crying.
The wind hears it and looks
while standing like a guard.

An echo of flight and forgetting
the flute invokes an absence.
(Down a road of blood
wanders a traveling tear).

The wind no longer wanders
It moans with a frightful sound,
like all the dogs that howl
into the sinister night.

Far away in the distance,
when the night is darker,
you hear the wind sighing
and the flute complaining.

Since then, on the high plains,
the wind and flute wail.
They weave together a romance
with small tears from the stars.

Luís Nieto Miranda

translated by David Knowlton
The Wind Makes Trees Dance
The Wind Makes Trees Dance

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