Art of the Day: Octavio Paz’ “Salamander” (Trans. Denise Levertov)

  September 20th, 2014

Today I just want to post, sans commentary (for once), this visionary, beautiful poem sent to me by my friend over at

by Octavio Paz


(the fire wears
black armor)
a slow-burning stove
between the jaws
-marble or brick-
of the chimney it is
an ecstatic tortoise, a crouched
Japanese warrior:
whatever it is, martyrdom
is repose
impassive under torture

ancient name of fire
and ancient
antidote to fire
flayed sole of the foot
on hot coals
amianthus amante amianthus

in the abstract city between
dizzy geometries
-glass cement stone iron-
formidable chimeras appear
raised up by calculus
multiplies by profit
by the side of the anonymous wall
sudden poppy

Yellow claw a scrawl
of red letters on a
wall of salt
Claw of sunlight
on a heap of bones

fallen star
in the endlessness of bloodstained opal
beneath eyelids of quartz
lost girl
in tunnels of onyx
in the circles of basalt
buried seed
grain of energy
in the marrow of granite

Salamander, you who lay dynamite in iron’s
black and blue breast
you explode like a sun
you open yourself like a wound
you speak
as a fountain speaks

blade of wheat
daughter of fire
spirit of fire
condensation of blood
sublimation of blood
evaporation of blood

Salamander of air
the rock is flame
the flame is smoke
red vapor
straight-rising prayer
lofty word of praise
of fire on the head of the psalm
scarlet queen
(and girl with purple stockings
running disheveled through the woods)

Salamander, you are
silent, the
black consoler of sulfur tears
(One wet summer I heard
the vibration of your
cylindrical tail
between lose tiles of a
dead-calm moonlit patio)

Caucasian salamander
in the rock’s
cindery shoulder appears
and disappears
a brief black tongue
flecked with saffron

Black and brilliant creature
the moss
you devour
diminutive herald of the rain-shower
familiar spirit of the lightning
(Internal fecundation
oviparious reproduction
the young live in the water
once adult they swim sluggishly)

Hanging bridge between eras
bridge of cold blood
axis of movement
(The changes in the alpine species
the most slender of all
take place in the mother’s womb
Of all the tiny eggs no more than two mature
and until they hatch
the embryos are nourished on a broth
composed of the doughy mass of their aborted brother-eggs)

The Spanish Salamander
black and red mountaineer

The sun nailed to the sky’s center does not throb
does not breathe
life does not commence with out blood
without the embers of sacrifice
the wheel of days does not revolve
Xolotl refuses to consume himself
he hid himself in the corn but they found him
he hid himself in the maguey but they found him
he fell into the water and became the fish axolotl
the Double-Being
‘and then they killed him’
Movement began, the world was set in motion
the procession of dates and names
Xolotl the dog, guide to Hell
he who dug up the bones of the fathers
he who cooked the bones in a pot
he who lit the fire of the years
the maker of men
Xolotl the penitent
the burst eye that weeps for us
larva of the butterfly
double of the Star
other face of the Lord of Dawn
Xolotl the axolotl

solar arrow
lamp of the moon
column of noonday
name of woman
scales of night
(The infinite weight of light
a half-drachm on your eyelashes)

back flame
you yourself in the sun
the moon
turning for ever around you
pomegranate that bursts itself open each night
fixed star on the brow of the sky
and beat of the sea and the stilled light
open mind above the
two-and-fro of the sea

The star-lizard, salamandria
saurian scarcely eight centimeters long
lives in crevices and is the color of dust

Salamander of earth and water
green stone in the mouth of the dead
stone of incarnation
stone of fire
sweat of the earth
salt flaming and scorching
salt of destruction and
mask of lime that consumes the face

Salamander of air and fire
wasp’s nest of suns
red word of beginning

The salamander
a lizard
her tongue ends in a dart
her tail ends in a dart
She is unhissable She is unsayable
she rests upon hot coals
queens it over firebrands
If she carves herself in the flame
she burns her monument
Fire is her passion, her patience

Salamander Salamater

(Translated by Denise Levertov)


For more information about Octavio Paz, please check out’s bio of him.

For more about salamanders, I can’t seem to find anything as comprehensive as this wikipedia page.

[Posted by SnailCrow on September 20, 2014]


[file under: ART ||| ART OF THE DAY ||| Literary Arts ]

  August 24th, 2014

      Lynn Chadwick (British, 1914–2003)
       Maquette III High Wind (801), Edition of 9, number 3, 1980
       Metal & bronze sculpture

      Lynn Chadwick (British, 1914–2003)
       Maquette III High Wind (801), Edition of 9, number 6, 1980
       Metal & bronze sculpture

     Above are two different versions of British sculptor Lynn Chadwick’s “Maquette III High Wind (801)” from 1980 (#3 & #6, respectively, of an edition of 9). I like these austere, dangerous bodies. Just as the title suggests, we have the sharp gust from behind blowing her garment forward. The wind is nothing to her: her spine is erect, her head proud, her legs in mid-walk in one of the versions, steady stanced in the other. Her head in fact has been transformed to axe-blade or hook-barb, giving her steady advance some martial menace. Look at the top shot: the twin corridors of her gusted dress look like shotgun barrels.


For more information about Chadwick’s work, please check out as well as this NY Times article.

[Posted by SnailCrow on August 24, 2014]


[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| sculpture ]

  August 23rd, 2014

      William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825 – 1905)
       Jeune Fille et Enfant (Girl with a Child), 1877
       Oil on canvas

     I don’t often post on figurative art of this era, but this piece commanded my attention when I was browsing my sources this morning. Bouguereau was apparently a very in-demand portraitist and figure painter in his time, and I can see why. It’s not the technique, which he has in spades. What’s more striking to me are the emotions at play, both direct & subtle: the watchful child with his big dark soulful eyes, the child’s relaxed right hand in contrast to his wary gaze; the way the mother is clutching the child to herself; her limpid, slightly sorrowful, spellbinding eyes; her mouth on the verge of any number of emotions. I can’t take my eyes off this painting. I feel cleansed beholding it.


For more information about Bouguereau’s paintings, please check out as well as

[Posted by SnailCrow on August 23, 2014]


[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| paintings/drawings ]

  August 22nd, 2014

      Adam Birtwistle (British, b. 1959)
       David Hockney, RA, 2002
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

      Adam Birtwistle
       Mr Jambon, 2012
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

      Adam Birtwistle
       Victoria, 2012
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

      Adam Birtwistle
       Cherie Blair, 2012
       Tempera and gouache on linen paper

     I just discovered the work of British artist Adam Birtwistle. The above examples are representative of what I’ve seen of his recent work — powerful portraits of disarming, bleak frankness often venturing into the unflattering or outright ugly. His style is furry, meticulously smudgy, smartly vague in places (creating patches of mystery and confusion in his subjects’ faces); at other times it’s naive & child-like & reminiscent of folk art — he’s highly effective in either mode. His subjects are typically positioned bottom-center, engulfed in a dark-colored void, often black, above and around them. This has the simultaneous effect of rendering them innefectual, shabby — but also unreal and powerful, like undead sentries watching & smirking from the dark tunnel of worlds’ end.
     Frequently his backgrounds feature, like ghostly wallpaper, spare line drawings of animals or other figures & objects which sometimes are clearly related to the subject (take the case of his portrait of Malcolm Luther King [not included here], which features a slave ship behind him), & which sometimes bear no clear relationship to the subject at all. Mostly he depicts historical and contemporary figures, but at times, as in the case of Mr Jambon (above), the subject’s real-world counterpart, if any, remains obscure.
     I love his work. You feel quietly guided through a backdoor of the soul of his subjects, through & under brambles and shadows which most portraits rarely approach. His charming, splotchy, scratchy style (especially around the eyes and mouth — check Jambon for instance, or Hockney’s right eye) makes his subjects murmur and tremble, on the verge of many simultaneous emotions. His humor adds one more vital ingredients to his paintings’ complex, potent affect: whether its the saggy indeterminacy of Queen Victoria’s garments, the beady little eyes he paints in so many of his pieces, his subject’s occasional stray unkempt hairs, or his decision to dress many of his modern-day subjects in medieval-esque garb (seek out Jessye Norman’s [not included here]). These are humans somehow both fully revealed in their clownish, pocked, un-idealized fleshliness, and also capable of arresting our attention with old, silent, cold powers and secrets.



For more information about Adam Birtwistle’s paintings, please check out as well as

[Posted by SnailCrow on August 22, 2014]


[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| paintings/drawings ]