BY EMILY PASKEVICS
In my previous post about the poetry of Eliana Maldonado Cano, I mentioned that an epigraph to one of her poems came from the work of Laura Victoria, pseudonym of Gertrudis Peñuela, a twentieth-century Colombian poet. I was intrigued by the epigraph (“Come closer, / Bite into my skin / With your dark hands”), and decided to follow my curiosity with this post in order to learn more about the poet behind the pseudonym.
Laura Victoria was born in Soatá, Colombia in 1904. She wrote her first poem at fourteen years of age and continued to write lyric poetry throughout her lifelong career in journalism and diplomacy. The pseudonym makes a clear separation between her creative work and her diplomatic work.
In 1939, Laura Victoria moved to Mexico City to serve as a chancellor of the Colombian embassy, and later she worked as a cultural attaché at the Colombian embassy in Rome. She also lived for a period in Spain, and her extended stay in Jerusalem had a deep effect on her later poetry—in 1985 she published her well-known Viaje a Jerusalén (Journey to Jerusalem) collection, which demonstrates a distinctly mystical quality.
Laura Victoria’s poetic obra gained fame and critical acclaim in the mid-century Hispanic world, and he was commended for her mastery of assonant rhymes and metric precision. Most of her poems follow a rhyming scheme and maintain a clear rhythmic structure, which can be difficult to re-convey through translation. As a result, I offer these snapshots of some the most vivid verses that I came across in her collections titled Cráter sellado (Sealed Crater) and Llamas azules (Blue Flames), both published in 1937.
Laura Victoria was celebrated in particular for the erotic charge that electrifies many of her verses. For example, the line mentioned above comes from a poem called “En secreto:”
Ven, acércate más, bebe en mi boca
esto que llamas nieve;
verás que con tu aliento se desata,
verás que entre tus labios se enrojecen
los pétalos del ámbar….
Ven, acércate más.
Muerde mi carne
con tus manos morenas;
verás qué dulcemente se desmaya
el cactus de mi cuerpo,
y surge tenue de la nieve dura
la misteriosa suavidad del nácar.
Come closer, drink from my mouth
this which you call snow;
you’ll see that it is melted with your breath
you’ll see that between your lips
the amber petals become red…
Come, come closer.
Bite into my skin
with your dark hands;
you’ll see how sweetly
the cactus of my body falters,
and a mysterious mother-of-pearl softness
rises from the encrusted snow.
The poem continues through its metaphorical explorations of sex and desire and then becomes suggestively maternal in the final verse, ending with:
Ven, acércate más.
Para tu cuerpo
seré una azul ondulación de llama,
y si tu ardor entre mi nieve prende,
y si mi nieve entre tu fuego cuaja,
verás mi cuerpo convertirse en cuna
para que el hijo de tus sueños nazca.
Come, come closer.
For your body
I’ll be a swaying blue flame,
and if your heat ignites in my snow
and if my snow catches your flame,
you’ll see my body become a cradle
where the child of your dreams rises.
She herself described her work as “pagan and maternal.”[i] Laura Victoria’s poetry is noted for its layering of images, especially with the topic of desire, which tends to blend the mystical and the physical worlds. Her train of thought is sometimes surprising: “No one in your life will give you more silk / than that which I weave / into your pillow,” she writes in “En Secreto.” Her verses also become freer with her more sensual pieces, such as “El Beso” (The Kiss”):
Que tu lengua como una llama viva
alimente mis sueños,
y después en mi lánguido abandono,
sea una brisa limpia
brillando en los jazmines de mi lecho.
Que mi cuerpo todo
para tus labios sea
y que tu vida
baje hasta mi vida
bajo la muda encarnación
de un beso.
Kiss me like this – slowly.
Your tongue, like a living flame,
feeds my burning dreams –
and after my heavy-hearted abandonment,
a clean breeze brightens
the jasmine in my bed.
So – slowly.
My whole body
for your lips is
a warm thrill,
and your life
settles into my life
under the silent incarnation
of a kiss.
There is range to her work: some pieces are more ornate and impeccably measured, while others are more rapidly paced and inclined toward free verse. While her poems certainly distill moments of pure joy, Laura Victoria also writes evocatively of wistfulness and reflection, as in the gently ironic and meandering “Brindis” (“Cheers”):
Voy a partir de nuevo.
Mi camino sin alba y sin ocaso,
en esta noche es turbio interrogante
sobre el vaivén azul del pensamiento,
y en la pálida copa del champaña
mis labios como pétalos de ópalo
inician con su angustia
la vieja caravana del silencio.
I’m going to start again.
My path, without dawn or twilight,
is murky with inquiry tonight
following the blue swing of thought,
and on the pale champagne glass
my lips are like opal petals:
they start with their distress
in the old caravan of silence.
Toward the end of the poem, the speaker moves toward nostalgia:
Mañana será el mar, la lejanía,
la blanca inmensidad de los recuerdos,
la arena tibia de la playa ardiente,
el cielo claro, el barco solo…
Tomorrow it will be the sea, the distance,
the white immensity of memories,
the warm sand of the sun-baked beach
the clear sky, the lonely boat…
The poem concludes with a raised glass: “¡Por ese niño de cabellos claros, / esta copa de olvido alegre bebo!” (“To that fair-haired boy, / I drink this glass of happy forgetting!”). The reader is suddenly aware of having followed the despondent but articulate ramblings of the slightly inebriated speaker, who is deep into the “late-night reflective drunk” stage of a fiesta.
In addition to her creative and diplomatic work, Laura Victoria was an active member of Unión de Mujeres Americanas (Union of Women in the Americas) and of the Ateneo Femenino de Bogotá (Women’s Cultural Centre of Bogotá).
She died in Mexico City, in 2005.
[i] As quoted in Clothilde M. Wilson, review of Cráter sellado, by Laura Victoria, in Revisto Iberoamerica, 2:4 (1940): 530-534.