Alfonsina Storni Poems
Modernist, feminist poet Alfonsina Storni was born May 29th 1892 in Switzerland to Italian/Swiss parents. Her father previously ran a brewery in Argentina but went to live in Switzerland for medical reasons in 1891. In 1896, when Alfonsina was four, the family moved back to San Juan, then to Rosario where Alfonsina later worked in her father’s new tavern.
Alfonsina Storni Bio
Aware that she had to earn a living somehow, in 1907 she briefly joined a travelling theatre company, acting in plays all around the country. Afterwards she resumed her studies as a primary school teacher while at the same time working for various magazines. She was already a keen writer but continued to earn money teaching in rural schools. In 1911 she moved to Buenos Aires where she bore an illegitimate son, Alejandro, an event which forced her to work harder and harder. By now she was supplementing her writing with shop work and with a young person’s theatre group. But it was here she established friendships with other writers including playwright/poet Horatio Quiroga, who became a good friend.
As her economic situation eased she started to publish her writing. Her first book was La Inquietud del Rosal (The Restless Rose Garden) in 1916, which began to bring her literary recognition and her second volume, El Dulce Daño (The Sweet Injury) in 1918 brought further success. These volumes of poetry showed Alfonsina as a woman of passion; needy for love but also cynical in her attitude towards men. Her poem Little Little Man speaks with barely disguised anger of unrequited love and repression:
She once said that she saw men as “el enemigo” – the enemy – and a lot of her writing showed her perception of the repression of women by men and she took many opportunities through her work to make her feelings clear.
She travelled to Montevideo, Uruguay where she made the acquaintance of feminist poet Juana de Ibarbourou. She published her book Languidez in 1920, a work which received the first Municipal Poetry Prize and the second National Literature Prize.
Alfonsina continued to teach as much as possible and published her book Ocre in 1925, then went on to produce plays and journalistic pieces. However, by this time her physical and mental health were worsening; she was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer. She quit teaching and returned to her first love, poetry, but it is said her writing became more erotic and more forceful in her feminist beliefs.
In 1937 her great friend Horatio Quiroga committed suicide and it appears this exacerbated Alfosina’s despair at her failing health. Tortured by loneliness and depression she sent her last poem, called I’m Going To Sleep, to Argentine daily newspaper La Nación. On Tuesday, October 25th 1938 she walked into the sea at La Perla, Mar del Plata and drowned. Her body was found washed up on the beach later that day.
There now stands a monument to her in Mar del Plata.
I Am Going to Sleep
hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,
prepare the earthly sheets for me
and the down quilt of weeded moss.I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.
Set a lamp at my headboard;
a constellation; whatever you like;
all are good: lower it a bit.Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .
a celestial foot rocks you from above
and a bird traces a pattern for you
so you’ll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:
if he telephones again
tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .
My hearing. You already forgot. Good.
Sleep peacefully. Your face should
Be serene and beautiful at all hours.When the seductive mouth enchants
It should be fresh, your speech pleasant;
For your office as lover it’s not good
That many tears come from your face.More glorious destinies reclaim you
That were brought, between the black wells
Of the dark circles beneath your eyes,
the seer in pain.
The bottom, summit of the beautiful victims!
The foolish spade of some barbarous king
Did more harm to the world and your statue.
Lighthouse in the Night
the sea a black disk.The lighthouse opens
its solar fan on the coast.Spinning endlessly at night,
whom is it searching for
when the mortal heart
looks for me in the chest?
Look at the black rock
where it is nailed down.
A crow digs endlessly
but no longer bleeds.
On your long hands I scattered my life;
My sweetnesses remained clutched in your hands;
Now I am a vial of perfume, emptiedHow much sweet torture quietly suffered,
When, my soul wrested with shadowy sadness,
She who knows the tricks, I passed the days
kissing the two hands that stifled my life.
Little Little Man
set free your canary that wants to fly.
I am that canary, little little man,
leave me to fly.I was in your cage, little little man,
little little man who gave me my cage.
I say “little little” because you don’t understand me
Nor will you understand.Nor do I understand you, but meanwhile,
open for me the cage from which I want to escape.
Little little man, I loved you half an hour,
Don’t ask me again.
Today my mother and sisters
came to see me.
I had been alone a long time
with my poems, my pride . . . almost nothing.
My sister—the oldest—is grown up,
is blondish. An elemental dream
goes through her eyes: I told the youngest
“Life is sweet. Everything bad comes to an end.”
My mother smiled as those who understand souls
tend to do;
She placed two hands on my shoulders.
She’s staring at me . . .
and tears spring from my eyes.
We ate together in the warmest room
of the house.
Spring sky . . . to see it
all the windows were opened.
And while we talked together quietly
of so much that is old and forgotten,
My sister—the youngest—interrupts:
“The swallows are flying by us.”