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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Maqroll's Prayer

Álvaro Mutis

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To purchase Maqroll's Prayer

Title: Maqroll's Prayer
Author: Álvaro Mutis
Genre: Poetry
Written: (1947-86) (Eng. 2024)
Length: 195 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Maqroll's Prayer - US
Summa de Maqroll el Gaviero - US
Maqroll's Prayer - UK
Maqroll's Prayer - Canada
Et comme disait Maqroll el Gaviero - France
Summa di Maqroll il gabbiere - Italia
Summa de Maqroll el Gaviero - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: New York Review Books
  • and Other Poems
  • A selection of poems, but not the entire collection, Summa de Maqroll el Gaviero
  • Translations by Chris Andrews, Edith Grossman, and Alastair Reid
  • This is (mostly) a bilingual edition, with the English translations of the poems facing the Spanish originals; several of the pieces are, however, presented solely in English translation

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive and interesting variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Álvaro Mutis is best known in translation for his series of novels featuring 'Maqroll the Gaviero', starting with The Snow of the Admiral (and all conveniently collected in the single-volume The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll (New York Review Books)), but Maqroll first featured in Mutis' poetry, beginning much earlier. Maqroll's Prayer collects many (but, alas, apparently not all) of his poems written between 1947 and 1986, presented mostly in the order of their original appearance. This is also a bilingual edition, with the Spanish originals facing the English translations -- though there are several pieces that are essentially prose-poems which are presented only in English translation.
       Among the poems is 'The Snow of the Admiral' -- a precursor (if very different in presentation) to the novel and the start of the series. It opens:

     Soy el desordenado hacedor de las más escondidas rutas, de los más secretos atracaderos. De su inutilidad y de su ignota ubicación se nutren mis días.

     I am the disordered creator of the most obscure routes, the most secret moorings. Their uselessness, their undiscovered location are what feed my days.
       That captures the feel of the Maqroll-work, in both poetry and prose, well -- with Maqroll a character who Mutis has say elsewhere: "Hablo del viaje, no de sus etapas" (which the Alastair Reid translation here renders as: "I speak of traveling, not of resting places"). He is a character who believes you should: "Cultivate your misfortune" -- and who, at the conclusion of the melancholy 'Sonata' says: "te guardo a mi lado / como la sombra de una ilusoria esperanza" ("I keep you at my side / like the shadow of an illusory hope").
       There are several pieces recounting episodes or times from Maqroll's life, more stories (and in prose) than poems; among them is 'The Aracuriare Canyon', a secluded place Maqroll retreats to for a time, where:
     [Pasados los días El Gaviero inició, sin propósito deliberado, un examen de su vida, un catálogo de sus miserias y errores, de sus precarias dichas y de sus ofuscadas pasiones. Se propuso ahondar en esta tarea y lo logró en forma tan completa y desoladora que llegó a despojarse por entero de ese ser que lo había acompañado toda su vida y al que le ocurrieron todas estas lacerias y trabajos.]

     The days passed, and with no particular purpose in mind the Gaviero began an examination of his life, a catalogue of his miseries, his mistakes, his precarious joys and confused passions. He resolved to go deep into this task, and his success was so thorough and devastating that he rid himself completely of the self who had accompanied him all his life, the one who had suffered all the pain and difficulty.
       [The Spanish original of this piece is not included in this volume.]
       It is a nice compressed summing-up of the kinds of journeys Maqroll goes on, both physically and beyond. It is a fascinating world -- interior and exterior -- he explores, where, as Mutis points out:
Ninguno de nuestros sueños, ni la más tenebrosa de nuestras pesadillas, es superior a la suma total de fracasos que componen nuestro destino.

Not one of our dreams, not even our most sinister nightmare, can surpass the sum total of failures that constitute our destiny.
       In an early collection, Mutis already offers a multipart 'Programa para una poesía' ('Program for Poetry') that guides both much of his poetry and Maqroll as well, including the direction:
     Busquemos las palabras más antiguas, las más frescas y pulidas formas del lenguaje, con ellas debe decirse el último acto. Con ellas diremos el adiós a un mundo que se hunde en el caos definitivo y extraño del futuro.

     Let us search for the most ancient words, the freshest and most polished forms of language, the final act should be spoken with them. With them we shall say goodbye to a world that sinks into the definitive, strange chaos of the future.
       And even here, early on, there is a sense of both pushing ahead -- at least trying -- and of the impossibility of attaining one's goal:
     Buscar e inventar de nuevo. Aún queda tiempo. Bien poco, es cierto, pero es menester aprovecharlo.

     To seek and invent again. There is still time. Very little, it is true, but we must use it to our advantage.
       There is considerable variety here -- the collection spans some four decades of work, there are three translators here, and the poems vary greatly stylistically (including, as noted, some which are basically entirely in (a poetic) prose), but there is a unifying feel to them, as the figure -- the idea -- of 'Maqroll' is developed here. It makes for a fascinating collection, and a welcome complement to the novel-series. While it is somewhat disappointing that it is not a complete collection of Mutis' poetry, the small-sized NYRB/Poets edition is a lovely volume and does offer a very generous and good selection -- and the inclusion of (most of) the Spanish originals is, of course, very welcome.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 February 2024

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Maqroll's Prayer: Álvaro Mutis: Other books by Álvaro Mutis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Colombian author Álvaro Mutis (1923-2013) was awarded both the Cervantes Prize and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

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© 2024 the complete review

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