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This review is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

Cover of Miracle of Mexico: Poems, translated from the Spanish by Timothy Adès
Brian MortonHomer in Mexico
Alfonso Reyes, Miracle of Mexico: Poems, translated from the Spanish by Timothy Adès (Shearsman Books)
In April 1962, John Kennedy hosted a group of Nobel Prize winners at an Executive Mansion dinner with a studiedly gracious introduction: ‘I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone’. Those who knew and admired Alfonso Reyes had formed the same impression of him. Octavio Paz, who like Reyes served as a Mexican diplomat abroad, called him a ‘collection of writers’. Paz got his Nobel Prize and was reportedly somewhat guilty that Reyes, who died in 1959, did not.

The sheer scale and depth of his writing suggests that he must have been a candidate, but maybe hampered in the committee’s eyes by being known better as a journalist and literary investigator and less as a poet. Timothy Adès helps to address and correct that misperception with this marvellous collection. In privileging the Spanish texts on the right-hand side, he quite rightly draws attention first to the very precise music of Reyes’s verse, which often challenges effective translation. Right from the start, one notices that Adès strives to balance sense with a convincing English cadence: in ‘To Cuernavaca’, which is rendered in the English version as both ‘Cuauhnáhuac!’ and ‘Cowhorn City!’, he renders ‘trina la urraca / y el laurer de los pájaros murmura; // vuela una nube; un astro se destaca’ / y el tiempo mismo se suspende y dura..., as ‘The magpie’s ditty / trills, and the laurel bushes hum // with birds; ...

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