Rimas y Ritmos

Poems by J.A. Torres Gutierrez (1925-1996)


Translated from the Spanish by Alan Baker







Born in Madrid, where he lived his entire life, Gutierrez is a little-known poet, whose work nevertheless deserves recognition for his attention to traditional forms combined with High Modernist seriousness. In his early life, his Catholicism informed much of his poetry. Gutierrez was a professional musician, a violinist in the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, and one of his poetic projects was an attempt to transpose musical forms into poetry. Gutierrez was an English-speaker and Anglophile, and in the late 1960s he discovered the poetry of Basil Bunting. He later met Bunting on a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1975. Bunting’s poetry and personality, which Gutierrez took as a model, caused a radical change in his own poetic idiom, and indeed, seemed to transform his whole world view. This change is represented in this short selection by the Bunting-esque “sonata” poem “Picasso’s Bull”, taken from his acclaimed 1980 collection “Rimas y Ritmos”. Gutierrez was overlooked for membership of The European Union of Imaginary Authors (EUOIA) in favour of the Catalan poet Cristòfol Subira, and maintained a bitter feud with Subira for the rest of his life.

                                                                                                                  Alan Baker



For Robert Sheppard







‘Well Socrates, we acquit you...and find

you guiltless of our blood, and not our deceiver’

                                                       Plato, The Republic


‘The Terror is still remembered... To this day there are villages in the Vendée region that refuse to celebrate the July 14 Bastile Day holiday, preferring instead the rituals of the Roman Church.’

                                  Ruben Ygua, "El legado de la Revolución Francesa"



I - Côte de Lumière


A land of salt-pools and canals

Where reflections, being subjective,

Lean towards the seer,

Gives each eye its own perspective.


‘Jesus revient’ - graffitti scrawled

On a wall beside a roadside shrine

Recalls unrest fermenting:

Proscribed, sacramental wine.


Among the priests and fishermen

Reason extended no quarter, no pity

To those who laboured to admit

Poetry to the Just City.


A luminosity of pine

And dune, a light that strains attention,

Makes distances deceive

And vistas dazzle comprehension.


Now, as then, canals and pools

Offer to the eye reflections;

Each observer, flattered by them,

Remains immune to their deceptions.



II - Île de Noirmoutier


The islanders were harvesters of salt,

Their ditches score the fen’s immensity

And seem in summer light to form the grid

Of an unseen, imaginary city.


A semi-isle, tethered to France by seaweed

Draped over sand until the tide turns,

It stands aloof, hermit-like,

Yet cannot quite escape worldly concerns.


It gave imperfect sanctuary

To fleeing men. The small chateau

That now exhibits porcelain and paintings, hosted

One frosty morning in seventeen ninety four


The execution of the rebel D’Elbée,

And fifteen hundred of his men.

From the chateau’s tower the view is clear

Towards the ocean, across the fen


Where brine-pools, that were once whitened

By the hard logic of frost, gleam again white,

Seem in salt glare sea’s essence,

What survives of it, parched in summer heat:


Irreducible as faith, persisting

When the tide at last abates,

Enduring, crystalline and perfect,

When the frost has melted, sea evaporates.



III - The Moths


Like the moths that rise at dusk

In these woods of oak and pine,

The faithful, coming in secret

To take the offered bread and wine


Whose chanted litany and prayers

Belied the daylight’s clarity,

Obscured like Atlantic mist

The edicts of the distant city


Were led by mystery and night

To shun the sun’s revealing glare

And seek for flowers that bloom in darkness,

Unseen, but sensed, on the scented air.



IV - The Gulls


The sea runs in families, like blood,

And on this coast, the son’s wish

Is still to master the ropes and nets,

Predict the sea’s swell or the haunts of fish


To learn the father’s skills of navigation,

How to haul the catch ashore

To the bustling quayside stacked with crates

Of staring fish and crushed ice stained with gore.


Farmers court with vines and maize

A land of plenty. Fishermen choose a chaste

Untouchable bride, that suffers them but briefly

As they cast across its level waste


To gain at last the harbour mouth, their trawler

Trailing clouds of gulls that forage,

Screech, dive in much confusion,

Unsatisfied and restless as seekers after knowledge.







The branches of this tree, whose roots clutch earth, finger the indifferent air. It has sprung from a single pip to seem a diviner’s rod drawn to the source of the miracle of blossom. It will be clothed by summer’s bounty, heaped upon it when it least expects it, and its finery will serve to intensify the ague of the brown leaf.


Consider how the happiness of two children (a boy and a girl) lying in its shade one day, when it hushes the breeze, and casts dappled shadows on the long grass, is coeternal with its own loss, like memory prefigured in the burgeon of each moment. When winter comes, the tree will cast a streetlight-shadow on the snow, resembling an agéd parent’s bony hand, that once held laughing boys in its palm, lifting them skyward on green-leaved evenings.


Consider the apple tree; gnarled companion to the ages, bringer of autumn plenty, host to moss and mistletoe. Consider its fruit.


Consider this blossomer of spring, greenery of fabled Avalon, creator of Cézanne’s shining globes, and of the rotten heart of the world, bearer of all knowledge, of good, of evil, whose roots clutch earth, whose branches finger the indifferent air.







Snow ground underfoot erases our footprints, as if taking revenge. The winds carol their hallelujahs to a God of empty spaces hidden in the half-lit swirl of chaos. From the blizzard of replicating cells white footsteps lead from spore to leaf to meat-wrapped bone, to the strictly unnecessary cortex (far more than the sum of its parts, where neuron and synapse stretch to infinity’s edge, forming drifts of possibilities).


Yet questions vex us. How many snowflakes in this storm? The sum erases our footprints, enumerates our tracks, from warmth and comfort, to the chaos of flakes.






by Jean Sibelius


strides like a storm-broken night scattered by the moon’s frenzy, outshouting mere machinery, severing power lines, shoring ships, making accidents on roads that claim in calmer times to tame the land, and bringing up short in a sudden start the lone walker, laden suddenly with the wind’s weight,


who feels, even more than the crescendo’s force, that sudden weightlessness, as sound falls from under him and stumbling, is freed for a second, from what the whole darkened world labours under.







May your prayer arrest sight,

Snapshot the headscarved church

In shafts of windowed light,

Take you where the chords and voices reach

And lift from you the world’s weight.


May memory, the miser, render

The things that are yours,

Give you gold from hidden stores

Of pennies lent by a trusting lender

But now no longer tender.


May your God grant you

What you gave me;

The shock of birth’s epiphany,

The heart’s thud transposed into

Music’s polyphony.







Tomorrow’s in the corner, a sullen child,

Yet there’s still hope that Night can be beguiled

To yield its healing powers, conquer strife,

Collect the scattered puzzle of my life.

Be silent, for words can never be unsaid,

But lie like seeds, dormant in our bed.

Be warmth, be touch, be a kindling spark,

And let your shape jigsaw into mine in the dark

Until first light, when Day steps out; no child:

Adult, and waiting to be reconciled.







clasps oak     quells cold

dances in wind others bend in

sends tendrils endlessly twining

neural network, hooked, locked

            to crevice, nick,

colour against snow or summer’s


persistent as hope whose green promise

mitigates the heart’s ache

makes ‘heartache’ what once grieved:


grief or grievance, crack, decay

and corded bark     lie

like memory

in a bed of our own making

turned to what

            time disallows

the moment timeless hallows.







Living by berry & herb,

healing by poultice & leech

wanting the wisdom of the leeching years


Seeking crags where eagles hatch,

or wild goats suckle their young,

the moonlit pool where an otter’s ripples

betoken what’s uncertain, subatomic,

the crushing singularity of knowledge.


Bird flocks weave for him

      a cryptic choreography,

frost refuses his questions,

      answers to none but the mathematical certainties


Yet the acorn’s blueprint waves its boughs

   in Heisenberg’s breeze.


“What we foresee, we cannot alter.

What we alter lies unforseen

to trap or tie us to the strangest destiny.”


The photon strikes the retina,

      unhinged the astrolabe.







A Sonata

For Basil Bunting





From daubed nests white-bellied martins flit

         like chips of crystal flying

               from a sculptor’s chisel;

As a summer ends

         Madame Matisse and Marguerite are arrested by the Gestapo

               Picasso hands postcards of Guernica to Nazi officers.

Sensing the coming

         of war and winter

               the martins gather to be gone.

“Memories glide like silt

         shed slowly to form the sunburnt islets

               of the lizard and the bird of prey

“Where the Gaudalquivir

         curls round Cordoba’s walls

               in that unattainable land.

“Afficionados settle in the sombras

         a luckless bull frisks onto burning sand

               the blood-loving barreras already baying

“For Barcelona

         a piled tabletop

               crystalline   cubic

“For Alhambra palace

         guarding its sublime geometries

               against another world

“Where a bull’s sullen drunken stance

         expects the sword-thrust

               blood on sand

“And the matador pirrouetting for the volk

         here in Paris

               where the martins surely will not build

                     another year

“Where only work makes you free

         among the clay and paint and boards

               of a makeshift bathroom-studio”.

Clouds gather    birds of passage

         follow the pull of the south

               mocking wire and roadblock

The sun succumbs to the pull of the sea

         and in the story

               a bull breasts the water westward.








No walls, no roofs, no unscorched stone,

         no healing wattle-and-daub

               only contorted fractures, bent lives to re-create.

For Max Jacob what monument, like Appollinaire’s

         ‘built like poetry and fame, from nothing’

               can withstand? can resist?

Picasso says: Painting is not used to decorate houses.

         It is an instrument of war, for attack

               and defence against the enemy.

“I scour the rubbish tips and yards

         and like Michael Angelo, cast in bronze

               the form, so like and unlike, of a sort of truth.

“Always, the work must begin again;

         out of blistered paint and charred canvass,

               the collage of decay,

“Comes the phoenix,

         and in the forest of symbols

               a sacred bull wards the clearing.

“But friends die

         and the sculpted nests

               are empty in the snow”.





“We would follow the migrations

         over Africa’s sands    waterless by day

               gunfire-bright at night

“Over ragged coasts

         mined and turretted

               bristling with defence

“But must remain

         with only memories.

               Suerte de picar!

“Jostled in a crowd smelling of old Spain

         Sweat   wine   cattle

               up steep steps in the dark

“To blinding sun,

         a circle of sand

               tense with expectancy

“Watched by a people who see the rising

         and the setting sun

               not as a symbol of death and rebirth

“But as a signal that the day has ended

         and work must cease    or has returned

               and work must begin again”.

Needle-sharp points in back and shoulders

         the ears and tail of the bull

               severed tribute to the matador

Tribute of a giant’s head slung back    concussed

         lights sliding over his retina

               like asteroids on the sky’s lid

And David    a stripling

         with a sling

               and marble-smooth limbs

Jostled in a crowd in the rue des Grands-Augustins;

         the great events are over

               and work must begin again

In the bocage and the bird-sprinkled woods of the Ardennes

         on the littered beaches

               in the field    in the city still to be rebuilt

By a people

         as uncertain

               as the dawn.





No resistance to the panzers’ advance on Paris

         But Matisse handed back his ticket to Rio:

               ‘if everyone of value left, what would

               become of France?’

Echoed also in Beckett

         leaving Ireland for occupied Paris

               driven into hiding by the Gestapo.

But friends die - Julio Gonzalez, March 1942:

         “Early spring sun, chilly, through intricate suburbs

               past a rubbish tip    broken bicycle tangled.

“The intonation of the priest

         mourner’s gentle sobs,

               and Julio and myself

“Years ago, at Boisgeloup,

         drinking in the summer like two trees

               sprouting sculpture like green leaves.

“Now, a new summer threatens

         and drought leaves only a steer’s skull

               to be retrieved from garbage.

“With few tools the job is quickly done

         the smell of burnt solder

               pale smoke in a shaft of sun

“On the workbench-kitchen-table

         something made

               for a friend unmade”.





As a hatchling taps and taps

         at the mystery of the shell

               as a poet’s words tap silence

As a sculptor’s hands caress smooth limbs

         where some feel only stone

               as a kiss revives the sleeper

As imagination

         surges like sap

               through the dried branch of facts

Out of earth’s fabric


               cathedrals soar from broken stone

Plato’s perfections sought in cast bronze

         rough-cut ore

               becomes a David.

Now artefacts become organic

         bone and gristle grown from steel and leather

               apotheosis of junk

Discarded handlebars

         and saddle

               and elegant skeletal bull’s head

Blur and interchange

         like a shape seen by night

               now live now lifeless as the moon clouds and clears

Uncertain as dawn

         when it welcomes the wanderers

               joins their dance on the spring breeze.

“Haunter of house-eaves

         and the changing airs

               of half the world

“Where the raven and the dove

         found the peace of endless seas

               the trenched earth writhes

“Only above

         is silence

               the navigator’s fixed stars

“Where night wanes

         Taurus turns    seeking Europa

               in Europe’s remains”.








Île de Noirmoutier

The American poet John Bloomberg-Rissman comments "To call the royalist a rebel is to (apparently) at least slightly sympathize with him ... confirming my belief that ‘reason and the just city’ is as aristocratic a concept for him as it was for Plato”.


The Hermit

The final lines I take to an expression of anxiety that the new physics threatened the stability of the universe as seen by Catholicism and Newtonian physics. Guterriez’s excursions into science generally filled him with terror and religious doubt.


Symphony No. 2 by Jean Sibelius

John Bloomberg-Rissman, in a comment on this prose-poem, describes Gutierrez as "an aristocratically-pretensioned reactionary religious type who does not like life on earth at all." I’d demur, but would argue that the poem is expressing the existential doubt which dogged Gutierrez in the later part of his life.



One critic called this poem "an insomniac’s slight crisis of faith".


Picasso's Bull

The strict sonata form here is taken from Basil Bunting's notes to Briggflats, in which he illustrates, in diagrammatic form, the two recurring themes and central development (in section three here) of the classical sonata, with the return to the tonic key in the last movement.




Select Bibliography


Canciones / Songs (1947)

Música de cinco / Music at Five (1955)

El legado / The Legacy (1962)

A Las Cinco de la Tarde / At Five O'Clock in the Afternoon (1968)

Medina Ramirez y El Diablo / Medina Ramirez and the Devil (1970)

El árbol marchito / The Withered Tree (1972)

Caminos que andan / Walking Roads (1975)

Rimas y Ritmos / Rhymes and Rhythms (1980)

Vigencia Lejanía / Validity Distance (1983)

Últimos Poemas / Last Poems (1991)




© J.A. Torres Gutierrez 1980 / translation, Alan Baker 2017.

a facqueuesol paperless book 2017.