Alfonsina and The Sea

All too often, we lose special people before their time. Such is the tragic story of Alfonsina Storni.

Born in Switzerland in 1892, Alfonsina moved with her parents and siblings to Argentina when she was four years old. She endured a difficult childhood, marked by her father's alcoholism and subsequent death as well as her family's precarious financial situation, which forced her to leave school to go to work at the age of ten.

In spite of her troubled upbringing, she later found success as an educator and author. Alfonsina Storni's prose, plays, and poetry—much of which focused on feminist themes—received literary awards and Monument to Alfonsina Storni, Mar del Plata, Argentina by Martín Gardeazabal, on Wikipedia [used under Creative Commons license]critical acclaim, and she's considered one of Latin America's most respected female poets of the 20th century.

Haunted by demons throughout her life, Alfonsina was frequently wracked by bouts of depression, paranoia and anxiety. After unsuccessfully battling a diagnosis of breast cancer and losing several close friends to suicide, she fell into a deep, intractable depression.

Alfonsina wrote her final poem Voy a dormir ("I'm Going to Sleep") just a few days before her death. In the early hours of October 25, 1938, Alfonsina threw herself from the jetty at the Club Argentino de Mujeres in Mar del Plata, meeting her end in the waters of the Atlantic; however, many prefer to believe that Alfonsina calmly walked out into the embrace of the sea, slowly disappearing into its depths.

In 1969, Ariel Ramírez—one of Argentina's greatest composers of folk music—wrote the song Alfonsina y el mar as an homage to Alfonsina Storni. Inspired by images from her last work, lyricist Félix Luna's words beautifully evoke the ill-fated poet's suicide through touching and evocative metaphors. This moving tribute to Alfonsina never fails to give me goose bumps, especially when sung by the incomparable Mercedes Sosa.

[Click here if you're unable to view the embedded video of Alfonsina y el mar]

Alfonsina and The Sea
By Ariel Ramírez and Félix Luna [original Spanish lyrics]
English translation by Jean Peccei

From the soft sand lapped by the sea,
Your little footprint will never come back.
A path full of pain and suffering
Reaches the deep water;
A path of silent grief
Leads to the waves.

Only God knows what anguish you had,
What ancient pains silenced your voice.
Lying down, lulled by the song
Of the conch shells,
The songs that the conchs sing
In the dark depths of the sea.

Alfonsina, you have left with your loneliness.
What new poems are you seeking?
An ancient voice of the wind and the sea
Breaks off your soul and carries it away.
And you follow, as in your dreams,
Asleep, Alfonsina, clothed with the sea.

Five little mermaids will take you
Along paths of seaweed and coral,
And phosphorescent sea horses
Will swim around you.
And the creatures of the water
Will soon play at your side.

Dim the lamp a little more for me.
Let me sleep in peace.
And if he calls, don't tell him that I'm here.
Tell him that Alfonsina will not return.
And if he calls, don't ever tell him that I'm here— 
Say that I have gone.

Alfonsina, you have left with your loneliness.
What new poems are you seeking?
An ancient voice of the wind and the sea
Breaks off your soul and carries it away.
And you follow, as in your dreams,
Asleep, Alfonsina, clothed with the sea.

[Photo credit: Martín Gardeazabal]

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