This poem is a translation of a Spanish poem called “Filosofias,” by José Asunción Silva (1865-1896), a Colombian poet.
From carnal pleasures and scheming,
from each kiss and caress,
love with all of your soul; dreaming,
exhaust yourself with excess.
And if you avoid syphilis, carry on
the wisdom of prevention,
when you’re forty, you’ll feel, with a yawn,
the start of hypertension.
Take the cup, and oblivion you will find,
drink the nectar nonstop,
until you’ve lost your senses and your mind,
drink it to the last drop.
Work without stopping, fight and sweat,
just sell your life for gold:
indigestion is what you’ll get,
no treasures will you hold.
Wonderful! You will have the pleasure
of your slow digestion,
as you anxiously count your treasure,
bank balance in question.
Sacrifice yourself for your art:
write, or paint in salons!
Struggle until it stops your heart
—canvas, poem, or bronze—
for your essence, your nerves, your soul!
Work that never pays!
And no one will your work extol,
after a few days.
No, be a faithful believer; try anew,
let reason bow down low
at the feet of the absurd; and renew
your life—let heaven go.
Pay for it with your joys, faith revives;
meditate, beg, and pray;
and when you die, what if your hope dives:
the letter doesn’t weigh.
But if your pride is slow to accept
so much abdication,
if blind faith is something you reject,
trust in cogitation.
To pleasure and the arts, bid adieu,
seek philosophy’s way,
madly seek to discover the true,
dedicate night and day.
Compare each religion and system,
from the Bible to Mill,
examine each scholastic problem:
destiny and free will.
From Spencer, Wundt, and the tradition,
to fathom that abyss,
you will achieve this one condition:
yourself you will dismiss.
Don’t dwell on inaccessible peace.
Look! You must embrace,
when life’s troubles never seem to cease,
the interior face.
Renounce your studies, your life revise,
struggle does ever stink,
and as the wise men always advise,
into Nirvana sink.
Be glad to give up the illusions,
a close look you deserve,
as an old yogi rids confusions,
your own navel observe.
Abandon the century’s Zeitgeist,
choose the joy of a good friend,
select the best portion, amply sliced,
for humor does transcend.
And when you reach your dying hour,
you’ll feel only one thing:
you’ll feel you’ve wasted all your power,
and that you’ve done nothing…
(written c. May 2018)