The worms crawled in and the worms crawled out

Towards the end of La colmena (The hive), Cela’s portrait of a post-war Madrid devoid of heroes and on the brink of oblivion,

The morning ascends, little by little, climbing like a worm through the hearts of the men and the women of the city.

This reminds me of the episode in Pío Baroja’s morbid Santa Teresa homage, Camino de perfección, written half a century earlier, in which Ossorio goes into a monastery garden and encounters the granite tomb of a bishop of Segovia, half hidden by myrtle, for which Baroja uses the stinky Arabic loan, ar-raihan/الريحان:

How beautiful the poem of the corpse of the bishop in that peaceful field! Down there he is, with his mitre and his ornaments and his walking stick, sung to sleep by the susurration of the spring. First, when they buried him, he would have begun to rot, little by little: now an eye would cloud, and the worms would begin to bathe in its vitreous juices; soon his brain would soften, his humours would run from one part of the body to another, and gases would make his skin burst out in sores: and in that rotten, discarded flesh the larvae would gambol happily…
One day the rain would begin to seep through and take with it organic matter, and, passing through the ground, this matter would be cleansed, purified, and next to the tomb green, fresh grass would be born, and ulcer pus would shine in the white petals of the flowers.
On another day that fresh grass, those white petals would give their matter to the air and it would evaporate to settle in a cloud.
How beautiful the poem of the corpse of the bishop in that peaceful field! What gladness atoms experience as they break the form that imprisoned them, fusing themselves joyfully with the nebula of the infinite, on the path of the mystery in which all is lost!

I was curled up the other evening in the corner of my favourite Galician bar with La colmena when the other clients–horrified–discovered what I was up to. Cela wasn’t adverse to obscenity (1, 2, 3), but then neither are most of the men who shelter in bars, drinking until their wives are safely asleep. What offended them–many read Cela at school–was that he wrote things they would only say. I’m rather tempted to translate for them bits of drug and sex fiend Aleister Crowley who, chancing on this theme, wrote of

Small coffin-worms that burrow in thy brain
Writhe with delight; thy rotten body teems
With all infesting vermin, as beseems
The mirror of an obscene mind. In vain
Thy misbegotten brutehood shirks the pain
Of its avenging leprosies: death steams
In all thy rank foul atmosphere: the gleams
Of phosphorescent putrefaction wane.

Originals:

  1. La mañana sube, poco a poco, trepando como un gusano por los corazones de los hombres y de las mujeres de la ciudad
  2. A un lado, medio oculta por los arrayanes, se veía la tumba de granito de un obispo de Segovia muerto en el cenobium, y enterrado allí por ser ésta su voluntad.
    ¡Qué hermoso poema el del cadáver del obispo en aquel campo tranquilo! Estaría allá abajo con su mitra y sus ornamentos y su báculo, arrullado por el murmullo de la fuente. Primero, cuando lo enterraran, empezaría a pudrirse poco a poco: hoy se le nublaría un ojo, y empezarían a nadar los gusanos por los jugos vítreos; luego, el cerebro se le iría reblandeciendo, los humores correrían de una parte del cuerpo a otra y los gases harían reventar en llagas la piel: y en aquellas carnes podridas y desechas correrían las larvas alegremente…
    Un día comenzaría a filtrarse la lluvia y a llevar con ella sustancia orgánica, y al pasar por la tierra aquella sustancia se limpiaría, se purificaría, nacerían junto a la tumba hierbas verdes, frescas y el pus de las úlceras brillaría en las blancas corolas de las flores.
    Otro día esas hierbas frescas, esas corolas blancas darían su sustancia al aire y se evaporaría ésta para depositarse en una nube.
    ¡Qué hermoso poema el del cadáver del obispo en el campo tranquilo! ¡Qué alegría de los átomos al romper la forma que les aprisionaba, al fundirse con júbilo en la nebulosa del infinito, en la senda del misterio donde todo se pierde!

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Published
Last updated 07/05/2005

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Arabic language (43):

Camilo José Cela (13): Camilo José Cela y Trulock, 1st Marquis of Iria Flavia was a Spanish novelist, poet, story writer and essayist associated with the Generation of '36 movement. He was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature "for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability".

Galicia (72):

Generation of '98 (23): The Generation of '98 Generación del 98 or Generación de 1898) was a group of novelists, poets, essayists, and philosophers active in Spain at the time of the Spanish–American War. The name Generación del 98 was coined by José Martínez Ruiz, commonly known as Azorín, in his 1913 essays titled "La generación de 1898", alluding to the moral, political and social crisis in Spain produced by the loss of the colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam after defeat in the Spanish–American War that same year.

Granite (3):

Kaleboel (4309):

Madrid (155):

Pío Baroja (21): Pío Baroja y Nessi was a Spanish writer, one of the key novelists of the Generation of '98.

Spanish literature (171):

Translation (788):


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