WWW: Considering the “Nocturne” and the Importance of Poet Rosario Castellanos

castellanosIt is difficult to talk about Latin American poetry during the 20th century without mentioning this poet.  And no, I am not talking about Borges, nor Neruda nor Paz.  I’m talking about Rosario Castellanos.  Although her name is not quite as famous as the others, and although many scholars would put up a strong argument that it would, in fact, be quite easy to discuss Latin American poetry without mentioning her work, I would argue that her place within the construction of Mexican national identity post-WWII is as important as anyone else.

Rosario was born in Mexico City to an upper-middle class family, however soon thereafter the family moved to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where indigenous cultures predominated.  Following the Revolution, the families lands were seized by community land reform projects, and the family returned to Mexico City.  Rosario refused to be forced into law by her parents, and instead obtained a master’s degree in philosophy.  Her thesis, “About feminine culture” is referred to by Mexican scholars and historians as the key departure point for the women’s rights movement in Mexico.  Besides that, her poetry was imbued with the identity and spirit of her home state of Chiapas.  She, perhaps more than any other poet of the Mexico City bourgeoisie, incorporated a complex and dynamic representation of the “other Mexico”, the Mexico most students and scholars in Mexico City knew very little about.

Here is a short poem by Rosario, and one of her most famous.

       Nocturne     

1     Time is too long for life;
2     For knowledge not enough.
3     What have we come for, night, heart of night?
4     Dream that we do not die
5     And, at times, for a moment, wake.

Have the students read this poem, aloud if possible (again it is very short) and then brainstorm for ideas on how this poem relates to any of the following three themes:

1. Mexican national identity

2. Women’s rights

3. Indigenous culture

Although any idea is a good idea, here are some possible themes to point out.  For Mexican national identity, think about the idea in line 1 of time being too long for life – the fact that many voices across many generations are needed to construct a national history, and how certain stories become mythologized in the darkness of advancing time.  For Women’s Rights we can think about the woman author’s first person voice and her use of “we” to refer not to all Mexicans, but to women in particular.  What have we come for, “We women”?  How should we go forward in this darkness that is so void of easy answers.  And finally, we can understand the use of “we” to not mean women or Mexicans at all, but a cultural ‘other’ that is at once a part of us, and at once surrounded by darkness, misconstrued knowledge and the myth of “dying” languages.

Here, on Western Michigan University’s page “Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos” you can find this poem accompanied by more in depth descriptions as well as other works by Rosario.

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