Returnings: Poems of Love and Distance by Rafael Alberti



Reprinted with permission from Returnings: Poems of Love and Distance
By Rafael Alberti
Translated from Spanish by Carolyn L. Tipton
English translation copyright © 2016 by White Pine Press
ISBN 1935210912



With the same uncountable number of waves
—wave upon wave—you’ve continually raised
from the time of your blue birth,
you call me now, resounding,
breaking your foamy brow against the shore
where my luminous heart always watched you,
lovely sea, stirred up by the Spring breeze.

After so much monotonous pain, after
so many days and nights each wearing the same face,
after the identical dark cave of every hour,
it’s so sweet just to yield to your green call.

What will your waves open now? What
broken, pure white arches, what slender
colonnades and delicate split shafts, what
sandcastles will you have shaped to show me?
With no voices to blend with, the breeze has gone quiet,
the track is without flying feet, and the pinegrove
is silent, lacking Love’s naked siestas.
Let my heart’s noisy joy fill them up.

Come down now from the tower, little one:
my sister! The youngest of us all. Let’s go
barefooted on the rocks, beside the sea’s
forgetful prison—look, half-buried
dorsal skeletons—nor will we fear
the sticky, stubborn mollusks.

Chase me to the outskirts of the waves.
Here, the wind dreams of bending to the wind.
Now race me blindly back, victorious, your head
circled with seaweed, past the evermoving
edges haloing the heathered scrubland.

Hidden in the dunes, so alert that the world
became transparent, how could we not,
little sister, gaze out on things that others,
in their darkness, couldn’t see?

Who can stop me from returning—now, from so far—
to the beaches of that day, the long sunset,
the new-risen colt of the sea, bearing high
in its saddle of foam, all of Spring.

Little sister, you’ve long wept, for I’m not there
to fill the sands with lucky footprints, or
the broken architecture of the waves with flowers,
or with love, the jubilant and singing cups of air.

Take what the sea has brought to me this morning,
and beg it to let me always keep returning.



I am a man of many rooftops.
The whitest ones are set above the sea,
ready to cast off for the sun, bearing
like sails their sheets hung out to dry.
Others open onto fields, but one, though it looks out
to mountains, opens only onto love.
It’s this roof that returns to me the most.

There love tied back the tendrils of geraniums,
trailed the jasmine and the rose along the rail,
and in the burning night might come undone
in a sudden pouring shower of cooling rain.

Far off, the peaks that bore the weight
of the great stars watched over it.
When was love ever so lucky,
and when, amidst just-sprinkled
petals, possessed
with such force by the blood?

Train whistles floated up. Tremblings
of Chinese lanterns from the fairs, live
music, and the glow of lighted trees; these all
rose up, while comets came cascading down,
filling love’s eyes in a flash
of fleeting splendor.

It was the sweetest epoch of my heart.
It all returns to me today, so distant
from where I am now, dreaming on this stump
beside a road that opens onto nothing.


Rafael Alberti was one of the greatest poets of 20th century Spain. At the Spanish Civil War, Alberti, along with the rest of his Generation who had not been caught or killed, fled. His exile from Spain was to last almost 40 years. He died in 1999.

Carolyn L. Tipton is a poet, translator, and teacher at the University of California, Berkeley. Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her translation of To Painting: Rafael Alberti, won the National Translation Award.


“Unapologetically romantic, even sentimental, Rafael Alberti’s Returnings burn with erotic intensity fueled by the melancholy of exile, the longing of nostalgia and the consolation of memory.  The musical language that drives these urgent poems is echoed exquisitely in Carolyn Tipton’s translations, which revive, in rich American English, one of twentieth-century Spain’s most important poetic voices.”  —Stephen Kessler

“The root meaning of verse is to turn, and in Returnings, the first translation into English of Rafael Alberti’s favorite book, we are treated to an essay on the imaginative possibilities of a great poet, long exiled from his native land, turning memory into verse, recovering from the past everything that counts: love and friendship and the landscapes that shaped him. Through alleyways and storied ruins, colors and autumn and war, Alberti discovers poetry at every turn: ‘Beautiful, strong & sweet, in the end/ my only sea. Always you come back to me.’”—Christopher Merrill, author of Necessities

“In the reinvention of yesterday through color, scent, and song, Alberti’s revisitations pulsate with the nostalgia of love–of youth, of spouse, of homeland. Indeed, his years of exile seem to have deepened the hues of his bucolic and maritime imagery, allowing him to fashion a vibrant present of former times. Carolyn Tipton´s moving translation recreates Alberti’s powerful imaginings and musicality through an even cadence and chiming assonance, luring us into its rhythmic magic: “With the same uncountable number of waves / –wave upon wave–you’ve continually raised / from the time of your blue birth, / you call me now, resounding, / breaking your foamy brow against the shore.” —Lisa Rose Bradford

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