|Eduardo Cote Lamus|
On the writing of Eduardo Cote Lamus
By Fernando Charry Lara
Translated by Laura Chalar
A certain type of poetry shows its most typical stealth in the gravity of the word that struggles, from a dark inner source, to manifest itself in its original nakedness and suggestion. Gravity: not the shine or the richness. We perceive the weariness to which poetic work leads when the word is solely an embellishing resource. We hope to find in it a subtler, more disquieting intention. When it is barely an insufficient stammer, or when it is lost in a verbal overflow due to lack of control, we are unmoved by its call. The poetry of Eduardo Cote Lamus (1928-1964), in which the shine of verbal felicities would hint at the possibility of the author delighting in them too much, is an example by contrast of the way in which language is an efficient weapon when it faithfully answers to a desire to express. It could be said of Cote that, tempted in different ways and by dissimilar subjects, he conquered a poetic language of his own. The evolution of his poems gives us grounds for supporting this opinion.
After Salvación del Recuerdo, which was awarded the Young Poetry Award in Spain in 1951, he published another book, Los sueños, in 1956. In a review of the latter collection, Ramón de Zubiría emphasized the intellectual mastery which the author wanted to exercise over his poems. He referred to their symbolism, their abstractions, the consequent obstacles which their complexity might entail for the reader. He pointed to the “markedly conceptual nature of this poetry, written at the level of intelligence rather than that of sensitivity”. From the teenage infatuation of his first verses, that poetry prolonged itself into the tone of lyrical meditation of Los sueños, which would also be the tone of his next collections: La vida cotidiana, published in 1959, and Estoraques, published in 1963. This succession showed the way in which his poetry gradually purified itself, achieving an increasing intensity and maturity, fatally cut short by the poet’s early death.
Some Colombian poetry scholars (such as Hernando Valencia Goelkel, Eduardo Camacho Guizado, Jaime García Mafla and Guillermo Alberto Arévalo) have highlighted different aspects of the poetry of Eduardo Cote, especially of his last stage. This article will limit itself to an aspect related to these. There existed, in those final poems, a perceptible struggle between that language which could be taken to be spontaneous or colloquial, and the one arising from literary tradition, or poetic phrasing prejudices – not to speak of the doubt which the poet surely experienced about which of these two modes of expression to employ. But if there is (as we believe) any problem which Cote attempted to face in these poems, it is that of whether to portray everyday life in everyday voices or, by contrast, to portray it with a certain inscrutability which he was neither completely fond of nor, on the other hand, a stranger to. Or maybe the issue for him was a different one: to merge intuition and poetic thought, however intricate, with common parlance. In any case, the natural key which he achieved in his verse was (just like the symbolic or abstract one) the result of a thorough process which culminated in the balance he desired for his mixed tone of self-absorption and vivacity:
It is something that happens under the rain.
And difficult to say: how the young Bride
tenderly washes the chaste wedding night
bleached in her hands by the following morning.
Behold my shoulders where the air weights
that which a light law takes from mortals.
But the weight comes not from the outside: conscience weighs, and the shadow
The shadow is necessary for going into the deep.
That is why here, in this body, there are many journeys
to begin. If the map of only one
desire was extended, there would be no extension
to contain it in. Hence the depth,
density and mystery of one breast’s repose.
There can be perceived in Cote’s poems the influence that the realm of ideas exerted upon them. The evolution from his early to his later work shows the gradual abandonment of issues which in the beginning, as mentioned above, restricted his poems to a sentimental atmosphere. He increasingly searched for an emotion that was not obedient to the stimuli of the heart or the senses. Mental passion, heightened in its purity, began to prevail. And it made of his poetry, not only through a certain reserve in its accents but also by its sense of exploration and of spiritual conquest, a body of work that aspires to interest those who look for something other than rapturous effusion in a poem.
The “preliminary note” which introduces Estoraques, by Hernando Valencia Goelkel, is among the more felicitous pages of this writer. “It is he who, in a certain sense, is right,” says Valencia in a passage of his text, referring to Robert Graves. And what gives rise to the controversy or the doubt is this frank admission of the Englishman: “I write poems for poets, and satires and grotesques for wits. For people in general I write prose, and am contented that they should be unaware that I do anything else. To write poems for other than poets is wasteful.”
I think about the accuracy of the last sentence. And I think of it, if written by a poet like him, as devoid of all vanity.