Platero and I


PlateroPlatero is small, fluffy, soft; so soft on the outside that one would say he is all cotton, that he carries no bones.  Only the jet-dark mirrors of his eyes are hard as two scarabs of black crystal.

I let him loose and he runs to the meadow; warmly, hardly touching them, he brushes his nose against the tiny pink, sky-blue and golden yellow flowers . . . I call him sweetly:  “Platero?” and he comes to me at a gay little trot as though he were laughing, I do not know within what fancy world of jingles.

He eats whatever I give him.  He likes oranges, tangerines, muscatel grapes, all amber, purple figs with their crystalline tiny drops of honey.

He is tender and cuddly, as a little boy, as a little girl . . . but inside he is strong and dry as a stone.  When I ride him on Sunday through the last alleyways of the town, the men from the fields, dressed neatly and slow moving, stand still watching him.

“He’s got steel.”

Steel, yes.  Steel and moon silver at the same time.

Platero and I, written in the early 1900’s by Juan Ramón Jiménez, is a Spanish classic, a shimmering lyrical prose poem made up of short vignettes. Platero is the poet’s beloved burro.  Together Jiménez and Platero walk the fields and meadows of Andalusia and the alleyways of the author’s home village of Moguer.   The poet observes life, its joy and pain, in simple, ordinary occurrences, daily routines, the changes of seasons, and muses aloud to Platero, dumb and innocent witness.  Ordinary life takes on a poignant intensity.  As Louis Simpson remarks in the Introduction, “life is open to the earth and sky, whatever one sees.  Some things are terrible to see.”

I do not know how to leave here, Platero.  Who can leave him there, poor thing, without guide and protection?

He must have strayed from the boneyard.  I believe he does not see or hear us.  You saw him this morning by that same fence, his sad, dry misery lighted under the white clouds by the radiant sun and covered by moving islands of living flies, alien to the prodigious beauty of the winter day.  He would turn once around slowly, disoriented, lame on all four legs, and he would come around again to the same spot.  He has done nothing but shift his flank.  This morning he was facing west, now he faces east.

What a hurdle old age is, Platero!  There you see that poor friend, free and unable to move, even when spring is moving towards him.  Or is he already dead, like Bécquer, and remains still standing?  A child could draw his fixed outline against the evening sky.

There you see it . . . I have tried to push him but he does not move . . . Nor does he pay attention to my calls . . . It looks as if the agony of death has planted him to the ground . . .

Platero, he is going to die of cold against that high fence, tonight, as the north wind sweeps . . . I do not know how I can leave here; I do not know what to do, Platero.

But there is joy in living, all the same:

One day, the green canary, I do not know how or why, flew from his cage.  He was an old canary, a sad memento from a dead woman, and I never set him free for fear he might die of hunger or cold, or that the cats might eat him.  He flew about all morning among the pomegranates in the orchard, in the pine by the door, among the lilacs.  The children too remained all morning long sitting on the porch, fascinated by the brief flights of the yellowing bird.  Free, Platero idled among the rosebushes, playing with a butterfly.

In the evening, the canary came to the roof of the big house, and there he remained for a long while, shaking in the mild setting sun.  Suddenly, and without anyone knowing how or why, he appeared in his cage, joyful again.  What excitement in the garden.  The children jumped, clapping hands, laughing . . . Platero, touched by it all, in a surge of silvery flesh, like a tiny little goat, thrust his hoofs in the air, turned around on his legs in a crude waltz, and standing on his front legs, kicked the clear and warm air  . . .

Platero and I  is a wonderful and moving meditation on love, life, and the full acceptance of life, with all of its joy, its pain, and its finality.  Platero wishes only to live, enjoying everything gaily; the taste of a pomegranate, the yellow lilies and singing orioles in the orchard of La Piña where he is buried.   We are held close, lovingly, by Jiménez and Platero.  Simpson says it so perfectly – before such love the mental barrier we think of as death must fall.

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