Skip to main content

International Reflective Writing

El Salvador

Roque Dalton: “Poetry, like bread, is for everyone”

Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
— from the poem “Like You”

On May 14, 1935, Roque Dalton was born in San Salvador, El Salvador. His father was one of the members of the outlaw Dalton brothers and his mother was a registered nurse whose salary supported the family.

After a year at the University of Santiago, Chile, Roque Dalton attended the University of San Salvador in 1956, where he helped found the University Literary Circle just before the Salvadoran military set fire to the building. The following year he joined the Communist Party; he was arrested in 1959 and 1960 for inciting students and peasants to revolt against the landowners. Dalton was sentenced to be executed, but his life was saved the day before his sentence was to be carried out, when the dictatorship of Colonel José María Lemus was overthrown.

He spent 1961 in Mexican exile, writing many of the poems that were published in La Ventana en el rostro ("The Window in My Face," 1961) and El turno del ofendido ("The Injured Party's Turn," 1962). He dedicated the latter book to the Salvadoran police chief who had filed the charges against him.

From Mexico, Dalton naturally gravitated to Cuba, where he was well received by the Cuban and Latin American exiled writers who gathered in the Casa de las Américas. From that point on, starting with La Ventana en el rostro and El Mar ("The Sea") in 1962, almost all of his poetic work was published in Cuba.

In the summer of 1965, he returned to El Salvador to continue his political work. Two months after his arrival, he was arrested, tortured, and again sentenced to execution. However, he managed to escape death once more when an earthquake shattered the outer wall of his cell, enabling him to dig his way out through the rubble.

He returned to Cuba and a few months later the Communist Party sent him to Prague as a correspondent for The International Review: Problems of Peace and Socialism.

His book Taberna y ostros lugares ("Tavern and Other Places"), reflecting his long stay in Prague, won the Casa de las Américas poetry prize in 1969 and established Roque Dalton, at the age of thirty-four, as one of the best young poets in Latin America. In 1975, a military faction of the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), unjustly accused him of trying to divide their organization and condemned him to death. They executed him on May 10, 1975, four days before his fortieth birthday.



El Descanso del Guerrero

Los muertos están cada día más indóciles.

Antes era fácil con ellos:

les dábamos un cuello duro una flo

loábamos sus nombres en una larga lista:

que los recintos de la patria

que las sombras notables

que el mármol monstruoso.

El cadáver firmaba en pos de la memoria

iba de nuevo a filas

y marchaba al compás de nuestra vieja música.

Pero qué va

los muertos son otros desde entonces.

Hoy se ponen irónicos


Me parece que caen en la cuenta

de ser cada vez más la mayoría!


The Falling of the Freedom Fighters

The dead are more unmanageable every day.

Before it was easy with them:

we gave flowers to the uptight ones

we gave the relatives the names on one long list:

to these we gave national borders

to those we gave remarkable peace

that one we gave a monstrous marble tomb

Then we saluted the memory of the corpses

and went to their cemetery rows

marching to the compass of old music.

But where the dead go

is different now.

Today they ask

ironic questions.

And it seems to me that they fall more and more

on account of being

more and more

the majority.


Dia de la Patria


Hoy fue el día de la patria: desperté a medio podrir, sobre el suelo húmedo e hiriente

como la boca de un coyote muerto, entre los gases embriagadores de los himnos.

15 de septiembre.


The National Day

Today was the day of the mother country: I woke up with the means to rot, on humid

and hostile ground

like the mouth of a dead coyote, between the intoxicating gases of hymns.

15 of september



Polvo serán, mas, polvo enamorado?


Will be dust, but, will it be loved dust?


La Cabez Contra el Muro

(Conclusión filosófico-moral.)

La materia es dura,

la materia es indestructible:

por lo tanto

a materia es incomprensiva,

la materia

es cruel.


Head Against the Wall

(Philosophical-Moral Conclusion)

Matter is hard,

matter is indestructible:

therefore matte

is uncomprending,

matter is cruel.

Above poems translated by Johnny Dracut;


The Certainty

After four hours of torture, the Apache and the other two
cops threw a bucket of water at the prisoner to wake him up
and said: "The Colonel has ordered us to tell you you're to be
given a chance to save your skin. If you guess which of us has 
a glass eye, you'll be spared torture." After passing his gaze
over the faces of his executioners, the prisoner pointed to 
one of them: "His. His right eye is glass."

And the astonished cops said, "You're saved! But how did
you guess? All your buddies missed because the eye is 
American, that is, perfect." "Very simple," said the prisoner,
feeling he was going to faint again, "it was the only eye that 
looked at me without hatred."

Of course they continued torturing him.


←  Go back                                                  Next page