Estás sola y nadie te mira. Eres la reina, bella como la luna envuelta en la seda de su noche. Estás sola y te vas a morir./ ’You’re alone and nobody looks at you. You’re the queen, beautiful as the moon wrapped up in the silk of her night. You’re alone and you’re going to die.
At first sight, there is little to hint at the intimate content this slender book ultimately offers up. Ana Becciú’s Night Watch is a passionate confession full of erotic desires, the restlessness of the human spirit, and longings for life and death. It is an exposé on different variations of love – not only the love of lovers, but also of motherly love, of abstract love without measures: of selfish inner love of oneself, of love for the idea of love itself and of sensual joie de vivre. Most of all, it is an exploration of the ambiguous character of love that brings both the terror and satisfaction of sharing oneself with another.
Divided in two, the first part of the book contains Cecilia Rossi’s English translation, followed by its Argentinean original Ronda de Noche in the second part. The presence of the Spanish version creates an important counterpart to the English translation. It is here to be read no matter whether you understand the language or not; to feel it, to flow on its rhythms and become part of its phrasing and urgency; to get lost in the void of words without meaning – like being in love. Arguably, no translation ever reaches the purity of the original – it is but a copy, an eidolon – yet in her translation Cecilia Rossi keeps the passions as blood-raising as they were originally, and without sounding forced.
Night Watch is a long lyrical prose poem. It is intended to make the reader reflect on the effect of words and their ephemeral character; where do our words go, what is “I love you” said out loud, what does it lose on the way just by the simple fact of being pronounced? The words, once true, turned into a splutter of dishonesty – when did that even happen? “The mouth makes love, with the mouth love is said.” We cover ourselves and shape others so well with all these words.
Becciú sings about her past lovers and fantasizes about her future loves; she imagines the parallel lives of all these girls and women we could have been – if only, what then? She draws on the processes of becoming a woman and of developing a woman’s body, that is, a body in a Beauvoirian sense of “the other” – of a strange yet familiar bodily experience with its own inner life, alienated and inaccessible from the outside. Becciú feeds this duality by speaking of her body from an outsider’s position, maintaining distance from the “I”, or from the Spanish “Yo”; yet at some points submerges into first person perspective, simultaneously creating a dimension both personal and impersonal.
It is easy for a woman to relate to the verses of Night Watch and become absorbed in the familiar experience of the female body and its urging affirmation of existence through love and sexual encounters. I am uncertain, however, whether there is potential in Becciú’s poem to extend its reach beyond a solely female audience. Undoubtedly, the book can be still enjoyed for its qualities of language, but its particularly intimate content might resonate only with a limited public. What remains clear is the message that Night Watch successfully conveys – that we all need to get lost in somebody from time to time.
(…) Thy body permanent,
The body lurking there within thy body,
The only purport of the form thou art, the real I myself,
An image, an eidolon.(…)
-W. Whitman, “Eidolons”