I don't know much of the work of Mexican poet and fiction writer Jose Emilio Pacheco, who won the Cervantes Prize this morning.
I do know the prize is kind of a big deal, the top for literature in Spanish, with previous winners including people like Borges and Octavio Paz.
And I was lucky enough to skim through a copy of Pacheco's Selected Poems years ago, where I encountered what remains one of the clearest and most lovely statements on patriotism I've ever read. The tone, the way it vaults over grand statements about destiny or democracy to capture the concrete, physical things you can really love, the things that bind you to a place.
If there's any big statement at all, it's the title, which (I think) can be read as a neat little smack to those who would say grander things--those who would be immediately offended by Pacheco's opening statement, and might read no further.
I do not love my country. Its abstract splendor
is beyond my grasp.
But (although it sounds bad) I would give my life
for ten places in it, for certain people,
seaports, pinewoods, fortresses,
a run-down city, gray, grotesque,
various figures from its history
(and three or four rivers).
No amo mi Patria. Su fulgor abstracto
Pero (aunque suene mal) daría la vida
por diez lugares suyos, cierta gente,
puertos, bosques de pinos, fortalezas,
una ciudad deshecha, gris, monstruosa,
varias figuras de su historia,
(y tres o cuatro ríos).