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The Tale of the Hedgehog

Bernado Atxaga

In his nest of dry leaves the hedgehog has woken

his mind so suddenly filled with all the words he knows.

Counting the verbs, more or less, they come to twenty-seven.

Later he thinks: The winter is over,

I am a hedgehog, Up fly two eagles, high up,

Snail, Worm, Insect, Spider, Frog,

which ponds or holes are you hiding in?

There is the river, This is my kingdom, I am hungry.


And he repeats: This is my kingdom, I am hungry,

Snail, Worm, Insect, Spider, Frog,

which ponds or holes are you hiding in?

However he remains still like a dry leaf, too,

because it is but midday and an old law

forbids him sun, sky and eagles.


But night comes, gone are the eagles; and the hedgehog,

Snail, Worm, Insect, Spider, Frog,

disregards the river and undertakes the steepness of the mountain,

as sure of his spines as a warrior

in Sparta or Corinth could have been of his shield;

and suddenly, he crosses the boundary

between the meadow and the new road

with a single step that takes him right into my and your time.

And given that his universal vocabulary has not been renewed

in the last seven thousand years,

he neither understands our car lights,

nor realises his forthcoming death.

Translated from Basque by Amaia Gabantxo. From Modern Poetry in Translation, New Series no. 18, 2001

Bernardo Atxaga, born in 1951, is well known in Spain, where he is considered one of the most innovative of European writers. His poems were published in several collections in Basque, and collected in a bilingual Basque/Spanish edition, Poemas & híbridos. His novels, originally written in Basque, have been translated by Margaret Jull Costa from his own Spanish versions. The poem has been translated directly from Basque.

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