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I shot a blank, and hit a black

Unlike the shot fired in his heart by the poet José Asunción Silvia on the morning of the 24th of May 1896, that of Candelario Obeso (1849-1884) was heard in his home in Bogotá, the ninth road between Sixth and Seventh Street where, harassed by racial discrimination and due to his various needs, decided to end his life.


Armando Orozco Tovar


At the end of his short life, Candelario Obeso, the so-called black poet of Mompox, a colonial town on the Magdalena River, dragged his poverty through the cold streets of the capital, which from its two thousand four hundred and forty meters high, hated those who came from the warm earth of the country.

Such was the misery he had to suffer, that he came to witness the death by starvation of his children, who slowly disappeared due to the unhealthiness of a city with neither electric light, an aqueduct nor a sewer. The same city in which children of rich families were dying due to the recurrent appearance of typhus and smallpox, which reached their meager households like European medieval plagues.

Such was the poverty of his later years, that when his last child died and it was impossible for him to buy the coffin, he abandoned him at the door of a funeral home. Some years earlier his friend the poet-president Rafael Núñez, who had helped the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío by naming him at a consulate in Uruguay, had appointed him consul in Tours, France.

His philandering ways also brought him problems, such as when he fell hopelessly in love with a white aristocrat who despised him. The poet translated this feeling of contempt into verse, which also alienated him from the clergy.

“Do you know what love is? / If God himself asks me to forget, / I tell God no, / and if the punishment for blasphemy he swiftly taketh from me, / then I will kill myself, / I will go to heaven and take it from God. “

Candelario Obeso didn’t kill himself because of the contempt of the lady, and neither did José Asunción Silva for the death of his sister.

It was poverty and discrimination that precipitated his death, and for the author of his book “Nocturno”, the debts are with his creditors.

In earlier times, the black poet had obtained the rank of colonel in one of the wars during the nineteenth century, when he fought under the flag of progressive liberals in the battle of “La Garrapata”.

In 1874, he took part in politics and journalism with his collaborations “ad honorem” in the weekly magazine “La ilustración”. During the government of Santiago Pérez, he published his “Miscellaneous”, pamphlet-style facts made by the writer José María Vargas Vila.

During this time he also formed a poetry group with Julio Flórez from Chiquinquirá, the boyacense population, who, without knowing the work of Baudelaire, titled one of his best poems “Flores negras”, with almost the same words as “Flores del mal”, which incorporated Bambuco music: “Listen beneath the ruins of my passions, /at the bottom of this soul that you no longer make happy, /between dust of dreams and illusions / numb my black flowers sprout.”.

Among the most famous poems of Candelario Obeso, one can recall his book “Canciones populares de mi tierra”, entitled “Canción del boga ausente”, whose verses say: “How sad the night is / the night is sad / there is not a star in the sky / row, row. / the black of my soul,/ whilst I persevere at sea / drenched in sweat because of it / what will it do?, what will it do?”

In Santa Marta, he wrote a grammatical text and a novel, “La familia Pigmalión”.

He moved from the Caribbean city to Tenerife, and then to Carmen de Bolívar, where he worked as a teacher in the department of Sucre. In Bogotá, the Colombian capital, at 35 years old, he ended his life, and whilst he was dying he said like an epitaph: “I threw a blank and hit a black”.

(Translated by: Sophie Maling – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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