Ref. HRA 2000/3
2000 Human Rights Awareness



The Poetry by Marjorie Agosin

Many major writers have dealt with social issues – many of them have, ahead of their times, exposed injustice and unveiled patterns of exploitation and discrimination which we would now call human rights abuses. Yet, “human rights” may appear to many especially in the US and in some EU countries like a rather cold and legalistic term, related to a distant past and to far away countries in the South of the world and to endless fights in Court.

Marjorie Agosin’s poetry (An absence of Shadows is a collection of Agosin’s poetry in which her best known collections, Circles of Madness and Zones of Pain) enhances the very meaning of human rights by unveiling the emotive tracks left on the victims of human rights abuses and on the victims’ relatives. “Disappearance” is one of the most cruel forms of murder, in which the victim has not even a tomb, and which was widely practiced by police and the military in several Latin American countries (including Agosin’s native Chile during the Pinochet’s dictatorship). Too often relatives and friends of “desaparecidos” are left yearning for an impossible return. The tragedy of this “hopeless hope” outlines the enormity and absurdity of every disappearance. 

An heartbreaking depiction is given in a poem in memory of Reneé Eppelbaum, one of the founding members of the mothers of Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of Argentine’s desaparecidos: 

“She just approaches
this photograph
and says that
she will take her for a walk.

They will gather chestnuts,
dead and living leaves,
and suddenly she will show her to others,
not to ask about her
but to say
that she was her daughter … 

The feeling of loss, of loneliness, and the inability to cope with them, to look forward in an undaunted gaze is the sorrowful condition of survivors and relatives alike. It is impossible to engulf and to pass over the abyss left by the loss – the shadow of the infinite value of each human life. As for the victims of the Holocaust, there will never be justice for the “desaparecidos.” There will never be justice for any victim of torture and state murder. The only possible relief is to make any human right violation impossible. This cannot be achieved without a strong, inner feeling, – developed and nurtured through education since early childhood – that must let any potential perpetrator (i. e., almost everyone) feel the sorrow he  is going to cause. Poetry and works of art in general are, in this respect, a fundamental part of any educational curriculum privileging human rights. Marjorie Agosin has provided us with an important step toward this goal.

Contributed by Paola Marziani