Who do we think we are?


The birthday card I received from Mrs Blanco this year shows a partly hidden figure reclining in an armchair, cats in attendance, dwarfed by an enormous bookcase that, it is suggested, continues into the vastness of infinity.

She tells me this is how she sees me, which is interesting, and although I would not mind turning into the gentleman on the card at some point in the future, I still have a vague notion of myself as a passionate man of action, albeit with literary leanings. The fact that I have never, in actual fact, ever been a passionate man of action seems to make no impression on the part of me that decides on who I think I am. Like most people, who I think I am does not necessarily coincide with the way others see me.

Pursuing the theme of who we think we might become I have for some years now nurtured an image for my retirement – should such an event ever arise – that I once encountered in a poem (see below) by Jaime Gil de Biedma. I quoted this to a friend, the Scottish poet Tom Pow, a few months ago. He burst out laughing, and told me “But you’ve already lived like a derelict nobleman among the ruins of your intelligence. You did that in your twenties. You might be thinking of doing something differently in your retirement.” He is probably right. Nevertheless, I still like Gil’s poem, caught somewhere between irreparable nostalgia and a melancholy pleasure in the present, as reflecting an ideal way to finish one’s days on earth.



In an old and inefficient country,

something like Spain between two civil

wars, in a village next to the sea,

to have a house and a little land

and no memories at all. Not to read,

nor suffer; not to write, nor pay bills,

and to live like a derelict nobleman

among the ruins of my intelligence.


From Jaime Gil de Biedma, Las Personas del Verbo (1982) tr. R. Gwyn


9 Comments on “Who do we think we are?

  1. I only met you post-dereliction but The Vagabond’s Breakfast filled in the gaps. There are some very scary bits there. I don’t know about the action but you always seemed passionate, in a quietly, intense kind of way. Btw, I mean passionate in the general sense, just so you don’t think I’m hitting on you.


  2. Remember, Richard, that Jaime Gil de Biedma was a very wealthy man (I think his father imported cigars or something like this). Nonchalance is a very expensive thing to buy.


  3. Reminds me of the quote being used on the cover of Noel Gallagher’s latest release “The Death of You and Me” ( http://tinyurl.com/42bdybf ) from the novelist George Eliot which reads on the theatre sign “It’s never too late to be what you might have been”.


  4. You seem to have the same retirement plans as I do, having been also a man of action like yourself!


  5. Pingback: How to talk about books you haven’t read (and how to write like Kafka) « Ricardo Blanco's Blog

  6. Pingback: How to talk about books you haven’t read (and how to write like Kafka) « Ricardo Blanco's Blog

  7. Very nice poem indeed; and to the point afaiac; but I am not – nor have ever – planned for retirement; considering thestate of the country there is no point; and I don’t evenknow if I will ever get to that age….

    never mind; today isn’t aining which is a good thing. :O)


  8. When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added
    I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method
    you can remove me from that service? Kudos!


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