Weird History: José Asunción Silva
In Colombia, you might see statues and images of a man with a heart-shaped hole in his chest. It’s creepy and beautiful, especially when you know the story behind the man the statues represent, José Asunción Silva.
José Asunción Silva was a Colombian poet, which is perfect because who does broken hearts better than poets, am I right?
Asunción Silva was born into a rich family and seemed to live a comfortable life, but he was a generally unhappy child who was bullied often. This kid started writing romantic poems at the age of 10 and by 12 he was showing up at school dressed in a velvet suit and wearing leather gloves and a silk tie. Little José was such a freaking dandy that his classmates called him José Presunción (Jose Presumption).
Asunción Silva was basically the late 1880s equivalent of a misunderstood emo teenager. Replace the leather gloves with some black nail polish and the notebook and pen for a guitar and a pick and there you have it – Emo Jose. If he had started writing in the early 2000s instead of the late 1880s, he probably would have been in a band, singing songs about how his rich parents “just didn’t get him.”
But for real though, his life was a mess
Being bullied is one thing, but witnessing a whole lot of death and destruction is another. Asunción Silva witnessed the deaths of 3 out of his 5 siblings and survived long enough to watch his father’s once-profitable business go completely bankrupt. In fact, after his father’s death, José Asunción Silva had to deal with several bankruptcy lawsuits that left him on the hook for some pretty hefty debts.
But that’s not why José Asunción Silva is always portrayed with a hole where his heart should be. Money problems suck, but nothing can destroy a man’s heart like an unattainable love interest.
A life-long love
All his life, José Asunción Silva was madly in love with a woman he could not have. His love for her is rumored to be the inspiration for several of his poems. He pined for her and wrote about his pain over and over again. In 1891, the love of his life passed away. The death is said to be the inspiration behind José Asunción Silva’s most famous poem, Nocturno.
The poem is, of course, beautiful and depressing:
and the full moon
in the infinite and profound blue heavens scattered its white light;
and your shadow,
fine and languid,
and my shadow
projected by the rays of the moon,
upon the sorrowful sands
of the path, joined together;
and they became one,
and they became one”
That’s pretty romantic, right? This poor guy just wanted to be with the love of his life. Asunción Silva managed to trudge through several more years, and even wrote a draft for a novel. Unfortunately, that manuscript, along with several others, was lost in a shipwreck.
That’s right, this guy’s words were literally lost at sea. That’s some sick poetic shit right there.
He did manage to reconstruct his novel, De Sobremesa, from memory, but his depression and the loss of his love eventually became too much. In 1896, he committed suicide by shooting himself through his own heart, hence the ever-present heart-shaped hole in his statues.
So who was this muse? This woman who could inspire such incredible poetry?
His sister. He had incestuous feelings towards his freaking sister, Elvira, his whole life. So yeah, he was an incredible writer and fit the tortured-but-talented mold quite well, but knowing that a lot of those love poems were about his sister really puts a whole new layer of creepy on his history, don’t you think? Of course, what great artist or writer didn’t have at least a few totally messed up things in their life? The messed up ones always seem to work their pain into something incredible.
You were a creep, José Asunción Silva, but damn if you weren’t a talented one.