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Anne Carson

Princess of Asturias Award for Literature 2020

Speech by Ms. Anne Carson

Hello Spain.
To Spain and the people of Spain and the Royal Family of Spain, especially the Princess of Asturias.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is my speech of thank you.

When I walked across Spain in 1983 from the Pyrenees in France to the city of Santiago de Compostela, stopping at all the pilgrimage sites along the way, I noticed one thing in particular about the Spanish people; namely, that they do not smile easily. The Spanish face is a serious face, a sever face; it does not smile without a reason. Till I got used to this fact, I worried all the time that I was doing something wrong. North American faces, as you know, smile all the time, with all their teeth, for no reason at all. But a Spanish smile is hard won.

So it is of special significance to me that you have chosen to smile on me today by the awarding of this astonishing and remarkable prize, sponsored by the Princess of Asturias. I would like to express my gratitude and also to say something about gratitude, because it is an interesting word.

‘Gratitude’, in English, cognates with gracias in Spanish, which derives from the Latin gratia, which in turn comes from Ancient Greek kharis. It’s usually translated as ‘grace’or ‘favour’. Grace is both objective and subjective: both the favour given and the gratification felt by the receiver. In other words, grace is always reciprocal. It goes back and forth between giver and receiver like a light or a sound. The Ancient Greek poets also used kharis in the plural as the Kharites, or the ‘Graces’, those goddesses who confer favour on human beings by inspiring works of poetry, music and song. They personified the special quality or radiance that shines from a work of art and has its effect on you, changing maybe your day or your life. Grace goes back and forth between the maker of a work of art and its audience as between the giver and receiver of a gift. Neither could exist without the other. So I thank you most deeply for this grace that has moved between us.

And, in order to solidify our new relationship of grace, I’d like to perform for you, and with you, a small poem. This is an interactive poem, which means that I say a part and you say a part and it comes together, somewhere in cyberspace, to form a small meaning. So, here’s your part. You get to say, “Let’s buy it! What a bargain!” when I point to you. I’ll count to three and you practise.

Así que, aquí está su parte. Ustedes han de decir: “¡Comprémoslo! ¡Qué ganga!” cuando les indique. Contaré hasta tres para que puedan practicar.

(“Let’s buy it! What a bargain!”)

OK? Remember your line.

Short Talk on the Sensation of Aeroplane Take-off
Well, you know, that could be true love running towards my life with its arms up yelling…
Thank you and goodnight.

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