João Cabral de Melo Neto (1920-1999)
One of the most important Brazilian poets of the postwar generations,
Cabral continues to exert a strong influence on many younger Brazilian
poets. As Régis Bonvincino writes to me about Cabral: "Along
with Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Murilo Mendes, Cabral is considered
the best poet of Brazilian Poetry born in the 20's."
Cabral's Selected Poetry: 1937-1990 is published by Wesleyan, and included
the well-known translation of his work by Elizabeth Bishop. On learning
of his death, Horacio Costa and I translated two poems of Cabral, with
Régis adding some changes by email to the first. I published the first in Recalculating. I also include here a translation by Paula Speck.
Psicologia de composição
É mineral o papel
o verso; o verso
que é possível não fazer.
as flores e as plantas,
as frutas, os bichos
quando em estado de palavra.
a linha do horizonte,
nossos nomes, essas coisas
feitas de palavras.
É mineral, por fim,
que é mineral a plaavra
escrita, a fria natureza
de palavra escita.
Psychology of Composition (VII)
It's mineral the paper
on which to write
that is possible not to make.
flowers and plants,
when in a state of words.
the horizon line,
our names, those things
made of words.
Mineral, at last,
'cause the written
word is mineral, the cold nature
of the written word.
(Tr. Charles Bernstein, Horacio Costa and Régis Bonvincino, based
on the published translations of Djelal Kadir.)
The Last Poem
I don't know who sends me poetry
nor whether Who would call it that.
But who who may be, who
that Who (myself, my sweat?),
be it woman, landscape, or the no
that needs fill the void,
to make, for example, the crutch
that I made walk the left soul,
to Whom should be given the inglorious burden
I ask: my last poem
sent, as a poem perverse,
antilyric, made into antiverse.
(Tr. Charles Bernstein and Horacio Costa, based on the published translations
of Djelal Kadir.)
DUAS DAS FESTAS DA MORTE
João Cabral de Melo Neto
Recepções de cerimônia que dá a morte:
o morto, vestido para um ato inaugural;
e ambiguamente: com a roupa do orador
e a da estátua que se vai inaugurar.
No caixão, meio caixão meio pedestal,
o morto mais se inaugura do que morre;
e duplamente; ora sua própia estátua
ora seu própio vivo, em dia de posse.
Piqueniques infantis que dá a morte:
os enterros de criança do Nordeste:
reservados a menores de treze anos,
imprópios a adultos (nem o seguem).
Festa meio excursão meio pequenique,
ao ar livre, boa para dia sem classe;
nela, as crianças brincam de boneca,
e aliás, com uma boneca de verdade.
TWO PARTIES FOR DEATH
Translated by Paula Speck
Death holds formal inaugurations:
the dead man, dressed for his unveiling;
ambiguously: with the speaker's suit
and the robes of the statue.
In the coffin, a coffin half pedestal,
the dead man is not so much dead as dedicated--
and twice; once as a statue of himself
and once as himself, the final version.
* * *
And death gives picnics for children:
a child's burial in the Northeast:*
reserved for children thirteen and under;
no adults allowed.
Half party, half picnic:
in the open air; a great excuse for a school break,
for the children to play with a doll:
even better, a doll that's really real.
* The Northeast is the driest, poorest part of Brazil. Cabral was from
see also additional poems at New