16 December 2008


Less than ten days to Christmas. I wish I were in Vermont already! I have to make it to Monday before that happens, and a slew of rehearsals and Christmas concerts, which at least will make the time fly and sound like Christmas along the way (albeit a Catalan one; think lots of "fum, fum, fum").

In the meantime, I have been newly amused by the fantastic multiple poetic personalities of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. He created no less than four fully-fledged authors of varying ages and backgrounds, with distinct literary styles and obsessions, each with his own history, publishing under their names as well as his own. It's so deliciously postmodern, but all of it was written in the early twentieth century (he died in 1935). I bought my copy of the selected poems at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco this summer, which was thrilling enough in itself.

Anyway, I came across this little poem, one of his most famous, called "Autopsychography." It's a nice little set of three quatrains about the relationship between artifice and artistry, fiction and feeling, logic and emotion.

Here it is in Portuguese:

O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor
A dor que deveras sente.

E os que lêem o que escreve
Na dor lida sentem bem,
Não as duas que ele teve,
Mas só a que els eles não têm.

E assim nas calhas de roda
Gira, a entreter a razão
Esse comboio de corda
Que se chama o coração.

Here it is in the Honig-Brown translation. I like the use of the word "faker" to translate "fingidor," but I'm missing the tight abab rhyme of the original, which I think heightens the sense of "craft" in this poem that is all about "craftiness." It also contains one of my poetic pet peeves, which is overuse of the -ing verb/gerund ending.

The poet is a faker. He
Fakes it so completely,
He even fakes he's suffering
The pain he's really feeling.

And they who read his writing
Fully feel while reading
Not that pain of his that's double,
But theirs, completely fictional.

So on its tracks goes round and round,
To entertain the reason,
That wound-up little train
We call the heart of man.

Since the translators, in their footnotes, invite the reader to try her hand at translating this poem, I took them up on the offer. Now, obviously I don't speak Portuguese, but armed with the translation above, a Portuguese dictionary, and my familiarity with Catalan, Spanish, Italian and French, I decided to give it a go. It amused me for a while, anyway! I'm still not completely satisfied, especially with the second stanza--what translation is ever finished?--but here it goes:

The poet is a con man,
His make-believe so real
That even pain becomes a sham
When it's what he really feels.

Those who read the words he feigns
will feel truly as they read
not the poet's two-faced pain
but their own, though it mislead.

Thus on wheels, around and around
--all to amuse the reason--darts
that tiny train so tightly wound,
a toy they call the human heart.

1 comment:

Blue in Green said...

Hi Robin, thanks for the lovely poem. It was amazing to stumble upon your blog. I would like to return here?
Happy christmas!