Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902 - 1987) was the leading 20th century poet of Brazil. He earned a degree in pharmacology but went to work for the Ministry of Education where he remained until his retirement. Early in his career as a poet, he was part of a group, the Semana de Arte Moderna, who wanted to modernize Brazilian poetry through such techniqes as avant-gardism and surrealism but also through a focus on the real, the immediate, the tangible. One of his best-known works, "Seven-Sided Poem," illustrates his approach:

When I was born, one of the crooked
angels who live in shadow, said:
Carlos, go on! Be gauche in life.

The houses watch the men,
men who run after women.
If the afternoon had been blue,
there might have been less desire.

The trolleyt goes by full of legs:
white legs, black legs, yellow legs.
My God, why all the legs?
my heart asks. But my eyes
ask nothing at all.

The man behind the mustache
is serious, simple, and strong.
He hardly ever speaks.
He has a few, choice friends,
the man behind the spectacles and the mustache.

My God, why hast Thou forsaken me
if Thou kinew'st I was not God,
if Thou knew'st that I was weak?

Universe, vast universe,
if I had been named Eugene
that would not be what I mean
but it would go into verse
Universe, vast universe,
my heart is vaster.

I oughtn't to tell you,
but this moon
and this brandy
play the devil with one's emotions.

(Translated by Elizabeth Bishop)

Most often, his work concerns itself with loss, of love, family, history:

"Don't Kill Yourself"

Carlos, keep calm, love
is what you're seeing now:
today a kiss, tomorrow no kiss,
day after tomorrow's Sunday
and nobody knows what will happen

It's useless to resist
or to commit suicide.
Don't kill yourself. Don't kill yourself!
Keep all of yourself for the nuptials
coming nobody knows when,
that is, if they ever come.

Love, Carlos, tellurian, spent the night with you,
and now your insides are raising an ineffable racket,
saints crossing themselves,
ads for a better soap,
a racket of which nobody
knows the why or wherefore.

In the meantime you go on your way
vertical, melancholy.
You're the palm tree, you're the cry
nobody heard in the theatre
and all the lights went out.
Love in the dark, no, love
in the daylight, is always sad.,
sad, Carlos, my boy,
but tell it to nobody,
nobody knows nor shall know.

(Translated by Elizabeth Bishop)

Because of the loss of what passes through time, there is also nostalgia for what has been lost:


My father got on his horse and went to the field.
My mother stayed sitting and sewing.
My little brother slept.
A small boy alone under the mango trees,
I read the story of Robinson Crusoe,
the long story that never comes to an end.

At noon, white with light, a voice that had learned
lullabies long ago in the slave-quarters -- and never forg ot --
called us for coffee.
Coffee blacker than the balck old woman
delicious coffee
good coffee.

My mother stayed sitting and sewing
watching me:
Shh -- don't wake the boy.
She stopped the cradle when a mosquito had lit
and gave a sigh . . . how deep!
Away off there my father went riding
through the farm's endless wastes.

And I didn't know that my story
was prettier than that of Robinson Crusoe.

(Translated by Elizabeth Bishop)

"Souvenir of the Ancient World"

Clara strolled in the garden with the children.
The sky was green over the grass,
the water was golden under the bridges,
other elements were blue and rose and orange,
a policeman smiled, bicycles passed,
a girl stepped onto the lawn to catch a bird,
the whole world -- Germany, China --
-- all was quiet around Clara.

The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden.
Mouth, nose, eyes were open. There was no danger.
What Clara feared were the flu, the heat, the insects.
Clara feared missing the eleven p'clock trolley:
She waited fro letters slow to arrive,
She couldn't always wear a new dress. But she strolled in the garden in the morning!
They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!

(Translated by Mark Strand)

There is also the need ultimately for acceptance of life's losses:

"Your Shoulders Hold Up the World"

A time come when you can no longer say:
-- my God.
A time of total cleaning up.
A time when you no longer can say: my love.
Because love proved useless.
And the eyes don't cry. And the hand do only rough work.
And the heart is dry.
Women knock at your door in vain, you won't open.
You remain alone, the light turned off,
and your enormous eyes shine in the dark.
It is obvious you no longer know how to suffer.
And you want nothing from your friends.

Who cares if old age comes, what is old age?
Your shoulders are holding up the world
and it's lighter than a child's hand.
Wars, famine, family fights inside buildings
prove only that life goes on
and not everybody has freed himself yet.
Some (the delicate ones) judging the spectale cruel
will prefer to die.
A time comes when death doesn't help
A time comes when life is an order.
Just life, without any escapes.

(Translated by Mark Strand)

But there is also a philosophical strain, especially in the later work, that focuses on what isn't lost, with both humor and gentle irony



From everything a little remained.
From my fear. From your disgust.
From stifled cries. From the rose
a little remained.

A little remained of light
caught inside the hat.
In the eyes of the pimp
a little remained of tenderness,
very little.

A little remained of the dust
that covered your white shoes.
Of your clothes a little remained,
a few velvet rags, very
very few.

From everything a little remained.
From the bombed-out bridge,
from the two blades of grass,
fromk the empty pack
of cigarettes a little remained.

So from everything a little remains.
A little remains of your chin
in the chin of your daughter.

A little remained of your
blunt silence, a little
in the angry wall,
in the mute rising leaves.

A little remained from everything
in porcelain saucers,
in the broken dragon, in the white flowers,
in the creases of your brow,
in the portrait.

Since from everything a little remains,
whon't a little
of me remain? In the train
traveling north, in the ship,
in newspaper ads,
why not a little of me in London,
a little of me somewhere?
In a consonant?
In a well?

Alittle remains dangling
in the mouths of rivers,
just a little, and the fish
don't avoid it, which is very unusual.

From everything a little remains.
Not much: this absurd drop
dripping from the faucet,
half salt and half alcohol,
this frog leg jumping,
this watch crystal
broken into a thousand wishes,
this swan's neck,
this childhood secret . . .
From everything a little remained:
from me; from you; from Abelard.
Hair on my sleeve,
from everything a little remained;
wind in my ears,
burbling, rumbling
from an upset stomach,
and small artifacts:
bell jar, honeycomb, revolver
cartridge, awpirin tablet.
From everything a little remained.

And from everything a little remains.
Oh, open the bottles of lotion
and smother
the cruel, unbearable odor of memory.

Still, horribly, from everything a little remains,
under the rhythmic waves
under the clouds and the wind
under the bridges and under the tunnels
under the flames and under the sarcasm
under the phlegm and under the vomit
under the cry from the dungeon, the guy they forgot
under the spectacles and under the scarlet death
under the libraries, asylums, victorious churches
under yourself and under your feet already hard
under the ties of family, the ties of class,
from everything a little always remains.
Sometimes a button. Sometimes a rat.

(Translated by Mark Strand)

It is particularly within the family that what isn't lost can be perhaps best seen and understood:

"Family Portrait"

Yes, this family portrait
is a little dusty.
The father's face doesn't show
how much money he earned.

The undles' hands dont reveal
the voyages both of them made.
The grandmother's smoothed and yellowed;
she's forgotten the monarchy.

The children, how they've changed.
Peter's face is tranquil,
that wore the best dreams.
And John's no longer a liar.

The garden's become fantastic.
The flowers are gray badges.
And the sand, beneath dead feet,
is an ocean of fog.

In the semicircle of armchairs
a certain movement is noticed.
The children are changing places,
but noiselessly! it's a picture.

Twenty years is a long time.
It can form any image.
If one face starts to wither,
another presents itself, smiling.

All these seated strangers,
my relations? I don't believe it.
They're guests amusing themselves
ina rarely-opened parlor.

Family features remain
lost in the play of bodies.
But there's enough to suggest
that a body is fullof surprises.

The frame of this family portrait
holds its personages in vain.
They're there voluntarily,
they'd know how -- if need be -- to fly.

They could confine themselves
in the room's chiaroscuro,
live inside the furniture
or the pockets of old waistcoats.

The house has many drawers,
papers, long staircases.
When matter becomes annoyed,
who knows the malice of things?

the portraint does not reply,
it stares; in my dusty eyes
it contemplates itself.
The living and dead relations

multiply in the glass.
I don't distinguish those
that went away jfrom those
that stay. I only perceive
the strange idea of family

traveling through the flesh.

(Translated by Elizabeth Bishop)

Finally, there is the view of man from a different kind of perspective:

"An Ox Looks at Man"

They are more delicate even than shrubs and they run
and run from one side to the other, always forgetting
something. Surely they lack I don't know what
basic ingredient, though they present themselves
as noble or serious, at times. Oh, terribly serious,
even tragic. Poor things, one would say that they hear
neither the song of air nor the secrets of hay;
likewise they seem not to see what is visible
and common to each of us, in space. And they are sad,
and in the wake of sadness they come to cruelty.
All their expression lives in their eyes -- and loses itself
to a simple lowering of lids, to a shoadow.
And since there is little of the mountain about them --
nothing in the hair or in the terribly fragile limbs
but coldness and secrecy -- it is impossible for them
to settle themselves into forms that are calm, lasting,
and necessary. They have, perhaps, a kind
of melancholy grace (one minute) and with this they allow
themselves to forget the problems and translucent
inner emptiness that make them so poor and so lacking
when it comes to unttering silly and painful sounds:
-- desire, love jealousy
(what do we know?) -- sounds that scatter and fall in the filed
like troubled stones and burn the herbs and the water,
and after this it is hard to keep chewing away at our truth.

(Translated by Mark Strand)

The best translation for this poem would be "seven-faces poem". The beauty is that each part of this poem, the language and the words chosen, represent one of Drummond's poetry phases.

I would have chosen different poems to post, such as "José" and "There was a rock in the middle of the way", as they had much more impact on his poetry. The "rock" one for example, represents sort of a break point for Brazillian poetry, being a huge controversy among the poets and critics at the time.
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