Baker’s Dozen: Translating Four Lines of Poetry by Vergílio Ferreira –
“It is impossible to translate poetry,” decided Elizabeth Bishop, “or perhaps only one aspect can be translated at a time, and each poem needs several translations.”[i] So here are my thirteen ways-in homage to Wallace Stevens’ poem, ”Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”-to translate a rare quatrain by Vergílio Ferreira.
Reabre o céu depois de uma chuvada
no azul do dia.
É o azul do nada
com que se fazem os deuses e a poesia.[ii]
1. Following torrential rain
the sky again opens out to daytime blue.
That blue which is the nothing
out of which we fashion the gods and our poetry.
2. Following the torrential rain
the sky reopens to its daytime blue.
It is the blue of that nothing
which gives us gods and poems.
3. After the downpour the sky
resumes its daytime blue.
It is the nothing, that blue,
out of which we fashion gods and poetry.
4. The downpour breaks open
to sky blue.
That blue nothing
that gives us poetry and gods.
5. The sky, after the downpour, returns
to its daylight blue.
It is the blue of the nothing
out of which poetry and the gods make themselves.
6. Once again after the hard rain
skies break forth in daytime blue.
It is that blue of nothing
from which the gods and poetry are made.
7. Cascades of rain followed by
a sky of daylight blue,
the blue void
that gives us gods and poems.
8. The skies again open after
torrents of rain to the blue of day.
It is the blue of the nothing
from which emanate gods and poetry.
9. The sky breaks through to daytime
blue after cascades of rain.
It is the blue of the nothingness
out of which is made gods and poems.
10. The sky’s daylight blue
bursts through after hard rainfall.
The blue of the void that
substantiates poetry and the gods.
11. Daylight’s bright blue
follows heavy rainfall.
The void’s blue, the raw material
for inventing our gods, our poems.
12. After the rainstorm
the color of the nothing
that gives us gods and poetry.
13. Hard upon pouring rain
break forth skies of blue.
It’s the blue of the void,
the substance of gods, of poems.
Unpublished translation by George Monteiro
[i] Elizabeth Bishop, “The Manipulation of Mirrors,” Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art, ed. Lloyd Schwartz and Sybil P. Estess (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983), p. 283.
[ii] Vergílio Ferreira, Conta-Corrente (1977-1979) (Lisbon: Livraria Bertrand, 1981), p. 26.
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil– Sao Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot.