Breathless Postcard

by Armando Freitas Filho

Nature doesn't nurture anything
it never looks back
parasols and paradise
and every verb in the infinite
I die
within a landscape
where stations pass
by clocks fixed in the open
From the windows of a train
through time
brusque cuts quick
plucked by the root from plain air:
what the moon pulls from the stone
pieces of sky and sea
mountains, ah! Beyond and indifferent
torn leaves, thou shall & shall not what?
And in which notebook?

The literal translation of this poem was made by Francisco Vilhena

The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop


Armando Freitas Filho has a wonderful ability to capture transient, almost inobservable moments in motion. Here, the first part of this poem describes the absolute indifference of nature viewed from the window of a speeding train, the station clocks 'fixed in the open' as the vehicle speeds past.

We had a long discussion about the line 'Pára-raios e paraísos' - lightning rods and paradise' in Francisco's literal version. We rejected 'lightning rods' (lightning conductors) going instead for the word play of 'parasols and paradise' which, although not quite as strong a contrast, gets across the idea of protection against the sun. Not perfect, but translation is all about compromise.

A meditation on transience, the poem ends with the question of - in the literal version of the Portuguese - 'must & have' a phrase that sounds like a religious imperative, which is why we translated it as the Biblical-sounding, 'thou shall & shall not'.


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