Breathless Postcard

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?

Translation notes

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'.

Leave a comment