Mark Strand’s translations of Carlos Drummond de Andrade

August 17, 2016

As is always the case with poetry, one thing leads to another.  After I posted Marvin Bell’s poem, several people mentioned Mark Strand’s wonderful translations of Drummond’s poems.  (I’ve seen him referred to as Drummond, as Drummond de Andrade, and as de Andrade; I’m going with Drummond.)  This is my favorite short description of him:

“Mr. Drummond’s bald, equine, bespectacled visage appears on T-shirts and book bags in Brazil, and one of his poems, “Canção Amiga” (“Friendly Song”), was printed on the 50 cruzados bill.  (We American poets can only dream.) Since 2002 there has been a statue of him on the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, his adopted hometown. This statue faces away from, not toward, the ocean. This was a witty decision (he was an inward poet) that annoys the unintelligentsia, who want him spun around.”

Drummond was one of the greatest of Brazilian poets, and English translations by Elizabeth Bishop and Mark Strand brought him notice in America.  You can find wonderful photos and paintings of him online.  I’ll say more about Mark Strand’s own elegant, mysterious, funny poems in a future post, but for now I’ll just include his translation of Drummond’s poem “Don’t Kill Yourself.”


Carlos Drummond de Andrade


Carlos, calm down, love
is what you are seeing:
a kiss today, tomorrow no kiss,
the day after tomorrow is Sunday
and nobody knows what will happen
on Monday.

It’s useless to resist
or to commit suicide.
Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill yourself.
Save all of yourself for the wedding
though nobody knows when or if
it will ever come.

Carlos, earthy Carlos, love
spent the night with you
and your deepest self
is raising a terrible racket,
saints in procession,
ads for the best soap,
a racket for which nobody knows
the why or wherefor.

Meanwhile, you walk
upright, unhappy.
You are the palm tree, you are the shout
that nobody heard in the theater
and all the lights went out.
Love in darkness, no, in daylight,
is always sad, Carlos, my boy,
don’t tell anyone,
nobody knows or will know.

trans. from the Portuguese by Mark Strand

from Looking for Poetry: Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Rafael Alberti, and Songs from the Quechua, trans. Mark Strand


I also want to add a link to an essay by Carol Muske-Dukes that she wrote not long after Mark Strand died, “A Piece of Paper,”  and published in a special issue on Strand of West Branch Wired, at Bucknell University.  It’s a beautiful and moving portrait, and mentions Strand’s translations and a series of very funny poems on the art of translating.

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  • Reply Corey Mesler August 18, 2016 at 7:32 am

    This is great. It reminded me of one of my favorite Strand translations, Rafael Alberti’s The Owl’s Insomnia.

  • Reply Grace Schulman August 18, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Magic! I’d been thinking about Drummond’s marvelous poems in “Travelling in the Family,” translated by Mark Strand and Elizabeth Bishop. “Elephant”
    takes my breath away. There’s no one like him.

    • Reply sharonbryanpoet August 18, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      I agree, magic. Good to hear from you.

  • Reply Susan Wood August 18, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Thank you for this, Sharon. One can see in this witty, disarming poem why Mark was simpatico with Drummond de Andrade. In fact, I can imagine this as Mark’s own poem instead of a translation, with “Mark” substituted for “Carlos.” I hadn’t seen Carol’s piece before and it is lovely and makes him seem alive again. Ones who didn’t know him might not know this, or even suspect it, but Mark always–mostly–refused to take himself too seriously. Such wit and charm, such kindness and directness!

    • Reply sharonbryanpoet August 18, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Yes, all those things. I knew Mark over many years–though not as well as Carol did. His sharpest humor was aimed at himself. I’m thinking in particular of all the Big Dog poems right now. I think of the opening lines of “Keeping Things Whole”: “In a field/ I am the absence, of field.” His absence is palpable.

      • Reply Susan Wood August 18, 2016 at 5:58 pm

        Yes. All that. I knew him for many years, too, but not as well as Carol, either, or, probably, you, but I was always happy to see him. He was definitely a presence.

  • Reply Michelle Boisseau August 18, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    One of the things I particularly like about this poem/translation is the use of negation in the title, opening, and at the close of each stanza and how it calibrates the poem. This is a fine choice, too, Sharon, as a reminder of the bigger Olympics of art.

  • Reply sharonbryanpoet August 19, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Here’s another lovely tribute to Mark Strand, by Christopher Merrill writing in the Huffington Post.

  • Reply Site Review: The Poetry Conversation | The Woven Tale Press October 3, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    […] Throughout The Poetry Conversation, Bryan showcases her penchant for facilitating discussion in the cyber arena. A recent post about Marvin Bell embodying, “the inseparability of life and death,” in the poem “Poem After Carlos Drummond de Andrade,” sparks a lively discussion of Drummond’s poetry. Bryan skillfully crafts the conversation into further posts, creating a larger discussion of poetic translation and incorporating links to an essay by Carol Muske-Dukes as well as Drummond translations by Lloyd Schwartz and Mark Strand. […]

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