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
DON’T KILL YOURSELF
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
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
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
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.