from Lloyd Schwartz: Bishop, Friendly Song

August 19, 2016

from Lloyd Schwartz:

“So interesting to compare Strand’s translation of ‘Don’t Kill Yourself” with Bishop’s. They actually overlap in several lines. They are both very close to Drummond (my preference too). Personally, I prefer Bishop’s (it’s actually in a number of places more colloquial), but I think Strand’s is better in a couple of places.”


Carlos, keep calm, love
is what you’re seeing now:
today a kiss, tomorrow no kiss,
day after tomorrow’s Sunday
and nobody knows what will happen
It’s useless to resist
or to commit suicide
Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill yourself!
Keep all of yourself for the nuptials
coming nobody knows when,
that is, if they ever come.
Love, Carlos, tellurian,
spent the night with you,
and now your insides are raising
an ineffable racket,
saints crossing themselves,
ads for a better soap,
a racket of which nobody
knows the why or the wherefore.
In the meantime you go on your way
vertical, melancholy.
You’re the palm tree, you’re the cry
nobody heard in the theatre
and all the lights went out.
Love in the dark, no, love
in the daylight, is always sad,
sad, Carlos, my boy,
but tell it to nobody,
nobody knows nor shall know.

trans. Elizabeth Bishop

SB to LS: I like her colloquialism, especially the contractions, but I prefer Strand’s diction: wedding, terrible racket, earthy, upright.

Lloyd: Drummond’s “Cancao amiga” was extremely famous and popular. It was not only on the money (the Brazilian equivalent of the dollar bill), with a picture of Drummond leaning over his desk and writing the poem on the other side of the bill, it was also set to music and recorded by the great Brazilian jazz singer Milton Nascimento. My own translation–my first translation of a Brazilian poem–was the opening poem in Cairo Traffic:

FRIENDLY SONG (Canção Amiga)

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade

    I'm working on a song
in which my own mother sees her image,
    everyone's mother sees her image,
and it speaks, it speaks just like two eyes.

    I'm traveling along a roadway
  that winds through many countries.
 My old friends—if they don't see me,
  I see them, I see and salute them.

    I am giving away a secret
  like someone who loves, or smiles.
     In the most natural way
  two caresses reach each other.

  My whole life, all of our lives
    make up a single diamond.
  I've learned a few new phrases—
    and to make others better.

     I'm working on a song
      that wakes men up
    and lets children sleep.

Translated from the Portuguese by Lloyd Schwartz
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  • Reply Steven Cramer August 22, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Sharon–

    I hope I’m posting this in the right place: just a note of appreciation for the lovely exchanges and comments about Carlos Drummond de Andrade. There are so many poems of his to love, but this is one of my all-time favorites, also translated by Mark Strand:


    Clara strolled in the garden with the children.
    The sky was green over the grass,
    the water was golden under the bridges,
    other elements were blue and rose and orange,
    a policeman smiled, bicycles passed,
    a girl stepped onto the lawn to catch a bird,
    the whole world—Germany, China—
    all was quiet around Clara.

    The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden.
    Mouth, nose, eyes were open. There was no danger.
    What Clara feared were the flu, the heat, the insects.
    Clara feared missing the eleven o’clock trolley:
    She waited for letters slow to arrive,
    She couldn’t always wear a new dress. But she strolled in the garden, in the morning!
    They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!

    Thanks for the generous-spirited forum you’ve initiated.

    • Reply sharonbryanpoet August 22, 2016 at 10:38 pm

      This is beautiful! And it’s not one I remember. Thanks for adding it. I can hear Mark’s voice so clearly, I can imagine him reading this. For those who never heard him in person, here is a link to him reading “Keeping Things Whole.” It’s an awkward reading, stiff, but you can see how he really read in the many readings and lectures on youtube.

  • Reply Site Review: The Poetry Conversation | The Woven Tale Press October 14, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    […] and incorporating links to an essay by Carol Muske-Dukes as well as Drummond translations by Lloyd Schwartz and Mark […]

  • Reply Martha June 3, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks for all of this.

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