Jorge de Sena has been translated into many different languages through the years. As an example for Portuguese-readers and an attempt to conquer some English-readers as well, we have transcripted here a few of the most representative poems of his most famous poetry book, Metamorphoses, translated from the Portuguese by Francisco Cota Fagundes and James Houlihan (Providence: Copper Beech Press, 1991).
- Iberian Gazelle
- The Nave of Alcobaça
- Camoens Addresses His Contemporaries
- Fragonard's Swing
- Letter to My Children on Goya's Shootings
Suspended on three legs (as one is lost),
she remains balanced in bronze
on the discreet museum pedestal.
The ears lifted, as if hearing,
the feet making a reluctant start
while a vacant look strays, distracted,
into liquid rustlings of a forest.
The trees fell long ago. And times
lost without remembrance when
mountainyard villages died
– their traces erased, stone by stone.
And long ago, the people, too
– but which people? – raped, invaded, in blood,
fire, slavery, or simply ravished
by love for men in tall ships
with long oars and billowing sails, the people
vanished, without commotion, trading
their forests for cliffs above heave
of sea by smooth coves or beaches,
their clear fountains for deep rivers
sinuously cutting the green.
This was long ago; the gazelle remains,
with her small fine nose, lithe frame,
and almost human breast. Maybe
she was fit offering for some god? Or was she
the goddess graced with gifts?
Or was she merely gazelle, pure
idea of Iberian gazelle?
On three legs she remains suspended.
Assis, 8 April 1961
Vacuous, vertical, of stone white and cool,
long in light and line, the sequential
arcade of silence, mortal
dawn out of eternity, sheer void
of space fulfilled, needle-pointed
as if diaphanous crystal
of harmonic heavens, a thick, concave
fusion of straight lines, the air sequestered
at the last shudder in the living skin,
stone not-stone that is fastened in pillars
in sheaves of whiteness, geometry
of proveable spirit, proportion
of tripartite essence, ideogram
of mute immensity that shrinks
into a human perspective. Ambulatory
of hushed anticipation.
Nave and scepter,
residue of graves, suspended and shifted
storm. Rose and time.
Horizontal ladder. Curving cylinder.
Norm and manifesto. Peace and form
of the abstract and the particular.
of another life on earth. Motion
of stone white and cool, boundary-less
within boundaries. Hope,
vacuous and vertical. Humanity.
Araraquara, 27 November 1962
You can steal everything from me:
my phrases, images, ideas,
my metaphors, motifs, my themes,
my symbols, and even my superiority
in suffering pains of a new language
in understanding another, in the courage
to fight, judge, penetrate the inner sanctum
of love where all you eunuchs cannot go.
And later, you can refuse to cite me,
suppress or ignore me, envying
other thieves luckier than yourselves.
It doesn’t matter. Your sentence
will be horrible: for when your grandchildren
have already forgotten who you are,
they will have to know me even better
than you feign not to know,
and everything, everything you studiously pilfer,
will be reclaimed by my name. Even
the miserable particle of invention
that you squeezed out on your own, without theft,
even that will be mine, considered mine, counted mine.
You will have nothing upon nothing:
even your skeletons will be looted for bones
to pass for mine. So that other thieves,
like you, on their knees, can put flowers on my tomb.
Assis, 11 June 1961
How she swings into air in the space
between the flutter of her indiscreet skirts
and the quivering grove! What flashes
of half-seen legs, what more unseen
by the man relaxing into his indiscreet
pleasure of revealing himself hidden!
What glances! Her air-borne shoe
in light suffused like a burning cloud
of visceral throbbing in the leaves!
How this garden is seeded with voluptuousness
entwined around the trees and the poses
and the pointing fingers and shadows!
How many skirts remain and constrain
the sex and breasts, swelling prisoners
divined by his sharp cattiness!
How statues and walls swing in the vertigo
of ropes so horny they might
grace a lucky husband!
O how she swings and flutters! How fashionable
the lover and his pose – and his obscene
delight in only looking!
How his eyes undress her, and how she resists
with a cutting and wry glance,
knowing how much lace there is to tear!
How nothing else in the world matters!
Assis, 8 April 1961
I don’t know, my children, what world you’ll have.
It’s possible, for everything is possible, that you’ll have
the world I want for you. A simple world
with only one difficulty being that nothing
is not simple and natural.
A world where everything is permitted,
after your taste, yearning, and pleasure,
and respect for others and theirs for you.
And it’s possible that it’s not this, not even this
that interests you in living. Everything is possible,
even when we struggle, as we must,
for what seems to be freedom and justice
and, even more, a faithful devotion
to the honor of being alive.
One day, you’ll know that more than humanity
they are numberless who thought thus,
who loved their fellows for what in them was unique,
uncustomary, free, different,
and who were sacrificed, tortured, beaten,
hypocritically delivered to secular justice for liquidation
“with utmost piety, without bloodshed.”
And for being faithful to a god, a thought,
a country, a hope, or only
an insatiable hunger devouring them from within,
they were disemboweled, flayed, burned, gassed,
their bodies heaped up as anonymously as they’d lived,
or their ashes scattered so that no memory of them would remain.
And sometimes, for being of a race
or, at other times, a class, they paid in full
for crimes they never committed or were never aware
of having committed. And yet it happened,
and still happens, that they were not killed.
There have always been infinite modes of prevailing,
of annihilating gently and delicately through trackless
paths as those of God are said to be trackless.
These shootings, this heroism, this horror
were one thing among a thousand in Spain
more than a century ago, and the violence and injustice
offended the heart of a painter named Goya,
who had a huge heart of rage
and love. But, my children, this is nothing.
Only an episode, a brief episode
in the chain where you form one link (or not)
of iron, sweat, blood, and a drop of semen
on the path of the world I dream for you.
Believe me that no world, nothing, nobody
has more value than a life or the joy of having it –
and this joy is what matters.
Believe that the dignity you will hear so much about
is finally nothing but this joy arising
from being alive and knowing that no one ever
suffers or dies or is less alive so that
any one of you can resist, a little longer, the death
that belongs to all and comes for all.
My fervent hope is that you will know all this calmly,
blaming no one, with no fear or greed
or, worse, indifference or detachment.
So much blood, pain, and anguish someday
(even if the tedium of a happy world troubles you)
will not have been in vain. Yet I confess that often,
recalling so many years of cruelty and subjugation,
I hesitate for a moment, crushed in bitterness,
and I am inconsolable. Are they really
not in vain? And even if they aren’t,
who will bring back those millions, restore
not simply their lives but all that was stolen from them?
No Final Judgment, my children, can give back
that moment they never lived, that object
never enjoyed, that motion of love
always reserved for “tomorrow”.
And so let us hold with care
the very world we may create, hold it as something
not ours but granted to us to guard with respect,
in memory of the blood within our flesh,
of the flesh that was once another’s, and of the love
with which others never loved because it was stolen.
Lisbon, 25 June 1959