JS poetry translated by Richard Zenith

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Perhaps best known as a great scholar of Fernando Pessoa, Richard Zenith also focused on the work of JS, translating five representative poems. Not wanting to lose the unity of his style as a translator, here we repeat poems that are already in our site in other versions – which will allow the curious readers to compare them if they wish. To the friend Richard Zenith, we give our thanks for their work and the evocative words that precede it.
 

Jorge de Sena was an intellectual jack-of-all-trades. He wrote extensively on Portuguese literature from Camões to Pessoa. He translated poetry. He wrote novels, short stories, plays and poetry. The amazing thing is that he did all of these things well, and sometimes brilliantly. I am most familiar with his essays on Fernando Pessoa, which are full of remarkable insights made when some of the celebrated writer's major works — such as The Book of Disquiet — had still not been published. In his poetry, Jorge de Sena reminds me of Pessoa in a certain way — not because he used heteronyms, but because of the many, very different styles he tried out. The five poems translated and published here do not reflect that diversity. "Gloss on the Coming of Autumn" is a more tightly knit poem, while the others show Sena in his more expansive mode, which I think is especially suited for what he has to convey. Jorge de Sena was a tireless, forever expanding, forever dissatisfied creator of literature and lover of life. (Richard Zenith)

 

 

Gloss on the Coming of Autumn

The body does not wait. Neither for us
nor for love. This groping of hands,
researching with such reticence
the warm, silky aridness
that twitches from embarrassment
in movements quick and random;
this groping attended not by us
but by a thirst, a memory, whatever
we know about touching the bared
body that does not wait; this groping
that doesn't know, doesn't see, doesn't
dare to be afraid of feeling scared…

The body's so hasty! All is over and done
when one of us, or when love, has come.

=> "Glosa à chegada do Outono", Fidelidade, Poesia II

Camões Addresses His Contemporaries

You can steal all that's mine:
my ideas, words, images,
my metaphors, themes, motifs,
my symbols and preeminence
in suffering the pains of a new language,
in understanding others, in daring
to fight, to judge, to penetrate
recesses of love where you are impotent.
And then you can refuse to quote me,
you can suppress me, ignore me, and even
acclaim other thieves, luckier than you.
It doesn't matter: your punishment
will be grim. For when your grandchildren
no longer know who you are,
they'll know me much better
than you pretend not to,
and all that you have painstakingly pillaged
will revert to my name. Even what little
you did not steal but achieved on your own
will be mine, counted as mine, credited to me.
You'll have nothing at all, not even your bones,
for they'll dig up one of your skeletons
and say it's mine. So that other thieves, just
like you, can kneel and place flowers on my tomb.

=> "Camões dirige-se aos seus contemporâneos", Metamorfoses, Poesia II

Letter to My Children on Goya's Executions of the Third of May

I don't know, children, what world will be yours.
It's possible (everything's possible) that it will be
the world I wish for you. A simple world,
in which the only difficulty will come
from there being nothing that's not simple and natural.
A world in which everything will be allowed,
according to your fancy, your yearning, your pleasure,
your respect for others and their respect for you.
It's also possible that it won't be this, and that this
won't even be what you want in life. Everything's possible,
even though we fight, as we must fight,
on behalf of our idea of freedom and justice
and – still more important – in steadfast
allegiance to the honour of being alive.
One day you will realize what a vast multitude,
as countless as humanity, felt this way,
loving others for whatever they had that was unique,
unusual, free, different,
and they were sacrificed, tortured, beaten
and hypocritically handed over to secular justice,
to be liquidated "with sovereign pity and without bloodshed".
For being loyal to a god, to a conviction,
to a country, to a hope, or merely
to the irrefutable hunger that gnawed them from within,
they were gutted, flayed, burned, gassed,
and their bodies heaped up as anonymously as they had lived,
or their ashes scattered so that no memory of them remained.
Sometimes, for belonging to a certain race
or class, they atoned for all the wrongs
they had not committed or had no awareness
of having committed. But it also happened
and happens that they were not killed.
There have always been infinite methods for dominating,
annihilating quietly, gently,
through ways inscrutable, as they say of God's ways.
These executions, this heroism, this horror,
was one episode, among thousands, that happened in Spain
over a century ago and whose violence and injustice
shocked the heart of a painter named Goya,
who had a very large heart, full of rage
and love. But this is nothing, children,
just one event, a brief event,
in this chain of which you are (or aren't) a link
of iron and sweat and blood and a bit of semen
on the way to the world I dream for you.
Believe me that no world, that nothing and nobody
is worth more than a life or the joy of having life.
It is this joy that matters most.
Believe me that the dignity you'll hear so much about
is nothing but this joy that comes
from being alive and knowing that no one has ever
been less alive or suffered or died
so that just one of you could stave off a little longer
the death that belongs to all of us and will come.
That you will know all of this with peace of mind,
with rancour toward no one, without fear, without ambition,
and above all without apathy or indifference
is my ardent hope. So much blood,
so much pain, so much anguish, must one day prove
– even if the tedium of a happy world torments you –
not to have been in vain. I confess that
very often, thinking about the horror of so many centuries
of oppression and cruelty, I have a moment of hesitation
in which an overwhelming bitterness makes me despair.
Are they or aren't they in vain? And even if they aren't,
who will resurrect those millions, who will restore
not only their lives but all that was taken from them?
No Final Judgement, children, can give them
that moment they did not live, that object
they did not freely enjoy, that gesture
of love they were going to make "tomorrow".
And so the same world we create urges us
to treat it with care, as something that isn't
just ours but has been entrusted to us
that we might respectfully watch over it
in memory of the blood that flows in our veins,
and of the flesh we've inherited, and of the love that
others did not love because it was taken from them.

=> "Carta a meus filhos sobre os fuzilamentos de Goya", Metamorfoses, Poesia II

 


Funeral March for Siegfried, from The Twilight of the Gods

On an afternoon obscured by mists,
I hear the march – sombre and sweet,
harsh and fluid – that carries the hero
to the pyre where he'll burn, a corpse
reduced to ashes. The brasses shine
in the air's clearings, the earth shrinks
where the drums boom, and the strings
and woodwinds accompany the procession
down to the river that flows forever
equal to itself with other waters,
like the heroes who die, so human.
And that's what this showing by music says:
the semi-gods die like us,
they suffer the bitterness of defeat like us,
and like us they yearn, love and take delight,
or else seethe with regret over what they lack.
But we don't have all that they do,
in this zeal to imagine them. We don't have who
sings for us the end of whatever was great,
whatever was pure, whatever as far as permitted
was a disinterested act dedicated
to simply existing beyond us
in this land that wraps us in darkness
on a misty night, nothing but distance
in the lowered eyelids of this corpse,
the assassinated hero they carry for me
in this majestic and tearful procession.
We do not have this except in mere music,
but neither do the gods, who never outlive
dead heros.

=> "Marcha Fúnebre de Siegfried, do 'Crepúsculo dos Deuses'", Arte de Música, Poesia II

The Living and the Dead, or Homage to Rilke

Angels pass by, the poet says, without knowing
if they pass among the dead or the living.

How these poets of the invisible lie
about what they've felt most intensely.
It's we who are ignorant in the middle of the way,
in that time of life when a dark wood
was what another poet saw all around him,
and the ghosts surrounding us are ever more
opaque, while the living become tenuous
and transparent as ghosts. We hear
voices, but none of them say or bring
anything new. Nor even old. Nothing
that's memory or serene faith
in the life we still have. Just a void
with futile, uninteresting shapes
we once called human beings.
How much nostalgia, how much feeling in us
is evoked by those who've passed
– surprised or content, or terrified –
beyond the silent portals. Not a feeling
we have with them, or even for them, just
our make-believe light in the dark wood.

This secret is beautifully hidden
under the beautiful images of the invisible:
as if virtuality were the opposite
of being, of existing or of having
life – among the living who become ghosts
and the dead who fade away
leaving a black and empty
but not invisible
space.

=> "Os vivos e os mortos ou Homenagem a Rilke", Peregrinatio ad loca infecta, Poesia III