Shoulders bear the weight of the world

Comes a time when we no longer say: my God.
A time of absolute stripping to the bone.
A time when we no longer say: my love.
Because love turned out to be useless.
And the eyes don’t cry.
And the hands only weave coarse work.
And the heart is dry.

Women knock at the door in vain, you won’t open it.
You were left alone, the light goes out,
and your eyes shine enormous in the dark.
You’re full of certainty, can suffer no more
And you expect nothing from your friends.

That old age approaches matters little, what’s old age?
Shoulders bear the weight of the world
and it weighs no more than a child’s hand.
Wars, famines, and conflicts in buildings
Merely confirm that life goes on
And not everyone has yet broken free.
Some, finding the spectacle barbarous,
Would prefer (the sensitive ones) to die.
Time has come when there’s no point in dying.
Time has come when life is an imperative.
Mere life, without perplexity.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade
(translation by John Lyons)

corrected version

Tangled web

Tangled web, John Lyons (70 x 50 cm, oil and enamel paint on canvas)

We have been 
over this ground
a thousand times
she said

This is the tangled web
we have woven—
a landscape 
in which we can
barely distinguish
the wood for the trees

John Lyons

Sea privilege – Carlos Drummond de Andrade


          Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987)

On this tolerably comfortable terrace,
we drink beer and look out at the sea.
We know that nothing will happen to us.

The building’s solid and so too the world.

We know that every building houses a thousand bodies
toiling away in a thousand identical compartments.
Sometimes some wearily enter the elevator
and come up here to breathe the ocean breeze,
which is a privilege of these buildings.

The world really is made of reinforced concrete.

Surely, if there was a rogue cruiser,
anchored in the bay opposite the city,
life would be uncertain. . . unlikely. . .
But in the calm waters there are only trusty sailors.
How cordial the fleet is!

We can drink our beers with honour.


Carlos Drummond de Andrade
(translation by John Lyons)

Privilégio do Mar

Neste terraço mediocremente confortável,
bebemos cerveja e olhamos o mar.
Sabemos que nada nos acontecerá.

O edifício é sólido e o mundo também.

Sabemos que cada edifício abriga mil corpos
labutando em mil compartimentos iguais.
Às vezes, alguns se inserem fatigados no elevador
e vêm cá em cima respirar a brisa do oceano,
o que é privilégio dos edifícios.

O mundo é mesmo de cimento armado.

Certamente, se houvesse um cruzador louco,

fundeado na baía em frente da cidade,
a vida seria incerta.. . improvável. . .
Mas nas águas tranqüilas só há marinheiros fiéis.
Como a esquadra é cordial!

Podemos beber honradamente nossa cerveja.

With our ash

A clear day
        and no memories
a birth at dawn
        in the heart of the woodland
where foxes and squirrels
        roam timelessly
where owls sit out
        the sunlight scarcely
stirring until dusk
        where the air is dank
from decaying vegetation
        damp soil out of which
new growth new life
        the sting of nettles
and the beauty
        of blue bells
we who are of the earth
        must pay our dues
with our love
        with our ash

John Lyons

Parting at morning

Parting at Morning 1891 by Sir William Rothenstein 1872-1945
Parting at morning, William Rothenstein (1890)

Parting at morning

The beauty of beauty
innocence in an age
of experience
a fresh wistful face
as yet unlined by life

a body scarcely knowing love
details yet to be added
language without words
she on the verge
of womanhood
the purity of the body
as yet unveiled
in the rite of love
simplicity of the pose
the dress and hair
an almost boyish look
slant of the shoulders
her top rolled down
but barely revealing
the simplicity
of the pleated skirt
elegance of the arms
relaxed by her side
we wonder what
became of her
with her quizzical smile
and where she went
when she left
the painter’s life

John Lyons

This painting may be viewed at Tate Britain.

In praise of peace

A clear day
and no memories
I sip coffee at daybreak and
stare out at the ragged horizon
drawn by the ancient woodland

Overnight it rained gently
but enough to subdue
the giving earth—
summer is its busy season
so much bloom and blossom
so much fruit on the vine
so many nests to find
for new arrivals
from distant lands

I hear the constant coo
of pigeons and the thin
trill of the dawn chorus
as nature stakes its claim
to a life of peace

there is war in this world
the birds will always
rise above it

John Lyons

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Shared hours

The mineral voice of the earth
        the breeze that moves
through the fresh
        green leaves of summer
leaves that sustain
        the patter of rainfall
and are soon dry
        once the sun appears

And how her mood changed
        how her body grew lighter :
the step of a dancer
        as she made her way
through the warmer days
        clear days with no memory
other than the pattern of love
        drawn across shared hours

John Lyons

Compass of my day

Not least because the sun shone
the air clear of memories
did I find myself the compass
of my day

Small birds sung their morning hymns
and I listened to their world in awe
and pondered the great mystery
of why such accidental beauty
was granted to us on all sides

This being the world in which I walked
and heard and saw and felt for myself
the western day into which I descend
each morning from my dreams of a love
brighter than any star above

John Lyons

A clear day and no memories

A clear day and no memories
        a young summer’s day
expected to fulfil all the rituals
        of the season : a magpie
proclaiming its matey boasts
        from the summit of a garden conifer

In the live living air
        knowledge of this day
is there to create
        since none of us
has ever been here before
        nor will ever return

But the poet throws down
        a trusty gauntlet : how
might we transform the shallow
        spectacle of our lives
and endow our activities
        with lustrous meaning

John Lyons

With poetic licence – Adélia Prado

Adélia Prado

When I was born a slim angel,
the type that blows trumpets, announced:
she’ll carry the flag.
Very heavy load for a woman,
even today a downtrodden species.
I welcome the tricks that suit me,
without having to lie.
Not so ugly I can’t marry,
I think Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful and
do and don’t believe in painless childbirth.
But, what I feel I write. I’m true to my stars.
I inaugurate bloodlines, found realms
—pain is not bitterness.
My sadness has no pedigree,
but my longing for joy,
its roots go back a thousand years.
To limp through life is man’s fate.

Women are flexible. I am.

Adélia Prado

(translation by John Lyons)

Brazil’s greatest living poet, Adélia Prado was born in 1935 and lives in Divinópolis, Minas Gerais.

Com licença poética

Quando nasci um anjo esbelto,
desses que tocam trombeta, anunciou:
vai carregar bandeira.
Cargo muito pesado pra mulher,
esta espécie ainda envergonhada.
Aceito os subterfúgios que me cabem,
sem precisar mentir.
Não tão feia que não possa casar,
acho o Rio de Janeiro uma beleza e
ora sim, ora não, creio em parto sem dor.
Mas, o que sinto escrevo. Cumpro a sina.
Inauguro linhagens, fundo reinos
—dor não é amargura.
Minha tristeza não tem pedigree,
já a minha vontade de alegria,
sua raiz vai ao meu mil avô.
Vai ser coxo na vida, é maldição pra homem.

Mulher é desdobrável. Eu sou.