Pablo Neruda – Sonnet 44


You’ll be aware that I do and don’t love you
since there are two modes to life,
the word is a wing of silence,
and there’s a cold side to fire.

I love you in beginning to love you
to reengage in what is infinite
and so as never to stop loving you:
that’s why I still don’t love you.

I do and don’t love you as though I held
in my hands the keys to happiness
and an uncertain fate of unhappiness.

My love has two lives with which to love you,
that’s why I do love you when I don’t
and why I do love you when I do too.

Pablo Neruda

From One Hundred Love Sonnets

Translation by John Lyons


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

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 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.

Us no matter where – Paul Éluard

The bird halts observes an invisible prey
He hunts he provides for his young
The wherewithal to sing fly sleep

To the harsh contact with the dense forest
He prefers the damp fields
Teeming with the day’s last straws

The fine web of life
Gently covers your face
And you hold in this basket
Our means our reasons for living
You’re as wise as you are beautiful
You attract the most beautiful words

We will talk tonight about us and the birds
We won’t listen to the long and sorry history
Of people driven from their homes
By golden-jawed death
Men with less pride than beasts
Who track misfortune everywhere
May they not appear quite naked then
In a haven of clarity such as our own

We take care of each other
Day by day we preserve our life
Like a bird his hatched form
And his pleasure
Among so many birds to come

Paul Éluard (from Le livre ouvert, 1940)

(Revised translation by John Lyons)

Nous n’importe où

L’oiseau s’arrête guette une proie invisible
Il chasse il donne à ses petits
De quoi chanter voler dormir

Au dur contact de la forêt fermée
Il préfère les champs humides
Chargés des derniers brins du jour

La fine trame de la vie
Couvre doucement ton visage
Et tu tiens dans cette corbeille
Nos moyens nos raisons de vivre
Tu es aussi sage que belle
À toi vont les mots les plus beaux

Nous parlerons ce soir de nous et des oiseaux
Nous n’écouterons pas la longue et sourde histoire
Des hommes chassés de chez eux
Par la mort aux mâchoires d’or
Des hommes moins fiers que des bêtes
Qui suivent le malheur partout
Que n’arrivent-ils donc tout nus
Dans un asile de clarté comme le nôtre

Nous prenons souci l’un de l’autre
Jour après jour nous gardons notre vie
Comme un oiseau sa forme éclose
Et son plaisir
Parmi tant d’oiseaux à venir

Eugenio Montejo – Caracas


Caracas seen from the Milleniumm de Los Dos Caminos Mall

So tall are the buildings that
nothing of my childhood remains to be seen.
I’ve lost my back yard with its slow clouds
where the light dropped ibis feathers,
Egyptian clarities.
I’ve lost my name and the dream of my house.
Rigid walkways, tower upon tower,
now hide the mountain from us.
The din grows a thousand engines per ear,
a thousand cars per foot, all deathly.
Men chase after their voices
but the voices drift
behind the taxis.
More distant than Thebes, Troy, Nineveh
and the fragments of their dreams,
where was Caracas?
I’ve lost my shadow and the feel of its stones.
Nothing of my childhood remains to be seen.
I can grope my way through its streets now
increasingly lonely;
its space is real, unflinching, solid concrete.
only my history is false.

Eugenio Montejo
(translation by John Lyons)

See Eugenio Montejo 21 grams

Party time

Steel fireworks
How charming these illuminations
     Artificer’s artifice
Lends a little style to courage

Two air-burst shells
Pink explosion
Like two breasts set loose
Their nipples insolently pointing
                  What an epitaph

A poet in the forest
       His revolver half-cocked
Observes with indifference
Roses dying of hope

He thinks of Saadi’s roses
And suddenly his head slumps
When a rose reminds him
Of the soft curve of her hip

The air stinks with a terrible alcohol
Filtered by half-closed stars
The shells caress the soft
Night perfume where you rest
     Mortification of the roses

Guillaume Apollinaire
(translation by John Lyons)

Note: A later version of this poem appeared in the previous post

Warrior roses – Apollinaire

Celebration with steel lanterns
How charming these illuminations
Murderous fireworks
But with courage one has a good time

Two rockets pink explosion
Like two breasts that one releases
Insolently point their nipples
What a lover What an epitaph

A poet in the forest
Observes with indifference
His half-cocked revolver
The roses dying in silence

Roses from an abandoned park
And which he gathers at the fountain
At the end of the diverted path
Where each evening he strolls

He thinks of Sâdi’s roses
And suddenly his head slumps
When a rose reminds him
Of the soft curve of her hip

The air is filled with a terrible alcohol
Filtered by half-closed stars
The shells sob in their flight
The amorous death of roses

September 1915
Guillaume Apollinaire
(translation by John Lyons)

From Poèmes à Lou, a series of poems Apollinaire sent from the front line in letters addressed to his girlfriend at the time.

Rosario Castellanos – The day-to-day


For love there’s no heaven, my love, only today;
this sad hair that falls
as you brush it in front of the mirror.
Those long tunnels
that we traverse panting and breathless;
the walls without eyes,
the hollow that rings out
with some hidden and meaningless voice.

For love there’s no respite, my love. The night,
suddenly, becomes breathable.
And when a star breaks its chains
and you see it zigzagging, wildly, till it disappears,
even then the law doesn’t loosen its grip.
The encounter is in the dark. The taste of tears
mingles with the kiss.
And in the embrace you clasp
the memory of that orphanhood, of that death.

Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974)
(Translation by John Lyons)

Lo cotidiano

Para el amor no hay cielo, amor, sólo este día;
este cabello triste que se cae
cuando te estás peinando ante el espejo.
Esos túneles largos
que se atraviesan con jadeo y asfixia;
las paredes sin ojos,
el hueco que resuena
de alguna voz oculta y sin sentido.

Para el amor no hay tregua, amor. La noche
se vuelve, de pronto, respirable.
Y cuando un astro rompe sus cadenas
y lo ves zigzaguear, loco, y perderse,
no por ello la ley suelta sus garfios.

El encuentro es a oscuras. En el beso se mezcla
el sabor de las lágrimas.
Y en el abrazo ciñes
el recuerdo de aquella orfandad, de aquella muerte.

Rosario Castellanos

Schevchenko – Testament

Schevchenko statue

When I die, make me a grave
High on an ancient hill
In my beloved Ukraine,
Out on the endless steppe:
Where one may see vast fields of wheat,
The steep banks of Dnipro
And hear the wild river’s
Turbulent roar.

Not until Ukraine’s forces
Have swept the enemy’s blood
Into the deep blue sea
Will I depart from these hills
And wheatlands forever :
Leave all behind, and ascend
To the throne of God
Where I’ll make my prayer.
But until that time
I’ll know nothing of God.

Make my grave there—rise up,
Throw off your shackles,
Bless your freedom with the blood
Of the enemy’s evil veins !
Then in that great family,
A new and free family,
Never forget, with kindness,
Speak of me fondly.

Taras Schevchenko

(version by John Lyons)

Taras Schevchenko (1814-1861), is Ukraine’s national poet and the personification of the Ukrainians’ thirst for liberty and independence. The statue stands in Taras Schevchenko Park opposite the National University in Kyiv.