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.



Poetry as an act of location
           an act of placement
the bleak port of Santos
           built on coffee and corruption
or the harbour in Salou
           a catch of sardines
shed unceremoniously
           onto the jetty
leaping metallic muscle
           gleaming in the sunlight

Call it emotional
operating within
           the physical register
How delicate a table laid
           for a supper shared
How delicate a thought
           a kiss
a dream come true :
           her beauty baited
with a string of words
           no pain or panic
in our pleasure
the tired leopards of the moon
           here was my soil seeded :
here did her petals flourish
           opening out to imbibe
the sweet night-thickened dew
           her courage swollen
to the purpose
           of love’s common limb

Old men now clamber across
           the worn marble steps
ache of ages
           ache of years
a flicker in the failing light
           and then gone
deaf to the soft birdsong
           on the summer air
their swooping swagger caught
           in a swirl of mutinous dust

John Lyons

Brazil – two poems

toucanI like to think that the ten years I spent living in Brazil enhanced my powers of observation, particularly, of the environment. The colour and diversity of the tropical and sub-tropical flora and fauna fascinated me endlessly. Birdlife in particular always caught my attention and my imagination. It was wonderful to see and hear the buzz of humming-birds or to see textbook toucans flying at a leisurely speed past my study window, or to observe the mating ritual of small birds that would hop up and down incessantly on the garden wall as though they had springs attached to their legs.

Where there is abundant rain and sunshine, nature appears to enter into overdrive and plants and trees grow at a staggering pace. It was a constant reminder of the richness of the earth and the bounty of life: the life that is there to be lived and enjoyed, one day at a time.

At night cattle graze
      upon the hillside,
I see them in the moonlight,
      their white hides glow
incandescently. Night
      shadows are the deepest
although also the quickest
      to be displaced. I raise
my eyes from the book
      I am reading and the cattle
have disappeared. Their
      sluggish shadows trail
behind them, hopelessly
      dragging the light
into the darkness.


Earth banana they call plantains
banana da terra
and thus metaphor for all food
all basic foods that derive
from the earth and feed the earth;
from clay the nutrients that will feed
the clay that one day will be laid
to rest in clay. What we call the food chain
which sounds so cold and technical
compared to the lifeline
life chain that in reality it is,
the earth feeding its own
like any mother would,
the papaya and coconut
before my eyes today
in Arraial d’Ajuda, Brazil
this 22 December
the succulence of their flesh
both humid and firm.
Why the consumption of food
is so close to being a sex act
utterly pure and essential.
Not fantasy food
but minerals that confirm our
blood relationship to fields
of rice and barley and wheat,
to the cattle that trample upon
vast plates of pasture.
Bounteous earth, fired by endless sun,
bathed in ocean blue, swept
by the breath of life.
The descent of poetry into science
is inevitable, though Shelley
recognized that all life ascends,
only death dips back to the earth
and to rebirth.
If life is location it is love too
chemical communities,
fire in the blood, iron in the soul:
what binds us to our humanity
is this magnetism and the desire
      to be less than one
so as to be completed, even if
bi-lateral love sounds geometric.