Songs of the sea; little poems for lazy language learners like me

Whenever I am in a Romance language country I get all enthusiastic and buy little anthologies of poetry, short stories or wot-not, thinking they will help me to soon conquer the language and familiarise myself with the local giants of literature. Then when I get home I stack them in my bookcases and never read them. I have so many pristine books!

Sophia Mello Breyner Andresen, retrato a crayo...

Sophia Mello Breyner Andresen, retrato a crayon por Bottelho da série Wiki . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was last in Lisbon I came across a little volume of poetry by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (impressive name, don’t you think?) entitled Shores, Horizons, Voyages (Orchid Press, 2005). Great, I thought, my economy class luggage allowance will allow me to slip this lightweight tome into my suitcase. The title sounded appealing – I like shores, horizons, voyages. I love to travel! Even better, the poems had been translated into English by one Rui Cascais Parada, so I wouldn’t have to look up any words in the dictionary because good old Rui has done that already. The foreword said Sophia (who was born in Porto in 1919 and died in 2004) is “one of the most universal, approachable, poetic voices of modern Portuguese literature”. Great, I thought, her poetry is “approachable” – I might be able to understand it. And she has won lots of prizes, so she must be good. I bought the book.

I don’t know much about Sophia, but, like many Portuguese, she seemed to have a love affair with the sea. Indeed, she seems to have spent much of her time, judging by her poems, roaming alone on the sea shore, ruminating. Like she was obsessed with it. I don’t think she was anything like the typical social surfie chicks of today who, y’know, like to hang out with the boys and wax their surfboards and all that stuff (well at least, I think that is what they do. For the first three decades of my life I lived far from the sea so I have no idea what the surfie scene is like, really, to be honest, but I don’t think it involves serious poetry.) However, if you read her brief biography on Wikipedia (click on her full name, above) you will see that Sophia seems to have led quite an active and varied life.

English: The sea lashing its waves at high tide

I can understand Sophia’s outlook. The winds and waters of the west coast of Portugal, more so than the south coast, can be rough and wild, and the beaches there are often good places for those who seek solitude or a bit of space to themselves. They must have been even more isolated in Sophia’s youth than they are today, when the local population is bigger and tourism is a booming business.

Anyway, here is one of my favourite poems by Sophie: I like it because it is only two lines long. 🙂 It’s called Inscrição/Inscription:

Quando eu morrer voltarei para buscar
Os instantes que não vivi junto do mar

And here is Rui’s translation

When I die I shall return to fetch back
The instants I didn’t live by the sea

Let’s try another: this one doesn’t have a title:

As ondas quebravam uma a uma
Eu estava só com a areia e com a espuma
Do mar que cantava só para mim.

Now for Rui’s interpretation:

The waves crashed one by one
I was alone with the sand and with the spray
Of the sea that sang only for me.

Well, that wasn’t too mentally taxing, was it? We might attempt a four-liner next time. In the meantime, back she goes on the bookshelf.


5 thoughts on “Songs of the sea; little poems for lazy language learners like me

    • Yes, I agree not much is known about Portuguese literature. I don’t think I had heard of her either till I saw the book. I think Sophie de Mello would be a great name for a pop singer nowadays (Sophie sounds better than Sophia, somehow)

  1. Pingback: Songs of the sea: hit the waves in Brazilian rock style | My Five Romances

  2. Sophia can’t be translated without losing most of her delicate poetical touch. She was one of the last poets to feel the Classical culture deeply, Greece especially. Here’s my translation of one of her poems:

    We exiled the gods and we were
    Exiled from our wholeness

    • Hi, thanks for popping by on my blog and for comments. I agree with you, it is very hard to capture in another language the exact feel of the original. Do you do a lot of translating? All the best, Bernardo

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