António Botto: “O mais importante na vida é ser-se criador – criar beleza.” / “The most important thing in life is to create – to create beauty.”

António Botto (Lisbon, Portugal, 1897-1959)

Selected poems from “Canções” (“Songs”)

In love –

Now don’t question me! –

There were always

Two kinds of men.


This is quite true

And greater than life’s self is.

No one down here can deny it

Or dismiss.


One kind of man

Looks on, without love or sin:

The other kind

Feels, grows passionate, comes in.


No amor,

Não duvides amor meu –

Dois tipos de homem

Houve sempre.


E esta verdade

Que é maior que a própria vida,

Só por Ele – vê lá bem!,

Poderá ser desmentida.


– Um,

A contemplar se contenta;

E outro,

Apaixona-se, intervém…


You’re wrong, I tell you again.


In love

The only lie we find out in the future

Is that which seems

The best truth now,

The truth that seems to fall in with our fates.


Love never really lies:

It simply exaggerates.


Enganas-te, digo ainda.


No amor,

– Apenas, é mentira no futuro


Que nos parece uma verdade presente.


O amor não mente, nunca!

Exagera simplesmente.


I’ve left off drinking, my friend.

Yes, I have set wine aside.


But if

You really want

To see me drunk –

This is between us, you see –,

Take slowly up to your mouth

The glass meant for me,

Then pass it over to me.


Deixei de beber, amigo.


Sim, já desprezei o vinho.



Se tu afirmas que tens

O prazer de me ver ébrio,

– Que isto fique entre nós dois:

Aproxima da tua boca

A taça que me destinas,

E dá-ma depois.


The most important thing in life

Is to create – to create beauty.


To do that

We must foresee it

Where our eyes cannot really see it.


I think that dreaming the impossible

Is like hearing the faint voice

Of something that wants to live

And calls to us from afar.


Yes, the most important thing in life

Is to create.


And we must move

Towards the impossible

With shut eyes, like faith or love.


O mais importante na vida

É ser-se criador – criar beleza.


Para isso,

É necessário pressenti-la

Aonde os nossos olhos não a virem.


Eu creio que sonhar o impossível

É como que ouvir a voz de alguma coisa

Que pede existência e que nos chama de longe.


Sim, o mais importante na vida

É ser-se criador.

E para o impossível

Só devemos caminhar de olhos fechados

Como a fé e como o amor.



Translations from the Portuguese:  Fernando Pessoa


António Botto published Canções (Songs) in

Lisbon in 1920.  He was 23.  And he began to rub shoulders

with the city’s intellectual élite during what was to be a short

period of bohemianism leading up to the military coup

of 1926 and the establishment of the Estado Novo (New State),

an authoritarian dictatorship.

A second edition of  Canções was

printed in 1922 – and this time it created a critical furor

as “Literature of Sodom”.   Botto made no secret of his

homosexuality – he flirted in public, and that took guts –

and many of his first-person-voice love poems are

frankly addressed to men.  Though Fernando Pessoa – one

of Portugal’s heavyweights in the Modernist movement (and also

the translator into English of Botto’s poems) – defended Botto in

print,  it was a defence of the aesthetic ideal of male beauty

– a Classical Greek (Hellenic) value that had influenced all

Mediterranean cultures – not a public endorsement of the fact that

Botto was writing about loving men.   Botto was just too ahead of his time;

he was “pushing the boundaries”,  as we call it now.

A conservative university-student league called verses such as

“Listen, my angel:  what if I should kiss your skin,

what if I should kiss your mouth, which is all honey within?”

“disgraceful language” and Botto a “shameless”

author, pressuring the government to take action, which it did,

seizing and burning books by Botto as well as “Decadência” by Judith

Teixeira, a lesbian poet.


We thank University of Toronto professor Josiah Blackmore

for re-issuing the Songs of Botto;  he is a poet too little known

in the English language.