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.”Posted: July 1, 2012
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
One kind of man
Looks on, without love or sin:
The other kind
Feels, grows passionate, comes in.
Não duvides amor meu –
Dois tipos de homem
E esta verdade
Que é maior que a própria vida,
Só por Ele – vê lá bem!,
Poderá ser desmentida.
A contemplar se contenta;
You’re wrong, I tell you again.
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.
– Apenas, é mentira no futuro
Que nos parece uma verdade presente.
O amor não mente, nunca!
I’ve left off drinking, my friend.
Yes, I have set wine aside.
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.
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.