Manuel Bandeira: “Down with the purists – Let’s hear it for all words !”


Manuel Bandeira (1886-1968, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil)
Dead of Night
Dead of night.
Near the lamp post
the toads gobble mosquitoes.
No one passes by on the street,
not even a drunk.
And still, there is somehow a procession of shadows,
shadows of all those who have passed by,
those who are still alive and those who are already dead.
The gutter is wet as if with tears.
The voice of the night…
(No, not this night, but another – larger.)
. . .
Café Moment
As the cortège passed by,
the men who at that moment were in the café
tipped their hats without thinking
in an automatic salute to the departed:
they were involved in life,
absorbed in life,
confident of life.
But one of them uncovered, in a grand gesture, slow and deliberate,
and stared after the coffin a long time.
This man knew how life is a torment,
savage and without purpose
– that life is a hoax,
and he saluted the body that passed by,
free, now and forever, of the extinguished soul.
. . .
Guinea Pig
When I was six years old,
they gave me a guinea pig.
What heartache it brought me –
all the little beast wanted to do was hide under the stove!
I brought it into the living room,
into the nicest, neatest parts of the house,
yet all it wanted was to hide under the stove.
It didn’t pay the slightest attention to any of my caresses.
That guinea pig was my first romance.
. . .
In the Mouth
These Carnival songs always seem so sad:
and the pain of what one cannot say.
Happily, there is always alcoholism.
And in those three days of Carnival, there is the perfumed ether
revelers squirt at each other.
My ambition is to be like that nutcase kid…
Last year he accosted the pretty women
asking for some of that ether
“In the mouth! In the mouth!”
Some turned away from him, repelled,
but some gave him what he asked for.
There are still women pure enough to want to please an addict.
Dorinha, my sweet…
If she were pure enough, I’d bawl at her just like that kid:
“In the mouth! In the mouth!”
. . .
Art of Love
If you want to know the happiness of Love, forget about your Soul.
The soul is what wastes love.
Only in God is it able to find satisfaction,
not in another soul.
Only in God – or out of this world.
Souls can’t communicate.
Let your Body get close to another Body,
because bodies get close: Souls don’t.
. . .
Late afternoon.
In a leaden sky
the soiled Moon
very cosmographically –
a satellite.
No metaphor,
no myth,
stripped of its old secrets and melancholy,
no longer a gulf of dreams,
the star of lunatics and lovers,
but only what it is:
a satellite.
Ah, Moon of the late afternoon,
having quit your job as a romantic
without any care at all for your sentimental responsibilities…
But I, too, am weary of the hype,
and like you this way,
just as you are
– a satellite.
New Moon 1_graphic by Daniel Kmiec
New Moon
My new room
faces east.
In my room, once again, I am mounted over the harbour entrance.
After ten years of a courtyard,
The dawn and I became reacquainted.
I can bathe my eyes again in the bloodless tides of sunrise.
Every morning, the airport across the road offers me lessons in
I shall learn with it
how to leave
one time –
without fear,
without remorse,
without regret.
Don’t think that I wait for the full moon,
that sun of dementia,
vague and noctambular.
What I want the most,
what I need the most,
is the new moon.
. . .
The Cactus
That cactus there reminded us of the strenuous gestures of statues:
Laocoön strangled by serpents,
Ugolino and his starving sons.
It evoked as well the dry Northeast, palm trees, sawgrass…
It was enormous, even for this exceptional and extravagant land.
One day, it was uprooted by a furious gale.
The cactus fell across the street,
smashed the eaves of houses on the other side,
blocked trolleys, wagons, cars, carriages,
and snapped power lines, depriving the city of
light and power
for twenty-four hours.
It was gorgeous, obdurate, and harsh.
. . .
Theme and Variations
But why should there be
so much suffering
if in the sky there is the slow
declension of the night?
But why should there be
so much suffering
if the wind out there
is a song of the night?
But why should there be
so much suffering
if into the dew now
the flower of night releases its perfume?
But why should there be
so much suffering
if my thought
rides free on the night?
. . .
I’ve had it with diffident lyricism,
well-mannered lyricism,
the civil-servant’s lyricism that comes with a
time card, office procedures,
and expressions of esteem for the administrative director,
I’ve had it with lyricism that has to stop in midstream to consult a dictionary
for the exact definition of a word.
Down with the purists!
Let’s hear it for all words, especially those that everyone screws up,
all the mangled constructions, and violations of syntax,
and the subtle rhythms that can’t be scanned.
I’ve had it with lounge-lizard lyricism,
all lyricism that yields to any outside influence.
Anyway, all this other stuff isn’t lyricism.
It’s accounting, it’s cosine tables, it’s handbooks for the would-be lover
with form letters and hints for more effective foreplay – and so on…
I prefer the lyricism of loonies,
the lyricism of drunkards,
the hard-earned, bitter lyricism of the drunkards,
the lyricism of Shakespeare’s clowns.
I want nothing more to do with any lyricism that isn’t liberation.
. . .
The Last Poem
This is how I want my last poem to be:
It should be gentle, so that it says the simplest, least calculated things
It should be ardent, like a sob too sudden for tears
It should have the beauty of a flower that has almost no scent
The purity of the flame that consumes the clearest diamonds
The passion of suicides who kill themselves without explanation.
. . .
All of the above translations from the Portuguese © David R. Slavitt (2002)

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