Portuguese American Journal

Thirteen Ways of Translating a Poem by Vergílio Ferreira

Translated by George Monteiro

It is impossible to translate poetry, decided Elizabeth Bishop, but perhaps only one aspect of a poem can be translated at a time, and each poem needs several translations.1 So here are thirteen attempts made to translate an untitled quatrain by Vergílio Ferreira. I stopped at thirteen in homage to Wallace Stevens and his poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

 

Reabre o céu depois de uma chuvada
no azul do dia.
e o azul do nada
com que se fazem os deuses e a poesia.2

 

1. Following torrential rain
    sky again opens out to daytime blue.
    That blue which is the nothing
    out of which we fashion the gods and our poetry.

2. Following the torrential rain
    the sky reopens to its daytime blue.
    It is the blue of that nothing
    which gives us gods and poems.

3. After the downpour the sky
    resumes its daytime blue.
    It is the nothing, that blue,
    out of which we fashion gods and poetry.

4. The downpour breaks open
    to sky blue.
    That blue nothing
    that gives us poetry and gods.

5. The sky, after the downpour, returns
    to its daylight blue.
    It is the blue of the nothing
    out of which poetry and the gods make themselves.

6. Once again after the hard rain
    skies break forth in daytime blue.
    It is that blue of nothing
    from which the gods and poetry are made.

7. Cascades of rain followed by
     a sky of daylight blue,
     the blue void
     that gives us gods and poems.

8. The skies again open after
     torrents of rain to the blue of day.
     It is the blue of the nothing
     from which emanate gods and poetry.

9. The sky breaks through to daytime
     blue after cascades of rain.
     It is the blue of the nothingness
     out of which is made gods and poems.

10. The sky’s daylight blue
      bursts through after hard rainfall.
      The blue of the void that
      substantiates poetry and the gods.

11. Daylight’s bright blue
      follows heavy rainfall.
      The void’s blue, the raw material
      for inventing our gods, our poems.

12. After the rainstorm
      blue skies
      the color of the nothing
      that gives us gods and poetry.

13. Hard upon pouring rain
      break forth skies of blue.
      It’s the blue of the void
      substance of gods and poems.


1 Elizabeth Bishop, “The Manipulation of Mirrors,” Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art, ed. Lloyd Schwartz and Sybil P. Estess (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983), p. 283.
2 Vergílio Ferreira, Conta-Corrente (1977-1979) (Lisboa: Livraria Bertrand, 1981), p. 26.

Summitted by George Monteiro Professor Emeritus of English at Brown University.

Photo: Miradouro da Boa Nova (antigo Farol) Leça da Palmeira, Portugal (retrieved)