Monday, September 5, 2022

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen*

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919—2004) is one of Portugal’s best-loved writers. She was born in the northern city of Porto, but moved to Lisbon for university and made it her home. In 1964, she was given the Grand Prize of Poetry by the Portuguese Society of Writers, and has since received numerous other honours.

Her early poems, from the 1947 collection Dio do Mar (Day of the Sea), are highly lyrical mood-pieces, reflecting on gardens and seascapes. Poems from this book, and her 1977 collection O Nome das Coisas (The Name of the Things), appear in the bilingual collection The Perfect Hour (2015, Cold Hub Press). Thirty years separates the publication of these Portuguese collections, and so there’s quite a contrast between the two sections. The latter poems are more philosophical, and sometimes political. They come at the end of almost 50 years of repressive governments, and the Carnation Revolution of 1974. Andresen was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1975 representing the Socialist Party.

Although filled with fine poems, The Perfect Hour is not representative of the more than 20 poetry collections Andresen published, but merely brings together translations from two diverse books by a translator who died young. Two earlier books translating Andresen’s poetry into English — Marine Rose (1987, Black Swan) and Log Book (1997, Carcanet) — are also available. She has also had her poetry translated into Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.

The following poems were translated by Colin Rorrison, with final editing by Margaret Jull Costa, and are from The Perfect Hour.

Like the murmur

Like the murmur of the sea inside a shell
The divine whispers through the universe
Something emerges: a primordial plan

With furious rage

With furious rage I accuse the demagogue
And his capitalism of words

For it should be known that the word is sacred
That from far far away a people have brought it
And placed in it their trusting soul
From far far away since the beginning
Man knew himself through words
And named the stone the flower the water
And everything emerged because he spoke

With furious rage I accuse the demagogue
Who puffs himself up with the aid of words
And out of words makes power and pastime
And as he did with the wheat and the land
He transforms words into money.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.