Sunday, 26 May 2013

A poem about João Guimarães Rosa

On November 19, 1967, the Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa passed away. Three days later the poet Carlos Drummond published a poem in his honour on the newspaper Correio da Manhã. I leave a translation here in the event it may be of interest to someone:

Someone Named João

João was a fabulist
Mystical sertão burning
in the exile of common language?

“He projected onto the little tie
the fifth face of things
indescribable described?
A stranger named João
to disguise, to farce
what we dare not comprehend?”

Had he pastures, buritis planted
in the apartment?
in the chest?
Was he vegetable or small bird
under the robust skeleton with a dash
of smiling ox?

Was he a theatre
and all the actors
in the same role,
multivocal dance?

Was João everything?
all hiding, flourishing
like flower is flower, even unplanted?
Map with accidents
sliding outwards, speaking?
Did he keep rivers in the pocket
each one its colour of water
without mixing, without conflicting?

And from each drop wrote
Name, curve, end,
and in the general destiny
his fate was to know
to tell without unveiling
what mustn’t be unveiled
and so he wears new veils?

Magical without props
civilly magical, caller
of precipitous prodigies aiding
the general call?
Ambassador of the kingdom
there is behind the kingdoms,
the powers, the
supposed formulas
of abracadabra, open sesame?
Kingdom encircled
not by walls, keys, codes,
but the kingdom-kingdom?

Why did João smile
If they asked him
What was that mystery?
And proposing drawings the reply
Existed less than
Another question to the asker?

He was a party of… (heck do
I know the name) or he was
the human part himself
serving as bridge
between the sub and the over
that shoot each other
from before the beginning,
that get entwined
for better war,
for gibberish party?
We end not knowing what João was
and if João existed
from catching himself.


  1. Miguel - How did I miss this post? I'd been hunting for a translation of this, which as you know prefaces the Portuguese language edition of GS:V you feature in your group read post. So yes, a great many thanks to you - this is indeed of interest to someone, and quite a bit more prickly than the elegy I'd been expecting. I'm guessing you liked this poem a lot more than you liked the novel!

    1. Well, it was published on a Sunday, and I posted something else next morning, so I guess it was easy to miss it. Oh wait, you were just being rhetorical, right?

      I think it's a fine poem, yep, with some difficult verses to translate aptly. I had to contribute something to the read-along ;)