Tuesday, 25 June 2013

While it lasts I’m given the infinite universe constellated by quadrillions and quadrillions of stars: more poetry by Ferreira Gullar

Ferreira Gullar’s last poetry book came out in 2010: Em Alguma Parte Alguma. He hadn’t published one since 2005. Besides Dirty Poem, this is my only exposure to Gullar’s poetry. And it continues to reinforce my belief that Gullar is one of the world’s best living poets.

Em Alguma Parte Alguma is a heterogeneous book about so many things: bugs and the universe, the ineffable and the irrepressible need to communicate, cosmic distances and our brain. It has recurring images like rotten fruit, Gullar really loves that, and many poems about his body (Gullar is starting to realize he’s getting old). It’s a sad book, too, for Gullar, like all great poets, knows there’s nothing sadder than dead cats.

Let’s do this by themes. The poem opens with “The Unsaid Said,” which is too long to translate in full, but starts like this:

the poem
   before written
is not in me
   more than an upset
before the white sheet

This, notwithstanding feline elegies, is another very popular theme in poetry, the poem about the difficulty of writing the poem, the terror of not having anything to say in the poem, the inability to express something in a poem. Somehow it just leads to many inspiring poems. He pursues the theme in another poem, “Disorder:”

my business for now is disorder
            what refuses itself
                        to speech

what escapes
the meticulous elegance
of saying
                        the dregs
                        the leftover
                        the scoria
                        the untidiness
                        the cannot-be-fit

or perhaps
            - even worst -
            what language
            didn’t say
                        for not saying

Although poetry can’t express what must be said, nevertheless it must continue to exist. In another poem the poet shows his certainty that poetry won’t disappear:


It’s carnival,
the earth trembles:
a couple of poets talks
on the Leme beach!

The two talk of poetry
and the bathers
who never read Drummond or Mallarmé.
“And will they read my poem?”
she asks.
“Someone will.”
“Well even if they don’t
I won’t stop saying
what I see on this beach
which they trod on unseen.”

And the older poet
smiles comforted:
poetry is there
reborn by his side.

Then we have the poems about his body. “Reflexion about the bone in my leg” is very good, here’s an excerpt (he likes long poems):

The most durable part of me
                        are the bones
                        and the hardest too

like, for instance, this bone
            in the leg
            which I feel
            under the soft active
of flesh and bone
            that dresses it and fully
            covers me
            from head to toe
                                   this living and fleeting

yes, this bone
the hardest part of me
lasts more than everything I hear
and think
more than everything I invent
            and lie
            this bone

His leg bone continues preoccupy him in “Living room accident:”

I move the left leg
            in a bad twist
and the femur’s head
                                   against the pelvis’ bone
I suffer a commotion

and I hear myself
            did it happen to me
or to my bone?

and another question:
            am I my bone?
            or am I just the mind
which doesn’t bond with it?

and another:
if the bone doesn’t ask,
            who asks then?
someone who isn’t bone
            (or flesh)
            inhabits me?
someone I never hear
            except when
            in my body
a bone rubs against another bone?

In“Perplexity” he progresses from the physical body to transient conscience:

the most fleeting part
in me
is this awareness that I exist

and all existing consists in that

is it strange?
and even stranger
                  my knowing it
and knowing
that this conscience lasts less
than a thread of my hair

and even stranger still
            Than knowing it
is that
    while it lasts I’m given
     the infinite universe constellated
     by quadrillions and quadrillions of stars
being that some of them
I can see them
            glowing in the past’s present

And not neglecting his timeless responsibilities as a poet, the cat poems:


Kitten, my friend,
do you have any idea what a star is?

They say this whole immense planet of ours
            covered in oceans and mountains
            is less than a grain of dust
            if compared to one of them

Stars are chain nuclear explosions
in a sequence that lasts billions of years

The same as eternity

Nevertheless, Kitten, I confess
that I barely care
            how much a star lasts

I care about how much you last,
                        dear friend,
                        and those sapphire-blue eyes
                        you stare at me with

But the greatest of them all is “Pained Joy,” grater than many classic epyllia:

For years
he was my constant company
where I was
            he came
            and purring
nestled on my lap

Until one day…

It’s been years since the house is empty

But lo,
                        he comes back again
and lies next to me

I don’t dare
look at him
            For it’s better not to see him
Than not seeing him

I ask nothing
            only live
            the pained illusion
of having him with me

I have no doubts that so long as cat poems continue to exist poetry will not die. So long as cat poems continue to exist.


  1. Thanks for the translations. Based upon them I really like Gullar’s work. I really like "The Star". As someone who often thinks about the immensity of the universe I am also stuck by the paradox that the things that most matter to is the small, local and immediate.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed these poems. My favourite is "Perplexity," the idea that what matters in us is the most fleeting part of us too.