Thursday, 10 October 2013

Eugénio de Andrade addresses dead people




Eugénio de Andrade once revealed his two books he didn’t like very much. For one of them, As Palavras Interditas (Forbidden Words), he couldn’t explain why he could not longer “recognize himself in them.” But he cogently explained his lack of love for Homenagens e outros epitáfios (Homages and other epitaphs):

   I don’t know if in truth you can call book to a collection of verses without unity, reflecting tonal variations, fluctuations of writing and other marks of time, which poetry can’t escape from, as a living thing it also is, and all because they were gathered, in so many few pages, these texts that manage to have more than forty years between them. What reason approximated them in my spirit?
   In their majority, these writings were requested of me by friends, and in one or another case the insistence was as much as to make the task be carried out. If there’s poetry of circumstance (and I think there is, most of it is nothing but), no other by me is as much as this: from occasional verses for catalogues by artists I admire to sorrowful laments for dead friends, all these lines speak about nothing but love for a torpid reality that the hands touched or the eyes caressed, so many times covered by the modesty of sentiments.

Poetry written on order; although Eugénio de Andrade can’t bring himself to call it that, there remains little doubt that he doesn’t consider the poems in this book to form part of his real oeuvre. He admits as much in another paragraph.  “My preferences go to more rigorous architectures, where a handful of substantives and some verbs, fascinated by transparency, balance themselves in constant tension, and the voice within won’t stop each syllable of rising vertically.” Like I wrote in my previous post, Eugénio de Andrade adhered rigidly to a restricted lexicon out of which he built his poems. I think he ultimately resented these poems for constraining his propensity for sneaking lime and bird into poems willy-nilly.

I, in opposition to him, like this book very much. All literature manifests a relationship of the author with his time and place; but literature can also establish a dialogue with the past and with itself. And I love to see poets talking to other poets through poetry. The book’s poems constitute a good example of that. Eugénio de Andrade addresses world poets: Guillaume Apollinaire, Vicente Aleixandre, Kavafis, Marina Tsvetaeva; filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and composer Richard Strauss; murdered Brazilian environmentalist and union leader Chico Mendes and revolutionary Che Guevera; Portuguese poets: Adolfo Casais Monteiro, Jorge de Sena, Ruy Belo, Luís de Camões, Vitorino Nemésio, Carlos de Oliveira, Cesário Verde, Luís Miguel Nava; novelist António Lobo Antunes, philosopher Eduardo Lourenço, actress Eunice Muñoz and Vasco Gonçalves, a controversial revolutionary and socialist president; and painters and architects: Augusto Gomes, José Dias Coelho, Jorge Martins, Armando Alves, Mário Botas, José Carlos Loureiro, Pádua Ramos, Álvaro Siza Vieira. The readers shouldn’t feel bad if they don’t know most of the names on the list, most Portuguese readers wouldn’t know them either. I don’t anyway. I also like the poem exactly because of the tone, so different from the rest of his work, a bit angrier, more malicious, looser, less meditative but irreverently funny many times. The first edition came out in 1974 and successive editions kept adding new poems; out of respect for the presentation of the poems I’ll include the year of their writing.

TO VICENTE ALEIXANDRE

(1952)

You were always a river, a wounded river,
A whisper of blood that sings and sings,
Not between reeds, between shadow and sorrow,
The complete nudity burning your throat.

A river of blind waters, of guitars,
Not guitars, of scissors or swords,
Of lemon juice, of searching hands,
Trembling, offended and hapless.

Thus I see you: the face resting on loneliness
And the open wounds screaming for the sea,
O clear light of Spain between ruin and death,
O masculine flower of lime and nightlight.

Eugénio de Andrade’s complaints, as you can see, had no grounds. He can still put lime and nightlight and reeds and water in the verses. Incidentally, I never read this Spanish poet. In keeping with the long tradition in Portugal, I know almost nothing of our neighbours’ literature.

ABOUT A VERSE BY MARIA TSVETAEVA

(Prague, 1983)

All poets are Jewish,
All are marked
By a black star,
Whether it be pink or yellow,
All walk South-wards
Fatigued, not from the raw
Light of the dunes: but the dead
Weight of that star.

BLACK WATERS ELEGY FOR CHE GUEVARA

(1971)

Tied up to silence, the heart still
Heavy with love, you lie sideways,
Listening, so to say, the black
Waters of our agony.

Pale voices search you in the fog;
From field to field they search
A horse, the tallest palm tree
Over the lake, a boat maybe
Or the spilled honey of our joy.

Eyes squeezed by fear
Wait the sun in the night where it rises,
Where you’re mistaken with the Summer’s
Blood thickets or the whisper
Of white feet of rain in the sands.

The word, as you said, arrives
Humid from the woods; we have to sow it;
It comes humid from the earth: we have to defend it;
It arrives with the swallows
That drunk it syllable by syllable in your mouth.

Each word of yours is a man standing up,
Each word of yours turns dew into a knife,
Turns hate into an innocent wine
For us to drink, with you
In the heart, around the fire.

Another elegy to Che Guevara to add to a vast list. Behold, incidentally, the supernatural powers he attributes to Mr. Ernesto de la Serna. Jesus Christ could only turn water into wine, a paltry miracle (especially if you consider he had God behind it) that merely requires turning one liquid into another, a third-rate alchemical feat, a legerdemain for fools if I ever saw one. But Che could turn an abstract emotion into a liquid substance. For this reason, and in spite of countless doubts, I never cease to remain a Communist sympathiser: our secular wonders far outshine Christianity’s. But speaking of blasphemy:

REQUIEM FOR PIER PAOLO PASOLINI

I know little of you but this crime
Makes death even more unbearable.
It was November, surely cold, but you
Didn’t even feel the air, your own sex
That was always a fountain now stabbed.
A poet, even solar like you, on the ground
Is not much: a knife, the whisper
Of April can kill him – it dawns,
The first buses have already passed,
The factories open the gates, the newspapers
Announce strikes, repression, two dead on the
            First
Page, blood rots or will shine
In the sun, if the sun comes, amidst the grass.
The assassin, he’ll continue day after day
Insulting the bitter heart of life;
In court he’ll imply that he only answered
To an (immoral) aggression with another aggression,
As if anyone ignored, except of course
The honourable judges, that whores of this kind
Confuse morals with their own ass.
The theft is enough most honourable gentlemen
As a motive for a crime that the fascists,
And not just the Saló ones, wouldn’t mind to
Sign.
Whatever the reason, and there are many
Which Capital the Church and the Police
Hand in hand are always ready to justify,
Pier Paolo Pasolini is dead.
The farce, the dirty farce, that continues.

No one can deny the horror of Pasolini’s death, but I bet deep down Eugénio de Andrade relished the fact that the murder occurred in November, a word he uses as often as bird and lime.

TO CASAIS MONTEIRO, TO BE USED AS AN EPITAPH

(September, 1972)

What hurts isn’t a poplar.
It’s neither the snow nor the root
Of joy rotting in the hills.
What hurts

Is not even the glow of a pulse
Having ceased,
And the music, which brought
Sometimes a sigh, sometimes a boat.

What hurts is knowing.
What hurts
Is the fatherland, which divides us and kills
Before one dies.

Adolfo Casais Monteiro (1908-1972) deserves a post in my blog, and will have it one day. A modernist poet and literary critic, we owe to him some of the earliest studies on Fernando Pessoa, not to mention the conservation of letters essential to understanding his work. The Salazar regime, which he vocally challenged, impeded Casais Monteiro from teaching in Portugal and he exiled himself in Brazil in 1958, where he penned many excellent small essays on culture, history and politics. My admiration for the acuteness of his mind knows no bounds. Nor does my admiration for Jorge de Sena:

TO JORGE DE SENA, ON CALIFORNIA’S GROUND

(August, 1978)

Is it out of pride that you don’t
Climb the stairs anymore? Did you guess
That I didn’t like that revenge
Constituted by your agony?
Is that why you didn’t come
Knock on my door this Summer?
Don’t you know by now
That between me and you
There’s only night and never will be death?

You didn’t lack in pride, I know;
Pride in lifting every day
With trembling hands
Life to your height
– but who suspected the other face?
Who loved in you
The frail, insecure boy,
The gentle sister we didn’t have?

You wrote like blood sings:
Des-per-ate-ly,
And you showed how it’s not easy
In this small country to be brief.
Maybe you lacked the time
To weigh with your happy hand the air
Where a juvenile ardour
Lasted until the end.

In what you left us there’s everything,
From the glass or cold water
To the howl of chased wolves.
Some prefer to read your verses,
Others the prose, others still
Prefer what about the freedom
Of being a man
You left behind you here and there
In prose or in verse, and tangible
It shines
Where before it seemed dead.

Sometimes you took pride
In having, instead of one, two countries;
Poor thing; you didn’t have any;
Or you just had that one
That gnawed your heart,
Loyal to the tribe’s words.

You wandered around a lot seeing if the world
Was bigger than you – you concluded it wasn’t.
You had a wife and children portuguesely
Allotted through the world,
And some friends,
Amongst whom I count myself,
And the wind too.

Now, instead of an elegy to a poet I admire very much, an elegy to a poet I never read anything by but plan to one day:

IN MEMORY OF RUY BELO

(1978)

You are probably well at ease by now,
Between the angels and, with that smile where childhood
Always took the train for the long vacations,
You’ve already made friends, without missing the days
You spent almost anonymously and lithe
Like the beach’s breeze and the girl from
            Cambridge,
Who didn’t notice you, or if she did she was from Vila do
            Conde.

Death like thirst was always close to you,
I always saw it next to you, in every meeting
There she was, a bit distracted, true,
But she was, as was the sea and joy
Or rain in the verses of your youth.

I just didn’t expect to see it so early, in the fourth
Page of a newspaper brought by the wind,
In that Caldelas August, in the noon heat,
Newspaper where in the headline there was
Also the promotion of a military to general,
Or maybe two, or three, or four, I don’t know;
These military men are hard to tell apart,
Made in moulds like Barcelos roosters.
Equally brave, equally useless,
With their melancholy asses taking for walk
The empire’s nostalgia and syphilis,
And so inimical of that feast
That in you, in me, starts in the dunes.

At least I’m consoled that they left you
In peace in death; no one in the
            Assembly
Of the Republic pretend to have read your verses,
Nobody, full of pity for himself,
Proposed state funerals, or, posthumously,
Wanted to make you viscount, knight, abbot,
Something like that to fertilize the fields.
They didn’t notice you, and it’s your fault,
You were always discreet (even in death),
You didn’t tell the country to go fuck itself, or a
            Minister,
You didn’t piss off anyone, not even your
            Washerwoman,
And you were buried in a small town I don’t
Know where it is, but wherever it is it’s yours.

I’m pleased that’s how it all went, and now
That you’ve started making a body with the earth
The only proof is growing towards the sun.

By the way, for those in need of a visual aid to understand the Rooster of Barcelos:


TO VITORINO NEMÉSIO, SOME YEARS LATER

(1983)

Nobody reads yours verses, some so admirable,
And your prose doesn’t have many readers,
Although everyone agrees, even those who
Didn’t read it, that it’s magnificent.
Pessoa’s the fad, poor thing: he suits everything;
And it’s his fault, with that moving
Inability to be himself.
It was no good for him to say and re-say
That fame was for actresses.
What a vocation for sheep most have:
There’s no college dyke or uniformed
Stallion that doesn’t say the country
Is his language or go fuck yourselves.
No, that didn’t work with you. For years
And years they kept you on the shelf:
You were the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenances.
Conversion to Catholicism, favours to the dictatorship,
State propaganda prizes didn’t help to get you
Read, plus there were other writers to be
Praised, admittedly quite mediocre, but
            “Democrats
By conviction,” a thing they say you weren’t.
This dying for the country is not for
Everyone and you, decidedly, had no inclination
At all for death. After all,
Besides the birds to whom you gave your eyes,
You just had verses, and some pretty bad,
Something of negligent importance anyway,
As Pessoa, exemplarily, proved after death,
Who is, as we know, in paradise.
Poor thing, he thought he had time to tidy up
The papers in the chest, but death came before time.
With you, at least, that didn’t happen,
You drank less, you managed to tidy your house.

None of this matters to you now, and anyway
What do they read those who read when they read?

I never read Nemésio’s poetry, guilty as charged. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and read it one day, no, really; but I have read (started it anyway) one of his novels, and I have to say that Stormy Isles has disgusted me as few novels have. A complete waste of time, energy, ink, eye sight, humanity, paper, and space. And to think a translator bothered to translate this piece of garbage into English when better books continue to wait, perhaps may never have that luck; this behaviour I can only describe as bordering on criminal negligence. On the other hand I have read Cesário Verde and I can attest to his greatness:

IN LISBON, WITH CESÁRIO VERDE

(1988)

In this city, where I now feel
More foreign than a Persian cat;
In this Lisbon, where tender and smooth
Days pass by watching sea-gulls,
And the colour of the flowery jacarandas
Mixes with Tejo’s, also blooming;
Only Cesário comes to me,
Makes me company, when from street
To street I search for a distant whisper
Of steps or birds, I’m not really sure.
Only he adjusts the happy light of his
Verses to the burnt eyes that are
Mine in this moment; only he brings the shadow
Of a very ancient Summer, and music,
Sun juice dripping from my mouth,
O childhood, my closed garden,
O my poet, perhaps it was with you
That I learned to weight syllable by syllable
Each word, those you almost
Ever took, like few did,
To the supreme perfection of language.

CAPRICCIO

(1994)

Although heir to all Romantic
Music, you could tell he wasn’t
One those who lose their life par délicatesse.
Solid, well built, firm legs of
A happy animal, like some
Schwabing barman,
He had an easy sensuality,
Which he solved also easily with a dish
Of sausages and beer, or else
With a more than lithe soprano,
One of those he tripped on every day
In the Opera – nothing that stopped him
From being, naturally, a good family man.

Not being affable, he had
Positive things, for instance:
He hated tenors – the pavarottis
And the plácidos were women in his operas.
He wrote several operas, some incomparable:
Salome, Der Rosenkavalier,
Ariadne, Die Frau ohne Schatten, with Hofmannsthal
Showing him how transparency
And lightness weren’t easy.

Between the passionate and solar Don Juan
Of his twenty-five years and the Vier
Letzte Lieder of more luminous old age,
He did what he wanted with music;
Methodically, like the beaver makes his house;
Sometimes brutally, sometimes
With subtle intelligence, as if God
Chose him, although an atheist,
As an accomplice for his greatness.

With the Nazis he knew not to be arrogant,
Although his condescendence
Did him little good – the boots
Have much difficulty in
Distinguishing a man
Of genius from a rat.

But how not to forget such weaknesses,
And others, on hearing Schwarzkopf
Singing the last songs,
Or on listening to the opening of Capriccio,
That sextet written in a state of grace,
As if Mozart himself were
Driving the hand of Doktor Richard Strauss?

Jorge de Sena has Eugénio de Andrade beaten as far as vitriolic poems against Richard Strauss go, but I admire this effort nevertheless Next time we'll read some of his prose poems.

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