Sunday, 20 October 2013

So the Romans were like me: they loved places where greatness and solitude walked hand in hand: travels with Eugénio de Andrade




I have to share this with the reader: I love conceptual poetry books, that is, poetry books that don't just put together a handful of poems but follow a unifying pattern, whether it be a theme, a style, or a structure. For instance, I’m a sucker for William Blake’s The Songs of Innocence and Experience, with its symmetrical structure, and Jorge de Sena’s The Metamorphosis, in which each poem is based on a picture or painting. For that reason I have focused on Eugénio de Andrade’s books that incorporate this conceptual construction into them, like his all-prose poem books or his book of homages. So for my final post on his poetry I’m taking poems from a book that is all about places: streets, countries, cities, villages, dunes, castles, gardens, you name it. It’s not so much a book of descriptions but a book of moods and impressions connected to those places. It’s also where his poetry is more economical, lithe, condensed and enigmatic, I’d even risk saying that the poet owes a huge debt to the Imagism of Ezra Pound for this book. The book is called Escrita da Terra (Earth’s Writing, 1974):

KERKIRA

Like that linen smell
Only caressed shoulders have
The earth is white

and naked.

ROME

In Summer at the evening’s end,
like Hadrian or Virgil or Marcus Aurelius
I entered Rome by the Appian Way
and by Antinous and all the world’s love
I swear I saw the light turn to stone.

PENICHE

Wind
wind

so much
there’s just wind in my country

white wind
green black wind

burning

dries tears

cuts the voice in the root.

DELPHI

Will the night in order to sleep
ask a drop of water from me?

MARBELLA GARDEN

With the last waters the trees depart
the whole garden is then a smile.

BERLIN

There’s a rupture
a crack in the dark
of the silence:

one hears the murmur
of urine
from the soldiers against the wall.

VENICE

What music would you be
If you were not water?

GUERNICA

Compact
blind

the air

lacks only the blade.

FÃO DUNES

It’s over the buttock’s splendours
that I reconcile myself with tears.

BRINDISI

One thing is to live in the skin
another to have night for a frigate.

LISBON

This mist over the city, the river,
the seagulls of other days, boats, people
in a hurry or with all the time to while away,
this mist where Lisbon’s light begins,
rose and lemon over the Tejo, this water light,
I want nothing more from step to step.

MEDITERRANEAN

Like in the Whitman poem a boy
Approached me and asked: what is
            the grass?
Between his gaze and mine the air hurt.
Under other afternoons’ shades I spoke
to him of bees and thistles close to the earth.

ALENTEJO

Agony
of the slow restless
yellows,
loneliness of the choked
red,
finally the black,
thick bottom,
like in Alentejo
the obstinate white.

ENGLISH CEMETERY

You approach the earth. Now more.
With eyes closed you contemplate a stone.
Small. Uninhabitable. Almost white.
It’d be perfection if it were water.
(A child sings like in dreams.)

ATHENS’ OUTSKIRTS

The platanus.
and the strident
Sun vertical to the cicadas.
the river almost at hand.
And a whisper,
not of nymphs: of words.
Blue is white,
hard.
The two men sleep
now
in the afternoon’s shade.
And memory’s.

MALÁ STRANA SQUARE

I like these pigeons, these children.
Eternity cannot be but like this:
pigeons and children turning
the incomparable morning light
into the poem’s innocent place.

CHAPULTEPEC’S WOODS

With my mouthful of sun, so much sun,
how could the shadow and its rings
approach from scale to scale
and quickly bite your waist?

ANOTHER MEXICAN NOCTURNE

With this sun, this vertical blade
between the eyes,
how to give you so much thirst to drink?,
the piercing blade tearing deep.

CHALCEDON

So the Romans were
like me: they loved
places where greatness
and solitude
walked hand in hand.

2 comments:

  1. I too am attracted to conceptual poetry collections. I really like the idea of this particular book. It seems to allow the exploration of the poet's mind and art in a unique way.

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    1. Brian, I hope I've inspired you to read Eugénio de Andrade; he's one of our few poets who's translated into English.

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