Thursday, 31 December 2015


I wish the title of this post foreshadowed a review of John Barth’s Sabbatical, but I’m really writing to announce that I’m interrupting indefinitely my blogging activity at St. Orberose.

For more than a year now I’ve been thinking of closing this place up; at first my reason had to do with my difficulty in reconciling my needing time to write a novel with my keeping a blog. I began my novel in September 2013 as a project that I thought would take up a few months only; but a few months became around two years as I grew more entangled in the responsibility of writing something I could be proud of; so that meant sacrificing practically all my personal life to it: I gave up going to the movies, going out with friends, visiting relatives; I moved from a full- to a part-time job to have more hours. Eventually last January I was fired, and I was actually elated because I acquired more spare time to finish my novel. (Writing does strange things to the mind, is what I’m saying.) Blogging was in fact the time-wasting activity I most tenaciously clung to – because the one I most liked – as I slowly divested myself of everything else.

Anyway, that was my reason at first; my current reason is because I feel despondent, bitter and unsociable right now. I finished a novel I can’t interest any editor in publishing it; to keep myself busy while jobless I translated a novel I can’t interest any editor in publishing it either; and a few weeks ago I finally got a new dreary office job that, although a monetary relief, is of no interest to me with its rigid routine. So little in my life has turned out the way I hoped. As if this weren’t bad enough, notwithstanding my feeble first frolic through the world of letters I’ve been at work on a second, equally useless book for months now; why I don’t know; perhaps because nothing else cheers me up except writing, although insanabile cacoethes scribendi is not all it’s cracked up to be; in my case it cracked me up to such an extent I still can’t find joy except when I’m writing – hardly a recipe for happiness when the world isn’t built to make life easier for someone who takes joy in writing. No, I guess the real reason for the second book is because, at the age of 31, not having accomplished anything of value, it helps me pretend I’m not a total failure, although it doesn’t help that well since I know full well I am one.

I should have ended St. Orberose, as I intended, after the “Eça de Queiroz Month”, the best thing I wrote for my blog. Instead I let it wither with growingly-infrequent posts that were becoming more and more tedious to cobble together. So instead of going out on a bombastic bang, it ends with a whinny whimper. Well, why not? So much of my life has followed that pattern recently, why should my blog be exempt from it? I always wanted it to be a reflection of my self – so I guess it is.

I don’t plan to disappear; I’ll be around reading other blogs and commenting whenever I can; I’ll continue to exchange e-mails with some of the wonderful bloggers I had the pleasure of meeting and who have entertained, delighted and taught me so much about literature and other things. I enjoyed very much these years belonging to the merry band of book bloggers, which includes some of the kindest, funniest and smartest people I’ve met. I hope my critical scribbles have been as enjoyable and worthwhile to those who came across them as so many blogs out there have been for me. And let me thank everybody who read my blog and took the time to comment; and apologize for so many asinine, impatient, ungenerous views about books. I had to write a fickle one to realize how hard it is to write literature; it’s so easy to patch up a few sentences to tear apart writers who can combine words in a more complex, vivid, unpredictable, emotional way than I can ever hope to achieve. If my useless novel has taught me how to read others with more care and tolerance, perhaps it’s not a complete fiasco.

Shantih shantih shantih

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Some poems by Ruy Belo

Ruy Belo (1933-1978) was a Portuguese essayist, translator (of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Blaise Cendrars, Raymond Aron, Montesquieu, Jorge Luís Borges, and Federico García Lorca), editor, teacher and poet. His brief poetic career, nowadays collected in three volumes, or about 800 pages, left a mark and nowadays he’s considered a major figure of the second half of 20th Portuguese poetry.

I don’t know much about him besides this. I’ve been leafing through his collections and reading his poets in a rather careless way, but I’ve liked what I’ve read so far. Belo had a thickness to his language that appeals to me, and some of his verses are hard to understand let alone translate. I figured you’d like to read a few:


Lo she comes plenteous numerous chosen
secret full of thoughts devoid of cares
She comes sitting in the new spring
surrounded by smiles on her bosom lilies
eyes made of shade wind and moment
oblivious to these days that I can never
Time bites on her face laughter’s roots
beyond her it begins to be faraway
The beloved is good childhood come see me
There are ancient birds in the limpid paths
and deaths as before never more
Lo since she stretches wide like a fatherland
on the threshold of our indifference
Our halls are for her solitary feet
We have all forgotten our parent’s houses
she fills with days our empty hands
Pain is in her until god begins
in her the heel of love I do feel
What does it matter us being of a single morning and around us
No tree exiting more wind-whipped?
What does it matter us leaving on a collapse of sunsets?
Sadder even the life where others will pass through
multiplying it its absence what does it matter
if where we put our feet it’s spring?


I know that you wait for me by the mouth
of the round day upon you like a desire
and that when all the landscape is pointless
you’ll protect me with your rain of lines

And yet appareled with ideas of circumstance
perhaps I’ll look at myself on other mirrors and admit
concepts aerated like rugs forgetting
that you continue to climb up from the sepulcher of my days
like the first dew that the lady
happy for having the possibility of being seen outside
receives on her face on opening the window

But if tomorrow you look at me your look will rise
clouds of centuries upon my path of dust
Leaves at least are as natural as words
and the radical tree where they immolated you had been
although wrought vegetable and green


We are the great island of God’s silence
Whether seasons rain winds blow
they shall never get beyond the riverbanks
Let even a boot fall upon
the great redoubt of God and it won’t succeed
in erasing the primitive footprint
This is the great humility the small
And poor greatness of man


I sing the solar man who steps on the snow
The word confirms itself in silence
metaphors go up metaphors go down
Man is desire and not work
that is in fact one of his definitions
all earthly paradises are based on the present
but on killing death they kill pleasure
What have I done with my youth?
he asks saddened once finished the sortilege
that him to isolde the blonde and of the bright face
I sing that ago that time today impossible to us
when rivalen marc’s subject
with the furor of cornish lovers
fell in love by blanchefleur marc’s sister
and thus started a tale of love and death
Isolde loved tristan with mad love
and heard his singing the way the nightingale
alone sings when summer ends
Both sheltered in the woods of morois
they see the warm season arrived a third time
as beautiful and immobile like statues but
marc tristan’s naïve uncle
instead of reality saw appearances and
how much torture love must have caused
Man’s only happy time must have been the neolithic
when the moment triumphed upon the future
He who later devoted himself to edifying tomorrow’s house
was victim of the present time’s portrait

This poem, by the way, goes on for another 15 pages; Belo liked his poems lengthy and wordy, with long verses. He got himself cured of that vice with age, as one of his poems towards the end of his life attests:


In the past I wrote long poems
Nowadays I have four words to make a poem
They are: listlessness prostration desolation letdown
And I almost forgot one: quitting
It occurred to me before the closing of a poem
and in part sums up what I think of life
after the eight day of each month
Of these five words I surround myself
and from them comes the necessary music
to continue. To reiterate this:
quitting listlessness prostration desolation letdown
In the past when the gods were grand
I always had at hand many verses
Nowadays I just have five words five small pebbles

However his short poems contain some of my favourite ones, like this one:


He walked around the days’ mirrors
his clandestine joys
which were no sooner reflected than gone.

And this one:


All the poets gazed upon death
and later got together in a laughing assembly
to forget who they were
But death was the only way out