Three Poems, Translated by Dean Thomas Ellis

by Cecília Meireles

Cecília Benevides de Carvalho Meireles (1901–1964) was a Brazilian poet, teacher, playwright and journalist, whose lyrical and highly personal poetry, simple in form yet complex in symbolism and imagery, made hers a canonical name of Brazilian Modernism. She is considered one of the great female poets in the Portuguese language. Orphaned at an early age and brought up by her grandmother, Meireles began to write poetry at the age of nine. She became a public school teacher at 16 and two years later established her literary reputation with the publication of Espectros, a collection of sonnets in the Symbolist tradition, “set in an atmosphere of shadows and dreams.” Between 1919 and 1927 she contributed to the magazines Árvore Nova and Terra do Sol, and was a key figure in the spiritual and transcendental journal Festa. Between 1925 and 1939 Meireles concentrated on her career as a teacher, writing several books for children and in 1934 founded the Biblioteca Infantil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s first children’s library. That year she lectured on Brazilian literature in Portugal at the universities of Lisbon and Coimbra, and in 1936 she was appointed lecturer at the new Federal University in Rio de Janeiro. As a teacher she did much to promote educational reforms and advocated the construction of children’s libraries. After 14 years without publishing a book of poetry, Meireles published one of her major works, Viagem (1939), which was awarded the Poetry Prize from the Brazilian Academy of Letters. From that time she devoted herself to her literary career, continuing to publish collections of poetry regularly until her death. Mar Absoluto (1942), a collection of sea poetry based on her vast travels, is considered one of her finest. In 1953 she participated in a symposium on the work of Gandhi, and taught herself both Hindi and Sanskrit. That same year she published Romanceiro da Inconfidência, written in the style of medieval Iberian ballads, which drew its subject from the first colonial attempt at Brazilian independence in Minas Gerais in 1789. Its central figure was the leader of the uprising, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes. Meireles was a prolific contributor to Brazilian periodicals, and for a time she served as education editor of Rio’s Diario de Noticías. She translated into Brazilian Portuguese such diverse writers as Maeterlinck, Federico García Lorca, Anouilh, Ibsen, Tagore, Rilke, Virginia Woolf, and Pushkin. She died in 1964, and 45 years later, was one of the three celebrated authors at the First Congress of Brazilian Women Writers in New York.

UNTITLED

Sou entre flor e nuvem,
estrela e mar. Por que
havemos de ser unicamente
humanos, limitados em chorar?
Não encontro caminhos fáceis
de andar. Meu rosto vário
desorienta as firmes pedras
que não sabem de água e de ar.

 

I am between flower and cloud,
star and sea. Why
must we be exclusively
human, bound by weeping?
I don’t encounter easy paths
on which to walk. My inconstant face
perplexes the hard stones
that know not of water and air.

 

 

UNTITLED

No mistério do sem-fim
equilibra-se um planeta.

E, no planeta, um jardim,
e, no jardim, um canteiro;
no canteiro uma violeta,
e, sobre ela, o dia inteiro,

entre o planeta e o sem-fim,
a asa de uma borboleta

 

Within the mystery of infinity
a planet is poised

And, on the planet, a garden
and, in the garden, a flower bed;
in the flower bed a violet
and, over it, the entire day,

between the planet and infinity
the wing of a butterfly

 

 

O MENINO AZUL

O menino quer um burrinho
para passear.
Um burrinho manso,
que não corra nem pule,
mas que saiba conversar.

O menino quer um burrinho
que saiba dizer
o nome dos rios,
das montanhas, das flores,
—de tudo o que aparecer.

O menino quer um burrinho
que saiba inventar histórias bonitas
com pessoas e bichos
e com barquinhos no mar.

E os dois sairão pelo mundo
que é como um jardim
apenas mais largo
e talvez mais comprido
e que não tenha fim.

(Quem souber de um burrinho desses,
pode escrever
para a Ruas das Casas,
Número das Portas, ao Menino Azul que não sabe ler.)

 

BLUE BOY

The boy wants a donkey
on which to ride.
A meek little donkey,
that neither gallops nor leaps,
but knows how to make conversation.

The boy wants a donkey
that can say
the names of the rivers,
of the mountains, of the flowers,
—of everything that comes into view.

The boy wants a donkey
that can invent pretty stories
about people and animals
and about boats on the ocean.

And the two will go forth into the world
that is like a garden
but is wider
and perhaps longer
and has no end.

(Anyone who knows of such donkeys,
can write to:
Street with Houses,
Door with Numbers,
c/o The Blue Boy who cannot read.)

 

 

Dean Thomas Ellis is a writer and translator living in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Another Sticky Valentine, The New Orleans Review, Bloodroot, St. Petersburg Review, and the online series Working Stiff at PBS.org. He has also contributed to the KGB Bar Lit Magazine, and hosts the radio programs Tudo Bem and The Dean’s List on WWOZ-FM in New Orleans and online at wwoz.org. His translation (with Jaime Braz) of Jacinto Lucas Pires’s novel The True Actor was published last fall by Dzanc Books.


Cecília Benevides de Carvalho Meireles (1901–1964) was a Brazilian poet, teacher, playwright and journalist, whose lyrical and highly personal poetry, simple in form yet complex in symbolism and imagery, made hers a canonical name of Brazilian Modernism. She is considered one of the great female poets in the Portuguese language. Orphaned at an early age and brought up by her grandmother, Meireles began to write poetry at the age of nine. She became a public school teacher at 16 and two years later established her literary reputation with the publication of Espectros, a collection of sonnets in the Symbolist tradition, “set in an atmosphere of shadows and dreams.” Between 1919 and 1927 she contributed to the magazines Árvore Nova and Terra do Sol, and was a key figure in the spiritual and transcendental journal Festa. Between 1925 and 1939 Meireles concentrated on her career as a teacher, writing several books for children and in 1934 founded the Biblioteca Infantil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s first children’s library. That year she lectured on Brazilian literature in Portugal at the universities of Lisbon and Coimbra, and in 1936 she was appointed lecturer at the new Federal University in Rio de Janeiro. As a teacher she did much to promote educational reforms and advocated the construction of children’s libraries. After 14 years without publishing a book of poetry, Meireles published one of her major works, Viagem (1939), which was awarded the Poetry Prize from the Brazilian Academy of Letters. From that time she devoted herself to her literary career, continuing to publish collections of poetry regularly until her death. Mar Absoluto (1942), a collection of sea poetry based on her vast travels, is considered one of her finest. In 1953 she participated in a symposium on the work of Gandhi, and taught herself both Hindi and Sanskrit. That same year she published Romanceiro da Inconfidência, written in the style of medieval Iberian ballads, which drew its subject from the first colonial attempt at Brazilian independence in Minas Gerais in 1789. Its central figure was the leader of the uprising, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes. Meireles was a prolific contributor to Brazilian periodicals, and for a time she served as education editor of Rio’s Diario de Noticías. She translated into Brazilian Portuguese such diverse writers as Maeterlinck, Federico García Lorca, Anouilh, Ibsen, Tagore, Rilke, Virginia Woolf, and Pushkin. She died in 1964, and 45 years later, was one of the three celebrated authors at the First Congress of Brazilian Women Writers in New York.

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