A Volta do Filho Pródigo
(Tentative translation, corrections and suggestions welcome).
I will waken the birds who, for fear of darkness,
Have gone silent in the nighttime branches
And sleeplessly await the break of dawn.
I will rouse the drunkards in the doorways,
The sleepwalking dogs, and the ambient mysteries
Which fill the night. Shouting, I will beseech
The winds to violate and the sea to lay waste
The white beaches thick with prudery.
With laughter and song I will torch
God’s habitual nighttime silence,
So intimidating to man. May the city
Put a lunar shawl over its face
And come out to receive its poet
With jasmine branches and memories.
This hour is for beauty. In every stone,
In every house, in every street, in every
Tree there still lives a kiss made
For me: me, the urban lover, more than
Urban, superhuman, in the wild nighttime city.
Probably I won’t come mounted
On any horse, nor in armor, since this — Poetry –
Will protect me best of all, with its chain mail
Of silence. Very possibly I’ll arrive drunk,
And if it’s January, wearing a sports coat.
What’s important is the arrival, the unity
Of me and the city, the city and me –
And to hear once more the sea shattering
On rocks, or roaring in the ocean,
Lonely like a god…. Beloved Rio,
Woman petrified into buttocks and breasts
And knees of millennial stone, with green
Pubis and armpits and unbound hair,
Fresh and scented with chlorophyll –
I love you, woman, sleeping
By the sea! I love you in your utter nakedness
In the sun, and your peacefulness in the moonlight.
I feel you next to me — your light
Does not harm my silence, my silence
Is yours. I know that, protected
By the beings moving within your arms
Your eyes have visions of other spaces
Past and future. Just as at times
Above the moonlit Niemeyer street,
Amidst the clamor of the whipped waves
The mountains will ponder. What silence
Can be heard settling there, what solemnity
Of nature! I know, and it’s the truth,
That under the Sun, Rio is completely bright,
All too bright, and without mystery.
I know that in the glare of January
Secrets die the way birds die, gladly.
I know all of this.
Now I see with these my tireless eyes
Ideas exploding like flowers
In the rays of the sun, now I see
Mathematical castles collapsing like cards,
Philosophical systems losing their daytime logic
At night, unfinished works of art getting lost
In fron of a sweaty armpit, in the noise of creation,
And crowds of saints made rabid by
The healthful properties of ultraviolet light.
Whoever has the nighttime habit,
Whoever lives in intimacy with silence,
Whoever is able to hear the music of darkness
When life reproduces itself there –
For them, the city offers itself
As a common zone of eternity
In counterpoint to the movement of the sea
And the millennial metamorphoses of the rock,
In its infinity of infinities….
For them, Dos Irmãos tells an astonishing
Story, a story of forces erupting
From the earth, producing sudden forms:
Viúva! Pão de Açúcar! Corcovado!
Further south is the tomb of the Sun –
The huge Mesa, where can be seen
At sunset, should you be able to see,
The silhouette of primitive man
(The same who, even today, transformed,
Crosses the mosaic of the Avenue)
And even, who knows?, fan clubs of Nature
In their rows of seats, watching
Sea serpents in blind struggle
Rouse tidal waves with their duel
In the natural stadium of Guanabara….
(Portuguese text at the “more”)
I’ve been checking out Vinicius de Moraes for awhile, and this is the poem I was looking for. The occasion of the poem is Vinicius’s return to Rio after an absence, probably during the period when he was in the ill graces of the dictatorship. It begins in the silence of dawn, and contrasts of light and dark and silence and noise are scattered throughout. Rio is compared to a sleeping woman and is placed in its physical context of sun, moon, mountains and rocks, and the sea, with the immediacy of the city contrasted to the long time spans of geology producing the surrounding mountains. The poem rushes along, mimicking the state of mind of the author upon his return, and if it doesn’t quite make sense in a few places you don’t want to stop and ask questions — just take it as part of the characterization of the excited poet and follow the rush of ideas so you don’t miss anything. The word “Rio” seems to mean both the city and “river”, and the poem is set in January (the Brazilian summer) which is probably a sort of pun on “Janeiro”.
Brazilian poetry has always seemed to me to be out of the mainstream and somewhat archaic, but more in a good than in a bad way — I doubt that a poem like this could be written in one of the tough-minded modernist or post-modernist nations of the world. When I first read this poem I was completely enchanted, but after wrestling with it for three days I have no idea whether anyone else will like it at all
I am a completely opportunistic translator with just a passable knowledge of Portuguese, so I welcome corrections. I’ve translated rather freely and will continue to be tweaking the English version for some time (I’m an opportunistic poet too).