Vanity by Florbela Espanca

Recently, I came across the endlessly talented Tadzio and his blog of English translations of Italian poems. A little apprehensive at first, I decided to give a shot of my own at translating some of my most adored portuguese compositions.

Florbela is the poet I credit with my interest in composing, so it would be fair to say that any verse of mine you might have liked, is due to her incredible humility and fine-crafted lyricism. Very devalued in life, she now stands as the most important female poet of the portuguese poetic pantheon, one whose influence reaches far and wide within our culture.

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And its portuguese, original version:

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Disclaimer: I’m not a professional or academic of this subject, this translation is merely an attempt at a very arduous and respected Art, that of translating poetry, and I have no intentions of devaluing it with my impish attempts.

Second Disclaimer: I did severely alter the verse that mentions “saudade”. There is a common myth that saudade is an exclusive word of Portuguese, and there is another common myth debunking the former, stating that “longing” and “missing” are direct translations. Neither are correct, there are translations of saudade, and also imports, as Catalan shares the same word (thus making it not exclusive), and other languages have direct translations. English is not one of them. Missing or longing do not mean saudade.

I could not recommend more that you visit The Container and be delighted with Tad’s brilliant translations.


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A tick clinging to the bristles of a purple boar.

18 thoughts on “Vanity by Florbela Espanca”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out Johnny, I feel blessed! It’s exciting to see you translating the great Portuguese poets, especially because I’m very, very curious about them. Translation might lead to many problems, ambiguities and estrangement from the original text, but the act of sharing is still extremely important.
    Looking forward to expand my knowledge on the poets of your homeland.

    And last, but not least: very interesting sonnet. Florbela might have been able to enclose the entirety of any poet’s ambition in this single lyric, together with the painful awareness of their uselessness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for translating and sharing Florbela’s poem! I agree with Tadzio’s comment that she’s expressing what many or most committed poets feel. Lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And for my two cents worth – being a novice: I was struck by the use of the “gifts” in the line “Even those whose longing gifts them agony.” It stood out to me as accurately describing an aspect of the dynamics of creative work. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The hard part about that verse is its inception, being the only part of the composition I created myself instead of translating.
      The original verse does not have a translation in English, so I had to free-hand it. At attempting to keep some faith from the original, I used “gifted”, but sound-wise its becomes very divisive.

      Novice or not, your input is always welcome and forever appreciated. I’m a novice myself, with twenty-two years of age and three months of English writing.


  4. Johnny!!!!!! Chills! This translation literally caused chills over my whole body! I wish I could read Portuguese! If a pale shadow is that powerful, how much more affecting is the original! I see why she inspires you!!!!

    My work is deliberately uninformed by other poets. I’ve striven to avoid reading other poets because my voice being authentically my own is of prime concern to me.

    Even so, I end up enjoying your work and Robert Okaji’s fairly regularly. You both epitomize authentic voice and commitment to craft. Qualities which have immense value to me.

    Thank you so much for these treasures.

    ❤ Toad

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The original is leaps and bounds more powerful. And its not even Florbelas best composition, in fact, its only the first sonnet of her book.

      Few have managed to replicate her beauty since her passing, if any, but she still endures in all our hearts and verses.

      And its with highest gratitude that I receive that comparison and compliment. I have much to learn, and it becomes a much better experience with heart-warming company like yours at my side.

      Thank you, Toad.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Absolutely gorgeous poem, even through translation (at least when it’s as able as yours). It is very much a glimpse into the Wunderbred process for me. Stand at the eye of the Gathering Storm doing battle with Conceptuality itself, then put it aside and order a pizza. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you David.

      Perhaps if Pizzahut was around in her time, she wouldn’t have written a book. I certainly have a hard time telling apart pepperoni and poetry.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this pepperoni.
      (I’m not good at being funny so bear with me)

      Liked by 2 people

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