(translation) style, herberto hélder


Herberto Hélder was born in Funchal, Madeira, in 1930. He was the most influential Portuguese poet of the second half of the 20th century, and by far the most misanthrope, having lived in relative isolation and refusing every prize he ever received. He died in 2015.
He wrote the prose-poem above in his book, Os passos em volta, a book never translated into English. This translation was performed by me, and is one of three from the same book, which I will release over three days.

Thank you for reading.

Published by João-Maria

A tick clinging to the bristles of a purple boar.

32 thoughts on “(translation) style, herberto hélder

  1. I’ve read this four times already and each time I feel he’s telling me off! It’s well worth the reflection. And thank God I’d keep orchids in a vase if I could afford them. I’m looking forward to the next extracts. I’m more than keen (and it is 4 in the morning here!) to begin to challenge the stuporous disorder of life. Thanks João-Maria.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the first poem of the book, and I feel a strange connection to it. Perhaps it is translative dissonance, but in the original text, I always feel like Herberto is trying to break away from the maddened state in which he is in just to explain to us how he got there. He doesn’t do so, however, only becoming progressively crazier, which I believe to be the decision to the choice he propounds in the first line.
      Herberto is very stylistically rich. It’s writing as-if-spoken. I like it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m often confused about what madness is, considering so much passes for lucidity. These days and any days I’ve known.
        Thanks for coming by, Terry. (I’m on your side regarding that familial feud you wrote about, even though I’m not American)

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Madness is a curious topic; I agree with you that so much of that which appears quite mad passes for lucid behaviour, especially at present. Powerful leaders have often been quite mad, but then those who possess the capability for genius are also often mad, I believe passion drives both sets to a point where they can no longer ‘see’ the world as others do, they are consumed by their ideals, by their needs or by their creations. And of course, we are all simply on a sliding scale when it comes to sanity anyway, it’s just a case of who sets the markers where. The fact that Trump can identify a basic drawing of an elephant and equate it to being incredibly clever proves him to be quite the opposite for example, he is blinded to his own madness because he cannot tolerate the slightest possibility it exists. Perhaps it’s those of us who say we are unhinged are the sanest of all? *laughs a lot*.

        I liked the piece, translations are fascinating because you can read several and get a completely different feel for each one. Rainer Marie Rilke is one of my favourite writers and as an example, I give you twenty, first lines from twenty translations of the first line of The Duino Elegies (I love this book) –

        “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies? (Mitchell 331)
        “If I cried out, who/ in the hierarchies of angels/ would hear me?” (Barrows/Macy 31)
        “Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic / orders?” ( Leishman/ Spender 197)
        “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic / hierarchies?” (Ernest)
        “Who, if I cried out, would heed me / amid the host of the Angels?” (Behn)
        “Who of the angelic hosts would hear / me, even if I cried out?” (Boney)
        “WHO, if I cried out, might hear me– / among the ranked Angels?” (Cohn)
        “If I cried out / who would hear me up there / among the angelic orders?” (Young)
        “Who, if I cried, would hear me among the Dominions / of Angels?” (Gass)

        This is an interesting article which I don’t mind a bit if you don’t read, hahahaha – http://www.archetypographia.com/studiopractice/2016/7/5/lost-in-translation-selecting-a-translation-of-rainer-maria-rilkes-duino-elegies

        I may end up in your spam for that as it has a link in it.

        Now Rilke, of all poets rarely keeps things short and snappy, however, he can be very easily dipped in and out of without feeling as though all you took was a fragment, and I think that’s key to an enjoyably long winding piece – it doesn’t trap you like a child who has been made to stay after school and must finish reading the lot before they can run home, relieved it is over. Instead, you can dip a finger in and enjoy the syrup of it, knowing there’s more to return to. At best you get are so transfixed you cannot leave the page at all because you are enraptured and simply have no wish ever to do so, and therefore sad when it ends.

        I doubt many people will have read to the end of this comment.

        – Esme falling about laughing upon the Cloud

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I study translation, Esme. Or, I do now. It’s part of my studies, and I remember being a little kid and dreaming of translative work, or interpreting.
        I’m all too fond of translative variation and the “touch”, one may say. I have a rich pool just with the languages that I know, but especially from Portuguese to English. I now focus on Portuguese authors but if I ever bleed out to Brazilian or Luso-African authors, the pool is virtually endless. The only thing I like more than creating is to aid creation.
        I know I’ll likely not make it as a creative but if I could be a respected translator, oh, the whiff of glory from that dream. I could sleep in warmth until the jaw of this world would shut around me.

        I like Rilke very much, and not just because we share a name. Thanks for hovering by, Esme.

        — João waves with exurgent fervidity.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have long suspected a link b/w pure mathematics and madness. Perhaps due to the deep disconnect that follows intense abstraction. But poetry should correct that imbalance. Unless of course it’s just number all the while, counting on being counted as poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand what you mean, Huzaifa. Absolute systems or even “true” systems are as distant from a sensorial organism as anything can be. From an organic point-view-view, mathematics is an insane system, I find, and it’s not uncommon of folk knowledge to signal extreme order with a form of madness; mania, even.
      It is something that poetry must be distant of, and most maddening poems I’ve read were punctiliously mathematical. Perhaps the biggest example isn’t even in epopees, but in Pale Fire.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My regular work immerses me in math, so I am grateful for its piercing insights. Poetry keeps the insights from getting insular…. Poems are not exempt from insularity either, esp. today.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m happy! I wonder why his works were never translated into the English language. It might be lack of interest or lack of market, but there is a severe lack of Portuguese literature available in the English language, which is something I’d love to correct if not for the complexity of licenses and copyrights (which I entirely understand, of course).

      Like

      1. If you keep sharing what you like we will be very thankful for your efforts as readers of the blog.

        Legal stuff comes later lol. Willingness to share is what matters. Good luck then!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this twice. So profound the argument for the “emotions” the poet brings to the art. He does seem to infer that poetry follows whatever style comes from the words chosen. Or, maybe I am wrong about that. I look forward to the other portions as you feel led. Thank you João-Maria! Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In a way, yes, Suzette. The architecture of emotions that surrounds the words is style, since children maddeningly shouting, taken to literal form, is not a cohesive nexus of meaning. What makes it meaningful is the style, the poet, the person that ideates the poetic form and thus conduits emotion to what otherwise is a hollow conceptual derivative.
      It’s the old adage, I think: the presence of a human, anywhere, is the presence of humanity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brilliant response Joao-Maria! Thank you for that great explanation. Like the relationship between experiencing peanuts versus peanut butter. Awesome. Thank you for a highly reflective reply. Way more than I expected. Cheers. Happy weekend.😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m always happy to provide my little two cents, haha, I just very rarely get questions.
        It is very much like peanuts and peanut butter!
        Thank you for coming by, and happy weekend to you as well!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Maybe I am too happy to relate to this level of angst and melancholy. There has been adequate pain and loss in my life, but I guess there has been more joy! I did find it interesting, though. Thank you for translating this into English. I appreciate you for visiting my site and liking my poems. All the best! Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

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