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.



Portugal: hills of sun-painted sadness.

Where I usually write, in front of an elder brazilian peppertree.

Not everyone has the honour of living in an award-winning country, or better yet, not everyone considers that an honour. I was born in a small parish with 110 inhabitants just outside Lisbon, and my youth was paved with finding small water streams among fabled stretching woodlands, watching my grandfather plant potatoes all the while leaning on our dogs and watching the verdant sunset sink. I look back fondly at those memories, and my circle of social life was restricted by those hundred familiar faces all into my teenage mists.

When I was a docile and sensitive boy, one thing was generally known, we were an enclave of the modern world, a tender collapse between edging western development and a deep connection to land, humility, poverty, and pain. In the yet-to-explore sacred and scarlet hills of Portugal, we roamed the sun-lands searching for an oasis that spawned the entire rectangle garden planted sea-side. We quested for a beauty that was already there, and after centuries of isolation and regret, we found a rooted longing for days that never came, for an evasive beauty that time did not look kindly upon.

Those were the days of yore, nowadays, the scopes have shifted. Portugal, now a growing and bursting experience of culture and history, the brand new Jurassic Park without deadly dinosaurs, conveniently docked at Europe’s lonely and serene edge, offers a way to mitigate the pains of modern existence at a manageable driving distance. As we now live among kind visitors and explorers, we listen to those praises of beauty. How sunny are our lands, how old our cities, how beautiful our forests and endless our beaches, and above all else, how deep is our sadness.

As I write this humble prose, I can listen to goldcrests chirping atop that peppertree, and at 20:00 there is still clarity outside, the sun still faintly shines, as it tends to. Faint yet enchanting gypsy music booms at the distance, I can still pick apart the variations of the low-voiced man who is singing to the rhythm. I remember being young, the sun shone its golden-hue with all the same brightness, the buildings and asphalt roads vibrated to the heat, the summer cicadas already knew the ancient lyricists before any of us did, and at the sidewalks of this beautiful block of candour we’ve inhabited, I was already sad, already longing. We all were, and we still are.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why we exist this way, but I’ve convinced myself that it’s only a natural consequence of this paradise we’ve created. In these hills where marine order takes form of beautiful composure, what other sadness could we compare it to than our own inner demons.

And that matching pendulum of innate sadness strikes harder every time, painting Portugal more beautiful and we, sadder, abandoned at a seaside beauty created to evaporate.

And Lisbon, my current home, the city-port of poetry and fado, only seems to reflect that ever-so-strongly, as it tries to grip it’s fainting identity while this bombardment of globalised exposition occurs, which it has always done. The only city where walls still cry, those colourful walls that close upon our dreams and limit our solitaire nightmares.



João Maria.



etchings of youth.

A crucible of sincerity, vulnerability and late hours can create some of the most painful compositions.

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Poetry Lab #1


Movement in Animation
Three-layer animated composite


The image above, if carefully examined, displays three differently animated levels distinguishable by their relation to velocity and, by consequence, Time. This animation device has been used to display certain feelings in a much clearer way: her face is animated carefully and slowly, every frame is fluid, to inspire serenity and placidness. Her hair is animated frantically, with frames leaping between animation with little fluidity, alluding to a chaotic exterior and high intensity movement. The background, although blurred, also happens at a time different from the other two layers, presenting a both static and simultaneously – moving – backdrop. This allows for a certain displacement through the fluidity of our space, allowing Art to perforate the emotional human sensors without replicating at all what those sensors are used to, by thematic association. Our world feels much like that of the animation, it constantly moves, yet we cannot fully absorb all it’s evolutions and changes, in turn, accounting for a hollow movement that we can only relay through “mental bookmarks”, like special occurrences, producing a more stop-still version of reality (similar to the one animated above), instead of flowing realistic approach to time.

In fact, Art has a plethora of examples using different composite time frames to convey a sense of “overlook” or “outlander” sentiment among its viewers, mainly present in sensorial arts like music or painting.

To literature – an Art intimately connected with the frugality of time and how it can be controlled within its frames – this device most likely has been used, but never deeply explored. In this first edition of poetry lab, I will attempt to harness my marginal composing experience to translate those planes of time dissonance into the realm of poetry. As I’ve done a good amount of experimental poems in my short time here, I’ve never taken the time to explain the processes or missions behind those experiments, and now I’m headstrong on taking you on my composing journey:


First, we need to figure out how to distend time properly within a written line of text. Poetry, by its very sonorific nature, makes this superficially easy by use of verse length and syllabic control:

I dreamt of latent love, yet within, darkness still reigns unkind, (11 words, 15 syllables)

Air to flame, implored by sinuous shadows, (7 words, 11 syllables)

Extinguish their fear to die. (5 words, 7 syllables)

Following an ordered decrescent sound, each verse has the same amount of syllables as the words of the verse that precedes them (11, 15), (7, 11), (5, 7). This, however, inspires a singular timeline instead of multiples ones, giving a sense that time is accelerating and thus, “running out”. But why not the contrary? Why does it not recall time just slowing down? This is annulled by the temporal references in all verses, displayed in a gradient from past (dreamt, implored), to present (extinguish, to die).

Like mentioned above, this does not relay multiple times but instead, just one flowing in-unit but changing exponentially. We can, however, salvage this later when we compose full stanzas by separating their descriptive nature through the usage of this method. So, instead of separating verses according to time, we will separate stanzas according to what line they represent by giving them symbols:

Stanza 1 – first tempo (11, 15) (plane of interior occurrence, introspection, visual devices must appear here)

Stanza 2 – second tempo (7, 11) (plane of exterior sensorial captures, noise, static, distortion and interruption, sound devices must appear here)

Stanza 3 – third tempo (5, 7) (plane of universal awareness, no sensorial, visual or sound devices can appear here, detached information must not contain emotional draws)

This is merely scratching the surface of what this method can produce, as a shift in the structure mid-composition can relay powerful messages of emotional re-focus, or give a sense of expanding/shortening of knowledge at any given point. The main objective here, however, is that the poem is able to speak to itself and the conversation won’t sound too unphased, so we will stick to the good ol’ repetition, by creating one more set of stanzas with same structure, but different in essence.

As the composition is mainly experimental, I will utilise common meanings I’m familiar with for the sake of my mental sanity (and short amount of time per day I have to compose), those of love and solitude in a frugal world where such things are generally devalued:



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As demonstrated above, I initially compose the first part of the composition within a relatively ordered and rhymed structure, using the lines written above as a visual guide to building the remaining verses. Although this version partially gets the job done, it’s still rather obscure that frames shift between stanzas, and I attempt a more lax yet word-based second part in an attempt to compensate the rigid/restrictive shape of the first version:

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I’ve since let a day pass before writing that second part, as to refresh my information absorption and be less likely influenced by the same recurrent pieces of reception still being digested within (a great advice I’ve accidentally left out of my poetic tips). This second version, although not apparently very different from the first in terms of how it was constructed, manages to convey both the message, the subject and the quest of time much better than the previous, not by means of its structure, but by how words are ordered coupled with how they intertwine, generating a sense of shift from when they fuse and when they don’t (thus, sound shifts).

I must now refine and finish the composition on my own, and publish it similarly to all other poems on the website, but that boring part I intend on doing by myself.

I’m not a professional or academic in this subject, therefore, all conclusions are from my viewpoint and might conflict with certain academic standings out there (although from my research, I’ve found none), but none of this is fact or close to it, I’m just trying to have some fun with words and I hope you’re entertained as well!

PS: Tell me what you think of posts similar to these, I’m planning a bunch more since I have about 20 pages of notes about different composing methods I would like to attempt!


Poetic Tips IV (supposing intensifies)


One relatively important thing I’ve taken notice lately by glancing at academic standpoints to grand compositions is symbology by association and how that impacts the _weight_ of a present verse or structure. The greatest example might be any poem written by T.S. Eliot (most notably, The Waste Land), which packs a myriad of literary and symbolic references in a singular modernistic composition almost subdivided by those very same symbols. (II: A Game of Chess contains references to the Prothalamion, Verlaine, Sappho, St. Augustine, and many more. Although this part of the composition is considerable in length, one can still assume the level of referential usage is greater than the one of the specific narrative.)
So, the question lays still: how are these references important to the spine of the poem, and not only Waste Land, any poem that references anything?

One general device of “writing the best words in the best order” (a quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge believed to be said in 1827, when asked about poetry),
is the usage of symbols to convey a wider sense of emotion. As magical as poetry can be, it can also be very restrictive, you must be economical in every verse and stanza, siphoning from inner images in order to convey as much as possible with as little words as possible. Importing symbols from previous works of literary culture allows for a greater condensation of the message, through the somatic marker present in those works (of course, it relies on the knowledge from the reader’s side to actually know the referencing, otherwise it loses all leverage and becomes rather the opposite: a confusing word-salad).

Exemplifying, if I wanted to relay the toxic nature of hope without going through the hassle of creating a full stanzaic foundation for it, because that toxic interaction is only background to the skeletal basis of the poem, I can import from a generally known and easy-to-understand mythological fable (as many have before me, mythology is great for this exercise)

‘All evils dare not compare to Pandora’s youthful hope’

Merely an example, Pandora’s Box fable ends with the opening of the box and subsequent discovery of hope being the last of evils locked within it, also the only one that didn’t flee. The symbolical magnitude of this fable is great, and great will also be the impact it has on your poems message, if used correctly.

“But Johnny, you cursed fool, I haven’t seen many of these on your poems!” says Lucian the Annoyed, with a monstrous expression in stand-by to ambush.

I actually make a slightly ridiculous amount of references in my poetry, but I avoid the usage of names as I don’t find their sonority very helpful to the flow. Some names work, others do not, but I generally avoid them all, and prefer subtle references to film or music in place of literary symbolism. It is, however, nowhere as ridiculous as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot, they took it a bit too far, in my humble opinion (I’m not a fan of either, I do not enjoy poems that overly rely on symbolic imports because I prefer poetry to homework), although T.S. Eliot’s Love Song is still one of my favourite compositions of any author, which proves that the level of connectivity between a symbolical poem and it’s reader is how much it relates to that readers elected literary sphere.

TL;DR, use references and challenge yourself to stretch them and paint them some beauty as you do it, but also allow them to be accessible and thematically fluid with the poem, not only cosmetically. Also, do not sacrifice the spine of your poem by jamming in a fun-summon, all pieces must still fit, as I said on Poetic Tips I and II.

And in that note, I too should take my tips, since I recurrently make all the mistakes displayed above.


Tenho para mim. (poesia portuguesa)

Estou feliz de-novo, como tal, a minha poesia está a recuperar. Peço desculpa pela supressão de conectores, estou a tentar usar sonoridades mais brasileiras, sendo que são também mais compactas. Como gosto tanto das duas variantes de Português, pensei, porque escrever só numa?

(Cá em Portugal, chamamos Alfaiates ao que no Brasil se dizem aranhas d’água, pequenos insectos que deslizam sobre águas paradas)

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Queda do Dia em Texto (para P.R. CUNHA)

Quem me trata p’lo meu nome saberá que o meu forte não é a prosa. O meu pensamento é poético, versado, quase que se divide sozinho dentro de mim. A meio de ler a obra de Paulo Cunha, alguém que guardo como um fabuloso amigo, deparei-me muitas vezes com memórias de tons existencialistas e decididos. Fui escrevendo, também eu, algumas dessas. Não chego aos pés do meu adorado Cunha, mas confesso gostar muito de escrever pequenos textos de vez em quando, e desta vez, fi-lo por causa dele, achando justo que a ele o atribua. Cunha, meu amigo tropical, que encontres alguma beleza nas minhas humildes palavras:


A música é o movimento da mais pura adoração. Sei das primeiras vezes que havia tocado nas teclas envernizadas d’um piano, lembro-me da sua escala de notas me ser natural, já a sabia antes de a ter aprendido, pois fazia sentido. As notas – essas – são sentimentos tangíveis, e quando nos passam, fazem-no à lei da bala, todas elas de raspão. Numas alturas, defino tudo o que senti em leves composições, desde profunda tristeza nas nocturnas, alegria vicejante nas ninfas dançantes, ou amor… nos planetas solitários, orbitando quem tanto os ama, sem nunca lhes tocar. Somos assim, somos canções. Por vezes, num movimento tão lentificado que quase se abate em quebra, somos as notas decididas que profundamente pisam a tecla do piano, produzindo um som por inteiro, um sorriso. Noutras, somos as investidas velozes levemente tocadas, não temos peso, não temos massa, levitamos por um mundo decididamente nosso. E eu, passando a minha pele gasta de mansinho p’las teclas do meu piano, sou o inventor desse mundo teu. Pinto-o de crescendos, escrevo-o com anotamentos, e quando as minhas notas se abatem sobre mim, beijo-as. Elas estendem seus frágeis braços aéreos, e eu encontro-os, e se a minha ternura fosse, d’alguma maneira divina, maior do que é, fundiria-me com esses braços.
Porventura, havia quebrado d’amores por um moço eternamente triste. Tão triste era, que me doía o peito quando o vi a tocar pela primeira vez no meu humilde piano. Uma mística interessante, essa tão humana de nos sucumbir um órgão musculoso que em nada tem a ver com o próprio sentimento. Muitas vezes pensei nessa medida, porque me dói o coração, se apenas bombeia sangue? Mas dói. A dor está lá, toda condensada, e quando se dá o primeiro impulso, radia por todos os figmentos do corpo, através do sangue que a transporta. Eu nunca amei com o coração, mas lá haveria sofrido muitos horrores amorosos, e por tantas vezes, ele próprio haveria tentado saltar de mim fora. Esse moço triste de quem falo sofreria dos mesmos males, carregava suas dores na algibeira, e quando se ajoelhava perante as grandes artes, eram suas dores que o capturavam em suas diversas algibeiras, usando-o como uma luva murcha, daquelas de couro que já não servem a ninguém, e pior, umas cujo par já se haveria perdido entre outras tantas gavetas.
Esse moço triste havia tocado exclusivamente para mim uma composição que anteriormente lhe havia dito que nunca conseguira tocar, Vexations, do meu adorável Satie. Sempre gostei muito de a ouvir, invocava em mim uma imagem mental da qual sempre assumi ser filho – o intocável, condenado ao desamor, condenado à solidão intelectual. Quando a tocou, curiosamente, eu havia sentido algo tão visceral, tão diferente. Senti um encontro, uma fusão modesta de dois seres que viveram sós durante séculos, que se encontram e derretem num só, e amam verdadeiramente, com olhos humedecidos, o só em que se encontram.
Nesse dia, teria acreditado encontrar um amor qualquer dentro de mim, ímpeto mas já murcho, uma flor solitária e sedenta que alguém lhe sussurre o método de como a água flui, de como fluirá até ela, mas que se recusa a morrer enquanto não lhe for sacrificado o sabor dessa água. Hoje, já não sei onde anda essa flor, espero que esteja bem, e oro baixinho nos dias mais quentes que não esteja a sofrer muito com o frio lá debaixo. Por vezes, quando sinto os raios do sol na fronte, acredito que ela também os sente. Noutras vezes, quando toco no meu humilde piano, sinto que ela canta silenciosamente, tanto que não a oiço, mas sinto o movimento dos seus lábios petulosos. Nesse dia, teria acreditado encontrar um amor qualquer dentro de mim. Também nesse dia, acredito o ter perdido no meio de toda essa dor radiada pelo meu sangue. E acredito (embora diga isto muito baixinho) que nesse dia também me devem ter amado a mim.

Para sempre teu adorador,

João Maria.