terça-feira, março 08, 2016

Erhabene Poesie: "A Borboleta Vermelha" by Helena de Sousa

Published 2016.

“A Borboleta Vermelha” = “The Red Butterfly”

Bear with me, because this preamble is going to take a while.

The issue: "Free Verse vs. Blank Verse vs. Rhymed Verse".

Upon reading this volume, the poem that immediately resonated within me was “Limonada” (Lemonade), and I'll use it to make my reasoning:


I can see you as you are…
White burning flame
Coming with the tides of sea
Dazzled look upon the mist in the sky
Honored heart lost in the translation of times
I can see you as you are…
Summer flavored laughter
Impetuous spirit tied in chains
I can see you as you are…
Free in the deepness of the blue sea
I can see you…

Naqueles breves momentos
Em que as palavras de Rilke ainda ecoavam no ar
O meu coração palpitava em desassossego
E os teus olhos enchiam-se de emoção,
Permanecemos assim firmes na praia
Com o espírito cheio e inquieto
Contemplando a vastidão do mar
Como dois amantes
Envolvidos no abraço do vento…

In, “A Borboleta Vermelha”, Helena de Sousa, Chiado Editora, 2016

NB: The poem mixes Portuguese and English to my fullest satisfaction…The translation of the 2nd stanza into Portuguese can be quasi-translated (non-poetic translation) into something like this:

“In those brief moments
Where the words of Rilke still echoed in the air
My heart pounded in unrest
And your eyes filled with emotion,
We remained firm on the beach
With the spirit filled and restless
Contemplating the vastness of the sea
Like two lovers
Involved in a wind embrace...”

To cut things short, I'll give you an example of each kind of verse.

Everyone worth his or salt, knows William Blake invented free verse. One of the best examples by Blake I know it's this poem:

"I wandered through chartered streets
Along the banks of the chartered Thames, flowing through London
Every face I see,
Is marked with weakness and woe."

Does it work? It sure does. Not too long ago I've heard someone saying free verse had no quality. Well, that depends on the poem itself. Not all free verse poems have quality. That's obvious. What we shouldn't do is stating that because it's free verse it has no quality whatsoever.

As to blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), everyone familiar with Shakespeare knows what I'm talking above. I'll give just an example from the play I've just finished reading, Henry V, where the Chorus conjures up for the audience the atmosphere of the English camp on the night before the battle of Agincourt. As you can see, the rhythm of the verse comes through even if you’re just reading it:

"Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other’s watch:
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other’s umber’d face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night’s dull ear, and from the tents
The armourers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation."

(Extracted from my Annotated Edition by A. L. Rowse)

As you can see, there are no rhymes (not even rhymed couplets).

On the other hand, rhymed verse, for example, can be consubstantiated by the poem "O livro e Flor" (The book and the flower) by Cabral do Nascimento, one of my favourite Portuguese poets:

"Um livro volumoso
De alta cogitação.
Obra de autor famoso,
Estilo precioso.
Boa encadernação."
(Rhymes in bold)

There's no way I'm up to the task of translating this into English and German in a way that I can maintain the rhymes:

"A large book
of high thoughts.
Famous author's work,
precious style.
Good binding."

Or in German:

"Ein Dickes Buch
mit erhabenen Gedanken.
Das Werk eines beruhmten Autors.
Erlesener Stil.
Guter Einband."

The translations into languages other than Portuguese, I think they can still be read in a very satisfatory manner. You tell me.

As you can see from the examples above, it's not a matter of its being free verse or not when evaluating whether a poem works. There are just as many bad poems using end rhyme and meter as there are bad poems in free verse. Free verse has to rely on other kind of literary devices to make it work, namely by using anaphora and metaphor, for example.

Coming to my example, "Limonada", we can see Helena Sousa making use of anaphora (using the phrase "I can see you") to give the poem a rhythmic feel while emphasizing certain themes. The elegantly and concrete phrases and wonderful descriptions which enabled me not only to read/hear the poem, but to "see" it as well. The use not only of concrete images, but the use of metaphor, can turn the poem into a whole as a metaphor for something beyond the words on the page.

Rilke has long been my soul’s companion and few seem to understand his depth. Like Shakespeare, and a few others, his words feel like they are my own memories. This is not something I tell people often, but I spent a few years reading all of Rilke, especially the Elegies. Poetry is always at the back of my mind. Why? Because it reminds me of when I had the time and energy to lose myself in books and art and think about anything and everything. When a Poetry book like this one comes along, I get in poetry mood. I’ve always believed Rilke’s poetry probably saved my sanity. I see him as being some kind of old and dead and a white man but, I mean, every angel is terrifying…If someone pointed a gun at my head making me “choose” my 3 favourite poets, Shakespeare, Rilke, and Celan, would probably be the ones. I know I can read them with the intent of understanding their work, but also read them and just live in the words which are beautiful all on their own, too. Sometimes I want an escape from meaning and I just want to hear beautiful words bound together so wondrously.

Helena's poetry is embedded with a kind of dreamy earnestness that only seems to exist when we read it. 

After reading Helena’s poetry book, I felt this is the essence of the reference. I see in her poetry references that may read space, the “object” that the word or phrase may be – as a form of binding. And it may be another “object” (be it a beach, laughter, sea, Rilke, or something else entirely) and its memory.

Just because I can, here goes one of my favourite stanzas from Rilke (from the 9th elegy):

“O nicht, weil Glück ist dieser Voreilige Vorteil eines nahen Verlusts.
Nicht aus Neugier, oder zur Übung des Herzens,
Das auch im Lorbeer wäre…
Aber weil Hiersein vie list, und weil uns schneinbar alles fas Hoesige braucht, dieses Schwindende, das seltsam unsangeht.
Uns, die Schwindendsten. Ein Mal jedes, nur ein Mal. Ein Mal und nicht mehr. Und wir auch ein Mal. Nie wieder. Aber dieses ein Mal gewesen zu sein, scheint nicht widerrufbar.”

(Extract taken from my edition of “Gesammelte Werke - IRIS®-Leinen” von Rainer Maria Rilke)

It’s quite untranslatable, don’t you think?

One of Floberla Espanca’s poems also comes to mind when I think about Helena’s poetry. Here is a poetic translation from Portuguese into German of the first stanza which I did back in the day  (in those days, German was almost my first language...):

“Ich träume, ich wär die auserwählte Dichterin,
die, die alles sagt und alles weiss,
und mit der reinen und vollkommenen Eingebung
in einem Vers die Unermesslichkeit umfasst.”

My quasi-translation (non-poetic translation) into English of this stanza, for the benefit of my English speaking friends:

“I dream I’m the chosen poetess,
The one that says it all and knows it all.
The one has the pure and perfect inspiration,
The one who gathers in a verse all the vastness!”

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC - Uncorrected Manuscript Proof) of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
I was also one of the proofreaders involved in the process prior to publication.  This has in no way affected/biased my review.

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