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was born in Recife, where he went to school and where he published his first book Pedra do Sono (Stone of the Sleep) in 1942. He joined the Diplomatic Service in 1947, and was sent to Barcelona, where he lived for many years. His poetry contains many images of the social conditions of the northeastern region of Brazil, where he grew up. He is generally considered the most important poet of the post-war generation.








         Translated by W. S. Merwin


In the daily space

the shadow eats the orange

the orange throws itself into the river

it's not a river, it's the sea

overflowing from my eye.


In the daily space

born out of the dock

I see hands not words,

late at night I dream up the woman

I have the woman and the fish.


In the daily space

I forget the home the sea

I lose hunger memory

I kill myself uselessly

in the daily space.





         Translated by Jean Valentine


Here is a man dreaming

along the beach. Another

who never remembers dates.

Here is a man running away

from a tree; here is another

who's lost his boat, or his hat.

Here is a man who is a soldier;


another being an airplane;

another going, forgetting

his hour, his mystery

his fear of the word "veil";

and in the shape of a ship,

still another who slept.





         Translated by W. S. Merwin


My eyes have telescopes

trained on the street

trained on my soul

a mile away.


Women come and go swimming

in invisible rivers.

Cars like blind fish

compose my mechanical visions.


For twenty years I've not said the word

I always expect from me.

I´ll go on indefinitely gazing

at the portrait of me, dead.




(St. Lawrence of the Woods)


         Translated by Jane Cooper


This is a marine cemetery

but marine of some other sea.

It was opened for the dead

drowned by the canefield.


The hollows in the dirt seem

the waves of any sea —

even waves of sugarcane lapping,

far out, those whitewashed walls.


Because the graves of earth

seem waves of sea

they have no names: where

was a wave ever christened?


Marine also: because

the fallen crosses you see

are less crosses than masts

already half shipwrecked.




         Translated by Ashley Brown


On the sheet, on your side,

already so marine a scene,

you were looking like a wave

lying down on the beach.


A wave that was stopping

or better: that was refraining;

that would contain a moment

its murmur of liquid leaves.


A wave that was stopping

at that precise hour

when the eyelid of the wave

drops over its own pupil.


A wave that was stopping

in breaking, interrupted,

would stop itself, immobile,

at the height of its crest


and would make itself a mountain

(being horizontal and fixed)

but in becoming a mountain

would yet continue to be water.


A wave that would keep,

in a seashore bed, finite,

the nature without end

that it shares with the sea,


and in its immobility,

guessed to be precarious,

the gift of overflowing

that makes the waters feminine,


and the climate of deep waters,
that shadowy intimacy,
and a certain full embrace
you copy from the liquids.


João Cabral de Melo Neto
Selected Poems
Translated by Richard Zenith
NY: Archipielago Books, 2005
ISBN 0-9749-680-1-3

A mais completa edição de poemas de JCMN em inglês;
the most complete edition of JCMN´s poems in English.


Cemetery in Pernambuco

It´s more practical to be buried
in graves dug in the ground:
under this sun, more than graves
they are crematory ovens.

Under this sun soon the graves
are transformed into kilns
where certain things are buried
to burn into finished form:

so it is with still raw bricks,
the stones that become lime,
and the slashed and burnt brush
that changes into charcoal.

But in these graves-turned-kilns
the contents are not refined:
all is lost in the earth,
in the form of a soul, or nothing.



One rooster cannot weave a morning.
He will always need other roosters:
one to catch the cry that he
and toss it to another, another rooster
to catch the cry that a rooster before him
and toss it to another, and other roosters
that with many other roosters crisscross
the sun threads of their rooster cries,
so that the morning, form a tenuous tissue,
will grow by he weaving of all the roosters.


And enlarging into a fabric involving all,
erecting itself into a tent where all may enter,
extending itself for all, in the canopy
(the morning) that floats without any frame:
the morning, a canopy made of a weave so airy
that, one woven, it rises by itself: balloon light.


MODERN POETRY IN TRANSLATION.  New Series. No. 1. Summer 1992.  Special feature: Yves Boonefoy.   ISSN 0026-8291  Inclui traduções ao inglês, entre outros, do poeta brasileiro João Cabral de Melo Neto, p. 113-119.



There is in the canefield
no plant with a name,
no plant called Maria,
no plant with a man´s name.

The canefield is anonymous,
plain-faced like the prairie,
like an ocean without ships,
a blank sheet of paper.

It is like a large bedsheet,
seamless and creaseless, a girl´s
downy skin in the sunlight,
cloths spread out to dry.

Yet hidden in the canefield
there is a physiognomy,
as in a watch´s  ticking
there is a potential melody,

as from a plane the landscape
reveals an organization,
as bricks in an empty plaza
can trace a graceful pattern.

The canefield stretched out
under  the sun, an inanimate
fabric, becomes a feeling
sheet when the wind is blowing;

It changes into a living
flag of green on green,
with green stars born
and lost in the greenness.

The canefield then no longer
resembles empty plazas:
it does not have, like stones,
the discipline of armies.

Its symmetry is jagged,
like that of waves of people
vying in the crowded plaza.

Yes, the teeming plaza
is what the canefield mirrors
with its currents that likewise
arise and subside —

Undercurrrents which, surging,
make whirlpools like the ones
crowds form, stars like those
the people in the plaza compose.



Clearly the most practical of suns:
the sun in the form of an aspirin.
Easy to use, cheap and portable,
this succinct stone is always full
of sun since, being artificial,
its efficacy is not restricted
to daytime — night does not nightly
quench it. Immune to meteorological
laws, this sun comes when needed;
it rises (bringing a clear day with it)
and radiates, drying and bleaching
the soul´s sackcloth into midday linens.


The image and effects of a aspirin
lens converge; the perfect finish
of this crystal, polished with emery
and repolished with files, prefigures
the climate it makes, and the Cartesian
nature of everything in this climate.
On the other hand, being a lens
for internal use, behind the retina,
the aspirin does not serve only
the eye but refocuses for the whole
body the surrounding obscurity,
bringing it back into harmony.



I saw Manolo Gonzales
and Pepe Luís of Seville:
sweet precision of flowers
gracefully meticulous.

I also saw Julio Aparicio
from Madrid, like “Parrita”:
simple science of flowers,
spontaneous yet strict.

I saw Miguel Báex, “Litri”,
from the plains of Andalusia,
who grows a different flower:
anguished and explosive.

And also Antonio Ordóñez,
whose ancient flower bears
the fragrance of old lace,
of flower that sleep in books.

But then I saw Manuel Rodríguez,
“Manolete”, the arid one,
the toreador most mineral,
sharpest and most vigilant,

the one wooden nerves,
whose fists are dry and fibrous,
with a figure like a stick,
a piece of dried-out brush,

the one who knew to calculate
the steely fluid of life,
who with the greatest precision
brushed with death on the fringe,

who gave a number to tragedy,
decimals to feelings,
to vertigo a geometry,
and height and weight to fear.

Yes I saw Manuel Rodríguez,
“Manolete”, the most ascetic,
not only nurture his flower
but demonstrate to poets:

How to tame the explosion
with a quiet, retrained hand,
being careful not to spill
the flower it holds fast,

And how, then, to fashion it
with sure hand, soft and remote,
without perfuming the flower,
without poetizing the poem.



When a river cuts, it cuts completely
the discourse its water was speaking;
cut, the water breaks into pieces,
into pools of water, paralyzed water.
Situated in a pool, water resembles
a word in its dictionary situation:
isolated, standing in the pool of itself
and, because I is standing, stagnant.
Because it is standing, it is mute,
and mute because it doesn´t communicate,
because this river´s syntax, the current
of water o which it ran, was cut.


The course of a river, its river-discourse,
can rarely be swiftly restored;
a river needs considerable water current
to remake the current which made it.
Unless the grandiloquence of a flood
imposes for a time another language,
a river needs many currents of water
for all of its pools to be phrase —
being restored from one pool to the next
into short phrases, then phrase to phrase,
until the river-sentence of the only discourse
in which it can speak will defy the drought.


An education by stone: lesson by lesson;
to learn from the stone, to go to its school:
to grasp its impersonal, unstressed voice
(it begins its classes with one in diction).
The lesson in morals, its cold resistance

to what flows and to flowing, to being moulded;
a lesson in poetics, its concrete physique;
another in economics, its compact formation:
lessons from the stone (from the outside in,
a speechless primer) to learn how to spell it.

Another education by stone: in the backlands
(from the inside out, and predidactic).

In the backlands the stone does not give lessons,
and if it gave them nothing would be taught;
there the stone is not something you learn
but is a stone from birth, piercing the soul.



1 The Two Oxen


The sea and the rivers of Recife
are oxen of different temperaments:
the sea stampedes against the reef,
the river is an ox that ruminates.

The ox that is sea beats hard
in protest at having to leave;
afraid of going out with the tide,
it tries to escape being sea.

And standing in coastal swamps,
the other ox, the river,
has a thousand trick for stalling:
it starts and stops, again, forever.

Although their actions are different,
their reason for acting is the same:
they try to continue as water
on the reef´s near side, before sea.

2. The Arm Wrestle

That is why inside Recife
the two waters live in conflict,
engaging in a daily arm-wrestle
at the wall of the city docks.

The seawater, because it is forced
to jump the jetty of the port,
comes with each tide to challenge
the water, still river, to fight.

One rising and the other falling,
the waters begin their arm-wrestle,
assiduously and in silence,
now gaining now losing, by turns.

For a moment they stand off, immobile
— neither high nor low water, but tied —
until one of them finally prevails,
and in winning loses: it is exiled.



THE OXFORD BOOK OF LATIN AMERICAN POETRY: a bilingual anthology   edited by Cecilia Vicuña and Ernesto Livon-Grosman. Agawam. MA, USA: Oxford University Press, 2009.  561 p.  16x24,5 cm. Contracapa, capa dura.  ISBN 978-0-19-512454-5 
Inclui os poetas brasileiros: Gregório de Matos, Antonio Gonçalves Dias,  Manuel Antonio Alvares de Azevedo, Sousândrade,  Antonio de Castro Alves, João da Cruz e Sousa, Olavo Bilac, Augusto dos Anjos, Pedro Kilkerry, Manuel Bandeira, Oswald de Andrade, Mário de Andrade, Raul Bopp, Cecilia Meireles, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Apolônio Alves dos Santos, Décio Pignatari, Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos, Paulo Leminski. 


Education by Stone
/ A educação pela pedra


James Wright, trans.


An education by stone: through lessons,

to learn from the stone: to go to it often,

to catch its level, impersonal voice

(by its choice of words it begins its classes).

The lesson in morals, the stone's cold resistance

to flow, to flowing, to being hammered:

the lesson in poetics, its concrete flesh:

in economics, how to grow dense compactly:

lessons from the stone (from without to within,

dumb primer), for the routine speller of spells.

Another education by stone: in the backlands

(from within to without and pre-didactic place).

In the backlands stone does not know how to lecture,

and, even if it did would teach nothing:

you don't learn the stone, there: there, the stone

born stone, penetrates the soul.



Uma educação pela pedra: por lições;/ para aprender da pedra, freqiientá-la;/ captar sua voz inenfática, impessoal/ (pela de dicção ela começa as aulas)./ A licão de moral, sua resistência fria/ ao que flui e a fluir, a ser maleada;/ a de poética, sua carnadura concreta;/ a de economia, seu adensar-se compacta:/ lições da pedra (de fora para dentro,/ cartilha muda), para quem soletrá-la.// Outra educação pela pedra: no Sertão/ (de dentro para fora, e pré-didática)./ No Sertão a pedra não ensinaria nada;/ lá não se aprende a pedra: lá a pedra,/ uma pedra de nascença, entranha a alma.



Tale of an Architect
 / Fábula de um arquiteto

Richard Zenith, trans. 


Architecture': the art of building doors
to open up the building of openness;
building not to isolate and hem in
nor to shut up secrets, but building
every door an open door building
houses made only of doors and roofs.
Architect: the one who opens to man
(in open houses all would be cleansed)
doors-leading-to, never doors-against;
doors to freedom: air light sure reason.



Until, intimidated by so many free men,
he stopped letting them live transparently.
Where there were openings he put in
opacities; instead of glass, plaster
resealing man in the chapel-uterus
with the old comforts, once more a fetus.


1./ A arquitetura como construir portas,/ de abrir; ou como construir o aberto;/ construir, não como ilhar e prender,/ nem construir como fechar secretos;/ construir portas abertas, em portas;/ casas exclusivamente portas e tecto./ O arquiteto: o que abre para o homem/ (tudo se sanearia desde casas abertas)/ portas por-onde, jamais portas-contra;/ por onde, livres: ar luz razão certa.// 2.1 Até que, tantos livres o amedrontando,/ renegou dar a viver no claro e aberto./ Onde vãos de abrir, ele foi amurando/ opacos de fechar; onde vidro, concreto;/ até refechar o homem: na capela útero, com confortos de matriz, outra vez feto.



The Unconfessing Artist
/ O artista inconfessável


Richard Zenith, trans.


Doing this or that is futile.

Not doing anything is futile.

it's futile and that its sense

cannot in any way be sensed,

still do: for it is harder

than no doing, and hardly

will one be able to say

with more disdain, or say

more plainly to the reader Nobody

that what was done was for nobody.


Fazer o que seja e inútil./ Não fazer nada e inútil./ Mas entre fazer e não fazer/ mais vale o inútil do fazer./ Mas não, fazer para esquecer/ que é inútil: nunca o esquecer./ Mas fazer o inútil sabendo/ que ele é inútil, e bem sabendo/ que é inútil e que seu sentido/ não será sequer pressentido,/ fazer: porque ele e mais difícil/ do que não fazer, e difícil-/ mente se poderá dizer/ com mais desdém, ou então dizer/ mais direto ao leitor Ninguém/ que o feito o foi para ninguém.




A Knife All Blade
/ Uma faca só lamina


Galway Kinnell, trans.


But between doing and not doing,

better the futility of doing.

But no, doing to forget

is what's futile never the forgetting.

But one can do what's futile knowing

it's futile, and although knowing


Like a bullet
buried in flash
weighting down one side
of the dead man,


like a bullet
made of a heavier lead
lodged in some muscle
making the man tip to one side,

like a bullet fired
from a living machine
a bullet which had

like a clock's

beating deep down in the body
of a clock who once lived
and rebelled,


clock whose hands
had knife-edges
and all the pitilessness

of blued steel.


Yes, like a knife
without pocket or sheath
transformed into part
of your anatomy,


a most intimate knife
a knife for internal use
inhabiting the body
like the skeleton itself

of the man who would own it,

in pain, always in pain,

of the man who would wound himself

against his own bones.



Assim como uma bala/ enterrada no corpo,/ fazendo mais espesso/ um dos lados do morto;// assim como uma bala/ do chumbo mais pesado,/ no músculo de um homem/ pesando-o mais de um lado;// qual bala que tivesse/ um vivo mecanismo,/ bala que possuísse/ um coração ativo// igual ao de um relógio/ submerso em algum corpo,/ ao de um relógio vivo/ e também revoltoso,// relógio que tivesse/ o gume de uma faca/ e toda a impiedade/ de lâmina azulada;// assim como uma faca/ que sem bolso ou bainha/ se transformasse em parte/ de vossa anatomia;// qual uma faca íntima/ ou faca de uso interno, habitando num corpo/ como o próprio esqueleto// de um homem que o tivesse,/ e sempre, doloroso,/ de homem que se ferisse/ contra seus próprios ossos.











No espaço jornal

a sombra come a laranja

a laranja se atira no rio,

não é um rio, é o mar

que transborda de meu olho.


No espaço jornal

nascendo do relógio

vejo mãos, não palavras,

sonho alta noite a mulher

tenho a mulher e o peixe.


No espaço jornal

esqueço o lar o mar

perco a fome  a memória

me suicido inutilmente

no espaço jornal.






         Há  um homem sonhando

numa praia; um outro

que nunca sabe as datas;

há um homem fugindo

de urna árvore; outro que perdeu

seu barco ou seu chapéu;

ha um homem que é soldado;

outro que faz de avião;

outro que vai esquecendo

sua hora seu mistério

seu medo da palavra véu;

e em forma de navio

ha ainda um que adormeceu.





Meus olhos têm telescó0pios

espiando a rua,

espiando minha alma

longe de mim mil metros.


Mulheres vão e vêm nadando

em rios invisíveis.

Automóveis como peixes cegos

compõem minhas visões mecânicas.


Ha vinte anos não digo a palavra

que sempre espero de mim.

Ficarei indefinidamente contemplando

meu retrato eu morto.





(São Lourenco da Mata)


É cemitério marinho

mas marinho de outro mar.

Foi aberto para os mortos

que afoga o canavial.


As covas no chão parecem

as ondas de qualquer mar,

mesmo as de cana, lá fora,

lambendo os muros de cal.


Pois que os carneiros de terra

parecem ondas de mar,

não levam nomes: urna onda

onde se viu batizar?


Também marinho: porque

as caídas cruzes que há

são menos cruzes que mastros

quando a meio naufragar.





De flanco sobre o lençol,

Paisagem já tão marinha,

a urna onda deitada,

na praia, te parecias.


Urna onda que parava

ou melhor: que se continha;

que contivesse um momento

seu rumor de folhas líquidas.


Urna onda que parava

naquela hora precisa

em que a pálpebra da onda

cai sobre a própria pupila.


Urna onda que parara

ao dobrar-se, interrompida,

que imóvel se interrompesse

no alto de sua crista


e se fizesse montanha

(por horizontal e fixa),

mas que ao se fazer montanha

continuasse água ainda.


Uma onda que guardasse

na praia cama, finita,

a natureza sem fim

do mar de que participa,


e em sua imobilidade,

que precária se adivinha,

o dom de se derramar

que as águas faz femininas

mais o clima de águas fundas,
a intimidade sombria
e certo abraçar completo
que dos líquidos copias.



Cemitério pernambucano

É mais prático enterrar-se
em covas feitas no chão:
ao sol daqui, mais que covas,
são fornos de cremação.

Ao sol daqui, as covas logo
se transformam nas caieiras
onde enterrar certas coisas
para, queimando-as, fazê-las:

assim, o tijolo ainda cru,
as pedras que dão a cal
ou a capoeira raquítica
que dá o carvão vegetal.

Só que nas covas caieiras
nenhuma coisa é apurada:
tudo se perde na terra,
em forma de alma, ou de nada.


Um galo sozinho não tece uma manhã:
ele precisará sempre de outros galos.
De um que apanhe esse grito que ele
e o lance a outro; de um outro galo
que apanhe o grito que um galo antes
e o lance a outro; e de outros galos
que com muitos outros galos se cruzem
os fios de sol de seus gritos de galo,
para que a manhã, desde uma teia tênue,
se vá tecendo, entre todos os galos.


E se encorpando em tela, entre todos,
se erguendo tenda, onde entrem todos,
se entretendo para todos, no toldo
(a manhã) que plana livre de armação.
A manhã, toldo de um tecido tão aéreo
que, tecido, se eleva por si: luz balão.






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