By Stephen Basdeo, a historian and writer based in Leeds, United Kingdom.
Manuel Antônio Álvares de Azevedo (1831–52), referred to usually as Álvares de Azevedo, was Brazil’s most famous Romantic poet. Yet because his works have never been translated into English, Azevedo remains unknown to most British and American scholars.
The son of Manuel de Azevedo and Maria Luísa Azevedo, a wealthy couple living in São Paulo in 1831 and who moved to Rio de Janeiro two years later, in 1844 Álvares began attending the Colégio Pedro II. It was here that Álvares learned to read English, French, and German, became acquainted with the works of European Romantic poets and novelists. He was particularly drawn to the works of Lord Byron, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand, Percy Shelley, Goethe, and Thomas Chatterton.
In 1848, Azevedo enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of São Paolo but his dry legal studies did not dampen his passion for literature.[i] As his college years drew to a close, Álvarez began writing poetry, plays, and short stories such as Lira dos Vinte Anos (1853) and Noite na Taverna (1855). None of these writings were to be published while Álvares was alive, however, for in true Romantic style, he died young. Having contracted tuberculosis while living in São Paolo, he moved to his family’s country estate to recover. While travelling to his family’s home he fell from his horse and died from his injuries.[ii]
As his works have never been translated into English, I have translated one of his poems titled Já da Morte, which has recently been published in a new Portuguese-language critical edition of Azevedo’s works.[iii]
This is very much a ‘free’ translation in which I have tried to distil for readers the meaning of Azevedo’s texts, as well as advertising his works to English speakers.[iv]
I think this most appropriate for the translation of foreign-language poetry, and certainly for my aims here. As Francis R. Jones remarks:
A poetry translation project usually aims to publicize a poet or poets. Poetry translation is typically overt. Poetry translators are concerned to interpret a source poem’s layers of meaning, to relay this interpretation reliably, and/or to create a poem in the target language which is readable and enjoyable as an independent, literary text (emphasis added).[v]
Especially with poetry, words which are beautifully written in Brazilian Portuguese frequently sound like nonsense in English and vice versa.
Without further ado, it’s a pleasure to introduce Álvares de Azevedo’s poem Já da Morte.[vi]
Já da Morte by Álvares de Azevedo
“Deathly pallor covers my face,
From my lips does the breath grow faint,
In death agony my heart withers,
The fatal sorrow devours me.
And, leaning back on this soft bed,
I try resist th’eternal rest
My exhausted body fades and now…
This is where grief has brought me.
“Our farewells make me deeply sigh
That I am being deprived of life
As I feel my eyes darkening.”
The hopeful being was hanging on,
And caught sight of his sad lover’s face with eyes:
Eyes that lived, and lived no more.
[i] A Biblioteca Virtual de Literatura [online], ‘Manuel Antônio Álvares de Azevedo’, accessed 27 November 2021, http://www.biblio.com.br/conteudo/alvaresazevedo/desanimo.htm
[ii] See Maria C. R. Alves, O Poeta-Leitor: Um Estudo das Epígrafes Hugoanas em Álvares de Azevedo (University Sao Paolo Press, 1999); Luciana Fatima, Álvares de Azevedo: O Poeta que Não Conheceu o Amor Foi Noivo da Morte (Annablume, 2009).
[iii] Álvarez de Azevedo, Obra complete (Rio de Janeiro: Nova Aguilar, 2000). The full Portuguese text of Azevedo’s poem Já da Morte is as follows: Já da morte o palor me cobre o rosto, / Nos lábios meus o alento desfalece, / Surda agonia o coração fenece, / E devora meu ser mortal desgosto! / Do leito embalde no macio encosto / Tento o sono reter! … já esmorece / O corpo exausto que o repouso esquece… / Eis o estado em que a mágoa me tem posto! / O adeus, o teu adeus, minha saudade, / Fazem que insano do viver me prive / E tenha os olhos meus na escuridade. / Dá-me a esperança com que o ser mantive! / Volve ao amante os olhos por piedade, / Olhos por quem viveu quem já não vive!
[iv] SIL [online], ‘Glossary of Linguistic Terms’, accessed 27 November 2021, https://glossary.sil.org/term/free-translation: A free or ‘creative translation’ is not a literal, word for word translation but one which ‘reproduces the general meaning of the original text [and which] may or may not closely follow the form or organization of the original.’
[v] Francis R. Jones [online], ‘The Translation of Poetry’, in The Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies, ed. by Kirsten Malmkjær and Kevin Windle (Oxford University Press, 2012), accessed 27 November 2021 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199239306.013.0013
[vi] Feedback on this translation is, of course, most welcome.