19th Century

Desânimo [“Dejection”] | Álvares de Azevedo and Luiz Guerra

Luiz Guerra is a Brazilian historian, researcher of medievalisms, and free-lance translator. His previous works include the first Portuguese edition of The Inheritance of Rome, by Chris Wickham. One of Luiz’s current freelance translation projects is translating the works of the Brazilian Romantic poet and writer into English for Reynolds’s News and Miscellany. Álvares’s works have never been translated into English before but will be of interest to all Romantic literature scholars and those interested in poetry more generally.

The following poem, ‘Desânimo’, first appeared in Álvares de Azevedo’s posthumous collection of poetry titled Lira dos Vinte Anos (1853). In the notes, Luiz has explained some of his word choices.

A modern edition of Azevedo’s Lira dos Vinte Anos

“Desânimo” [“Dejection”] by Álvares de Azevedo.[i]

I am now sad. There are in this life
Cloudy pages that don’t fade,
Stains that are unwashable… if to forget them
At all, is not allowed to those who suffer…
At least to the dreamer remains comfort
In the imaginings of a young man’s dreams![ii]

Oh! come back one more time! I suffer so much!
My dreams, comfort me! Distract me!
Angels of illusions, the white wings
The pure mists, that another sun frets.
Open before my burning eyes
And tears are there not that the chest pain
Overflow in a moment…[iii]

And thou, image,
Illusion of a woman, dear dream,
At the hindmost hour, comest sit,
pensive and longing in my bed![iv]
What dost thou suffer? what unknown pain
Floods with pallor your virgin face?
Why dost thy soul bend sullenly,
Like a lily to a whiff o’ misfortune?
Why so melancholic thou sigh?[v]

Illusion, ideal, to thee my dreams,
Like the chants to God rise up moaning!
For thee my poor heart throbs…
I suffer so much! my exhausted days
I don’t know why at birth stained them
With black prophecy an angry God.
Others my fate envy… What madness!
What are worth the ridiculous vanities
Of an opulent life, the false pampering
Of people who don’t love?[vi] Even the genius
That God cast me on the sick brow,[vii]
Like seed lost on a rock,
All of this is worth what, if I suffer![viii]

At times like this maybe in me thou dostn’t think:
Rests gloomy thy fainted face
In the sweet hand and hangest[ix] dreaming
In thy ideal fantasy world…
If my pride, which withers[x] now,
Could believe that to the unfortunate poor
Thou saved an idea, a longing…[xi]
I would be a venturous moment![xii]

But no… there at the fascinating ball,
In the brutal joy of the burning night,
In the inebriated and excited[xiii] smile
Of those men who, for a little laugh,
Hide under a mask their semblances,[xiv]
Thou dostn’t think of me. In your ideas
If my image was one day portrayed
It was like the pilgrim and pale star
Over the face of a lake…[xv]


[i] I think ‘dejection’ encapsules better the meaning of desânimo here. Desânimo can be dismay as well, but it literally means a state of low spirits, depressed even, without the energy to do much, sad, desolated. Now dismay has the idea of distress caused by an unexpected event, a surprise. Desânimo doesn’t need a cause, much less an unexpected one. As you can see in the poem, the cause is very expected.

[ii] Original stanza: Estou agora triste. Há nesta vida / Páginas torvas que se não apagam, / Nódoas que não se lavam… se esquecê-las / De todo não é dado a quem padece… / Ao menos resta ao sonhador console / No imaginar dos sonhos de mancebo!

[iii] Original stanza: Oh! voltai uma vez! eu sofro tanto! / Meus sonhos, consolai-me! distraí-me! / Anjos das ilusões, as asas brancas / As névoas puras, que outro sol matiza. / Abri ante meus olhos que abraseiam / E / lágrimas não tem que a dor do peito / Transbordem um momento…

[iv] Alvares uses leito, which is a more personal word for bed. Somewhat like house vs. home. I couldn’t find an appropriated substitute, so I think bed is the best word here. Note that leito albeit slightly fancy is not an unusual word even today.

[v] Original stanza: E tu, imagem, / Ilusão de mulher, querido sonho, / Na hora derradeira, vem sentar-te, / Pensativa e saudosa no meu leito! / O que sofres? que dor desconhecida / Inunda de palor teu rosto virgem? / Por que tu’alma  dobra taciturna, / Como um lírio a um bafo d’infortúnio? / Por que tão melancólica suspiras?

(Melancólica is an adjective not an adverb, so the woman is melancholic while she sighs. Although changing it to the adverb ‘melancholically’ could work in English as well).

[vi] Gente que não ama is slightly ambiguous. It could refer to people he doesn’t love or to people who don’t love him. That being said, for structural reasons (such as not adding an I) I think the best way is to leave it as people who don’t love.

[vii] Fronte means ‘forehead’. He is talking about his head. I’ve seen brow used in that context as well, but maybe forehead would be a more exact, albeit less poetic, term.

[viii] Original stanza: Ilusão, ideal, a ti meus sonhos, / Como os cantos a Deus se erguem gemendo! / Por ti meu pobre coração palpita… / Eu sofro tanto! meus exaustos dias / Não sei por que logo ao nascer manchou-os / De negra profecia um Deus irado. / Outros meu fado invejam… Que loucura! / Que valem as ridículas vaidades / De uma vida opulenta, os falsos mimos / De gente que não ama? Até o gênio / Que Deus lançou-me à doentia fronte, / Qual semente perdida num rochedo, / Tudo isso que vale, se padeço!

[ix] ‘Lay’ could be an alternative to ‘hang’ here. But pender in Portuguese can also have a sense of grasping to something, so I think ‘hang’ is the more adequate word.

[x] Fraqueia is literally to make something a bit weaker, to falter or wither due to weakness. “Meu ataque fraquejou quando vi seus olhos” (my strike faltered/weakened/withered when I saw their eyes).

[xi] Saudade is probably the one single word/feeling that exists only in Portuguese. It means to miss something, to long for something, but in a very specific and intrinsic way. It is a feeling, an emotion, a mood. See Neto, Félix, and Etienne Mullet. “A prototype analysis of the Portuguese concept of saudade.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 45.4 (2014): 660-670.4.2 (2012): 203-211; Farrell, Patrick. “Portuguese saudade and other emotions of absence and longing.” Semantic primes and universal grammar: Empirical evidence from the Romance languages (2006): 235-258.

[xii] Original stanza: Nessas horas talvez em mim não pensas: / Pousas sombria a desmaiada face / Na doce mão e pendes-te sonhando / No teu mundo ideal de fantasia… / Se meu orgulho, que fraqueia agora, / Pudesse crer que ao pobre desditoso / Sagravas uma idéia, uma saudade… / Eu seria um instante venturoso!

Azevedo states that he would be a happy/venturous moment, and not that he would be at/in/on a happy/venturous moment. Venturous/Venturoso in portuguese also has the meaning of joyful/merry on top of the meaning of daring. Alternative words could be ‘Blessed’, ‘Joyful’, ‘Merry’, ‘Happy’.

[xiii] Tresloucado is a funny word meaning ‘crazed’, ot overly excited to the point of being altered. Nowadays we use it to describe someone who is very excited and usually under the effects of many substances. ‘Crazed’ would be a more adequate word in meaning here, but also it would make it scarier, which is not the original intent. So, I’ve opted for ‘excited’, which is a much less exciting word. ‘Frantic’ and ‘manic’ are also options.

[xiv] Semblante in Portuguese is here as a fancy word for face. I think semblance does encapsules that same meaning within the context.

[xv] Original stanza: Mas não… ali no baile fascinante, / Na alegria brutal da noite ardente, / No sorriso ebrioso e tresloucado / Daqueles homens que, pra rir um pouco, / Encobrem sob a máscara o semblante, / Tu não pensas em mim. Na tua idéia / Se minha imagem retratou-se um dia / Foi como a estrela peregrina e pálida / Sobre a face de um lago…

1 reply »