19th Century

Soneto: Palidá a Luz [Sonnet: Pale the Light] | Álvarez de Azevedo

A new translation by Stephen Basdeo, a historian and writer based in Leeds, United Kingdom.

Álvares de Azevedo

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.[1]

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 EnglishFrench, 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.

Modern critical edition of Azevedo’s works

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. 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.

The Poems of Álvares de Azevedo

As his works have never been translated into English, I have translated one of his poems titled  da Morte,[2] which has recently been published in a new Portuguese-language critical edition of Azevedo’s works. Luiz Guerra has also translated another of his poems titled Desânimo for this website as well.[3]

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.

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).

Especially with poetry, words which are beautifully written in Brazilian Portuguese frequently sound like nonsense, or downright disgusting, in English and vice versa. For example, in the Portuguese version of Palidá a Luz,[4] the poem featured below, Azevedo refers to the escuma (scum) of the waves. In English, this would obviously sound very jarring. I have therefore referred to the ‘angel’ who is on top of the ‘scum’ of the waves as being on top of the sea.[5]

Alvares de Azevedo

Soneto: Palidá a Luz [Sonnnet: Pale the Light]

Pale does the light of the sombre lamp shine

While upon the flow’rbed I lay reclined,

Watching the moon by the night be embalmed

As between the loving lunar clouds, she sleeps,

And becalms the tide, there above the sea—

‘Twas an angel in those early dawn clouds

Who bathed me in my forgetful dream-state.

Beautiful was she—her bosom heaving—

Her eyelids opening, black eyes revealing…

Her naked form reclining in the bed—

Laugh not at me, my beautiful angel!

For you I lay each night, dreaming, crying…

For you, my dream companion, I’d die smiling.


[1] A Biblioteca Virtual de Literatura [online], ‘Manuel Antônio Álvares de Azevedo’, accessed 27 November 2021, http://www.biblio.com.br/conteudo/alvaresazevedo/desanimo.htm

[2] Álvares de Azevedo [online], ‘Já da Morte [Already has Death]’, Reynolds’s News and Miscellany, Trans. Stephen Basdeo, 27 November 2021, accessed 18 January 2022, available at: https://reynolds-news.com/2021/11/27/ja-da-morte-translation-alvares-azevedo/

[3] Álvares de Azevedo [online], ‘Desânimo [Dejection]’, Reynolds’s News and Miscellany, Trans. Luiz Guerra, 10 December 2021, accessed 18 January 2022, available at: https://reynolds-news.com/2021/12/10/alvares-de-azevedo-desanimo-luiz-guerra/

[4] The original text is as follows:

Pálida à luz da lâmpada sombria,
Sobre o leito de flores reclinada,
Como a lua por noite embalsamada,
Entre as nuvens do amor ela dormia!
Era a virgem do mar, na escuma fria
Pela maré das águas embalada!
Era um anjo entre nuvens d’alvorada
Que em sonhos se banhava e se esquecia!

Era a mais bela! Seio palpitando…
Negros olhos as pálpebras abrindo…
Formas nuas no leito resvalando…
Não te rias de mim, meu anjo lindo!
Por ti – as noites eu velei chorando,
Por ti – nos sonhos morrerei sorrindo!

[5] 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

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