19th Century

Álvares de Azevedo’s “Epitaph” | Leandro Machado (Trans.)

Translated by Leandro Machado, based in the northern part of Brazil, who originally trained as an architect, and is now a freelance translator who teaches Portuguese as a foreign language. Machado has previously translated some of Álvares de Azevedo’s poetry for this website.

Manuel Antônio Álvares de Azevedo (1831–52), referred to usually as Álvares de Azevedo, was one of Brazil’s most famous Romantic poets. Yet because his works have never been translated into English, Azevedo remains largely unknown to most British and American scholars.

A modern edition of Álvares de Azevedo’s Lira dos Vinte Anos

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.

Machado’s translation of the following poem, titled ‘Epitaph: At My Friend’s Grave: João Baptista da Silva Pereira Júnior’ (Epitáfio: No Túmulo do Meu Amigo João Baptista da Silva Pereira Júnior), is the first time that it has been professionally translated into the English language.

Rio de Janeiro in the nineteenth century

Epitaph: At the Grave of My Friend: João Baptista Da Silva Pereira Júnior

[Epitáfio: No Túmulo do Meu Amigo João Baptista da Silva Pereira Júnior]

Pardon, my Lord, if the tunic of life

I, insane,[1] desecrated it in love!

If to the crown[2] of fragrant dreams

I defoliated the rose flowers myself!

The nectar was corrupted in the impure vase,[3]

The clay of existence was fading in me…[4]

[But] the sun of your glory opened my eyelids,

From the stain of passions, purified me!

[But now] how many dreams in the illusion of life,

How much hope for the future still?[5]

Everything is silent for the eternal night…

And I walk,[6] wandering and alone, in the endless land…

Soul on fire, thirsty for infinity,

In a world of visions the flight launching,[7]

Like the sea wind in the night sky

Amidst[8] the clouds of God I spent sleeping!

Life is night. The sun in veiled in blood:

The discredited generation gropes in the shadow…

Wake up, mortal! For it’s in the tomb

That the human butterfly[9] awakens to life!

[There] when death is broken by the train,[10]

Of the chest’s awesome cries which fly,

And the divine note that breaks the fibres[11]

In the angelic dulías echoes!

[1] I changed the translator’s word order slightly here. Original translation was ‘Insane, I desecrated…’ (SB)

[2] In the original text, Azevedo writes “c’roa“, using an apostrophe in the word “coroa” (crown) in order to indicate the suppression of a vowel in the verses, due to metric requirements. This case occurs frequently among Portuguese poets.

[3] I changed the translator’s word order here: Original translation was ‘In the impure vase the nectar was corrupted…’ (SB)

[4][4] A slight amendment to the Machado’s translation here: It looks to me as though Azevedo is talking about a time before he met his friend. That is to say that his life, his ‘nectar’ was fading and corrupt until the glory of his friend opened his eyelids.

[5] Punctuation changed from the original here. Azevedo seems to be switching back and forth between remembering when his friend was alive and when he had passed away. The previous stanza’s final two lines tell of how Azevedo’s eyes were opened when he met his friend. In the next verse he comes crashing back down to the present. Hence the interpolation of ‘But now…’ (SB).

[6] The literal translation of the passage “E eu vago errante” would be “And I wander wandering”, in order to avoid repeating words, I chose to replace the verb “vagar” (to wander) with “caminhar” (to walk), preserving meaning.

[7]Abrir vôo” is a portuguese expression for launching flights.

[8] Slight alteration to translator’s original word choice from ‘among’ to ‘amidst’ (SB).

[9] Slight alteration to translator’s original word choice from ‘larva’ to ‘butterfly’. The poet is clearly talking about a divine change in the bodily condition that occurs in the (cocoon) of the darkened tomb, when humans again ‘awaken to life’ (SB).

[10] The first two lines of this stanza have been amended because it is clear that he is still talking about the body of his friend in the tomb and how cries from the chest will resound with a divine note that breaks the fibres (as Machado says, this is a common phrase that Azevedo uses). I think that Azevedo’s original Portuguese needed further clarification in English (SB).

[11] The expression “break the fibers” (romper as fibras) is commonly used by Azevedo in his poems to talk about the moment of death.

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