The discovery of things I’ve never seen: five poems by Oswald de Andrade

This entry is part 3 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


My long-time friend and fellow blogger Natalie d’Arbeloff volunteered to help out with this Poetry from the Other Americas series, and I jumped at the chance to add some Brazilian poems to the mix. Here are five by Oswald de Andrade that Natalie selected and translated in an admirably straight-forward way, demonstrating that one doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional poet to be a good translator. —Dave

Portuguese error

When the Portuguese arrived
In pouring rain
They clothed the Indian
What a shame!
Had it been a sunny morning
The Indian would have stripped
The Portuguese.

Erro de português

Quando o português chegou
Debaixo duma bruta chuva
Vestiu o índio
Que pena!
Fosse uma manhã de sol
O índio tinha despido
O português.


The discovery

We followed our course on that long sea
Until the eighth day of Easter
Sailing alongside birds
We sighted land
the savages
We showed them a chicken
Almost frightening them
They didn’t want to touch it
Then they took it, stupefied
it was fun
After a dance
Diogo Dias
Did a somersault
the young whores
Three or four girls really fit very nice
With long jet-black hair
And shameless tits so high so shapely
We all had a good look at them
We were not in the least ashamed.

A descoberta

Seguimos nosso caminho por este mar de longo
Até a oitava da Páscoa
Topamos aves
E houvemos vista de terra
os selvagens
Mostraram-lhes uma galinha
Quase haviam medo dela
E não queriam por a mão
E depois a tomaram como espantados
primeiro chá
Depois de dançarem
Diogo Dias
Fez o salto real
as meninas da gare
Eram três ou quatro moças bem moças e bem gentis
Com cabelos mui pretos pelas espáduas
E suas vergonhas tão altas e tão saradinhas
Que de nós as muito bem olharmos
Não tínhamos nenhuma vergonha.


Song of going home

My land has palm trees
Where the sea twitters
The little birds over here
Don’t sing like those over there
My land has more roses
And almost more lovers
My land has more gold
My land has more land
Gold land love and roses
I want everything my land has
God don’t let me die
Before going back home
God don’t let me die
Without seeing 15th Street again
And the progress of Sao Paulo.

Canto de regresso à pátria

Minha terra tem palmares
Onde gorjeia o mar
Os passarinhos daqui
Não cantam como os de lá
Minha terra tem mais rosas
E quase que mais amores
Minha terra tem mais ouro
Minha terra tem mais terra
Ouro terra amor e rosas
Eu quero tudo de lá
Não permita Deus que eu morra
Sem que volte para lá
Não permita Deus que eu morra
Sem que volte pra São Paulo
Sem que veja a Rua 15
E o progresso de São Paulo.


May I never be
Like the old Englishman
Over there
Asleep in an armchair
Waiting for visitors who do not come.

Que eu não fique nunca
Como esse velho inglês
Aí do lado
Que dorme numa cadeira
À espera de visitas que não vêm


3rd of May

I learned from my ten-year old son
That poetry is the discovery
Of things I’ve never seen.

3 de maio

Aprendi com meu filho de dez anos
Que a poesia é a descoberta
Das coisas que eu nunca vi

Series Navigation← Green Enchantment (Verde Embeleso) by Sor Juana Inés de la CruzA soft storm in the skull: three poems by Rubén Darío →


11 Replies to “The discovery of things I’ve never seen: five poems by Oswald de Andrade”

  1. Lovely! What a dancing, thought-provoking pleasure these are. I disagree that you don’t need to be a poet – at least an occasional one – to successfully translate poetry. I don’t enjoy translations of poetry (of which there are plenty) that don’t sing, don’t have a satisfying shape – and these absolutely do. As with some of your own translations, Dave, I’d say the artlessness is only apparent.

    1. Fair enough. A professional poet is I guess what I meant. [ETA: OK, I inserted the word “professional” in the post.] There’s no doubt Natalie’s a poet! Sometimes having too strong a voice of one’s own actually gets in the way of good translating, as with Stephen Mitchell or Robert Bly. Or look at how many genuinely great poets came out with pretty good translations of Rilke only to be blown out of the water by Edward Snow.

  2. Thanks for the challenge, Dave, which I’m very happy to take on. It’s spurred me to read more Brazilian poets and I’ve now got a couple of others on the go.
    By the way, I may not be a practicing poet but I’m poetic, right?

    1. Yes, absolutely! (See my comment to Jean above.) And I’m excited to hear that you’re working on new translations. This is shaping up to be fun project.

    2. (By the way, if you want your avatar to show up in the comments, just supply the same email we used to set up your author account… and obviously leave out the “REMOVETHIS” text, which you don’t need here because I promise I don’t harvest commenters’ emails to sell to spammers.)

      1. OK, thanks Dave, will do. The REMOVE thing just comes up automatically. The reason I put it there originally is because I was told never to put real email address on the internet – I don’t suspect you at all!

  3. Pingback: Reflection

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