Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Stunning new translations of great twentieth century Portuguese poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.
English translator Colin Rorrison who died suddenly in 2012, at age 28, left behind a substantial body of poetry and prose translations from the Portuguese and Spanish, among them some draught translations of the great Portuguese poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919–2004). These have been edited by the celebrated translator Margaret Jull Costa and published in New Zealand by Cold Hub Press under the title The Perfect Hour.
De Mello’s poems express her deep connection with the natural world, her main subjects being childhood and youth, nature and, above all, the sea. She was
also steeped in classical literature, and some of her Greek-inspired poems are present in this selection which features translations from two of her poetry collections –– Dia do Mar and O Nome das Coisas. Dia do Mar was published
in 1947, when the poet was 28. Its subjects are gardens, the sea, the beach and the house, and its central theme, the search for perfection, purity and harmony. The poems have all the intensity of childhood memories, but are imbued, too, with an adult awareness of mortality. O Nome das Coisas was published thirty years later, after the Carnation Revolution of 1974 and the overthrow of the Salazar/Caetano regime after almost fifty years of repression. Many of its poems are political and refer to a particular time and place and situation, and yet they remain strikingly bracing and fresh.
Along with Fernando Pessoa, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen is probably Portugal's best-loved twentieth century poet. Carcanet Press published a book of Richard Zenith's translations in 1997, but this is the only collection of her poetry currently available in English.
Margaret Jull Costa is a literary translator who has translated such writers as
Eça de Queiroz, Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, Javier Marías and Bernardo Atxaga. She has won various prizes, including the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize for The Maias by Eça de Queiroz, and the 2012 Calouste Gulbenkian Translation Prize for The Word Tree by Teolinda Gersão, for which she was also runner-up with her translation of António Lobo Antunes’ The Land at the End of the World (Os cus de Judas). In 2013 she was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2014 was awarded an OBE for services to literature.
As ondas quebravam uma a uma
Eu estava só com a areia e com a espuma
Do mar que cantava só p’ra mim.
The waves were breaking one by one
I was alone with the sand and with the foam
Of the sea that was singing just for me.
[© Estate of Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen 2015
© Estate of Colin Rorrison 2015 © Margaret Jull Costa 2015]
THE PERFECT HOUR
selected poems by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
translated from the Portuguese
by Colin Rorrison with Margaret Jull Costa