Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ballad of Love Through the Ages - Carlos Drummond de Andrade

As every Brazilian school-boy knows, today marks the 510th Anniversary of the "discovery" of Brazil in 1500 by the Portuguese admiral Dom Pedro Álvares de CabralTo celebrate the fact that I still remember his full name AND the size of his fleet (13 ships, 1,500 hundred men) from grade-school history classes, today's poem comes from Brazil: another one by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the acknowledged greatest 20th Century poet writing in Portuguese.   As in my comments with his first poem here, I wish that you could read and hear it in the original.  However, this is the next best thing: a translation by Mark Strand, a poet in his own right, who, like Elizabeth Bishop, brought the necessary poetic soul, skills, and sensitivity to do it justice.  This isn't a poem at Drummond's lyrical best or most complex in meaning or imagery, but it has always charmed me because of its simplicity, humor, and scope. 
Ballad of Love Through the Ages
                                                                   transl. by Mark Strand
From the beginning of time,
I liked you, you liked me.
I was Greek, you were Trojan,
Trojan but not Helen.
I sprung from a wooden horse
to kill your brother.
I killed, we quarreled, we died.

I became a Roman soldier
persecutor of Christians.
At the catacomb door
I met you again.
But when I saw you fall
naked in the Colosseum
and the lion coming toward you,
I made a desperate leap
and the lion ate us both.

Next I was a Moorish pirate,
the scourge of Tripoli.
I set fire to the frigate
where you were hiding from
the fury of my brigantine.
But when I went to grab you
and take you as my slave,
you crossed yourself and drove
a dagger through your heart.
I killed myself as well.

Later on, in happier days,
I was a courtier at Versailles,
clever and debauched.
You dreamed of being a nun…
I vaulted over the convent wall
but difficult politics
led us to the guillotine.

These days I’m totally modern:
dancing, jogging, working out.
And I have money in the bank.
And you’re a fabulous blonde:
dancing, jogging, working out.
None of it pleases your father.
But after a thousand reversals,
I, one of Paramount’s heroes,
give you a hug, a kiss, and we marry.
                                                                            Carlos Drummond de Andrade - Brazilian

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