Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Cecília Meireles: "Canção Póstuma"

Bom dia, folks. I've got another Brazilian poem in translation for you. Along with the João da Cruz e Sousa poem I posted the other day, I read this during the event this past Sunday at the BAF, "O Brasil Secreto". The event went pretty well; attendance was good, and people seemed to enjoy the work presented. I look forward to doing it again in a few months' time.

Today's offering to the gods and muses of literature is by Cecília Meireles, one of Brazil's most widely known poets. I've got another translation of one of her poems in the works, so look for that in the near future, along with renewed efforts to practice my classical Chinese (via translation, of course).

Até breve!

Canção Póstuma
Cecília Meireles

Fiz uma canção para dar-te;
porém tu já estavas morrendo.
A Morte é um poderoso vento.
E é um suspiro tão tímido, a Arte...

É um suspiro tímido e breve
como a da respiração diária.
Choro de pomba. E a Morte é uma águia
cujo grito ninguém descreve.

Vim cantar-te a canção do mundo,
mas estás de ouvidos fechados
para os meus lábios inexatos,
atento a um canto mais profundo.

E estou como alguém que chegasse
ao centro do mar, comparando
aquele universo de pranto
com a lágrima da sua face.

E agora fecho grandes portas
sobre a canção que chegou tarde.
E sofro sem saber de que Arte
se ocupam as pessoas mortas.

Por isso é tão desesperada
e pequena, humana cantiga.
Talvez dure mais do que a vida.
Mas à Morte não diz mais nada.

Posthumous Song
Cecília Meireles
translated by D.A. Smith

I wrote a song to give to you;
however, you were already dying.
Death is a strong wind.
And Art is such a weak sigh...

It is a brief, timid sigh,
like that of everyday breathing.
The cry of a dove. And Death is an eagle
whose cry nobody can describe.

I came to sing you the song of the world,
but your ears were deaf
to my fumbling lips,
tuned to a deeper song.

And I am like someone who has come
to the middle of the sea, comparing
that weeping world
to the tears on your face.

And now I close the massive doors
on the song that arrived late.
And I suffer not knowing which Art
dead people concern themselves with.

That is why you are so desperate
and small, human song.
Perhaps you will last longer than life.
But you have nothing to say to Death.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

João da Cruz e Sousa: "Vida Obscura"

Last year I mentioned to Maurício, who runs the Brazilian Arts Foundation, that there should be some kind of Brazilian or Portuguese-language literary event sometime. This past November he put me in touch with some like-minded folks, and this coming Sunday, February 25, we're having our first public reading of Brazilian poetry in translation and short fiction in English by a Brazilian writer, along with artist Tony Paraná discussing his work. If you're in Houston, come on by, check out some Brazilian literature, drink a Topo Chico. The fun starts at 4 PM and wraps up around 5:30.

One of the poems I've translated for the event is by João da Cruz e Sousa, who I believe was Brazil's first black poet. I initially ran across his name on a list of Symbolist poets on Wikipedia, and after reading a little more about him I hunted down his collected works. Not only is he a fascinating figure—the son of freed slaves, a polyglot, and an abolitionist—but his poetry is quite good, and his prose poetry (or whatever the proper name for it is, if it has one in Portuguese) seems far ahead of its time. I look forward to reading, and translating, more of his work, which I don't think has received any exposure in English.

Enjoy, and maybe I'll see you Sunday.

Vida Obscura
João da Cruz e Sousa

Ninguém sentiu o teu espasmo obscuro,
ó ser humilde entre os humildes sêres.
Embriagado, tonto dos prazeres,
o mundo para ti foi negro e duro.

Atravessaste no silêncio escuro
a vida prêsa a trágicos deveres
e chegaste ao saber de altos saberes
tornando-te mais simples e mais puro.

Ninguém te viu o sentimento inquieto,
magoado, oculto e aterrador, secreto,
que o coração te apunhalou no mundo.

Mas eu que sempre te segui os passos
sei que cruz infernal prendeu-te os braços
e o teu suspiro como foi profundo!

An Obscure Life

Nobody felt your dull spasms,
Oh lowly among the lowly.
The world, drunk and giddy with pleasure,
was black and hard for you.

You passed through in dark silence,
your life chained to tragic duties
and arrived at the highest wisdom
humbled and purified.

Nobody saw in you the uneasy feeling,
hurt, hidden and terrifying, secret,
which your heart pierced in the world.

But I, who always followed in your steps,
know what infernal cross bound your arms
and how deeply you sighed!

Sunday, January 07, 2018


Salvēte, dudes, and welcome to 2018!

This year (March 24, to be precise, a date I'll probably miss) marks the 15th anniversary of your humble Corpse's presence on the World Wide Web, at least in blog form, as blogs are understood today, or were in 2003. Whatever. The Internet sucks. Except when it doesn't.

Anyway, things are quiet on the cadaverous front. The usual stuff's happening: translation, hanging out with cats, cooking, meditation, reading, etc. I don't make New Year's resolutions, but this year I'd like to establish a habit of studying a little Latin and/or classical Chinese each week, and start assembling the skeleton of  a book about Camilo Pessanha. In the case of the former pseudo-goal, a couple dedicated hours per week should suffice; as for the latter, I first need to figure out what kind of book I want to write, then amass the necessary materials and, you know, start writing.

I'd also like America, shambolic mockery of democracy as it may be, not to be choked to death by the cowards, flag-suckers, bootlicking sycophants, capitalist vampires, fascists, and assorted other wretched fucks currently howling in a nightmarishly confusing chorus of glee and despair as yet another global empire enters its long, painful senescence and History grinds on (but, mind you, not necessarily Forward).

It'd also be nice if the rest of the world didn't have to fear nuclear (or, far more likely, since it's already happening, conventional) death at the hands of a certain idiot in the White House and his bargain-basement administration. (Christ, what would Hunter Thompson, who so despised Nixon, have thought of our current shitheel-in-chief? No wonder the good doctor cut out early.)

Then there's the desire for the planet itself not to be rendered uninhabitable by humans, courtesy of climate change and our species' addiction to short-term thinking, but I'm trying to not let my usual pessimism sink its claws into me too deeply, so I'll pass on thinking too much about that at the moment.

With regard to all these things, a dude can hope, but hope has never been, and never will be, enough, so, to paraphrase Laxmanrao Sardessai:

Avante, camaradas! Avante!


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

An overdue update.

Jesus, it's been a weird few months.

Even if you somehow leave out the grotesque, incompetent bevy of swindlers, Bible-thumpers, and authoritarian lickspittles that passes for the US government these days, and which is eagerly leading the charge toward a future that'll be as devoid of the aesthetics of a proper cyberpunk dystopia as it rich in the genre's inherent misery, 2017 has been a deeply weird, deeply fucked year for much of the world.

Since I last wrote, Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston and much of the Texas Gulf Coast. I was lucky to be spared, though for a few days there I spent a lot of time on the porch, sleep-deprived, rekindling my old smoking habit, watching the water creep up the steps. When the floodwaters receded, I put in some time with the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, gutting houses that had been flooded and getting direct aid to folks who needed it- and still need it. This shit ain't over, and won't be for a long time. Houston DSA is still helping out, so if three months after the fact isn't too late for you to want to visit the link above and donate a few bucks, know that it'll go to those in need, which means folks that the state of Texas and/or the federal government hasn't gotten around to helping, assuming they ever do.

But even events as hellacious as Harvey, and the subsequent ruin visited upon Florida and Puerto Rico by its tempestuous siblings, are incapable of hindering the human race's drunken stumble toward extinction- though I sincerely hope we trip and fall face-first into some sort of late-species glory on the way there- and so here we are in the middle of November. Let's take stock of what your humble Corpse has been up to, and/or thinks about things.

With the first draft of the Santa Monica translation done, I'm working regularly on the Sita Valles translation. The weather here is typically schizophrenic, which is to say that it's never actually cold for more than a few days at a time. I've lived here most of my life now, and this still pisses me off. I went to the Texas Renaissance Festival this past weekend, something I haven't done since 1999, and had a great time. I've set aside the cigarette habit I was far too eager to take up again when Harvey gave me a rationalization to do so. I visited the city of Québec in September, where I ate a lot of delicious food, learned that I can read French passably (and speak it horribly), used H.P. Lovecraft's history/travelogue as a guidebook of sorts, and pondered the legacy of Europe in America.

I've read some good books, among them Vivian Gornick's The Romance of American Communism, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, and Philip Hoare's The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea. I continue to practice 形意拳 xingyiquan and 八卦掌 baguazhang, the two Daoist internal martial arts I started studying earlier this year. I spend a lot of time with cats, but never enough. The desire to write a novel about Macau and a book about Camilo Pessanha still floats around in my mind, ever closer to realization as ideas pile up and get written down.

Mostly, though, I'm just living. Not in the sense of getting by, but in the fullest sense of the word, replete with positive and negative aspects. The more time passes, the more I appreciate just living, and the more I understand how much that concept encompasses, especially when the world around you seems boring enough to make you scream, or when it's Accept-level balls-to-the-wall overwhelming.

All right, off to martial arts class. Catch y'all soon- hopefully not four months later soon.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Corpse lives.

It should be pretty evident, dear readers, that your humble Corpse has been bereft of things to say for the past couple-three months. The 千字文 / Thousand Character Classic project is as dead in the water as 李白 Li Po. When I can browbeat myself into writing heavy metal reviews, they're earmarked for Enslain magazine, though I haven't exactly been cranking those out, either.

Since I last posted, much of my time has been spent translating an 18th-century letter of complaint written by nuns of the Convent of Santa Monica in Goa. "Letter" is not really the word for a rambling and often repetitive document of 40-odd handwritten pages, mind you, but it's been a fascinating process, mainly due to the fact that working with the excellent dude who roped me into it has been fun, educational, and promising in terms of future collaboration. I've learned to read old Portuguese handwriting, delved into the lives of Catholic nuns (who were not there because their cruel parents decided to dump them at the convent door, as is so often believed), and I'm helping to make available to the world a document written by, and about, women at a time when women's voices were only fleetingly heard.

More recently, I've started translating Leonor Figueiredo's biography of Sita Valles, the Angolan communist executed after the grim events of May 27, 1977. Valles' parents were from Goa, which is why I first heard of her. Figueiredo's written a good book, and I think making it available in English will prove useful. I'll discuss this project, as well as the Santa Monica convent one, in further detail at a later date.

That's it for now, alas. I've gotta eat dinner and get to Portuguese class. Later this week, perhaps, I'll find some time to write some more. Later, folks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Terrible Something

If in search of what's wrong with the world today- a phrase I despise, because the slightest brush with history shows us that the past is hardly laudable, but I'll stick with it for now-  one need not turn to the grotesque buffoon in the White House and his coterie of reactionaries, bootlickers, and bipedal leeches. An examination of one's immediate surroundings and internal state will suffice to demonstrate that the world around us is currently in the grip of something terrible, and that we ourselves are microcosmic hosts of whatever that terrible something is. Best not to look too closely, lest the contours and details resolve themselves and the terrible becomes overwhelming. Yet a failure to investigate is exactly what has led us here.

The terrible something devours minds, hearts, time, and space. It lends the grinning ghouls of the ruling class masks of respectability, and tells us they are true faces, trustworthy and wholesome. It bears down upon our souls, or whatever passes for them, and allows them to collapse under the weight of their very existence. It robs us of our days, which it feeds to the ravening demiurges of the economy and "progress," and fills our nights with a dreadful silence that is unconducive to slumber. It stalks the globe, snatching corners of heaven and earth from their rightful inhabitants and uprooting the human being from its surroundings. The terrible something does not live in the world, but dwells upon it, like an extradimensional horror might a threshold.

So: what is this terrible something? Is it capitalism, currently grinding its teeth, and us between them, as it attempts to force its way through yet another crisis? Is it the rot eating away the veil of democracy with which the West covers itself? Is it a spiritual malaise, some species-wide ennui and self-loathing immune to the pathetic variety of cures we have dreamed up? Or is it an absence of some kind, a void in our social relations, our collective lack of imagination coming back to haunt us from whatever astral graveyard we banished it to? Perhaps it's something else entirely, detectable only by what it doesn't do or where it isn't.

Me, I'd venture to say that the terrible something is all of the above and then some. It has probably always been with us. Maybe it simply is us, and we've contorted ourselves into such a mockery of being human that the terrible something has manifested itself fully.  I don't know what all this means, or how it can be combated, assuming it can be combated at all. I doubt it can be, at least not in the sense of pushing back against a defined foe, but we can study ourselves, stand in solidarity with our fellow humans, and dream, as the terrible something wends its way through our lives and settles into the cracks of the cosmos. It ain't much, but it's all we've got.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sleep - Jerusalem/Dopesmoker

After years of worshipping at the altar of the riff, I'm finally gonna see Sleep on Saturday. Sleep, dude. The dudes who wrote Jerusalem, AKA Dopesmoker, which received three different releases (so far) and all of which have commendable properties. Personally, the latest release, under the name Dopesmoker (the album's original title during recording), does a great job of highlighting the dynamic range of what skeptics, amateurs, and squares might call a boring exercise in repetition, but I still prefer Jerusalem, truncated as it is. The unity of sound lends to the religious/meditative quality that, I think, forms the backbone of the whole album.

I'd be willing to admit that my preference could be a matter of familiarity, but shit, I've spent a whole lot of time listening to this record in its various incarnations, and this ain't mere nostalgia. But it doesn't matter. All that matters is the riff, or rather the Riff, and Sleep has perfected it in our lifetime. A thousand other stoner rock or doom bands could write hour-long songs and none of them would approach the unwittingly orthodox masterpiece that is Sleep's Dopesmoker. This probably ain't the first time I've talked about this record, and I hope it won't be the last; maybe next time I'll have something more interesting to say.

Anyway, adios for now, folks. Get high, listen to Jerusalem/Dopesmoker, and act accordingly. Or don't, and just experience the music. It's your life, after all. Don't let some random dude tell you how to live it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

千字文 / O Texto de Mil Caracteres, parte 16

No espírito de Luís Gonzaga Gomes e outros sinólogos de língua portuguesa, e para praticar a minha escrita, apresento-lhes hoje o estudo do 千字文 em português.

cài zhòng jiè jiāng

"Dos vegetais, a mostarda e o gengibre são estimados."

菜 é um caracter muito conhecido pelos aficionados de comida chinesa, porque significa, além de "vegetal/vegetais," prato no sentido de "prato principal", e também cozinha, como 四川菜, cozinha de Sichuan.

重 tem duas leituras, zhòng e chóng. A primeira significa uma coisa pesada ou grave, ou que tem importância; a segunda, duplo ou repetido, e pode ser um verbo tambem- repetir ou dobrar.

Acho que o texto não trata dos grãos de mostarda, mas sim as folhas dela. Mostarda refogado com gengibre, alho, e molho de soja (ou um pouco de vinagre preto) é um prato simplicíssimo e quase perfeito; concordo com o(s) autor(es) do Texto de Mil Caracteres na sua avaliação destes legumes.

Nossa, agora estou com fome. Até breve, leitores!


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 15

When I started this project, I thought that I'd post maybe three times a week and finish in a couple or so years, but now I'm not so sure. Life has a way of interrupting one's plans, but it's not as if failing to crank out brief remarks on the Thousand Character Classic on a regular basis is a cause for despair. The other things I'm doing these days - more translations from Portuguese, learning some Latin, revising my historical novel, and, most dauntingly, fixin' to start tutoring ESL to adults - are all pretty fulfilling. That said, I do enjoy parsing the ol' 千字文, and even the handful of characters I've covered have proven useful to reading other Chinese texts, so let's check out the next four characters.

guŏ zhēn lĭ nài

"As for fruits, the plum and crabapple are highly prized."

I don't think I've ever eaten a crabapple, though I do have a specific childhood memory of a crabapple tree outside a public indoor pool I visited with a class or daycare program or something. (Guess it ain't that specific after all.) It's not so much the tree or its fruit that stands out in my memory as the heat and harsh light of the moment. Anyway, there's not a lot to say about these characters. Paar's edition of the 千字文 is equally silent as to the particular value of these fruits, and I'm too lazy to consult any other sources at the moment, so we'll assume that 李奈 were merely tasty, which is a fine reason to prize any comestible.

I'd like to take the opportunity to mention a couple other things that my translation brings to mind.

1/甲: I frequently use the term "classical Chinese" to translate 文言文, which is also, and more rightly, called "literary Chinese." Classical Chinese, AKA 古文, is temporally bound to the written language used up until the 漢朝 Han dynasty, whereas 文言文 is the written language used up until the early 20th century. (There's a late 20th-century writer whose name escapes me who still used it, too.) My point is that much of the Chinese I've translated on this blog isn't strictly classical Chinese, but literary Chinese- for example, the 千字文, which was compiled after the classical period, technically counts as 文言文 and not 古文. Naturally, even the term 古文 has historically narrower literary applications than that which I'm assigning it for comparative purposes, but that's beyond the scope of this note.

2/乙: Literary Chinese loves to imply things. If you were to literally translate 果珍李奈, you'd more or less get "fruit valuable plum crabapple," which at first glance is ridiculous but, with a little effort, somewhat comprehensible. Ignoring the potential for 珍 to be used as an adjective or a verb (or, to put it into more linguistic terms, that we're looking at the perennially popular Chinese topic-comment structure), it still appears to be a phrase devoid of context. Why did the author(s) of the Thousand Character Classic suddenly bring up tasty fruit? Because, in the previous two lines, they'd started delineating the names and natures of specific things. Recall the 剑 sword and 珠 pearl: now we're onto a broader class of things, 果 fruit. When 文言文 brings up a topic, especially in sequence, there's an implied "as for X" or "regarding X." I'm unable to explain the nuance of this fully, in part because I tend to forget it myself when I'm reading literary Chinese, and because there are more dimensions to it based on context, but it's an ingrained part of reading 文言文.

More later, folks! Hope this helped, or was interesting, or entertaining. Preferably all three.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 14

zhū chēng yè guāng

"A pearl called Ye Guang."

Unlike the name of the sword in the last entry, 夜光 makes sense on its own: it means something that shines at night.

Paar says that the story of this pearl comes from a book called 搜神記, or the Record of Searching for Spirits (my translation; my phone's dictionary calls it, in a much more modern fashion, In Search of the Supernatural), published during the 兩晋 Jin dynasty (the first one(s), from the third to fifth centuries CE): "[t]he Marquis of Sui rescued a wounded snake, who in gratitude brought him a pearl that shone brightly at night."

I don't have a problem with snakes. Like a lot of things in life, as long as they're left alone and not hassled, they're usually content to reciprocate. I especially like this snippet of a tale for demonstrating that not all snakes of yore get a bum rap, like the one in the Bible, and that everyone, even presumably busy Chinese noblemen, can do right by their fellow sentient beings. Of course, the full story may end badly, but I'm gonna leave it as it is for the time being.

Until next time, folks!