The OF Blog: A poem by Brazilian poet C. Alberto Bessa that's been in my thoughts this past week

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A poem by Brazilian poet C. Alberto Bessa that's been in my thoughts this past week

Last Friday, before going to the hospital to await the birth of my first niece, Adyson, I stopped by a local used bookstore and bought a few Brazilian books.  Among them was C. Alberto Bessa's 2006 poetry collection, Poética efêmera:  Poemas Reunidos, which I read during the hours leading up to the birth.   While there were several poems that struck my fancy, one in particular, "Conhecimento," particularly grabbed my attention.  Thought I would share it with those of you who appreciate poetry, particularly those written in a Romance language:

só há
uma coisa
que eu
não sei

é uma
que ninguém
Roughly translated (losing some of its rhythm and meaning), it goes:

There is only
one thing [something]
that I
do not know

It is 
something [one thing]
that no one

There are possibilities contained within these few short words.  I bracketed [something] as "uma coisa" usually would be "something" but also could be "one thing," which offers dual interpretations in the original that does not exist in English; two separate words have to be used to denote possible interpretations.  In one sense, the "one thing," there is a singular mystery that confounds narrator and others alike; in another, that mystery is more vague and non-specific, containing the possibility of other confounding elements.

This inherent impreciseness is what fascinates me, both as an occasional translator and as a poetry reader.  The multiplicity implicit in these 14 words (or 16-18 in translation) lends itself to many reflections on what Bessa possibly meant here (not to mention that he himself might not know the various paths toward the approach to knowledge/understanding, which of course is a translation of the title).  Doubtless there will be more thoughts that will come to me later, but for now, I am just content to share this with you.

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