Almost 30 years after his death, the modernist poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade is still regarded as Brazil’s greatest writer of the 20th century and his poem, A Flor e a Náusea – Nausea and the Flower - was read both in Portuguese and English during Friday’s opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Drummond – despite maternal Scots ancestry – has hitherto been much better known in the Americas than Europe or the U.K. But I am convinced that the manner in which he is revered by his countrymen will now become universal.
I have spent an absorbing few hours reading about this truly astonishing personality and discovered that his prose works include Boitempo, a book of poetic memories in which there is piece based on local legend, The Uncomfortable Company of the Wandering Jew. Most intruigingly, the anti-hero is ‘Ahasverus’ – a variaton on the name of the Persian king who saved the Jewish community in the Purim story.
There are several available translations of the poem below and I rely on any Portuguese-literate readers to provide a different version if this one proves inadequate.
Nausea and the Flower
A prisoner of my class and some clothing, I walk, dressed in white along the gray street.
Melancholy and merchandise harass me.
Must I keep going until I collapse?
Can I rebel without arms?
Filthy eyes in the tower clock
No, the time of complete justice hasn’t come.
It’s still the time for dung, bad poetry, phantasms and hope.
A poor time and a poor poet
Melt together in the same impasse.
In vain I try to explain myself, but the walls are deaf.
Beneath the skin of the words there are ciphers and codes.
The sun consoles the sick but does not renew them.
Things. How sad things are, considered without emphasis. A flower bloomed in the street!
To vomit this ennui on the city.
Forty years and no problem solved, not even stated.
No letter written or received.
The men all return home.
They are less free but carry newspapers and spell out the world, knowing they are losing it.
Crimes of the earth, how to pardon them?
I took part in many, others I hid.
Some I thought clever, they were published.
Smooth crimes, that help one to live.
The daily ration of error, home-delivered.
The fierce bakers of wrong.
The fierce milkmen of wrong.
To set fire to everything, me included.
They called the boy of 1918 an anarchist.
But my hate is the best part of me.
With it I save myself
and give to a few a small hope.
Let the trolleys, busses, the steel river of traffic, keep their distance.
A flower still in bud
Eludes the police, pierces the asphalt.
Observe complete silence, stop all business,
I swear a flower grew.
You can’t see its color.
Its petals aren’t open
Its name isn’t in the books.
It’s ugly, but really--it’s a flower.
I sit on the ground of the capital of the country at five in the afternoon
and slowly pass my hand on this insecure form.
Beside the mountains, massive clouds pile up.
Little white dots move on the sea, chickens in panic.
It's ugly. But it's a flower. It breached the asphalt, the ennui, the nausea and the hate.
© Natalie Wood (07 August 2016)