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

October 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

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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