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Elizabeth Bishop Posted by on Feb 10, 2011 in Literature

As those of our non-Brazilian students may know, once you fall in love with Brazil, there’s no going back, and sometimes you end up staying longer than you expect. Such was the case with one of the United States’ most brilliant poets, Elizabeth Bishop.

Bishop (1911-1979) was born in Massachusetts, and traveled extensively after graduating from college. She won a fellowship to visit South America, and she arrived in the port of Santos in 1951, expecting to stay for two weeks. Instead, she stayed in Brazil for fifteen years.

During her time in Brazil, she wrote four collections of poems, including the anthology North & South. She also translated Portuguese poems into English, including works by João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade. She won various awards in the US and Brazil for her writing, including the Pulitzer Prize and A Ordem do Rio Branco.

Let’s take a look at one of her poems in both English and Portuguese.

One Art  – Uma Arte [translation]

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
A arte de perder não é nenhum mistério
tantas coisas contém em si o acidente
de perdê-las, que perder não é nada sério.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Perca um pouco a cada dia. Aceite austero,
a chave perdida, a hora gasta bestamente.
A arte de perder não é nenhum mistério.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
Depois perca mais rápido, com mais critério:
lugares, nomes, a escala subseqüente
da viagem não feita. Nada disso é sério.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Perdi o relógio de mamãe. Ah! E nem quero
lembrar a perda de três casas excelentes.
A arte de perder não é nenhum mistério.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
Perdi duas cidades lindas. Um império
que era meu, dois rios, e mais um continente.
Tenho saudade deles. Mas não é nada sério.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied.  It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Mesmo perder você (a voz, o ar etéreo, que eu amo)
não muda nada. Pois é evidente
que a arte de perder não chega a ser um mistério
por muito que pareça (escreve) muito sério.

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