This morning, I came across one of my father’ s old reading books, and there, among other poems, was A Carolina, Machado de Assis’ most well-known sonnet. He wrote it in 1906, two years after his wife for more than thirty years passed away. He seemed unable to find happiness without her and, two years after writing this poem, in 1908, he died. I love his novels. However, his short stories are superb for their plots, language, and for portraying everyday life in diverse social contexts, of the town of Rio de Janeiro in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.
Why do I love A Carolina? My answer is simple: Love. It is the representation of the everlasting devotion of a spouse–I do not see him as a widower since she has continued close to him in thoughts and the daily visits to her grave. Machado de Assis tells the world he still loves Carolina. He proclaims his love in a sonnet with its fixed rules and this choice makes his proclamation a lesson of love made publicly and of his intense mastery of language.
The translation I present here has the sole aim of opening a tiny bit the door to Machado de Assis (1839-1908) to those that have never had a chance to get a peek at his writing.
My darling, at the foot of your deathbed
On which you repose from your long life,
I come and always will, hapless dear of mine,
To yield you the companion’s heart.
It throbs with that sincere sentiment
That despite all human strife,
Has perked up our existence
And housed in a corner the whole world.
I bring you flowers, remains I have plucked
From the soil that has seen us track together
And dead now it leaves us and apart.
Today, if l bear in my bruised eyes
Life thoughts I have once dreamed,
These are already gone and terminated.
(Original version in Portuguese)
Querida, ao pé do leito derradeiro
Em que descansas dessa longa vida,
Aqui venho e virei, pobre querida,
Trazer-te o coração do companheiro.
Pulsa-lhe aquele afeto verdadeiro
Que, a despeito de toda a humana lida,
Fez a nossa existência apetecida
E num recanto pôs um mundo inteiro.
Trago-te flores,—restos arrancados
Da terra que nos viu passar unidos
E ora mortos nos deixa e separados.
Que eu, se tenho nos olhos malferidos
Pensamentos de vida formulados,
São pensamentos idos e vividos.
Photo by Mausilinda