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Mar Português – Fernando Pessoa

February 8, 2011

When I wrote about my Portuguese teacher from high school, I forgot to mention something for which I was thankful and that I actually talked about in my letter to her: Fernando Pessoa and my first contact with Portuguese poetry.

When you learn a new language, you do not necessarily think of poetry as convenient literature, and you want to reserve it for when you are much more confident with your language abilities. Yet our professor introduced us to some of Fernando Pessoa’s poems. Pessoa is a central, important, and talented European writer, yet he was never mentioned in any of my high school classes. Two of his works really made an impression on me: Mar Português, and O Tejo, written under one of his pseudonyms (Alberto Caeiro).

Mar Portugês is actually what made me think of writing to my Portuguese teacher. When I first arrived in Lisbon for my new job, I saw this poem on top of a taxi cab and it just brought back a whole lot of feelings and memories in mind, from when I was a teenager dreaming of some day living in this historical country, that once dominated the sea. Some dreams do come true. Photo by Louids

Here is an English translation of the original text by João Manuel Mimoso, though I’m not sure it really does justice to the original version:

Portuguese Sea

Oh salty sea, so much of your salt
Is tears of Portugal!
Because we crossed you, so many mothers wept,
So many sons prayed in vain!
So many brides remained unmarried
That you might be ours, oh sea!

Was it worthwhile? All is worthwhile
When the spirit is not small.
He who wants to go beyond the Cape
Has to go beyond pain.
God to the sea peril and abyss has given
But it was in it that He mirrored heaven.

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4 Comments
  1. Hi there,
    This is the third time I have tried to leave you a comment! So I hope it works… I will be brief because it keeps refreshing on its own :-)!
    This is a beautiful poem and I am happy to read that a good teacher inspired you…
    Thank you for stopping by my blog!
    Eliz

    • Hi! I’m glad you liked this poem ;)
      Thanks for taking the time to comment despite the untimely refresh, I appreciate your effort!

  2. I’m always torn on the subject of translated poetry. In poems words are chosen for a reason and usually have many different layers and meanings, I’m not sure you can translate those layers of poet’s intention. That’s why I’m so glad I learned Russian, because English or any other translation doesn’t even come close to describing the melancholy that soaks through most of Russian poetry.

    Having said that, Pablo Neruda is one of my favorite poets and I’ve only ever read him in English.

  3. Hello there! You have won an award. Come by to pick it up! :)

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