Monday, May 22, 2017

Florbela Espanca

Just before leaving for the airport, I spotted a poetry book on the shelves of our AirBnB apartment in Lisbon. It was called Sonetos and was a sort of selected poems of Florbela Espanca (1894-1930).

I hadn't heard of her before, yet her biography had many features that seemed rather familiar: an early 20th-century woman poet, feminist, sexually liberated, illness (physical and mental), suicide at a relatively young age. ... As if it blended together biographies of Karin Boye, Charlotte Salomon (the painter), Katherine Mansfield, Edith Södergran, more distantly Rosalia de Castro.... 

I just had time to make the discovery that I could read a surprising amount of the Portuguese text, based on my rudimentary Spanish, on common word-transformations, and on assumptions about the sort of things that early-twentieth century Portuguese poems might be saying.

The combined result was to leave a mental picture of Espanca .. but stereotyped, without the individual features of the other writers in that list, like a worn limestone statue. So I'm writing this post in the hope of learning a bit more. There's plenty of material in Portuguese but not much in English.


Florbela Espanca (1894-1930) foi uma poetisa portuguesa, autora de sonetos e contos importantes na literatura de Portugal. Foi uma das primeiras feministas de Portugal. Sua poesia é conhecida por um estilo peculiar, com forte teor emocional, onde o sofrimento, a solidão, e o desencanto estão aliados ao desejo de ser feliz.

Florbela Espanca (1894-1930) was a Portuguese poet, author of sonnets and important tales in the literature of Portugal. She was one of the first feminists in Portugal. Her poetry is known for a peculiar style with strong emotional content, where suffering, loneliness, and disenchantment are allied with the desire to be happy.



2012 Article in the Portuguese-American Journal, with translation of five poems, by Billie Maciunas:  , introducing Billie Maciunas' (still-not-published?) book of translations.

The death of Florbela's brother was a crucial event in her life. Billie Maciunas discusses it here, with some more translations:

Florbelian Symbology, discussion by Billie Maciunas:


Saudades! Sim.. talvez.. e por que não?...
Se o sonho foi tão alto e forte
Que pensara vê-lo até à morte
Deslumbrar-me de luz o coração!

Esquecer! Para quê?... Ah, como é vão!
Que tudo isso, Amor, nos não importe.
Se ele deixou beleza que conforte
Deve-nos ser sagrado como o pão.

Quantas vezes, Amor, já te esqueci,
Para mais doidamente me lembrar
Mais decididamente me lembrar de ti!

E quem dera que fosse sempre assim:
Quanto menos quisesse recordar
Mais saudade andasse presa a mim!

Florbela Espanca, in "Livro de Sóror Saudade"

Missing You
Missing you! Yes... maybe... and why not?...
If the dream was so high and strong
That I thought to see it till death
Dazzling my heart with light!

Forget! What for?... Ah, how vain it is!
That all this, my love, do not matter to us.
If it left beauty that comfort
It should be sacred as bread.

How many times, my love, I already forgot you,
In order to more madly remember
More definitely remember you!

And I wish it was always like this:
The less I wanted to remember
The more I would be missing you!

Florbela Espanca, in 'The Book of Sóror Saudade'


Eu quero amar, amar perdidamente!
Amar só por amar: Aqui... além...
Mais Este e Aquele, o Outro e toda a gente...
Amar! Amar! E não amar ninguém!

Recordar? Esquecer? Indiferente!...
Prender ou desprender? É mal? É bem?
Quem disser que se pode amar alguém
Durante a vida inteira é porque mente!

Há uma Primavera em cada vida:
É preciso cantá-la assim florida,
Pois se Deus nos deu voz, foi pra cantar!

E se um dia hei de ser pó, cinza e nada
Que seja a minha noite uma alvorada,
Que me saiba perder... pra me encontrar...

Florbela Espanca, in "Charneca em Flor"

To Love!
I want to love, to love madly!
Loving just for loving: Here... beyond...
More This and That one, the Other and everyone ...
To Love! To Love! And not loving anyone!

To Remember? To Forget? Indifferent!...
Attach or detach? Is it bad? Is it good?
Who says that you can love someone
During the entire life, is lying!

There is a Spring in every life:
You have to sing it as it is blossoming,
For if God has given us a voice, it was for singing!

And if one day I am dust, ash and nothing
Let my night be a dawn,
So I can lose myself... and find myself...

Florbela Espanca, in 'Heath in Bloom'


Se Tu Viesses Ver-me...
Se tu viesses ver-me hoje à tardinha,
A essa hora dos mágicos cansaços,
Quando a noite de manso se avizinha,
E me prendesses toda nos teus braços...

Quando me lembra: esse sabor que tinha
A tua boca... o eco dos teus passos...
O teu riso de fonte... os teus abraços...
Os teus beijos... a tua mão na minha...

Se tu viesses quando, linda e louca,
Traça as linhas dulcíssimas dum beijo
E é de seda vermelha e canta e ri

E é como um cravo ao sol a minha boca...
Quando os olhos se me cerram de desejo...
E os meus braços se estendem para ti...

Florbela Espanca, in "Charneca em Flor"

If You Came To See Me
If you came to see me today in the early evening,
At this hour of magic weariness,
When the gentle night is approaching,
And be all arrested in your arms...

When it reminds me: this flavor that had
Your mouth... the echo of your footsteps...
Your laughter of fountain... your hugs...
Your mouth... your hand in mine...

If you came when, beautiful and crazy,
Trace the sweetest lines of a kiss
And it's red silk and sings and laughs

And it's like a gillyflower in the sun my mouth...
When my eyes get closed by desire...
And my arms extend to you...

Florbela Espanca, in 'Heath in Bloom'    

(Translator(s) unknown ---  machine-translated maybe..  Found on the internet. I'm not giving the link here because it seems to trash my browser every time.)


"Cravo" ("Gillyflower") = "clavo" in Spanish, a carnation or clove pink (Dianthus caryophyllus) or perhaps one of its common wayside relatives.

The "cravo" has subsequently acquired further significance to the Portuguese, because of the Revolução dos Cravos on 25th April 1974.

[Image source:]

Most of the poems I've seen are 4-4-3-3 sonnets, but not all. I read somewhere that she also wrote stories.

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