- Foreword -

Poetry is untranslatable. No other word-based art form is as personal, intimate or defined by cultural and geographical context than poetry.

These were the first two certainties that dawned on me as I made the conscious decision to translate the work of my grandfather – the late, great Maurício de Almeida Gomes – into English.

Then came the specifics of the language. The sole reason to transpose his poems from the naturally rich and highly metaphoric Portuguese of the original into an English version is merely practical.

English is the most international language of all. It’s a language I have solid command over and, therefore, the best vehicle with which to share some of the very few published poems of my grandfather’s.

The challenge ensued. And the simplicity of form made it all the more complex a task.

There’s an immediacy to the choice of words, which is very clearly employed by my grandfather to support the urgent, prophetic tone of each poem.

Like all great minds expressing themselves artistically, he understood that you could say the most with the very least…

I felt an immense responsibility as I began. Although my grandfather will remain in my memory as the kind, often silent, older man who would cook for me every other lunch-break of my school days, what I proposed myself to do now was daunting. Almost foolish.

A way of looking at it (and reconciling any doubts) was to think of it as a collaboration’ (albeit of the post-mortem kind). His immortal words will not be merely translated, but transposed. A necessary transmutation aimed towards retaining meaning, message and essence…’

But I wasn’t just about to meddle with the work of a gifted writer. I was about to enter the Historical context of what is perhaps the most influential Angolan poetry of its time.

The tone and form my grandfather adopted defined what was to become the Modern Angolan Poetry.

A lonely, visionary flare sent towards the stars… Into the uncertain, troubled future… Communicating to all those who were to think of themselves as alone and unheard that it is possible… That conscience and courage can make us who we want to be…

This is the legacy of Maurício de Almeida Gomes – the eternal poet whose intimidation by the hands of PIDE (the Portuguese Secret Police of the Fascist Years) and disenchantment with the exploitative Independence of Angola (of subsequent decades) prevented from writing again.

My dear grandfather, who once said he would never die, for he would live in his many children and grandchildren…

If my homeland is coloured...

my homeland has colour.

I’m not aware of any other land
where such beauty can be found
in the coloured syncope
of a late afternoon…

t’is still to be fated
such a snow-covered moonlight
which could spill so much milk
in nights of a full moon…

over my bronzed body,
over my soul clear as snow,
all over my homeland of such beauty,
intoxicating orgies of colour.

- if my homeland is coloured!...

in the bleeding wound
of the endless deep-red wildfire,
burning inside me,
and in the past darkness
of certain moonless nights;
and with the fire out
in the scintillating beacon
of the Vessel,
where my Race
was crucified,

- my homeland has colour!

in the sweetest fruits,
in the vast waters,
in the ploughed fields,
in the indigo skies,
in the bodies so dark
of black men
of black women,
in the little trembling stars,
- tears of God
shed by innocent negroes
there are sweet tones
fascinating shades
of colour

- if my homeland is coloured!...


we’re a set aside people
a people which fought and was defeated.

therefore, in my psalm,
I cry out and propose, negro,
that our flag
be a black cloak,
dark as the night without moonlight...

over such darkness of mourning and grief,
of our colour,
write, my brother,
with your rough, hesitant yet strong hand
the word of strength:

then trace, unwaveringly
these primary, edifying

work, enlightenment, education.

and in golden, splendid letters
(with now a firmer hand)
write, negro:

civilisation, progress, wealth.

in rose-tinted characters
outline with affection
the key-word of life:

in white letters
draw with affection
the sublime word:

in bright red
in blood-red,
with ink made out of crushed black bodies,
in battles that we’re still to fight,
in bright-red,
the colour of our blood
ground and mixed with bloody tears,
the tears shed by slaves,
write, negro, firm and confident,
each letter a block capital,
the supreme word
(eternal, noble ideal
of the troubled mankind,
for which it’s been fighting and suffering)
write, negro,
write, brother,
the supreme word:

around these lever-words
sow stars aplenty
each of them glowing
all of them immeasurable,
the perfect stars of our hope
the beautiful stars of our faith
stars that are sure to be found on our FLAG.

Tiny Star

players, come and play
marimbas, n’gomas, kissanges
come and summon our people
to the shores of the great Sea!

be seated and listen, brothers:
we need to understand
how Nature speaks to us,
telling of our pain,
crying our sadness.

now listen, my brothers:
that sun setting,
red as ember
it’s not merely sun. No!
it’s a clot of the blood
spilt from Angolans
that made Brazil!

listen to the sea, how it cries,
listen to the sea, how it prays...

behold the oncoming night,
black velvet woven
from a thousand shreds of skin
pulled by whip,
oh! Tore by whip,
from the back of our people,
when slavery reigned...

night is mourning
of which God covers the world
with mercy for us...
silver ring alight
rises lightly in space.
be aware that the glowing moon
contains frozen tears
by poor negroes cried...

the crowd, sitting by the sea,
then asks me:
- now tell us, brother,
that pale star
shining in the sky
so little and humble,
what’s its meaning?

perhaps it’s God
finally gazing over our people...

1 comment:

  1. My good friend,
    I'm sorry for your loss. My Prayers are with you and your family.

    I have seldom read poetry written so truthful.
    This honored man was indeed a very good writer.
    Through the reading you feel his pain and yet he never ceased to stop looking at the beauty which was around him.

    One feels his love for that which he held on to. That beauty to which I refer, build up all the strength he needed holding on to life it self. This is how I see him through his writings.

    Joao, maybe you might find this impolite what I am about to write now.
    I can Relate to all I read, what a strong and great man your Grandfather was.
    What you did, translating his Poetry is a gracious salute to Him!

    He is with Grandfather now looking down on you being proud of what you done.

    I thank you from the heart for sharing this with us all.