Passages from The enchanting soul of the streets


The article called ‘Carnival’ includes typical carnival songs of the time. Here is an example:

Behind us, with no collars, dressed in thin cotton, puffing and panting, came a group of university students, the diplomats of tomorrow and future pride of the nation, bellowing furiously the refrain of the day, one of those refrains that only appears during Carnival:

There’s jus’ two things
That makes me cry
Pain in the gut
And Captain Bligh!
Há duas coisa
Que me faz chorá
É nó nas tripa
E bataião navá!

 

 

 

(In the original, where the endings of the words are clipped a little like in cockney English, apart from ‘a pain in the gut’ what the young men most fear is the ‘naval battalion’, in other words, compulsory military service. The conditions in the navy at the time where not unlike Captain Bligh’s regime. Excessive flogging for minor offences was to lead to the ‘Revolt of the Lash’ in 1910).


At times the popular verses are simply absurd, as in this example from the essay that closes the anthology ‘The Muse of the Streets’

The rats go kee, kee, kee,
Kee, kee, kee, kee, kee
The fleas jump over here
Over there, from there to here, from here to there,
The cats go meow
Meow, meow, meow
Whoever invented the bubonic plague
Deserves a thrashing, and how!
Os ratos fazem qui, qui, qui,
Qui, qui, qui, qui, qui
As pulgas pulam daqui
Pra ali, dali praqui, daqui prali
Os gatos fazem miau
Miau, miau, miau
Quem inventou a peste bubônica
Merece muito Pau.

 


But in the essay that opens the book, ‘The Street’, the author quotes some of the best poets of the period, as in this example by Mário Pederneiras – “who gave us this extremely subtle, admirable perception of the city’s trees”:

With what aggrieved enchantment
With what sad yearning
Is my heart oppressed
By the alien look of these trees of the street.
And yet they of nature’s profusion
Are a city’s only illusion!The urban trees
In general keep their counsel, aloof
From all the joys and lavish cheers
Of country peers.To not an inkling of the peace and tenderness
Of those wide, laconic, sylvan morns
Nor to verdant grace of fruits, nor to music from the nest
Do these city trees attest.

Com que magoado encanto
Com que triste saudade
Sobre mim atua
Esta estranha feição das árvores da rua.
E elas são, entretanto,
A única ilusão rural de uma cidade!As árvores urbanas
São, em geral, conselheiras e frias
Sem as grandes expansões e as grandes alegrias
Das provincianas.Não têm sequer os plácidos carinhos
Dessas largas manhãs provinciais e enxutas.
Nem a orquestra dos ninhos
Nem a graça vegetal das frutas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And these lines from the incomparabe Olavo Bilac:

Along the haunted avenue of heartache and distress
See the sad procession on its weeping way progress,
Where daily walk the souls deprived of love and happiness.
A Avenida assombrada e triste da saudade
Onde vem passear a procissão chorosa
Dos órfãos do carinho e da felicidade.

 

 

 

 

 


But there is nowhere, in his entire output where the poetic power of the author is so evident as in the magnificent paragraph which ends the opening essay of the anthology, ‘The Street’, when the author finds himself in the invisible street of prejudice and slander:

“But there is another street, built of imagination and distress; an abject, evil street, detested and detestable, which we enter against our will, where to tread is to be ignominiously dragged along through the scum of a city and its people. There everyone jostles and vociferates; everyone, whether they come from the Street of Happiness or the Street of Peace, on foot from the backstreets of the Saco do Alferes or by motorcar from the wealthy neighbourhoods, meets there and there they trudge along, in sobs, railing against life and against the world. But with all its imprecations and its rancour, in the pattern of the city streets it goes all but unobserved. It is a murky, veiled street, shrouded in darkness, with palaces of pain and hovels of tears; whose existence is not revealed by a sign on the corner but by a vague apprehension, a relentless feeling of anguish; from which you will never succeed in averting your steps. I scoured the maps of Athens, of Rome, of Nineveh and Babylon, the maps of ancient cities. Bath houses, canals, fountains, hanging gardens, places for business, places for love, places for worshipping the gods – all have disappeared. Look at the maps of modern cities. Over the centuries the transformation has been almost complete. The streets are perishable, like men. This other, however, this terrible street, known and hated by us all, which we daily walk along, this is everlasting; like envy, like infamy, like fear. When Jerusalem shone at the height of its splendour, it already existed. While in Athens artists and athletes received ovations, while in Rome the crowd applauded triumphant gladiators and dissolute emperors, in the street of torment it spat opprobrium and wept its innocence. Carthage had such a street, and even today Paris, New York, Berlin have theirs; severing their happiness, sullying their splendour, defiling all their triumphs and all their beauty. Which of you has not unexpectedly turned the corner that conceals this street? If you have wept, if you have been vilified, if you have been wounded by the talk behind your back, you can be sure that you have entered that tenebrous way! Ah! Don’t try to avoid it. You will never succeed. The more you try to get free of it, the more it will make you suffer. And never expect the world to improve as long as it exists. It is not a street where only a few of us suffer; it is the never-ending street, that crosses cities, countries, continents, that runs from pole to pole; where all ideals are slashed to pieces, every truth insulted, where Epaminondas suffered and along which Jesus walked. Perhaps when the world has ended, when all the stars have been put out and the cosmos plunged in darkness; perhaps it will still exist, its ominous sobs echoing in total ruin; street of tears, street of despair – never-ending Via Dolorosa.”

“Há ainda uma rua, construída na imaginação e na dor, rua abjeta e má, detestável e detestada, cuja travessia se faz contra a nossa vontade, cujo trânsito é um doloroso arrastar pelo enxurro de uma cidade e de um povo. Todos acotovelam-se e vociferam aí, todos, vindos da Rua da Alegria ou da Rua da Paz, atravessando as betesgas do Saco do Alferes ou descendo de automóvel dos bairros civilizados, encontram-se aí e aí se arrastam, em lamentações, em soluços, em ódio à vida e ao Mundo. No traçado das cidades ela não se ostenta com as suas imprecações e os seus rancores. É uma rua esconsa e negra, perdida na treva, com palácios de dor e choupanas de pranto, cuja existência se conhece não por um letreiro à esquina, mas por uma vaga apreensão, um irredutível sentimento de angústia, cuja travessia não se pode jamais evitar. Correi os mapas de Atenas, de Roma, de Nínive ou de Babilônia, o mapa das cidades mortas. Termas, canais, fontes, jardins suspensos, lugares onde se fez negócio, onde se amou, lugares onde se cultuaram os deuses – tudo desapareceu. Olhai o mapa das cidades modernas. De século em século a transformação é quase radical. As ruas são perecíveis como os homens. A outra, porém, essa horrível rua de todos conhecida e odiada, pela qual diariamente passamos, essa é eterna como o medo, a infâmia, a inveja. Quando Jerusalém fulgia no seu máximo esplendor, já ela lá existia. Enquanto em Atenas artistas e guerreiros recebiam ovações, enquanto em Roma a multidão aplaudia os gladiadores triunfais e os césares devassos, na rua aflitiva cuspinhava o opróbrio e chorava a inocência. Cartago tinha uma rua assim, e ainda hoje Paris, New York, Berlim a têm, cortando a sua alegria, empanando o seu brilho, enegrecendo todos os triunfos e todas as belezas. Qual de vós não quebrou, inesperadamente, o ângulo em arestas dessa rua? Se chorastes, se sofrestes a calúnia, se vos sentistes ferido pela maledicência, podereis ter a certeza de que entrastes na obscura via! Ah! Não procureis evitá-la! Jamais o conseguireis. Quanto mais se procura dela sair mais dentro dela se sofre. E não espereis nunca que o mundo melhore enquanto ela existir. Não é uma rua onde sofrem apenas alguns entes, é a rua interminável, que atravessa cidades, países, continentes, vai de pólo a pólo; em que se alanceiam todos os ideais, em que se insultam todas as verdades, onde sofreu Epaminondas e pela qual Jesus passou. Talvez que extinto o mundo, apagados todos os astros, feito o universo treva, talvez ela ainda exista, e os seus soluços sinistramente ecoem na total ruína, rua das lágrimas, rua do desespero – interminável rua da Amargura.”

 


The Globo newspaper published some passages from the bilingual edition of The Enchanting Soul of the Streets, which can be seen by clicking here.