Translating João do Rio


To the translator’s eye, it is evident from the outset that there are two aspects to João do Rio’s style, albeit interwoven aspects: sound and meaning. In ‘The Street’, the essay that opens the anthology, in the first paragraph alone there are four cases where a word is linked by an ‘and’ to a virtual synonym:

as idades e as épocas” – “the ages and the epochs”;
aparecidos e iguais” – “similar and the same”;
une e agremia” – “unites and brings together”;
persiste e fica” – “persists and remains”.

This is but one of the signs that João do Rio chooses his words as much for their sound and rhythm as for their meaning. Sonority as well as meaning becomes an integral part of the translating process.

The greatest challenge, however, that ‘The Enchanting Soul of the Streets’ presents the translator is the fact that the texts abound with quotations from poets and, a greater challenge still, popular songs and verses. In these cases my primary consideration has been to maintain, as well as the meaning, the spirit of the original, which is expressed in the metrification and rhymes.

This is the only work of non-fiction so far included in the series. João do Rio’s readers were his contemporaries; they not only knew the city – its buildings, landmarks, streets and districts – as well as he did; they were also well acquainted with Brazilian history, recent events, the authors and artists he mentions. Thus the book required paying particular attention to annotating references, not only in the English text, but in the original too.

At best a translation can only convey an echo of the streets of Rio de Janeiro a hundred years ago, described in the ornate, inspired Portuguese of the Belle Époque. But an echo, I hope, that still reverberates with some of the original sound.