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In the Middle of the Road -- Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Guest poem submitted by Nisha Pillai:
(Poem #1471) In the Middle of the Road
 In the middle of the road there was a stone
 there was a stone in the middle of the road
 there was a stone
 in the middle of the road there was a stone.

 Never should I forget this event
 in the life of my fatigued retinas.
 Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
 there was a stone
 there was a stone in the middle of the road
 in the middle of the road there was a stone.
-- Carlos Drummond de Andrade
        Translated by Elizabeth Bishop.

I came across this poem recently because a colleague recommended it to
me. It sounds beautiful in the original Portuguese, much better than the
English version, says my Brazilian friend. Since the English version is
the only one I understand, who am I to argue? :-)

The poem is simplicity itself. I choose to think that it symbolizes an
event that altered the course of the poet's life, but that's just me.

Here it is in Portuguese:

 "No meio do caminho"

 No meio do caminho tinha uma pedra
 tinha uma pedra no meio do caminho
 tinha uma pedra
 no meio do caminho tinha uma pedra

 Nunca me esquecerei dêsse acontecimento
 na vida de minhas retinas tão fatigadas.
 Nunca me esquecerei que no meio do caminho
 tinha uma pedra
 tinha uma pedra no meio do caminho
 no meio do caminho tinha uma pedra.

        -- Carlos Drummond de Andrade

[Biography]

Andrade, Carlos Drummond de, 1902-87, Brazilian poet. The son of
landowners, he worked as a journalist before earning (1925) a degree in
pharmacology. In 1928 Andrade became a civil servant while working as a
newspaper editor. His first volume of poems, Alguma poesia [some poetry]
(1930), exhibited many characteristics of Brazilian modernism. Andrade
is considered the major Brazilian poet of his time; his works include
Poesias [poems] (1942), A rosa do povo [the people's rose] (1945), Claro
enigma [clear enigma] (1951), A vida passada a limpo [life in a new
copy] (1959), and As impurezas do branco [the impurities of white]
(1973). He also wrote essays and award-winning translations of European
writers.

Nisha.

24 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Virani Salima said...

I confess my total ignorance here - I don't "get" it. Can someone please explain to me the significance of the repetition? Has the writer deliberately omitted punctuations?

Thanks in advance,

Salima (with a stone in her head!)

lpaganin said...

I've never understood this poem, which Bishop translates in her Complete
Poems. Andrade, perhaps the most famous Brazilian poet, writes beautiful,
accessible poems, usually. But what on Earth does he intend to do here? And
why would Bishop--a poet who increasingly replaced opacity with clear
meaning--choose this poem, among all of Andrade's work, to tranlsate?

The poem strikes me as some sort of arch modernist experiment. Can any
Andrade fans lend some insight? After being perplexed by this one for so
long, I'd enjoy watching its meaning appear like a comet in murk.

(Incidentally, check out Bishop's "Song for the Rainy Season," a poem
included on this site. Her description of the Brazilian subtropics is
rapturous.)

Dustin Smith

Maraiba Christu said...

I have always loved this poem. I had not heard about the reference to WW2. For me it is a startling expression of the immediacy of experience. One stone, so simple, the stone like bare bones; the stone as a symbol of the enduring stuff of earth we live on, of life itself (we are minerals and water). To encounter it like that, one stone in the middle of the road, consciousness singing like a stone. A stone in the middle of the road (unavoidable, a full encounter). Profoundly meaningful, beautiful in ways too mysterious to explain. How would we express such things without poetry?
That's my take anyway.

Roberta Gould said...

wanted to print up the little stone poem of Drummond de Andrade
..origiginal and translation...Please help..thanks..

roberta

www://robertagould.net

Kees-Jan Donkers said...

Dear ...,
I would like to contact Elizabeth Bishop about her translation of this poem.
Any idea how to find her?

Thank you,
Kees-Jan Donkerswww.zeghethelder.nu

Elaine Ochi said...

This poem was actually written as a reaction agains conservative poetry. It doesn´t necessarily mean something, it was suppose to shock people who were against the modernist movement. And it did. Nowadays here in Brazil, everybody has heard of this verse that became so famous: "There was a rock in the middle of the street..."

Anonymous said...

I think that the poem is a story on life. think about it like this there is a guy walking down a path/making a choice to do something and there are roadblocks in his way making it hard to reach his goals. But he keeps fighting it even though he is tired and exhausted he goes through life kicking down obstacle after obstacle to reach his goal.

Anonymous said...

Memória
Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Amar o perdido
 deixa confundido 
este coração.

Nada pode o olvido
 contra o sem sentido 
apelo do Não.

As coisas tangíveis
btornam-se insensíveis
à palma da mão

Mas as coisas findas
muito mais que lindas,
essas ficarão.
google translation :
Memory
Loving the lost
leaves confused this heart
 t. 

Oblivion can do nothing
against the senseless appeal of No

The tangible things 
 become desensitized to the palm
But consummated things much more than beautiful, they will be forever

Inside said...

it s about HOW you see life and happenings along the time.
Drummond is huge brazilian writer.
this poem translates how he was simple and deep on his understanding of people , relatinships and world.
reading a poem is much more than read the words is reading a person, the time she/he lived ... please, don t be a simple minded person.

que se chama Luísa said...

Well, Elaine Ochi is right. This poem was supposed to shock by being shockingly simple for the overthought poems written at the time in Brazil. It is the shape of the poem that calls attention, not its content. The poem is about simplicity - and what can be simpler than a stone? And it is a stone indeed: Drummond said he was walking on the street and saw a stone and wrote about it. The reader can say anything about the stone, that is an obstacle, or that is a moment to make choices of something else, and it will not be wrong if you understand it that way. You are free to make your meaning for it. But, for Drummond, as he once said, it was a stone and just a stone.

I've never seen a Brazilian poem translated to English. It was interesting :)

Debbie said...

No. Drummond isn't THAT simple. It is extremely false to say that "he only did that to shock". First of all, the poets who were the most engaged into the "shocking" were the ones from Brazil's first generation of Modernists, which Oswald de Andrade was a good representative of. Carlos Drummond de Andrade belongs to the second generation of Modernists (from 1930 to 1945, more or less) and those writers are famous for being more moderate when compared to the first generation, who overused of modern techniques, mainly on poems. The second generation used those innovations in a more equilibrated way.

The stones symbolize the difficulties we go through on our lives, as if the "road" were life, and the "stone", the obstacles.

And it ends exactly the same way it begins, to insinuate it doesn't end. As long as we live, we will always face difficulties, and when we get through one, there will be another difficulty on our lives, another stone on the road.

And this is why he repeats those words so much.

Anonymous said...

No, it's not a simple poem, I agree. And it is a modernist experiment. The difficulties of life? Perhaps... But that explanation is also too simplistic and reductive. *Our* difficulty in finding a straightforward meaning in the poem is, presumably, part of its aim. The famous repeated line is a quote of Dante's opening to the Divine Comedy, "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita" (In the middle of the road of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight path was lost, etc., etc., etc.), where the Italian poet describes the beginning of his allegorical voyage through hell, purgatory and heaven.

Whereas Dante is lost at the beginning of his narrative and whereas the early, difficult imagery that resists interpretation in his poem eventually gives way to the hope for eternal plenitude and salvation, in CDA's poem, we're just stuck with this damn stone in the middle of the road. Are we even lost? Are we even looking for salvation? What are we supposed to do with this obstacle in the road? He will never forget this "event" (acontecimento) in the "life" of his tired eyes. But, how can the presence of a stone in the middle of the road be qualified as an event? Presumably the event he refers to is somehow related to the frustration we feel at not being able to interpret this stupid, mute object. Yet it's there, and the poem does sounds so good (in Portuguese, at least), so melancholy, so "metaphysically" tired.

The poem, and the stone in it, are a scandal--both in the sense the earlier poster hinted at in describing the initial reactions to it but also in the etymological sense, from the Greek skandalon, meaning "stumbling block." We can't help but trip over this thing. It captures our attention yet leaves us eternally perplexed. Unlike Dante's poem there is no road to metaphysical certainties here. Just a stone in the road.

Pedro said...

I thing the problem is the translation: the word 'caminho' in portuguese can be read with two meanings: road and way.

"was a rock on the way"

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Gabriel Morais said...

Hi, I'm a brazilian guy bringing a little poem from Carlos to you. Enjoy it.

"stop
a vida parou
ou foi o automóvel?"

My poor translation to english:
"stop
the life has stopped
or was it the automobile?"

It's the whole poem.

Anonymous said...

Everyonem sorry my English right...

"Stone" (Above) can be more clear as a problematic situation felt (lived) by author (the poet), so translating stone doesn't mean necessarily it in this simple way.

Anonymous said...

Open your mind for a different view...

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