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Rónai - The Sonnet of Arvers.docx

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Rónai - The Sonnet of Arvers.docx
  The Sonnet of Arvers By Paulo Rónai Translated by Tom Moore   At first I thought the idea of devoting an entire book to a single poem was odd. Even if it were a poem which was tumultuous, full of mysteries, like Rimbaud’s Le bateau ivre, for which Augusto Meyers promises an exegesis in the near future, or a disturbing little poem, all made of implications, such as the “Prêto no Branco” which Lêdo Ivo used recently as the pretext for a spirited analysis of the art of Manuel Bandeira! But the “Sonnet of Arvers”, a little work that everyone knows by heart, and never posed any enigmas to the imagination! and which, moreover, can already be summed up by its first quatrain: Mon âme a son secret, ma vie a son mystère: Un amour eternal en un moment conçu; Le mal est sans espoir, aussi j’ai dû le taire,   Et celle qui l’a fait n’en a jamais rien su.  Tant de bruit pour un sonnet! As I did not know the author, I had formed an erroneous idea of the book. And so I let it sit in the bookshelf for a long time without opening it, pointlessly delaying the pleasure which reading it would give me. Mr. Melo Nóbrega, whose bibliography is not notable for its quantity, already dedicated a volume to the history of the river Tietê. His present objective, though it may seem insignificant in comparison with the previous one, encloses an unforeseen wealth of confluences and ramifications, which only a sagacious and cultivated spirit would be able to discover.  Above all else, his sense of measure is praiseworthy, a quality rare in authors of monographs, who are often inclined to overvalue the topic which has monopolized their attention for such a long time. Recognizing the mediocrity of the “king of sonnets”, he treats him rather as a phenomenon of literary life, and not as a pure esthetic product, and is principally interested in the problem of the survival of these fourteen isolated lines, unsupported by any other work by Arvers, a minor Romantic poet. He shows how, within them, a commonplace of poetry of every age, but especially of Romantic poetry, came to be expressed in a balanced form, directly and simply, free from Romantic exaggerations. With its genesis and literary fate explained, not only does the sonnet gain a panoramic perspective, but other perspectives open on the relation of the work of art to the life of the author, with critical reception, with the public, with posterity. Drawing on vast erudition, but which never become heavy, being subordinated to the control of good taste, the chapters of this delicious study unfold, together offering a model of literary monography. We are first introduced to the environment in which the sonnet unfolded, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in the time of Chares Nodier, and we see the modest figure of Félix Arvers pass through, amidst contemporaries of the first rank, and sigh platonically for the muse of the salon, Nodier’s daughter. The sonnet appears, of limited srcinality, in the weave of which we see echoes and perhaps unconscious reminiscences of lines from earlier poets; its vicissitudes, the periodic neglect which envelops it, its  successive rediscoveries are related with the finesse of one who always knows how to bring out the revealing or picturesque detail. The same selective spirit puts in order the allusions, replies, imitations and pastiches which the sonnet gave rise to, until in the final chapter Melo Nóbrega lingers over a critical examination of the most well-known of its innumerable Brazilian translations.  As the principal value of the study lies precisely in its bringing together small but meaningful details, it is impossible to summarize it. Particularly instructive are the data concerning the great number of misunderstandings which contributed toward the crystallization of its fragile but enduring glory. The love which inspired the sonnet was not one of those great romantic passions; the situation it describes (sentiment unknown to the woman who provoked it) did not correspond to reality; the reply circulated as being from the pitiless muse was nothing more than a pastiche; the artistic perfection of the verses is a myth, which vanishes upon deeper study. To sum up, everything about the sonnet is mediocre: the protagonists, the sentimento, the events  –  but, through a miracle unique in his otherwise insignificant work,  Arvers brought together these elements in their culminating moment, this unique instant of poetry latent in the life of every person. The extraordinary success of the sonnet in Brazil, where its translation became so to speak an obligatory test for poets, and the name of the poet a conventional rhyme for mulher (woman), suggests to the commentator some acute observations on the possibility of translating poetry in general, as well as the degree of approximation achieved by the various translators. It is interesting to note that this poem, so often translated into Portuguese, would seem rather to discourage this, since none of the rhymes, once translated, continues to rhyme. Those translators who hang on to any of them fail in their attempt: thus, for example, one who retains mistério at the end of the first line, through fidelity to mystère in the French, is then forced to rhyme it with cemitério, refrigério, etéreo, funéreo, sério, etc., words that involve a distortion of the meaning and compromise the discretion and moderation that are the chief values of the srcinal.  Among the versions considered in the volume, that of D. Pedro II deserves special attention (happy age in which monarchs translated sonnets!), less for its esthetic value (“The transl ation by our benevolent Emperor does not add to his literary merit”), than for the fact that in the imperial translation none of the six verbs of the first strophe of the srcinal are carried over: Segrêdo d’alma, da existência arcano,  Eterno amor um instante concebido, Mal sem esperança, oculto a ente humano, E nunca de quem fe-lo, conhecido. If this metamorphosis of six orations into a single exclamation is quite curious, there are other translations which are no less picturesque and unexpected. A cotejo of the best of them  –  of which Prof. Júlio Nogueira spiritedly tried to create a fusion  –  leads us to suppose that, at least in theory, there should be only one perfect translation into Portuguese which is possible, which remains to be achieved. There is, then no reason for translators to give up hope: the “Sonnet” of Arvers, with which we are already so saturated, is still waiting, in spite of the hundreds of attempts which have already been made, for its definitive incorporation into the lyric poetry of the Portuguese language. To my mind, from this point on, its greatest merit, more than transmuting a sentimental truism into poetry, consists in having stimulated the appearance of this handsome essay, a true model for scholars who have decided to focus on isolated works of literature, especially  for the future authors of doctoral dissertations. Melo Nóbrega has offered us the work of a true humanist.
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