Jan Slauerhoff: Portuguese Fort (From Dutch)

Slauerhoff wrote the first draft of this poem (originally titled Portugeesch Welkom "A Portuguese Welcome") in 1922, at the age of 24 during his first visit to Portugal. The poem was inspired by a visit to an abandoned fort by the harbor of Leixões. The speaker conjures forth an imagined a past which cannot be revived. The welcome cannonade does not resound, and an awareness of cruel colonial reality - of the misery in which forts and harbors of this sort are instrumental - knifes the imagination.

Portuguese Fort
By Jan Slauerhoff
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Behind the elegant tipped palisade, 
The plaza's hot enamel plate slopes low. 
For admiration the seraglio 
Bends over the alabaster balustrade 

Convinced that many a tender detail lies
Unveiled in tulle dusk where the heavens fade.   
Over the handheld fan, a flicker of eyes 
As red lips slurp away at lemonade.  

The general commands a cannonade 
Of welcome. No shots fire. Still as death's shade. 
A hero is not proven in bravado 
Of restless din, but in the bastinado1
Of negro slaves, the whip on the black body 
Under the cheer of 'Viva Liberdade'2

Notes:

1 - Bastinado: footwhipping, a type of corporal punishment. For more on that see this wikipedia article.

2 - Portuguese for "Long live liberty." The original reads "Vivo Liberdade" which is probably a careless mistake. Either that or a sign that Slauerhoff's Portuguese wasn't yet up to snuff.

The Original:

Portugeesch Fort

Achter elegante palissaden
Helt het plein, een plaat van heet émail.
Voor bewondering veil buigt het sérail
Over de albasten balustrade;

Overtuigd dat menig teer détail
In den tullen schemer zich laat raden.
De oogen flikkren over de' éventail,
Roode lippen slurpen limonade.

De generaal gelast een kanonnade
Tot welkom. 't Blijft doodstil, geen schot brandt los
‘Heldenmoed bewijst zich niet door daden
Vol druk rumoer, dan maar een bastonnade
Van negerslaven, ranselt er op los
Onder 't gejuich van: Vivo Liberdade!’


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