During a session about “The many faces of Camilo Pessanha”, under The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival programme, on March 12, a Chinese translation, by poet Yao Feng, of Clepsydra was launched.

By Luciana Leitão

He is now seen as probably the most influential Portuguese author to have lived in China, but he was not the dearest one when he was alive. In a session about “The many faces of Camilo Pessanha”, under The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival programme, the most knowledgeable people gathered to discuss him, his work, his connection to the Chinese world. And the translation of Clepsydra, by poet Yao Jinming — or Yao Feng, his poetic pseudonym —, for Chinese, was presented.

Given his love for China and the Chinese poetry, it is very important for Portuguese identity that this translation is presented here today,” journalist Carlos Morais José — and moderator of the session — started by saying, referring to the Clepsydra translation. “I want to bring the Portuguese poetry to the Chinese,” answered Yao Feng.

In his presentation, Mr Yao said that this “translation also had a few losses,” as, like poet Robert Frost used to say, “poetry is what gets lost in the translation”. Admitting the difficulties in achieving the right meaning, Mr Yao said that, with this, Camilo Pessanha “now has a new face”. And, when it is possible, he intends to revise it, so as to “bring more musicality to the Chinese verses”.

There was already a first edition of Clepsydra in Chinese, in a translation by Chen Yong Yi, published in 1997. Yet, Mr Yao — poet and former vice-president of the Cultural Affairs Bureau — has said previously to the press it was not satisfactory.

The many faces

Local artist Pedro Barreiros admits Camilo Pessanha has had an influence in his life — and in his Macanese family. “I was four years old when I left [Macau] and I was over 40 when I came back, the second time, to do a painting exhibition inspired on Clepsydra,” he recalls. For him, Pessanha was important not only due to his own work, but due to his translations of Chinese poets. “Apart from Pessanha’s poems, he was very important to me because he brought to me the knowledge of Chinese poetry,” he says, referring to a few poems translated by him.

Researcher Daniel Pires says Camilo Pessanha was a man of “many faces”. He was a “humanist” that fought for “the application of human rights” and, as a citizen, he fought for the implementation of the Republic in Portugal, in 1910. He protested “against the death penalty” and, contrarily to most Portuguese living in China, shortly after coming to Macau, he was “already learning and writing Chinese”. In addition, he was “an art collector” and he “demystified” the juridical system of the time.

Brazilian author and researcher Paulo Franchetti says he first read Camilo Pessanha‘s work, when he was younger and studying. “I couldn’t understand anything of what he wrote,” he says, even though the “verses were enchanting”.

Upon doing his PhD, he chose precisely “that strange poet from his youth”, to make peace. “Then, I realised we had no reliable edition of Pessanha, when I started gathering his texts,” as it seemed many of his things “had had the editors’ intervention”.

The author published poems in newspapers and magazines, but the only published book was Clepsydra, in 1920 — it was published by Ana de Castro Osório, from autographs and newspaper clips, as the author was at the time residing in Macau. Later on, her son, João de Castro Osório, amplified the original Clepsydra, adding poems that were, in the meantime, found.

After approaching Danilo Barreiros — father of Pedro Barreiros — and Daniel Pires, and gathering information about the poet’s writings, in 1995, Paulo Franchetti published a new book, with the critical compilation of Pessanha’s verses under the name Clepsydra. “I recorded all the phases of the compositions, all the writing gestures of the poet. I gathered all the documents,” he says.

The faithfulness of the work

Having researched Camilo Pessanha, Mr Franchetti says he was concerned in changing the usual biography of the poet — of “being a proud, intolerant man, that did not follow the social predicament” and that, as a result, “created in Macau many enemies”. His goal was to “release Pessanha from that spiteful biography in Macau, but also in Portugal”.

Moderator Carlos Morais José says Mr Franchetti had “a fantastic role” of compiling the “intromissions” to Pessanha’s work, but there is still a lack of a complete edition of the poet’s work. “Next year, we celebrate the 150 years of the birth of Pessanha and there is not yet one edition of all the author’s work,” he says.

We now know that the book of 1920 [the first edition of Clepsydra] had very little of the original,” Mr Franchetti adds.

Despite the lack of accurateness, Mr José says the important is “not to lose Pessanha’s work”, as it is “fundamental” for Macau’s identity.