Home > poets > Seven-Sided Poem (by Carlos Drummond De Andrade)

Seven-Sided Poem (by Carlos Drummond De Andrade)

When I was born, one of the crooked
angels who live in shadow, said:
Carlos, go on! Be gauche in life.

The houses watch the men,
men who run after women.
If the afternoon had been blue,
there might have been less desire.

The trolley goes by full of legs:
white legs, black legs, yellow legs.
My God, why all the legs?
my heart asks. But my eyes
ask nothing at all.

The man behind the moustache
is serious, simple, and strong.
He hardly ever speaks.
He has a few, choice friends,
the man behind the spectacles and the moustache.

My God, why hast Thou forsaken me
if Thou knew’st I was not God,
if Thou- knew’st that I was weak.

Universe, vast universe,
if I had been named Eugene
that would not be what I mean
but it would go into verse
faster.

Universe, vast universe,
my heart is vaster.

I oughtn’t to tell you,
but this moon
and this brandy
play the devil with one’s emotions.

Translated by Elizabeth Bishop

The title of this poem reveals something about its structure. It has eight verses. But only seven sides. This is one side per verse minus the last verse, which, as we shall see, highlights the poems’ context and structure in retrospect.

But don’t expect seven different angles to a clearly demarcated topic. It’s more like a collage of seven rather surrealistic vistas or thoughts. The fact that there is little relation between the content of the verses enhances that surrealistic character.

Reading the poem feels somewhat like browsing through a small pile of postcards. One gets no clue about the glue … unless reaching the end. The final verse reveals something, without ruining anything. One has to ingest the seven sides first:

I oughtn’t to tell you.
But this moon
And this brandy
Play the devil with one’s emotions

So the culprits leading to this poem are brandy and the moon. Surely the brandy accounts for the rather surreal character of several images and thoughts throughout the poem – but mainly in the first four verses – while the moon explicates the yearning exclamations, invoking God and the universe, in the following three verses.

By far the most bizarre image is that of a trolley full of legs. It’s strange but also interesting. Though we certainly don’t encounter trolleys filled with legs every day, his reaction to that image betrays the stable workings of our faculties. Eyes observe without responding, however shocking the matter witnessed. We need the intellect and the emotions, ‘the brain and the heart’, to realise – and, if possible, come to terms – with what is seen.

But whereas normally, realisations can be terribly painful, and recognising that we are facing a trolley full of legs would doubtlessly frighten us, his reaction here is one of curiosity (‘my God, why all the legs?’) rather than fright. That reaction derogates somewhat the normal significance of such a strange encounter, tallying very well the verse’s surreal nature.

In a way, the modest man behind the moustache comes as an oasis of peace in this string of weird images and half-baked thoughts, as if the protagonist temporarily regains his sobriety. Nevertheless, even here, there is something comic-strip-collage like about the image of a man behind spectacles and a moustache.

And then he starts to yearn, invoking God and the universe. And Eugene:

Universe, vast universe
If I had been named Eugene
that would not be what I mean
but it would go into verse
faster.

Eugene must be a reference to the Portuguese Poet Eugene De Andrade. I don’t know the relation between these two Andrades, but I suspect Eugenio to have been more prolific.

Universe, vast universe
My heart is vaster.

Never underestimate the powers of the onlooker!

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  1. August 10, 2013 at 18:44

    Excellent job of explaining a beautiful, albeit intricate, poem. Thank you.

    Like

    • August 11, 2013 at 11:08

      Thank you. You see, I’m always fascinated by how poets structure their material. There seem to be literally hundreds of ways to do so (apart from the classical rhyming schemes).

      Like

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