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Cantiga, upon departing


Cantiga, upon departing

Maria S. Mendes

Cantiga, upon departing, translation Rita Faria                  


Lady, so sad my eyes

depart from you, my sweet,

that never so sad again 

others so sad you’ll meet.


So sad, so weary,

so sick with the departure,

so tired, so teary,

a thousand times wishing death

more than life’s breath.

So sad the saddest depart,

so tired of waiting in vain,

that never so sad you’ll meet

others so sad again.

Cantiga, partindo-se, João Roiz de Castelo-Branco


Senhora, partem tam tristes

meus olhos por vós, meu bem,

que nunca tam tristes vistes 

outros nenhuns por ninguém.


Tam tristes, tam saudosos,

tam doentes da partida,

tam cansados, tam chorosos,

da morte mais desejosos

cem mil vezes que da vida.

Partem tam tristes os tristes,

tam fora d’esperar bem,

que nunca tam tristes vistes

outros nenhuns por ninguém.

Translator's note: the English translation was the absolute best I could do, and my primary aim was to preserve the rhyme (albeit not the rhyming pattern), the repetition parallels and the position of the referent “eyes” in the poem, that is, the fact that “eyes” are mentioned in the motto but omitted at the end. This creates the aforementioned ambiguity as to who are “the saddest” who “depart”. I couldn’t find an adequate translation for “saudosos” apart from “longing” (perhaps), which simply would not fit the poem and thus I settled for “weary”. 

Although I love the English language, it is with deep satisfaction that I have realised whilst translating that no other language will make this poem more beautiful than Portuguese. The merit of Poetas do Cancioneirois also this – to show that the eternal peripheral Portugal produced an unsurpassable language.

* The cantiga was a very popular verse form in Cancioneiro Geral, and in the Iberian Peninsula in general, consisting of a motto of three to four lines and a volta of eight to ten lines, whose last line would usually be taken from the motto. The verse would vary between five and seven syllables but many of the compositions from Cancioneiro preferred the heptasyllabic line, ie, the redondilha maior. In its sixteenth-century form, the cantiga is different from the medieval verse forms also called cantigas; perhaps the more approximate Anglo-Saxon equivalent to the latter is the “ballad stanza”, “two lines of four stresses alternating with two lines of three stresses rhyming alternately” (Hobsbaum 1996:189). The sixteenth-century cantiga, however, is a variation of trova and close to the vilancete (villancico), which also follows a motto developed into a longer volta which repeats a line from the motto at the end. 

Rita Faria is a professor at the Catholic University of Portugal. She doesn’t know how to do anything else apart from reading and writing and wants to do nothing else apart from reading and writing. Besides this, she enjoys horror films, vampires, ghosts and zombies in general and thinks the Portuguese language is the most fun in the whole world.