Mario Quintana – A Life in Poems

Mario de Miranda Quintana (July 30, 1906—May 5, 1994), was a Brazilian writer, poet and translator. Born in Alegrete, state of Rio Grande do Sul. 

He was considered a poet of simple things, with a style marked by irony, profundity and technical perfection. He worked as a journalist almost all his life and translated more than one-hundred and thirty works. These literary works include In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and Words and Blood by Giovanni Papini.


I was born in Alegrete, on the 30th of July of 1906. I believe that was the first thing that happened to me. And now they have asked me to speak of myself. Well! I always thought that every confession that wasn’t altered by art is indecent. My life is in my poems, my poems are myself, never have I written a comma that wasn’t a confession. Ah! but what they want are details, rawness, gossip…Here we go! I am 78 years old, but without age. Of ages, there are only two: either you are alive or dead. In the latter case, it is too old, because what was promised to us was Eternity.

I was born in the rigor of the Winter, temperature: 1 degree; and still I was premature, which would leave me kind of complex because I used to think I wasn’t ready. One day I discovered that someone as complete as Winston Churchill was born premature – the same thing happened to Sir Issac Newton! Excusez du peu…(To name a few…)

I prefer to cite the opinion of others about me. They say I am modest. On the contrary, I am so proud that I think I never reached the height of my writing. Because poetry is insatisfaction, an affliction of self-elevation. A satisfied poet doesn’t satisfy. They say I am timid. Nothing of the sort! I am very quiet, introspective. I don’t know why they subject the introverts to treatment. Only for not being as annoying at the rest? It’s exactly for detesting annoyingness, the lengthiness, that I love synthesis. Another element of poetry is the search for the form (not of the form), the dosage of words. Perhaps what contributes to my safety is the fact that I have been a practitioner of pharmacy for five years. Note that the same happened with Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Alberto de Oliveira, Erico Verissimo – they well know (or knew) what a loving fight with words means.

O Que Eu Não Quero (What I Don’t Want)

(an excerpt of a piece he wrote, which I translated)

“I don’t want someone that dies of love for me…I only need someone that lives for me, that wants to be together with me, hugging me. I don’t demand that this someone loves me like I love them, I just want that they love me, it doesn’t matter with what intensity. I don’t have the intention that all the people I like, like me…It’s not even about if they miss me as much as I miss them, what is important for me is to know that I, in some moment, was irreplacable…and that that moment is unforgetable…I only want my feeling to be worth something.”

In the Praça da Alfândega in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul, one can find a sculpture with Carlos Drummond de Andrade (standing) and Mario Quintana. There is something similar of Andrade alone in Ipanema.

18 thoughts on “Mario Quintana – A Life in Poems

  1. Hi!
    i am looking for the translation in English of a poem of Mário Quintana called O tempo… see below:

    O TEMPO (de Mário Quintana)

    A vida é o dever que nós trouxemos para fazer em casa.
    Quando se vê, já são seis horas!
    Quando de vê, já é sexta-feira!
    Quando se vê, já é natal…
    Quando se vê, já terminou o ano…
    Quando se vê perdemos o amor da nossa vida.
    Quando se vê passaram 50 anos!
    Agora é tarde demais para ser reprovado…
    Se me fosse dado um dia, outra oportunidade, eu nem olhava o relógio.
    Seguiria sempre em frente e iria jogando pelo caminho a casca dourada e inútil das horas…
    Seguraria o amor que está a minha frente e diria que eu o amo…
    E tem mais: não deixe de fazer algo de que gosta devido à falta de tempo.
    Não deixe de ter pessoas ao seu lado por puro medo de ser feliz.
    A única falta que terá será a desse tempo que, infelizmente, nunca mais voltará.
    ( De Mário Quintana)


    • Sure, no prob. I couldn’t find a translation so I did it myself.

      The Time

      Life is the duty that we brought home to do.
      When one looks, it’s already 6 o’clock!
      When one looks, it’s already Friday!
      When one looks, it’s already Christmas…
      When one looks, the year is already over…
      When one looks, we lose the love of our life.
      When one looks, 50 years have gone by!
      Now it’s too late to be condemned…
      If I were to be given one day, another opportunity, I wouldn’t look at the clock.
      I would always look ahead and I would be throwing all over the road, the hard and useless shell of time…
      I would follow the love that is in front of me and I would say that I love it (him)…
      And there’s more: do not stop doing something that you like due to a lack of time.
      Do not stop having people at your side just because you are afraid of being happy.
      The only thing missing will be this time which, unfortunately, will never return.

  2. Life is lot of school assignments
    to be done as homework
    Before you know it,
    it’s already six o’clock.
    There’s time…
    Before you know it,
    it’s already Friday…
    Before you know it,
    sixty years have gone by!
    Now, it’s too late to flunk out…
    If, some day,
    I were given another chance
    I wouldn’t even look at a clock.
    I’d keep moving,
    always moving ahead,
    discarding along the way
    the useless golden
    shells of the hours…

    Mario Quintana
    (translated by John D. Godinho)
    Seiscentos e sessenta e seis (Six Hundred
    and Sixty-Six) in Time’s Hiding Places

  3. These are beautiful translations. Do you know of any translation of “O velho e o espelho”? that poem really touched me.

    • Hi Julie,

      Thanks for the compliments. I didn’t do much searching but I was up for the translation, so I did it myself. Cheers!

      Por acaso, surpreendo-me no espelho: quem é esse
      Que me olha e é tão mais velho do que eu?
      Porém, seu rosto…é cada vez menos estranho…
      Meu Deus, Meu Deus…Parece
      Meu velho pai – que já morreu!
      Como pude ficarmos assim?
      Nosso olhar – duro – interroga:
      “O que fizeste de mim?!”
      Eu, Pai?! Tu é que me invadiste,
      Lentamente, ruga a ruga…Que importa? Eu sou, ainda,
      Aquele mesmo menino teimoso de sempre
      E os teus planos enfim lá se foram por terra.
      Mas sei que vi, um dia – a longa, a inútil guerra!-
      Vi sorrir, nesses cansados olhos, um orgulho triste…

      By chance, I surprise myself in the mirror: who is this?
      That looks at me and is so much older than I?
      However, his face…is less and less odd…
      My God, My God…He looks like
      My elderly father – that already died!
      How could we end up like this?
      Our gaze – hard – asks:
      “What did you do to me?!”
      Me, Father?! You are the one that invaded me,
      Slowly, wrinkle to wrinkle…What does it matter? I am, still,
      That same boy stubborn as always
      And your plans ultimately ended up in the ground.
      But I know that I saw, one day – a long, useless war!-
      I saw smile, in these tired eyes, a sad pride…

  4. Hey guys! can some of you translate this litlle part of a Quintana’s poem for me please!?

    “E que fique muito mal explicado.
    Não faço força para ser entendido.
    Quem faz sentido é soldado”

    • Sure

      “And may it be very badly explained.
      I make no effort to be understood.
      Soldiers are the ones who make sense/salute.”

      In a military sense, ‘sentido’ refers to saluting. The phrasing “quem _____ é _____” is well-known in Brazil though the action and the noun are able to be altered. Consider another phrase “quem nada é peixe” (those who swim are fish) given as a response to someone who might say they are doing “nada” (nothing). If someone were to say “não faz sentido” (it doesn’t make sense), a cheeky response would be “quem faz sentido é soldado”. A person salutes when they are given an order, no matter if they are ignorant of the reasoning behind it or the action required of it (usually killing).

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