Andrea Kouklanakis: Finismundo

Finismundo: The Last Voyage (Finismundo: A Última Viagem)

Andrea Kouklanakis


Finismundo: A Última Viagem (1990), written by the Brazilian poet Haroldo de Campos, uses Odysseus’ shipwreck as its foundational theme. In the Odyssey the question surrounding Odysseus’ death is articulated in ambiguous terms in book XI. Tiresias tells Odysseus that the hero will not meet death at sea (thánatos ex halós,v 134),if he propitiates Poseidon with sacrifices. Haroldo de Campos uses the phrase thánatos eks halós to treat this ambiguity on the level of language; the preposition ex means either away from or originating from, that is, Odysseus will die far from the sea or at sea. The idea for the poem came from a semiological study by the Italian critic D’Arco Silvio Avalle in Modelli Semiologici nella Commedia di Dante, entitled “L’ultimo viaggio D’Ulisse” (Campos 1975). In this work Avalle analyzed canto XXVI of the Inferno, where Dante offers a resolution for the enigma of Odysseus’ death: the hero is allowed to reach terrestrial paradise only by going beyond the limits of Hercules’ columns.
In the first part of Finismundo, Haroldo de Campos recalls Dante’s solution and reimagines one last journey for the aging hero — a journey post-Ithaca. This is the ultimate journey, the one that puts adventure and the search for the unknown (hubris) above domestic peace. The gods, however, punish Odysseus. The shipwreck is inevitable, and it marks the death of the epic hero at sea, ‘just in sight of paradise’. In part 2 of the poem, Campos then engenders a metaphorical death for the hero with the advent of the modern Ulysses. The Joycean hero, transposed to an urban setting, no longer understands or needs voyages, no longer lives by daring feats. The urban Ulisses lives in a trivialized world of ‘traffic lights’ and ‘postcards’.
Haroldo de Campos, poet, critic and translator is generally known for and associated with the Brazilian literary movement he helped pioneer: poesia concreta (concrete poetry) in the 1950’s. He later characterized this poetic style as minimalist, in a retrospective sense (Campos 1996). Campos’ work reveals his conception of poetry as a matter of genesis, of generating and constructing the text — poetry as conceiving and making. We find in Finismundo elements of concrete poetry: the manipulation of the visual aspects of the text on the page, such as unconventional punctuation and the presence of blank spaces. Language is not transparent, but meant to be seen and looked. Significantly at play are questions raised by the practice of translation understood as a critical process of creation, recreation and illumination of language. Consider the ambiguity and possibilities in translating thánatos ex halós, but also loss and specialization of meaning in those Portuguese words derived from the Greek: fósforo is now ‘matches’, semáforo, ‘traffic lights’.
Haroldo de Campos’ poetical and theoretical affinities and influences include Mallarmé, Poe, Joyce, Pound, Maiakovski, Roman Jakobson, Walter Benjamin, João Cabral de Mello Neto, Padre Vieira, Odorico Mendes, among others. Moreover, the Brazilian baroque tradition of the 17th century is engaged by Campos in Finismundo, insofar as it continued to be a pervasive and strong current in the Brazilian literature of subsequent periods. Campos accordingly appropriates this tradition through the construction of neologisms (Avernotenso, transfinito), as well as ornate and antiquarian language (escarmentam, capitoso,regaço). In this respect, the writer Odorico Mendes (d. 1864) is especially relevant for Finismundo, because Haroldo de Campos’ wanted to pay homage to his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the first into Brazilian Portuguese. These translations produced such verbal peculiarities in their attempt to render the Greek into Odorico’s rococo style, that a critic called them monstrosities. However, it is precisely the ‘translation machinery’ (Campos, 1996) put in place by Odorico — monstrosity and all — that Haroldo de Campos sees as a precursor to modern theories associated with Walter Benjamin and others. Haroldo himself began to translate the Iliad as a tribute to Odorico (Campos 1996). In my translation of Finismundo, I have endeavored to convey Haroldo de Campos’ poetry-making practices, his erudition, his cannibalizing of tradition and re-constructive regurgitations. In particular, I hoped to have conveyed his conception of poems as “salvados do naufrágio” ‘that which has been saved from the shipwreck’ (Campos 1996).

Finismundo: The Last Voyage

per voler veder trapassò il segno.



Odysseus multi-

artful—— in the extreme

Avernal limit —— re-

proposes the voyage.

Where, from Hercules,

the vigilant columns the waves

scold:hindering another

step—— where to advance means to


gress the measurethe si-

gilant signals that say No.


unmeasuredness hubris-pronead-


to the sailor—— Odysseus (

raising his white commanding

head to the blank target )pre-

meditates:to tress-

pass the passage:the impasse-


resolved( if at last ) in

fine keels

of sapphire blue disdain—— to dare.

Dare for more:the

beyond-returnthe thereafter: un-

foreseen thread in Penelope’s web.

To dare

unmindful of Ithaca—— the

beyond-memory —— the

reverse:Ithaca reversed:

the non-pacified

vigil of the warrior—— in place

of the venture the adventurous

displacement—— il folle volo.

To attempt the unattempted——

expatriated and cursed by the lares-gods.

To Re-

peat once again the departure.To dare——

hubris-propelled—— the sea

behind the sea.The obscure-pathless

pelagic chaos

towards there where it is hidden the forbidden

geography of Eden —— Paradiso

in terra:shadowy and out of bounds

lucerne: over that way

isthmusextreme island

there is access to heaven

on earth:towards the transfinite.

Odysseus senescent

refuses the pervasive—— captivating

bosom of Penelope——

consolation of peace.Keel on the waves

plows one more time(such as never before)

the irate

mirror of Poseidon: the wine-colored

heart of the oceansea.


the un-mapped


where begins the barred

frontier of extraheaven.


break the seal to the forbidden:de-

virginate the veil.Feat

of all feats.Unremitting

all-devouring mission

He went forth——


The ancient tale does not tell

of Polumetis and his burdensome fate.

Or if it does

it deceives in variation:makes infinite the end.

Odysseus went forth.Lost his companions

Just in sight

of the island anxiously sought—— seeing already

attainable Eden almost

within grasp of the hand:the gods conspired.

The sky raises surges from arcanum.

The ship repelled

into the the abyssblown full with fate.

Odysseus does not put to harbor.

Ephemeral signs in the whirlpool

point to the shipwreck ——

impendingbut retracting

suspended in the instant.

Water is all. Erasures.

And fate is famished.Ultimate

thánatos eks halós

death born from the salty sea


Odysseus senescent

refused the glory of the funereal pomp.

A single mark

scars Poseidon’s chest.

Closure is the point.The round

ocean resounds taciturn.

Sing now the convulsive song

the bittersweet lament of the sirens.

(the ultrasound uncaptured by human ear).

ma l’un di voi dica
dove per lui perduto a morir gisse


Urban Ulisses

survived by the myth

( i and Youmy hipo-

condriac critic

reader )—— civil

factotum( polumetis? )

by chance computerized.Your

epitaph?Margin of error:a trace

minimally digitized

and in a hurry canceled

in the liquid crystal of fluorescent screen.


There is none. You are watched by traffic lights.

Your promethean fire is summed

by the strike of a fosforus match—— Lúcifer


flammable trifles.


(cool head)

your hubris.Not a sign

of sirens.

Penultimate—— is the most to which you aspire

in your penury of the last

Tulle.A post card from Eden

suffices to satisfy you.

Loud sirens

tear at your quotidian heart.

Translated by Andrea Kouklanakis

Finismundo: A Última viagem

(Haroldo de Campos)
per voler veder trapassò il segno


Odisseu multi-
Ardiloso no extreme
Avernotenso limite— re-
proposes a viagem.

Onde de Hércules
as vigilantes colunas à onda
escarmentam:vedando mais um
passo— onde passer avante quer
dizer trans-
gredir a medidaas si-
gilosas siglas do Não.
a desmesurahúbris-propensaad-
ao nauta— Odisseu(
branca erigindo a capitânea
cabeça ao alvo endereçada )pre-
passer o passo:o impasse-
resolto(se afinal ) em
finas carenas
de ensafirado desdém— ousar.
Ousar o mais:
O além-retornoo após:im-
previsto filame na teia de Penélope.
desmemoriado de Ítaca— o
além-memória— o
revés:Ítaca ao avesso:
a não-pacificada
vigília do guerreiro— no lugar
da ventura o aventuroso
deslugar— il folle volo
Tentar o não tentado—
expatriado esconjuro aos deuses-lares.
incidir na partida.Ousar——
húbris-propenso—— o mar
atrás do mar.O ínvio-obscuro
caos pelaginoso
até onde se onde esconde a proibida
geografia do Éden —— Paradiso
terreno:o umbráculo interdito:
a lucarna:por ali
istmoextremo insula
se tem acesso ao céu
terrestre:ao transfinito.
rechaça a pervasiva—— capitoso
regaço de Penélope——
consolação da paz. Quillha nas ondas
sulca mais uma vez(qual nunca antes
o irado
espelho de Poséidon:o cor-de-vinho
coração do maroceano.
o não-mapeado
Finismundo: ali
onde começa a infranqueada
fronteira do extracéu.
partir o lacre ao proibido:des-
virginar o véu.Lance
dos lances.Irremissa
missão voraginosa
Ele foi——
Não conta a lenda antiga
do Polúmetis o fado demasiado.
Ou se conta
desvaira variando:infinda o fim.
Odisseu foi.Perdeu os companheiros.
À beira-vista
da ínsula ansiada—— vendo já
o alcançável Éden ao quase
toque da mão:os deuses conspiraram.
O céu suscita os escarcéus do arcano.
A nave repelida
abisma-sesoprada de destino.
Odisseu não aporta.
Efêmeros sinais no torvelinho
acusam-lhe o naufrágio——
instammas declinam
sossobrados no instante.
Águas só.Rasuras.
E o fado esfaimado.Última
thánatos ek halós

morte que provém do mar salino

Odisseu senescente
da glória recusou a pompa fúnebre.
Só um sulco
cicatriza no peito de Poséidon.
Clausurouso o ponto.o redondo
oceano ressona taciturno.
Serena agora o canto convulsivo
O doceamargo pranto das sereias
( o ultrassom incaptado ao ouvido humano ).

ma l’un di voi dica
dove per lui perduto a morir gisse


Urbano Ulisses
Sobrevivido ao mito
( eu e Vocêmeu hipo-
côndrico critico
leitor )——civil
factotum( polúmetis? )
do acaso computadorizado. Teu
epitáfio?Margem de erro:traço
mínimo digitado
e à pressa cancellado
no liquido cristal verdefluente.
Não há.Vigiam-te os semáforos.
Teu fogo prometéico se resume
à cabeça de um fósforoLúcifer
ninharia flamífera.
( cabeça fria )
tua húbris.Nem sinal
Penúltima—— é o maximo a que aspira
tua penúria de última
Tule.Um postal do Éden
com isso te contentas.

Açuladas sirenes
cortam teu coração cotidiano.