Poems by Luis Quintais, translated from the Portuguese by Lesley Saunders

Luis Quintais was born in 1968 in Angola and studied in Lisbon. He moved to Coimbra in 1995, and is professor of anthropology at the University of Coimbra. He has an abiding interest in borders, the spaces that persist between cultures, and he writes about war, trauma and memory. Quintais’ first book of poems, A Imprecisa Melancolia, was published in 1995 and his poetry has since been translated into several other European languages ​​(including Castilian, French, Italian, English, German, Croatian and Hungarian). Quintais has won several major poetry awards, including the 2004 Portuguese PEN Club Prize for Poetry and the Grande Prémio de Poesia 2017. All the translations here are of poems appearing in his book A Noite Imóvel, published in 2017 (Assyrian & Alvim).

In attempting to translate Quintais’ deeply engaged and starkly beautiful work, LESLEY SAUNDERS is drawing on her own experience as a writer of poetry: her sixth and most recent collection is Nominy-Dominy (Two Rivers Press 2018). Her English translations – including the poem that won the 2016 Stephen Spender award – of another renowned Portuguese poet, Maria Teresa Horta, were published in 2019 by Two Rivers Press, under the title Point of Honour.


All forms of violence are unforgivable,

he said, and the shadows fell across the table.

Also unforgivable is the silence that battens down faces.

A sound emerged, pre-empting meaning. History hallucinates,

he said, and something gave way among the fallen shadows.

I made a note, and the stare, my stare, skidded on the glass

of the amphitheatre, sought transparency. But it was winter,

winter there as well, winter forever, and the plane trees

on the other side, just standing there, so aloof,

in their ashen beauty, an anathema,

a redacted gaze.

Yes, in all leave-takings

i.m. Manuel Antonio Pina

Yes, in all leave-takings,

still beats, will forever beat, the wounded

heart of Hector.

Here it starts and ends

the unsafe space for calculating


Rivers are indissoluble fractals

of things that need to be said.

Oh, the obduracy of things that need to be said!

A delta deep within our voice

confounds water with blood.

One day we will be water in that blood,

together, and there will be no better union,

renowned as Hector’s wounded heart once was.

Weapons designed by the gods

Weapons designed by the gods

are rusting in a valley

of masonry and shadows

between two highways

where traffic is sparse.

Their brightness, now dulled,

gives back the glimmer

of a face, the ectoplasmic

matter of a blind body:

Patroclus in agony

under this veneer.

A horse speaks

Iliad, XIX, v, 404–18

A horse speaks,

foretells the death

of Achilles.

Then the gift of speech

leaves him, and the world

trudges on, tainted

with rage

and despair.

That moment

between the utterance

of the creature

and the curb that cannot

be removed,

we called that instant


After the horse Xanthos spoke

Iliad, XIX, v, 400–20

After the horse Xanthos spoke

we came face to face with the mute contours

of gross nature, an unintelligible

frontier, in all the places

laying siege to us.

For this there will be no

remission and the silence

of the acts

of repeated death

will leave inside us

the wound

of the word

visited and visited

and visited

once more.