Vanity

Florbela Espanca
Translated by Carlo Matos
ENGLISH | SPANISH

I dream of being one of the elect, a poetess

that says and knows all,

whose inspiration is pure and perfect,

whose words gather immensities about them.


I dream my words are light enough

to fill the world and delight

even those dying of longing,

those deep and unsatisfied souls!


I dream that I’m someone in this world …

one whose knowledge is vast and deep,

one who bends the earth to its feet.


And the more I dream among the clouds,

and the higher I soar,

I awake … and am nothing …


Florbela Espanca was a firebrand and a precursor of the feminist movement in Portugal. When few women were attending university, she managed to graduate with a literature degree in 1917 and then became the first woman to enroll in law school at the University of Lisbon. In the same year, she published her first book of poems, O livro D’ele, which was dedicated to her beloved brother, Apeles. In 1919, Espanca began to show signs of the depression she would struggle with for the rest of her short life. In this year she also had her first miscarriage, which may have influenced the writing of Livro de Mágoas, which translates to The Book of Sorrows. To complicate matters, Espanca’s two divorces and three marriages exposed her to significant social prejudice from conservative Portuguese society, stifling her writing for a short time. But in 1923 she publishes her next book Livro de Soror Saudade. The death of her brother Apeles Espanca in an airplane crash—some say it was a suicide—deeply affected her and may have inspired the writing of her next book As Máscaras do Destino. In October and November of 1930, Espanca twice attempted suicide shortly before the publication of her last book Charneca em Flor. Florbela Espanca died on December 8, 1930, on her 36th birthday. Though the official documents say otherwise, it is suspected that it was a suicide.

Carlo Matos has published nine books, including The Secret Correspondence of Loon & Fiasco (Mayapple Press) and It’s Best Not to Interrupt Her Experiments (Negative Capability Press). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in such journals as Iowa Review, Boston Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Rhino, DIAGRAM, and Handsome, among many others. Carlo has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Fundação Luso-Americana, and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. He currently lives in Chicago, IL, where he can be found writing poems on demand with Poems While You Wait when not training in the exquisite art of the Italian rapier.