My soul, mad as a moth,

Dear Auta,

The poems in your Horto (1900, ‘Garden’ or ‘Orchard’) address the topics of death, idealized love, childhood, romantic loss, spirituality, and the sublimation of suffering through poetry. I am not a religious person, so I am afraid most of the poems had little resonance for me. But they are very musical and read beautifully out loud. I translated my favourites below.

Your poetry seems to merge elements belonging to romanticism and symbolism, and make strong use of rhyme, rhythm, and Christian imagery, in a kind of melancholic, dreamlike figuration. It reads as if you were aiming at a representation of the sacred that is permeated by nature; a representation of the invisible and abstract that is permeated by the sensitive and factual.

What are we to make of the title of the book, Horto? We can think of the biblical garden, the garden we read in John’s Horto (“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid”), or Matthew’s Gethsemane (“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (…) Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”) – a place of agony and prayer.

Several poems mention this religious idea of a place of suffering and reneawal. In the poem No Horto (‘In the Garden’), we have: “I said … and the shadows dissipated / Jesus was descending on my Horto ..”; “In this Horto’s olive trees, / As long as you pray, you will have comfort”. In the poem Estrada a fora (‘On the Road’), we read: “In my heart, – a martyrs’ Horto! – / Golden illusions blossom endlessly, / As lilies bloom in graves”.

We have this polarization between a garden of martyrs and a garden of comfort. The idea of garden in the poems is conveyed as a space for delivery and supplication, renewal and death – a space of tension and negotiation between opposites.

The Horto in the book is, at the same time, an incorporeal place and a physical space – an actual garden, as in the poem Goivos (‘Wallflowers’): “From the whole distant world, / The garden, at that moment, / was the land I loved”. The Horto is also an imaginary space, be it the lost paradise of childhood, or the refuge found in poetry: it is that blurred point where earthly life and divine existence merge. And it is the existential space crossed by the poetic persona from poem to poem.

Yours truly



“Broken thread

To escape from earthly sorrow
And painful dream,
To leave the world without pity –
Is it to die?

To run away in endless yearning
In the darkness of dusk,
To smile and fetch the aurora –
Is it to die?

To release a white dove
In the scream torn away by pain
That makes the heart tremble –
Is it to die?


There goes the flying dove
Free, crossing through space…
It shakes its wings and sings:
“I broke my ties!”

Released in the vast space,
Who can stop my steps?
I left the empty prison,
I broke my ties!

Jesus, this endless flight
will hold me in its arms
While I smile and say:
I broke my ties!” – Auta de Souza, tr. Juliana Brina


“The Force of Fate

My soul trembles like a frenzied moth
throwing itself into the flame,
Every time my gaze lands
In your eyes, O my beloved!
Instead of looking for a shadow to rest
My gaze and flee the devouring fire,
My soul, mad as a moth,
throws itself more deeply into the flame it loves.” – Auta de Souza, tr. Juliana Brina



My heart is beating in my chest
With such force that I am afraid…
Is it Death, God? But it’s so early!
Let me live.

Everything smiles for this flowering field,
Love and Light float through Heaven…
Only I wander sighing, crying
Without Light and without Love.

Always fighting with cruel pain
Full of boredom and despair,
My soul has already swallowed to the dregs
The gall chalice.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

And the throbbing heart in my chest,
As if it believed in nothing,
Beats with the indefinite, immense force,
Of rogue waves.” – Auta de Souza, tr. Juliana Brina

Original poems in Portuguese:

“Fio partido
Fugir à mágoa terrena
E ao sonho, que faz sofrer,
Deixar o mundo sem pena
Será morrer?

Fugir neste anseio infindo
À treva do anoitecer,
Buscar a aurora sorrindo
Será morrer?

E ao grito que a dor arranca
E o coração faz tremer,
Voar uma pomba branca
Será morrer?


Lá vai a pomba voando
Livre, através dos espaços…
Sacode as asas cantando:
“Quebrei meus laços!”

Aqui, n’amplidão liberta,
Quem pode deter-me os passos?
Deixei a prisão deserta,
Quebrei meus laços!

Jesus, este vôo infindo
Há de amparar-me nos braços
Enquanto eu direi sorrindo:
Quebrei meus laços!” – Auta de Souza

“A Força do Destino
Minha alma treme como a mariposa
Que se atira na chama, alucinada
De cada vez que o meu olhar se pousa
Nos olhos teus, ó criatura amada!
E em vez de sombra onde o olhar repousa
Buscar, fugindo do fogo que devora,
Minh’alma louca como a mariposa
Se atira mais à chama que a enamora.” – Auta de Souza

Sinto no peito o coração bater
Com tanta força que me causa medo…
Será a Morte, meu Deus? Mas é tão cedo!
Deixai-me inda viver.

Tudo sorri por este campo em flor,
O Amor e a Luz vão pelo Céu boiando…
Só eu vagueio a suspirar, chorando
Sem Luz e sem Amor.

Lutando sempre com uma dor cruel
Cheia de tédio e desespero, às vezes;
Minh’alma já tragou até às fezes
O cálice de fel.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

E o coração no seio a palpitar,
Como se acaso não tivesse crença,
Pulsa com a força indefinida, imensa,
Dos vagalhões do Mar.” – Auta de Souza

The natural history of British insects, v.11 (1806)

About the book

  • UFRN, 2009, 276 p. Goodreads
  • First published in 1900
  • My rating: 4 stars

2 thoughts on “My soul, mad as a moth,

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