And now, some poetry…

Historians are often surprised by small notes, marginalia, numbers, and other inscriptions in old sources. Some codices – the name given to volumes formed by manuscripts bounded together – comprise of various different letters, texts, and, sometimes, poetry.

One interesting poem came up last year while looking into Codex 13408 of the National Library of Portugal. Gathering satirical texts written during the 17th century, it contains plays and other comedic pieces. But this one certainly takes the prize.

I transcribed it in a modernized language to make it easier to understand, although I think the essence would not have been lost to modern readers even if I had not done so.

Soneto dama

Soneto a uma dama que estava cagando

Cagando estava a dama mais formosa,
que já nunca se viu de maior alvura,
mas ver estar cagando a formosura,
com fastio a vontade mais gulosa.

Enfim, esta beleza cagarrosa
Quando no fim o cu limpar procura
Rompe-se o papel pela rotura
entra o dedo na caverna mal cheirosa.

O papel que era carta, o que mostrava
ser daquele de quem amores era [sic]
que havia então que lhe mandava.

Dirá alguém que houve nisto grande perda
por ver que neste passo lhe ficava
os amores no cu, e a mão na merda.

Soneto dama 2

The poet realized his rhyme was not perfect, as he took note of it on the 10th verse. Nevertheless, this is a fine example of a poem of hendecasyllable verses, very popular in Portugal. The structure, although imperfect, is ABBA ABBA CDC DCD. It is also interesting to see that the word perda rhymed with merda. Probably, at the time, the e in perda was an open vowel (pérda), rather than the closed e used in modern Portuguese (pêrda).

Even though the author’s theme lacked the class of those chosen by giants of the previous century, such as Gil Vicente and Luís de Camões – two poets who used this structure often – the joke has not been lost in time. I’d risk presenting an English translation here, but I’m afraid I would make a mess and all the fun of it could slip through my fingers.