Authors: Clarice Lispector
NEAR TO THE WILD HEART
TRANSLATED WITH AN AFTERWORD BY GIOVANNI PONTIERO
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK
Copyright © Editora Nova Fronteira, 1986 Copyright © 1990 by Giovanni Pontiero
This translation of Clarice Lispector's
Perto do coraqao selvagem
(1944) is published by arrangement with Carcanet Press Limited, Manchester, England.
First published clothbound and as New Directions paperbook 698 in 1990
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lispector, Clarice. [Perto do coracao selvagem. English] Near to the wild heart /
Clarice Lispector: translated with an afterword by Giovanni Pontiero. p. cm.
Translation of: Perto do coracao selvagem.
ISBN 978-0-8112 — I140-6 (acid-free) I. Title. PQ9697.L585P413 1990 869.3-dc20 90-33455 CIP
I should like to express my gratitude to Michael Schmidt and the editorial staff of Carcanet Press; to the National Book Institute and VITAE Foundation in Brazil for their financial support; to Maria Fernanda Romao and Stefanie Goodfellow whose assistance proved to be invaluable; and finally to Juan Carlos Sager, Nancy Stalhammar, Gordon Kinder, Paul Berman and Neil Ferguson who kindly read the manuscript and offered many useful suggestions towards improving earlier drafts of the translation.
Manchester, March 1989
... One Day...
He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life.
A Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man
Daddy's typewriter was tapping out tac-tac..tac-tac-tac... The clock chimed brightly ting-ting... ting-ting... The silence dragged out zzzzzzz. The wardrobe was saying what? clothes — clothes — clothes. No, no. Between the clock, the typewriter and the silence there was an ear listening out, large, flesh-pink and dead. The three sounds were connected by the light of day and by the rustling of tiny leaves on the tree as they joyfully rubbed against each other.
Resting her head against the cold, shiny window-pane, she looked into the neighbour's yard, at the great world of the chickens-that-did-not-know-they-were-about-to-die. And as if it were right under her nose, she could smell the warm, beaten earth, so fragrant and dry, where she knew perfectly well, she knew perfectly well that some worm or other lay squirming before being devoured by the hen that humans were going to eat.
There was a grand moment, motionless and quite hollow inside. She opened her eyes wide and waited. Nothing happened. Blank. But suddenly with a shudder they wound up the day and they began to function once again, the typewriter tapping, father's cigarette giving off smoke, silence, tiny leaves, plucked chickens, brightness, things restored to life and as impatient as a kettle on the boil. All that was missing was the ting-ting of the clock which gave so much pleasure. She closed her eyes, pretended to hear it chime, and to the rhythm of that imaginary music, she went up on the tips of her toes. She executed three dance steps, so light and ethereal.
Then suddenly she looked at everything with displeasure, as if she had eaten far too much of that concoction. 'Hey, hey, hey...', she murmured wearily and then thought to herself: what will happen now now now? And in the fraction of time that followed, nothing ever happened if she went on waiting for something to happen if you get my meaning? She pushed away this awkward thought, distracting herself with a movement of her bare foot on the dusty wooden floor. She rubbed her foot, looking sideways at her father, awaiting his impatient and nervous smile. But nothing happened. Nothing. It's difficult to suck in people like the vacuum cleaner does.
— Daddy, I've invented a poem.
— What is it called?
— The sun and I — Then almost at once she recited: 'The chickens in the yard have gobbled two worms but I didn't see them.'
— Really? What do you and the sun have to do with poetry?
She looked at him for an instant. He had not understood ...
— The sun is above my worms, Daddy, and I wrote my poem and didn't see the worms... — Pause. — I can make up another poem this very minute: 'Oh sun, come play with me.' Here's a longer one:
'I saw a tiny cloud
poor little worm
I don't think she saw it.'
— Those are pretty verses, my little one, very pretty. How does one compose such a charming poem?
— It isn't difficult, you simply say it out loud.
She had already dressed her doll, she had already undressed it, she had imagined it going to a party where it stood out among all the other baby dolls. A blue car ran over Arlete's body and killed her. Then the fairy appeared and her doll was restored to life. The baby doll, the fairy, the blue car were none other than Joana, otherwise the game would be rather dull. She always found some means of casting herself in the main role as some turn of events highlighted one or other of the characters. She took the game seriously, working in silence, her arms hanging at her sides. She didn't need to get close to Arlete in order to play with her. Even from a distance she possessed things.
She amused herself with the paper cut-outs. She looked at them for a moment and each cut-out was a pupil. Joana was the teacher. The one good, the other bad. Yes, yes, and so what? And now now now? And nothing ever happened if she... that's right.
She invented a little man the size of her index finger, with long trousers and a bow tie. She carried him in the pocket of her school uniform. The little man was a real gem, a diamond in a cravat, he had a deep voice and would say from inside her pocket: 'Your Royal Highness Joana, pray lend me your ear for one moment. I beseech you to interrupt your constant labours just for one moment?' And then he declared: 'I am at your service, dear Princess. Whatever you command I am prepared to do.'
— Daddy, what can I do?
— Go and read your books.
— I've read them.
— Go and play then.
— I have been playing.
— Then don't bother me.
She twirled round and came to a halt, watching without curiosity the walls and ceiling as they went round and fell apart. She walked on tiptoe, only treading on the dark floorboards. She closed her eyes and moved forward, her hands outstretched, until she bumped into some piece of furniture. Between her and the objects there was something, but when she caught that thing in her hand like a fly and then looked — however much care she took not to let anything escape -all she found was her own hand, rosy and disheartened. Yes, I know it was air, I know it was air! But that didn't help, that didn't explain anything. This was one of her secrets. She would never permit herself to confide, even to daddy, that she was unable to catch 'the thing'. Everything that really mattered was precisely what she found herself unable to confide. She only talked nonsense to people. When she told Ruth, for example, some of her secrets, she became furious with Ruth. The best thing was surely to keep one's mouth shut. Another thing: if she felt some pain and she looked at the hands of the clock while that pain was troubling her, she would then notice that the minutes counted on the clock were passing while the pain went on hurting. Or else, even when it didn't hurt her in the slightest, if she stood in front of the clock staring at it, what she was not feeling was also greater than the minutes counted on the clock. Now, when she experienced some happiness or rage, she would run to the clock and observe the seconds in vain.
She went to the window, traced a cross on the window-sill and spat out in a straight line. If she were to spit once more — now she would have to wait until night-time — the disaster could be avoided and God would be so good to her, but so good that... that what?
— Daddy, what can I do?
— I've already told you: go and play and leave me in peace!
— But I've been playing already, honestly.
— But there's no end to playing...
— Yes there is.
— Make up another game.
— I don't want to play or read my books.
— What do you want to do then?
Joana thought carefully:
— I can't think of anything...
— Do you want to fly? her father asked her, his mind elsewhere.
— No, replies Joana. Pause. — What can I do?
This time Daddy explodes.
— Go and knock your head against the wall!
She goes off, twisting her lank hair into a plait. Never never never yes yes, she sings in a low voice. She has learned to plait her hair just recently. She goes to her little table where she keeps her books, plays with them, glancing at them from afar. Housewife husband children, green is for man, white is for woman, red could be son or daughter. Is 'never' man or woman? Why is 'never' neither son nor daughter? And what about 'yes'? Oh, there were so many things that were quite impossible. She could spend whole afternoons just thinking. For example: who uttered for the very first time this word 'never'?
Daddy finishes his work and goes off to find her sitting in a chair and weeping.
— What's this, child? — he lifts her into his arms, calmly examining her little face, flushed and mournful.
— What's this?
— I've nothing to do.
Never never yes yes. Everything was like the noise of the tram before dozing off, until one feels a little frightened and falls asleep. The mouth of the typewriter had closed like that of an old woman, but something was pressing on her heart like the noise of the tram: only she was not about to go to sleep. It was Daddy's embrace. Her father muses for an instant. But no one can do anything for others, we can only help ourselves. The child is so restless, so thin and precocious... Her breathing comes in bursts, she moves her head back and forth. A tiny egg, that's it, a tiny, living egg. What is to become of Joana?
The certainty that I'm heading for evil, thought Joana.
What else could that feeling be of restrained force, ready to explode into violence, that urge to use it with her eyes shut, all of it, with the unbridled confidence of a wild beast? Was it in evil alone that one could breathe without fear, accepting the atmosphere and one's lungs? Not even pleasure could give me as much satisfaction as evil, she thought with surprise. She could feel within herself the presence of a perfect animal, full of inconsistencies, of egoism and vitality.
She remembered her husband who probably ignored this aspect of her nature. She tried to recall the appearance of Otávio. But the moment she sensed that he had left the house, she became transformed, absorbed in herself and, as if she had simply been interrupted by him, she slowly continued to live the thread of childhood, she forgot him and went from room to room completely alone. From the peaceful neighbourhood, from the distant houses, there came no sound. And now that she was free, she herself didn't know what she was thinking.
Yes, she could feel within herself the presence of a perfect animal. She resisted the idea of unleashing this animal one day. Perhaps for fear of causing some embarrassment or because she was afraid of some revelation... No, no — she repeated to herself- one mustn't be afraid of being creative. Deep down, the animal probably repelled her because she still felt anxious to please and to be loved by someone as powerful as her dead aunt. Even if only to humiliate her afterwards and disown her without giving it another thought. For the best saying, as well as being the most recent was: goodness makes me want to vomit. Goodness was lukewarm and weak, it stank of raw meat that had been lying around for a long time without, however, becoming completely rotten. It was freshened up from time to time, seasoned sufficiently to preserve it, a lump of lukewarm, stagnating meat.
One day, when she was still unmarried and her aunt was still alive, she had watched a man gorging himself with food. She had watched his bulging eyes, bright and stupid, anxious to savour every morsel. And his hands, his hands. One of them holding the fork embedded in a piece of bleeding meat — not lukewarm and inert, but intensely alive, ironic, and immoral — the other hand twitching on the tablecloth, clawing it nervously in his eagerness to consume another mouthful. The legs under the table beat time to some inaudible tune, satanic music, of sheer uncontrolled violence. The savage cruelty, the richness of his colour... Crimson on the lips and around the nostrils, pale, bluish tinges under his tiny eyes. Joana had shuddered in horror confronting her miserable cup of coffee. But later she would find it impossible to say whether it had been out of fascination or desire. Almost certainly out of both. She knew that the man was a force to be reckoned with. She felt that she could never bring herself to eat like him, she was abstemious by nature, but the spectacle disturbed her. She was also moved when she read those terrifying tales of tragedy where wickedness was as chilling and intense as bathing in ice. As if she were watching someone drink water only to discover that she was suffering from thirst, a deep and ancient thirst. Perhaps it was only her need for life: she was living less than she might and imagined her thirst pleading for inundations. Perhaps just a few mouthfuls... Ah, that will teach you a lesson, that will teach you a lesson, her aunt used to say: never to go in front, never to steal before knowing that what you aim to steal isn't honestly reserved for you some- where. Or isn't it? Stealing makes everything so much more worthwhile. The taste of evil- chewing crimson, devouring sweetened fire.