Castro Alves – An abolitionist, a republican & a poet

Castro Alves was a Brazilian poet best remembered for his abolitionist and republican poems, and is considered one of the most important Brazilian poets of the 19th century. Alves was born on the Cabaceiras farm close to the town of Curralinho in Bahia which was renamed to the city of Castro Alves in honor of the poet.

In 1862, he entered the Law School of Recife, was involved in an affair with Portuguese actress Eugênia Câmara and wrote his first abolitionist poems: “Os Escravos” (The Slaves) and “A Cachoeira de Paulo Afonso” (Paulo Afonso’s Waterfall), reading them out loud in public events in defense of the abolitionist cause. Even though many Brazilians stood up against it at that time, slavery in Brazil was not officially ended until 1888, when Princess Isabel, daughter of Dom Pedro II, declared it extinct by means of the Lei Áurea (Golden Law).

Poetry

Alves’s work stands in the late-Romantic aesthetic and is deeply influenced by the work of the French poet Victor Hugo in a movement called condoreirismo, which is marked by the introspection of the Romantic period with a social and humanitarian concern. These concerns led him to the incipient Abolitionism and Republicanism, of whose causes he was one of the foremost representatives.

His poetry is more optimistic in tone than early romantic poets, and is marked by more sensual and physical images than is usual to the Romantic Aesthetic. He was not attached to the (sometimes official) indigenism shown by José de Alencar or Gonçalves Dias, nor had the mal-du-siècle aesthetic of Álvares de Azevedo. As a result of this, his work is usually considered to be late-romantic, tending to the later Realist movement.

Among his best known works are: “Espumas Flutuantes” (Floating Foams), “Gonzaga ou A Revolução de Minas” (Gonzaga or the Revolution of Minas), “Cachoeira de Paulo Afonso”, “Vozes D’África” (Voices from Africa), “O Navio Negreiro” (The Slave Ship).

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