“Morte e Vida Severina” (translated in part by Elizabeth Bishop as “The Death and Life of Severino”), João Cabral de Melo Neto’s most famous work, is a very long narrative poem (in most editions over 80 pages long) that describes the life of a poor rural man in the dry northeastern part of Brazil.
I’m a big fan of Brazilian documentaries and towards the top of the list is a biography of sorts (only in Portuguese) on the poet Manoel de Barros which I saw last year. It’s on Youtube, but shh! don’t tell anyone!
Wish/Synthesis of Happiness
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade*
I wish for you …
Fruit from the jungle
The scent of the garden
Flirting at the front gate
Sunday without rain
Monday without a bad mood
Saturday with your love
To hear a kind word
To have a pleasant surprise
A full moon
Re-examining an old friendship
To have faith in God
Not having to hear the word ‘no’
Nor ‘never’, ‘never ever’ or ‘goodbye’.
Laughing like a child
Listening to a bird song
To write a poem of love
That will never be torn
To form an ideal pair
Bathing in the waterfall
To learn a new song
To expect someone at the station
Cheese with guava
Sunset on the farm
To remember an old love
To always have a friendly shoulder
Clapping with joy
A mild afternoon
To put on old slippers
Sitting in an old armchair
Play guitar for someone
To listen to the rain on the roof
Bolero by Ravel …
And my great affection.
Apparently, there are two versions, one with a little more cultural reference and the one above. Here’s the former in Portuguese, which also goes by the name “Síntese da felicidade”. Also, this is a poem that has been attributed to Drummond but lacks proper citation*.
“It was during a reading of A Hora da Estrela (The Hour of the Star), 15 years ago, that the American journalist and critic Benjamin Moser saw himself taken by an impetuous passion for the work and personality of Clarice Lispector. These are the kinds of passions that make us travel the world and spend our money, in a way that asks us not to do any accounting and to deliver ourselves to the object of our passion. That’s how Moser, who lives in Holland, became Clarice’s worldwide “embassador”. At the end of last year, he launched the biography titled ‘Why This World’. In Brazil, it was titled “Clarice,” (Clarice with a comma) by Cosac Naify.
The biography is the result of a study that started in 2005, and includes trips to 6 countries where Clarice lived, as well as interviews and a collection of material, an effort that resulted in a chronology of two-thousand pages.
His compliments to her come close to devotion. For Moser, Clarice represents three changes in his life: the discovery of an author that created her own language; the awakening of a will to speak and write in Brazilian Portuguese; and the desire that Brazil should be recognized not only for its attributes such as nature, soccer and Carnival. Traveling through the country, Moser was one of the most well-disposed names at the FLIP festival in Paraty, between August 4th and 8th, when he gave an interview with Língua magazine.” – Source (in PT, interview here)
In a book I’ve mentioned previously on my blog, The Brazil Reader, edited by Professor Robert M. Levine, there is a chapter on Xuxa by author Amelia Simpson which makes some valid points. Below, I will post most of the essay.
Popular culture in Brazil in the 1980s and 1990s is indelibly marked by the media stardom of Maria da Graça Meneghel. Better known as Xuxa (pronounced SHOO-sha in Portuguese), the tall, blond, blue-eyed Brazilian has become an unparalleled cultural icon. Born in 1963 to a middle-class family, Xuxa began modeling in her teen years. Her well-publicized romance with soccer champion Pelé provided exposure that led to invitations to act in films and on television. Xuxa hosted her first children’s television program in 1983, and in 1986, hit the jackpot with the Xou (pronounced “Show”) da Xuxa, a five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week show broadcast on Brazil’s TV Globo, the world’s fourth largest commercial network. Mass audiences of all ages watched the program and surrendered to a euphoric experience of group indulgence. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the height of her stardom, Xuxa was Brazil’s national fantasy. She gave her audiences a make-believe Brazil ruled by a blond “Rainha dos Baixinhos” (Queen of Kids), the idol of teenagers, the stuff of men’s dreams and of women’s envy and aspirations.
The Xou da Xuxa and the star’s subsequent programs (such as Xuxa Hits, which began airing in January 1995) attract because they dissolve unseemly differences of race, gender, and class in a televisual pandemonium of generic happiness and idol worship. Xuxa’s image assembles in one tidy package a set of unwieldy, mutually contradictory ideas. She celebrates an ideal of femininity that is both erotic and domestic. She relentlessly markets a consumer-driven model of modernity in a country
where the basic needs of many citizens are not met. And she presents a white ideal of beauty in a nation with the second-largest population of African descent on earth. Xuxa’s image thus reconciles, without resolving, the deep fissures of race, gender, and capital that divide Brazil. The manipulation of these key ingredients of the charismatic star’s image has rendered Xuxa what her Internet homepage in 1997 calls an “authentic national institution.” Like samba and soccer, Xuxa is a form of celebration of Brazilianess. She helps to create a complex and divided identity.
Xuxa’s ability to build consensus began to slip in late 1991 when two young men allegedly tried to kidnap her and one of the Paquitas, the all-blond group of teenage girls who serve as aides to the star on her shows, in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, the star’s image has become less stable in a Brazil where citizens are less able to sustain the old myths of a fundamentally genteel society. Still, although attention has shifted to other figures and episodes, Xuxa remains inscribed in Brazilian culture as an icon of unusual authority. A 1996 poll published in Veja magazine, for example, ranked her tenth on a list of the country’s twenty most powerful people.
The most striking development in the star’s narrative in the late 1990s is the appropriation on her newer television programs, Xuxa Park and Xuxa Hits, of stylistic markers that allude to the Brazilian funk phenomenon. Since its emergence in the 1970s, Brazilian funk culture has passed through several stages, including the mid-1970s period when funk dances served as forums to assert black identity and pride. In the 1990s, the huge dances presided over by disc jockeys with giant sound systems address a variety of interests. Funk is associated with youth, poverty, and nonwhite Brazil, as well as rap and hip-hop culture from the United States. In the mid-1990s, funk also attracted middle-class, whiter kids, and is increasingly viewed as a profitable sector of the Brazilian entertainment industry.
As a result of the appropriation of elements of Brazilian funk culture, Xuxa’s programs have taken on a more racially integrated look and style in the late 1990s. The incorporation of the nonwhite hip-hop group You Can Dance and of a mulatta called Bom Bom in the regular cast of Xuxa Hits means television audiences in Brazil have a better chance to see people on the screen who look like most of them. Moreover, the Paquitas Nova Geração [New Generation Paquitas], while still all white, are no longer blond replicas of the star, as the original group was. Other features as well suggest a significant impulse on the part of Xuxa’s image managers to accommodate diversity. One example was the choice of a twelve-year old black youth to star as an angel opposite Xuxa in her 1993 Christmas television special. Another sign of willingness to use Xuxa’s huge following to construct a more racially inclusive project of national consensus was the July 1996 celebration of Xuxa’s anniversary of ten years with the Globo network. The highlight of the television special was a video of the star performing in the symbolic center of Brazil’s African heritage, Salvador, Bahia, with members of the Afrocentric percussion ensemble Olodum. These and other televisual experiences clearly denote openings for people of color alongside Xuxa in spaces that had been closed or relatively inaccessible.
At the same time, the raced view of difference that Xou da Xuxa affirmed in the 1980s and early 1990s was still very evident in the second half of the 1990s. Although the funk identity of XuxaXuxa’s consensus-building narrative of national identity clearly constitutes a genuine opening of televisual space for programmatically underrepresented subordinate groups. Yet the new funk look and sound of Xuxa’s shows enhance her ratings without altering the structure or questioning the ideological premises of her projected version of Brazilian identity. As for the Paquitas, Michele Pires Martins became the first black finalist in March 1995. In the end, however, she was not selected to join the elite group, which remained all white.
The racial configuration presented by the image of Xuxa with You Can Dance, or with her black Christmas angel, echoes the many portraits, mostly from 1980 to 1986, of Xuxa and Pelé. Their six-year, very public romance was crucial to her symbolic embodiment of Brazil’s myth of racial democracy. By visually marrying white and black in the persons of two media superstars, Xuxa’s image vanquishes difference while remarking it. She is able to affirm Brazil’s myth of racial harmony while removing the threat that black and white as equals implies by placing the image in special circumstances–the celebrity soccer champion and his beauty, or in later versions, the Christmas angel and his “Queen,” or You Can Dance with their funkeira.
There are three more long paragraphs but I will leave it to those who purchase the book as it’s a very well-compiled set of real stories spanning the entire history of Brazil. In my Amazon.com store to the right, you can find it used for about $8.
“For the better comprehension of the reality of African slaves in Brazil, many scholars used public announcements in newspapers of the 19th century, which announced the sale, purchase and escape of slaves. Gilberto Freyre was one of the first intellectuals to bring attention to the richness of information contained in these documented sources in order to understand the daily universe of the slaves. Thinking of this, he launched O Escravo Nos Anúncios de Jornais Brasileiros do Século XIX (The Slave in Announcements in Brazilian Newspapers of the 19th Century), in 1963.
Giving continuity to the series of publications of the vast legacy of the writer, Global Editora relaunched the title, one of his most incendiary works. Gilberto Freyre, in his research, affirms to have reunited close to ten thousand announcements taken from the newspapers of the 19th century, such as the Diario de Pernambuco and the Jornal do Commercio, among others.
The Slave in Announcements in Brazilian Newspapers of the 19th Century brings forth a rich iconography and includes a beautifully-done introductory text by Alberto da Costa e Silva, diplomat and reknowned historian, especially in the history of Africa. He highlights in his text that “Gilberto, upon leafing through the newspapers of the 19th century, didn’t hesitate in understanding what today appears to be evident, yet passes by unperceived: in those announcements there were excellent outlines of slave portraits, which described the physical appearances, temperments, abilities and ways of dress, while providing precious leads about the violence that they suffered.” – Source (in PT, translated by me)
Thanks to Fábio for the recommendation!
I found a link for anyone interested in reading Brazilian theses and dissertations. There’s a large databank at the Biblioteca Digital Brasileira de Teses e Dissertações, and as you might suspect, the research is in Portuguese. Of course, there’s always Google Scholar, in case you are interested in a more universal database.
by Cecília Meireles
translation by me
I placed my dream on a boat
and the boat on the sea;
– afterwards, I opened the sea with my hands,
so that my dream would sink
My hands are still wet
from the blue of the dissonant waves
and the color that flows from my fingers
colors the deserted sands.
The wind comes from afar,
the night buckles from the cold;
under the water it is dying
my dream, inside the boat…
I will cry as much as is needed
to make my sea become bigger,
and my boat sink to the bottom
and my dream disappear.
After, all will be perfect;
a smooth beach, ordered waters,
my dry eyes like stones
and my two hands broken.
Por Cecília Meireles
Pus o meu sonho num navio
e o navio em cima do mar;
– depois, abri o mar com as mãos,
para o meu sonho naufragar
Minhas mãos ainda estão molhadas
do azul das ondas entreabertas,
e a cor que escorre de meus dedos
colore as areias desertas.
O vento vem vindo de longe,
a noite se curva de frio;
debaixo da água vai morrendo
meu sonho, dentro de um navio…
Chorarei quanto for preciso,
para fazer com que o mar cresça,
e o meu navio chegue ao fundo
e o meu sonho desapareça.
Depois, tudo estará perfeito;
praia lisa, águas ordenadas,
meus olhos secos como pedras
e as minhas duas mãos quebradas.
One can see by reading the poem that the poet is expressing the need for calmness in a world where desire causes the commotion of the waters. She is essentially preferring to give up on her dream, to sink her boat either because she doesn’t like to dream or perhaps she does but she is not capable of living with them (while still unattained). She gives up because dreams mean hard work and dedication as well as pain. One can also see the difference between a dream that may not work out for one reason or another and a dream that is purposefully killed by the dreamer, which is what she does.
The Song of Exile
by Antônio Gonçalves Dias
translated by Nelson Ascher
My homeland has many palm-trees
and the thrush-song fills its air;
no bird here can sing as well
as the birds sing over there.
We have fields more full of flowers
and a starrier sky above,
we have woods more full of life
and a life more full of love.
Lonely night-time meditations
please me more when I am there;
my homeland has many palm-trees
and the thrush-song fills its air.
Such delights as my land offers
Are not found here nor elsewhere;
lonely night-time meditations
please me more when I am there;
My homeland has many palm-trees
and the thrush-song fills its air.
Don’t allow me, God, to die
without getting back to where
I belong, without enjoying
the delights found only there,
without seeing all those palm-trees,
hearing thrush-songs fill the air.
Antônio Gonçalves Dias
Antônio (born in the state of Maranhão) was a Brazilian poet. A respected ethnologist and scholar, he lived much of the time abroad but drowned at age 41 on his way back to Maranhão. His songs, collected in First Poems (1847), More Poems (1848), and Last Poems (1851), which display both exuberance and longing, are a celebration of the New World as a tropical paradise and a glorification of the indigenous people. While in Europe, he wrote a dictionary of the Tupi language. His “Song of Exile” (Canção do Exílio, 1843) is known to every Brazilian schoolchild, and he is regarded as the national poet of Brazil.
While meandering around the net, I came across the written account of a well-connected English woman named Maria Graham who published a book in London in 1824 called “Journal of a voyage to Brazil, and residence there, during part of the years 1821, 1822, 1823” which is 335 pages and can be found online in its entirety here. If you enjoy 19th century literature and if you are curious about how Brazil was in the later years of the Portuguese colony, this book is for you. Of course, you’d have to read it online although no need for squinting as there are options for enlarging each page.
(Laranjeiras in Rio, 1821 – by Maria Graham)
Maria Graham (later to be known as Maria Calcott) was an accomplished author of travel narratives and children’s books as well as an illustrator. Having grown up in a military family, she traveled through India with her father and later through Italy with her husband, also a military man. With her husband, she continued on to Chile, and later as a widow, to Brazil where she tutored the Princess Donna Maria of the newly independent Brazil. For each of her travels, she wrote a book and each one details for the first time in the English language (in most cases) the rise of the nations through which she traveled.