Book Cover: Os Estatutos do Homem (The Statutes of Man) by Thiago de Mello
Photo Credit: Casas Bahia, Brazil
My Poetry Corner March 2017 features the poem “The Statutes of Man” (Os Estatutos do Homem) by Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello, born in 1926 in the State of Amazonas of Northern Brazil.
Growing up among Brazil’s exploited working class, Thiago de Mello devoted his poetry to addressing freedom, human dignity, and other social causes. When the military coup occurred in Brazil in 1964, he was the Cultural Attaché at the Brazilian Embassy in Santiago, Chile (1961-1964), where he became close friends with Pablo Neruda. He responded to the junta’s repressive, extra-constitutional decrees with his most famous poem, “The Statutes of Man.”
After resigning his overseas post and returning to Brazil, he was exiled in 1968 for denouncing the oppressive military dictatorship government (1964-1985). During his nine years in exile, he lived in Chile, Argentina, Portugal, France, and Germany.
It is decreed that now the truth counts,
that now life counts,
and hand in hand,
we will all work for a life that’s true.
Since authoritarian governments first seek to control the information fed to the population, it’s not surprising that the poet’s first article deals with truth. When this occurs, the preservation of the truth will depend upon our relationships with each other. As Thiago de Mello expands in Article 4, we will have to trust the Other.
It is decreed that man
will never again
doubt his fellowman.
That man will trust in man
like the palm tree trusts the wind,
like the wind trusts the air,
like the air trusts the open blue sky.
Man will trust his fellowman
like a child trusts another child.
Such trust is not possible when we demonize others for their skin color, religion, country of origin, or sexual orientation. A nation divided is easily manipulated with “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Injustice reigns supreme.
By irrevocable decree it is established
the permanent reign of justice and clarity,
and happiness will be a generous flag
unfurled forever in the soul of the people.
Articles 8 and 11 address the nature of our humanity: to love and be loved.
With Brazil’s extreme disparity between the rich and the poor—a condition that has become a reality in the United States—Thiago de Mello could not fail to mention inequality.
It is decreed that money
will never more buy
the sunshine of mornings to come.
Driven from the large chest of fear,
money will become a fraternal sword
to defend the right to sing
and the sunshine of a new day.
Almost 53 years since Thiago de Mello penned these words, wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite who wield it to rob us and control our lives.
The poet’s final Article 14 calls on us to reexamine what it means to be truly free as individuals and as a nation.
To read the complete featured poem and learn more about Thiago de Mello, go to my Poetry Corner March 2017.