Entrance to Hilda Hilst Institute – Casa do Sol – Campinas – São Paulo – Brazil
My Poetry Corner May 2018 features an excerpt from “Poems for the Men of Our Time” (Poemas aos Homens do Nosso Tempo) by Brazilian poet, playwright, and novelist Hilda Hilst (1930-2004), born in Jaú in the interior of São Paulo, Southeast Brazil. Soon after her birth, her mother moved with her to Santos, a coastal city and port. Her father wanted a lover, not a wife. Having a girl child was “bad luck,” he told her mother. Hilda grew up determined to prove him wrong.
Hilda was seven years old when her mother revealed the truth: Her father suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Her father’s mental illness and his frequent internment over the years, until his death in 1966, had a profound effect on her poetry and fiction which often drew upon themes of intimacy and insanity with elements of magical realism.
I initiated dialogue a thousand times. It is hopeless.
I prepare and accept myself
Flesh and spirit undone. We could try,
My father, the unequal and tortured poem,
And embrace each other in silence. In secret.
~ Final stanza, “Of the joyful and very unhappy love – 1,” Exercises by Hilda Hilst, 2001.
Though her first love was poetry, like her father, Hilst followed her mother’s advice and studied law at the University of São Paulo (1948-1952). During this period, she published her first two poetry collections (1950 & 1951). After working for a year at an attorney’s office in São Paulo, she abandoned law for the writer’s life.
I sought light and love. Human, attentive
Like someone who seeks the mouth in the boundaries of thirst.
And everything I found I tell you now:
Another faceless person. Rough. Blind.
The architect of these traps.
~ Excerpt, “Life of My Soul,” Songs of Loss and Predilection by Hilda Hilst, 1983.
Hilst lived the jet set life, traveling to Argentina, Chile, Europe, and New York. Her beauty attracted the rich and the famous of Brazilian high society and Hollywood stars like Dean Martin and Tony Curtis. She published five more poetry collections, receiving the São Paulo Pen Club Award in 1962. Then in 1965, at 35 years old, she left her active social life to dedicate her time to her literary work.
Library of Hilda Hilst – Casa do Sol – Campinas – São Paulo – Brazil
(Photos in left foreground: Hilda’s Father, Hilda with her Mother)
I had to be alone to understand everything, to unlearn and to understand again. That life I had was very easy, a life of only fun, of lovers.
~ Hilda Hilst in interview with the Moreira Salles Institute, 1999.
On her mother’s property in Campinas, she built her country house, named “Casa do Sol” (House of the Sun), and began living with an Italian sculptor whom she married in 1968. Frequented by artists of all stripes, her house became a center for cultural fomentation during the seventies and eighties.
Living Room of Hilda Hilst – Casa do Sol – Campinas – São Paulo – Brazil
The featured excerpt from “Poems for the Men of Our Time,” first published in 1974, remains relevant to our own time of growing global inequality and endless wars.
Beloved life, my death lingers
What to say to man
What journey to propose? Kings, ministers
And all of you, politicians,
What word besides gold and darkness
Stays in your ears?
Besides your RAPACITY
What do you know
Of the souls of men?
Gold, conquest, profit, deception
And our bones
And the blood of peoples
And the lives of men
Between your teeth.
She invites poets, writers, philosophers, alchemists, and other voices to engage in the political process and policy-making.
To meet you, Man of my time,
And in the hope you may subdue
The rosette of fire, hatred, and wars,
I will sing to you eternally in the hope of knowing you one day
And invite the poet and all those lovers of words, and the others,
Alchemists, to sit with you at your table.
Things will be simple and round, fair. I will sing to you
My own crudeness and earlier unease,
Appearances, the lacerated love of men
My own love is yours
The mystery of the rivers, earth, seed.
I will sing to you the One who made me a poet and promised me
Compassion and tenderness and peace on Earth
If within you still resides these gifts he gave you.
To read the featured poem in its original Portuguese and learn more about the work of Hilda Hilst, go to my Poetry Corner May 2018.
NOTE: All translations from Portuguese to English done by Rosaliene Bacchus.
PHOTOS: All photos and more of the Hilda Hilst Institute are available on Brasil Online.