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Statue of Carlos Drummond de Andrade - Copacabana - Rio de Janeiro

Bronze Statue of Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Copacabana – Rio de Janeiro – Brazil
Photo Credit: Viagens Vamos Nessa! (Alexandre Macieira/Riotur)

 

My Poetry Corner August 2018 features the poem “International Congress of Fear” (Congresso Internacional do Medo) by Brazilian poet, journalist, and literary critic Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987), born in Itabira in Minas Gerais, Southeast Brazil. Considered one of the most influential Brazilian poets of the twentieth century, Drummond remains well-loved by the people for his humility and concern with the plight of modern man and struggle for freedom and dignity. 

Home of Carlos Drummond de Andrade - Itabira - Minas Gerais - Brazil

Home of Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Itabira – Minas Gerais – Brazil
Photo Credit: Passeios.org

 

At nineteen, Drummond began his writing career as a columnist for the Diário de Minas newspaper. At his parents’ insistence, he qualified as a pharmacist in 1925 but never practiced the profession. Instead, he cofounded a literary journal and joined the Brazilian Modernist movement. After entering the public service in 1934, he was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where he worked in the Ministry of Education & Public Health, then the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Service.

His first published freestyle poem (1928), “In the Middle of the Road” (No Meio do Caminho), caused polemic among literary circles for its monotonous repetition. Judge for yourself the poem’s power in reminding us that obstacles are unavoidable events in our everyday lives. They drain our energies. They hinder our progress.

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.
I will never forget this event
in the life of my tired retinas.
I will never forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.
 

Carlos Drummond de Andrade depicted on a Brazilian 50 cruzados novos banknote 1990

Carlos Drummond de Andrade depicted on a Brazilian 50 cruzados novos banknote, 1990
Photo Credit: Toda Matéria

 

In 1930, Drummond published his first poetry collection, Some Poetry (Alguma Poesia). A favorite among this collection is “Square Dance” (Quadrilha) that sums up in just seven verses the unfulfilled or lost relationships of our interconnected lives. 

John loved Teresa who loved Raimundo
who loved Maria who loved John who loved Lili
who didn’t love anyone.
John went to the United States, Teresa to the convent,
Raimundo died of disaster, Maria stayed for her aunt,
John committed suicide and Lili married J. Pinto Fernandes
who hadn’t been part of the story.
 

Memorial Carlos Drummond de Andrade - Itabira - Minas Gerais

Memorial Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Itabira – Minas Gerais – Brazil
Designed by the Architect Oscar Niemeyer
Photo Credit: Conhecendo Museus

 

In the featured poem, “International Congress of Fear” (Congresso Internacional do Medo), written during World War II, Drummond uses simple language and repetition to call attention to the pervasive fear worldwide. Fear pulsates throughout the eleven verses. There is no escape.

Provisionally we will not sing the love,
that took refuge far below the underground.
We will sing the fear, that sterilizes hugs,
we will not sing the hate, because this doesn’t exist,
there is only fear, our father and our companion,
the great fear of the heartlands, seas, deserts,
fear of soldiers, fear of mothers, fear of churches,
we will sing the fear of dictators, fear of Democrats,
we will sing the fear of death and fear of the hereafter.
Afterward we will die of fear
and over our graves will sprout yellow and fearful flowers.

World War II is long past but a new kind of endless war – the War on Terror – has once again driven love “below the underground.” Fear of the other has become the enemy. Will we in America end up as the poet describes in his final two verses? Will we allow fear to bury love beneath the rubble of our missile strikes?

To read the featured poem in its original Portuguese and learn more about the work of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, go to my Poetry Corner August 2018. 

NOTE: All translations from Portuguese to English done by Rosaliene Bacchus.

 

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