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Historical Center of São Luís – Maranhão – Brazil
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Portuguese colonial architecture
Photo Credit: Kamaleao

 

My Poetry Corner February 2019 features the poem “There are Many Traps in the World” (No Mundo Há Muitas Armadilhas) by Ferreira Gullar (1930-2016), a Brazilian poet, playwright, art critic, and essayist. Born in São Luís, capital of the northeastern state of Maranhão, he was the fourth child of eleven siblings of a poor, working-class family.

As a young man, while earning a living as a radio announcer and editor of literary magazines, Gullar frequented poetry readings and devoured books of poetry by the best of Brazilian and foreign poets. At nineteen, he published his first poetry collection. But he saw no future in his suffocating, small-town life in the impoverished northeast region. He fled to Rio de Janeiro in the early 1950s, where he worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers.

Beginning in 1962, his work reflected his concern about combating oppression and social injustice. After becoming a member of the communist party, he joined the struggle against the military dictatorship (1964-1985). Following his arrest and imprisonment in 1968, he went into exile in 1971. For the next six years, he lived in Moscow, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires in 1975, fearful for his safety in the wake of Argentina’s military takeover (1976-1983), he wrote his best-known work, “Dirty Poem” (Poema Sujo).

Ferreira Gullar among millions of students and other demonstrators gathered to protest against military dictatorship – Rio de Janeiro – Brazil – June 26, 1968
Photo Credit: Folha de São Paulo

 

In the opening stanza of the featured poem, “There are Many Traps in the World,” Gullar makes a simple declaration:

There are many traps in the world
and what is a trap could be a refuge
and what is a refuge could be a trap 

Some traps that we humans perceive as refuge come to mind: religion, cults, Facebook, and narcotic drugs.

The second stanza questions our self-perception in relation to the universe and our natural world.

Your window, for instance,
opens to the sky
and a star tells you that man is nothing
or the morning foaming on the beach
batters it, before Cabral, before Troy
(four centuries ago Tomás Bequimão
took the city, created a popular militia
and then was betrayed, jailed, hanged)

Then, there are naysayers among us who would consider a nuclear war as means to human annihilation.

There are many traps in the world
and many mouths telling you
that life is short-lived
that life is crazy
And why not the Bomb? they ask you.
Why not the Bomb to end it all, since
life is crazy?
 

But, the poet notes, we have only to look at our children’s enchantment with life’s mysteries to question such a self-destructive view. 

Yet, you look at your son, the little kid
who doesn’t know
who fearlessly enters life and wants
life
and seeks the sun, the ball, fascinated, sees
the airplane and questions and questions

Ferreira Gullar in his Atelier – Rio de Janeiro – Brazil
Photo Credit: Arte e Blog

 

Life is a gift, Gullar reminds us. We don’t just give up on life. 

Life is short-lived
life is crazy
but there’s nothing but life
And you couldn’t kill yourself, that’s the truth.

We don’t give up on life because, Gullar adds, we humans are prisoners of life on this planet called Earth. It’s a prison sentence we must endure until our death. 

You’re a prisoner of life as if in a cage.
We’re all prisoners
in this cage that Gagarin was the first to see
from above, and to tell us: It’s blue.
And we already knew it, so well
that you couldn’t kill yourself and wouldn’t
kill yourself
and will endure until the end.

The poet observes that we don’t all share equally in the riches Mother Nature provides us in our shared prison called life.

 It’s certain that in this cage there are those who have
and those who have not
there are those who have so much that they alone could
feed the whole city
and those who haven’t enough for today’s lunch

Today, the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, has more wealth than several countries. He alone could treat every American to a $20 dinner each for a whole week, and still have over $90 billion left over.

In his final stanza, Gullar refutes the human self-perception of nothingness and powerlessness as deceptive thinking or a deliberate lie to entrap us.

The star is a liar
the sea is a sophist. In fact,
man is tied to life and needs to live
man has hunger
and needs to eat
man has children
and needs to provide for them
There are many traps in the world
and it’s necessary to shatter them.
 

If we are to provide for ourselves and our families, we must destroy the social, economic, political, cultural, religious, and educational traps that oppress humanity and turn our individual lives into a hell on Earth.

To read the featured poem in its original Portuguese and learn more about the work of Ferreira Gullar, go to my Poetry Corner February 2019.

FOOTNOTES:
Pedro Álvares Cabral was the first European to set foot in Brazil in 1500. He claimed the territory for King Manuel I of Portugal who had financed his trip.
Brothers Manuel and Tomás Beckman, known as Bequimão, were rural property owners in Maranhão who led the 1684 rebellion against Portugal over conflicting commercial relations.
Yuri Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut who, in April 1961, became the first human to journey into outer space and orbit the Earth. 
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