My Poetry Corner December 2020, featuring the poem “Poema de Natal” (Christmas Poem) by Brazilian poet and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes (1913-1980), is dedicated to those among us who have lost a loved one this year to COVID-19.
Born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in Southeast Brazil, Vinicius de Moraes is the poet of love and passion. At twenty years old, he published his first book of poetry. Two years later, his second collection won Brazil’s National Poetry Award. He served as a diplomat during the period 1946 to 1969. His first diplomatic post was as Vice-Consul in Los Angeles (1946-1950) where he immersed himself in North American cinema and jazz.
His featured poem, “Christmas Poem,” written in 1946, appears unconnected with the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in Judea. Instead, as the title suggests, the poem is more like reflections on the passing year. The poet ponders over death and what is truly essential to our lives. Why such somber thoughts during the Christmas festivities? Had the sudden death of a great friend, the year before, unsettled his life? The loss of a loved one has a way of giving us a new perspective of human existence.
The first of the four verses sums up our purpose for being in terms of our mortality. The images are visceral.
For that we were made: To remember and be remembered To cry and make you cry To bury our dead – So that we have long arms for goodbyes Hands to gather what was given Fingers to dig the earth.
What of those in mourning who have not been able to say goodbye and to bury their dead? Such is the nature of a fatal assault by the coronavirus.
The second verse calls on us to be kinder and gentler with each other. After all, very few of us know the day and the hour when our loved ones will depart this world. The last line seems to echo the popular traditional Christmas carol, “Silent Night.”
This then will be our life: An afternoon always to forget A star fading in the darkness A path between two tombs – So that we need to keep watch To speak softly, step lightly, see The night sleep in silence.
For those who face a Christmas celebration with a loved one missing from their festive table, the third verse offers consolation in prayer, hope, and love. The second line, A song about a crib, brings to mind the birth of the Christ Child, with the hope for peace and goodwill among us.
There is not much to say: A song about a crib A verse, perhaps, of love A prayer for those who depart – But do not forget that moment in time And for that moment our hearts Are left, grievous and simple.
How do we comfort each other during this unforgettable time of a pandemic with quarantine, lock-downs, and social distancing? A much-needed hug can become a death threat.
The final verse calls us to action. Hope lies in the way we live each day with one another. In accepting others as they are, without expectations, we can share life’s joys, sorrows, and blessings. Our birth is a gift, a miracle, to be lived to the fullest.
Because for that we were made: For hope in the miracle For sharing in the poetry For seeing the face of death – Suddenly we will never more expect… Tonight is young; of death, hardly We were born, immensely.
To read the featured poem in the original Portuguese and to learn more about Vinicius de Moraes and his work, go to my Poetry Corner December 2020.
As a nation, may we find fortitude and solidarity through our shared loss, grief, and brokenness. May the brokenhearted find comfort, hope, and peace ❤