My Poetry Corner December 2021 features the poem “Song of the Earth” (O Cântico da Terra) from the 1965 debut poetry collection The Alleyways of Goiás and More Stories (Poemas dos Becos de Goiás e Estórias Mais) by one of Brazil’s great twentieth-century poets, known by her pen name, Cora Coralina (1889-1985).
Born in the small town of Goiás Velho, then the capital of Brazil’s Center-West State of Goiás, Cora Coralina (named Ana Lins dos Guimarães Peixoto) was the third of four daughters. Her father, a High Court judge, died shortly after her birth. In her poem, “My Childhood (Freudian),” she writes:
I was sad, nervous and ugly. Yellow, with a pale face. Limp legs, falling down carelessly. Those who saw me like that – said: “This girl is the living image of the old sick father.”
Though Cora Coralina only had three years of primary school education, it was enough to stimulate her interest in reading and storytelling. At fourteen years old, she began writing her first poems and adopted the pen name to hide her identity. In those days, “proper young ladies” did not waste time writing.
“I never received encouragement to become a writer,” she said in an interview about her early experience with books and reading. “There was always in the family, if not hostility, at least a certain reservation to my innate tendency… The school of life made up for the deficiencies in my primary school education.”
In a rare interview in 1984 for the Mulherio Magazine, the nonagenarian poet spoke of her adolescent fear of growing old without getting married because she was frail and ugly. Saint Anthony answered her prayer when she met a divorced lawyer, 22 years her senior, from São Paulo. They married in 1910 and the following year left Goiás for the interior of São Paulo.
Her husband was not the enchanted prince that had filled her dreams. Nor was he a man to pamper and adore her as a respected mother of a family. Instead, he turned out to be a jealous husband who imagined things that had never happened. He prevented her from publishing her stories. He also prohibited her from participating in the Week of Modern Art which took place in São Paulo in 1922. The joy of caring for their four children—two other children died shortly after birth—compensated for her husband’s lack of affection.
In her poem “Offers of Aninha,” dedicated to the youth, the poet writes:
I am that woman to whom time has taught much. It taught to love life. Not to give up the fight. To start over after defeat. To renounce negative words and thoughts. To believe in human values. To be optimistic.
Her husband died in 1934 when she was forty-five years old, leaving her in a difficult financial situation. To provide for her family, she continued to maintain their small farm where she raised pigs and cows, and cultivated corn, rice, and beans. Never giving up on her writing, she began publishing articles in the local newspapers.
She writes in her poem, “So I see life”:
Life has two faces: / Positive and negative / The past was hard / but left its legacy / To know how to live is the great wisdom […] I accepted contradictions / fights and stones / as lessons of life / and I made use of them / I learned to live.
Leaving her adult children and grandchildren behind, Cora Coralina returned to her hometown in 1956 to receive her family inheritance and decided to stay. She continued to write, supporting herself by selling her homemade sweets. After learning to type at seventy years old, she compiled her first poetry collection into a book format. In 1965, at 76 years old, she published her first poetry collection, Poemas dos Becos de Goiás e Estórias Mais (The Alleyways of Goiás and More Stories). Over the following years, until her death in 1985 from pneumonia, she published three more books of poetry. She was 96 years old.
As a woman who had made her living off the land, Cora Coralina gives praise to the earth, our great Universal Mother, in the featured poem, “Song of the Earth,” from her 1965 debut collection.
I am earth, I am life. From my clay first came man. From me came woman and came love. Came the tree, came the spring. Comes the fruit and comes the flower.
For those of us who dwell in urban areas with little or no connection to the earth upon which we build our homes and raise our families, may we never take the earth for granted.
I am the original source of all life. I am the ground that connects with your house. I am the roofing tile of your home. The steadfast pit of your well. I am the generous ear of corn of your cattle and calm certainty to your effort. I am the reason of your life…
To read the complete featured poem, “Song of the Earth,” in English and its original Portuguese, and to learn more about Cora Coralina and her work, go to my Poetry Corner December 2021.
NOTE: Excerpts of poems by Cora Coralina translated by Rosaliene Bacchus.