Carlos Drummond de Andrade

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Andrade, Carlos Drummond de 1902–

A Brazilian poet, essayist, and short story writer, Drummond de Andrade was a member of the "Semana de Arte Moderna," a group of poets who set out in the 1920s to revitalize Brazilian poetry. His first collection, Alguna poesia, departs from traditional poetic forms. Although his poetry often has social and political subjects based on contemporary Brazilian affairs, Drummond de Andrade's major poetry is concerned with universal human loneliness.

John Nist

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Much of the poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade moves upon the drama of obsessing ideas, for he is obsessed with several convictions of the perfectionist: That he is impossible. That language is absolutely insufficient for the needs of communication. That life is ineffable. That the social order is filled with an injustice for which there is no final resolution. That even though love turns out to be useless, one must love in order that existence may become its own essence. These ideas, and others like them, flow from the soul of a man who will admit of no compromise with what should be in the name of what is. (p. 32)

In "Segrêdo (Secret)," a poem that illustrates the thesis "You cannot communicate poetry," Drummond says, "Everything is possible, only I am impossible."… It is from [a] sense of human impossibility, of personal isolation and abstraction, that comes Drummond's emphasis upon the internal and psychological state, upon the confessional soliloquy as perhaps the best means of expression. Expression, because communication is an entirely different matter. With a parenthesis in the poem "Mundo Grande (Big World)," Drummond admits that in the solitude of his private person he has forgotten the language men use to communicate. Thus art becomes a factor of isolation for the artist, and the man who contains the artist in himself must try to break out of that isolation…. (pp. 32-3)

Carlos Drummond led himself into the situation ineffable, where he became dissatisfied with the inadequacy of language. For Drummond, even those experiences which one can communicate are difficult to achieve because of the weakness of language…. When the verses refuse to come out, Drummond has to enter deep into his sensibility in order to try to force them out. The result, of course, is the most meditative lyricism in modern Brazilian literature. So great is the struggle at times that Drummond (in "O Lutador [The Wrestler]") thinks of composition in the physical terms of wrestling. "To wrestle with words," he says, "is the vainest of struggles." And yet, so soon as the day breaks, he takes up the challenge and pursues it back into darkness and the streets of sleep "with no more profit / than that of chasing the wind." At times, after all the bullying and sweating, the coaxing and wooing, he thinks that he has forced the enemy words into surrender, wherein each one will yield to him its warmth or glory or mystery or scorn or jealousy, because his wise love has taught him how to enjoy the captured essence properly. (p. 33)

From the frustration of the perfectionist who saw what immense passion abides potentially in language and which was lacking in his own account because of his failure to master that language, Drummond took up the tactics of combative affirmations…. To further the cause of … victory, the vocabulary of Drummond became increasingly colloquial, realistic, almost naïve, and full of verbal repetition. That repetition, in turn, moved from simple imitation to rhetorical linking, poetical leitmotiv, and philosophical refrain. Whereas [Manuel] Bandeira builds language associations around proverbs, popular expressions, and fashionable phrases, Drummond executes mechanical associations on different...

(This entire section contains 898 words.)

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models in order to indicate states of surrender in a multiple personality which moves from the rational to the automatic. All these qualities in the creative process of Drummond can be clearly seen in "José," perhaps the most truly Brazilian of all modern poems and certainly so popular as to have become a national institution.

The poem "José" is an excellent example of Drummond's belief that there is no resolution for injustice in this world. Failure in the social order is to be expected. As Drummond says in "O Boi (The Ox)," there is always profound aloneness, the suffering of millions without a curse, the writhing of men who do not let a word of complaint pass their lips. This injustice, furthermore, produces a heroic stoicism in the suffering men that isolates them, like Drummond, in the ineffable experience…. The only means of attaining explanation and meaning is love, but love does not blow up its storm into the crowded human street. For Drummond, the weather of profiteering, of materialism, remains steady. And because it does, the ox—symbol of exploited man—remains alone…. (pp. 33-4)

The criticism and the satire underlying the tactics of irony and humility in Drummond are those of an idealist who avoids being completely crushed by the oppressive sense of reality through an oblique approach to it, a reversal statement of it, a passive-resistance surrender in it. Nowhere can these methods of avoidance be more clearly seen than in his "Canção de Berço (Cradle Song)," where—like Shakespeare's Antony—Drummond states the direct opposite of what he intends. In a world that bears the alias Not Important, love and flesh and life are of little value: artificial insemination takes the place of the first, death dissolves the second, and not even suffering remains constant in the third…. The crowning irony, of course, is that under the guise of prophecy the poet has succeeded in describing the present in a dehumanized world devoid of compassion. (p. 34)

John Nist, "Conscience of Brazil: Carlos Drummond de Andrade," in Américas (reprinted by permission from Américas, monthly magazine published by the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States in English, Spanish, and Portuguese), Vol. 15, No. 1, January, 1963, pp. 32-5.

John Nist

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[Carlos Drummond de Andrade] is probably the most important poet writing at this time in Brazil. Out of his humor and irony, Drummond continues to compose with a curious juxtaposition of the scholarly word with the vulgar. It is especially in his poetry that modern Brazilian literature has achieved the ennoblement of regionalistic and popular expressions. As a master of the delayed cultural envelope, the interpretative reference, Drummond delights in partial and temporary obscurity before everything becomes clear by the last line. His fellow countrymen enjoy in his poetry the following qualities also: sensuous correspondences, synaesthesias, apparent contradictions, anthropomorphizations, dehumanizations, objectifications of the abstract, and subjectifications of the concrete. But far more impressive than any technical virtuosity displayed in his poetry is Drummond's utterly courageous and incorruptible honesty with the human situation, the word, and himself.

Although he lacks the lyric gusto and dazzling verbal mastery of Manuel Bandeira, Carlos Drummond takes the prize from his elder in social consciousness, in the sense of being vitally involved in the deeper contemporary issues of life. From this involvement Drummond refuses to play the role of the romantic, the gossip monger, the decadent, or the escapist. It is from this sense of social involvement, furthermore, that Drummond in his honesty to the word has become the much-needed and much-admired professor of aesthetics to the younger Brazilian writers of his own time and for those who will create in the Portuguese language long after he is dead. In "Search for Poetry," undoubtedly the most remarkable poem about the writing of poetry in the history of Brazilian literature, a work that for its nation has the same cultural importance as Whitman's "By Blue Ontario's Shore" has for the United States, Carlos Drummond de Andrade tells the young poet to beware of confusing art with personal history or with the doctrine of self-expression. The sound advice in "Search for Poetry" is part of a criticism that defines poetry as a language art rather than as an overflow of powerful feelings, whether recollected in tranquillity or otherwise. And in a nation that prides itself on poetic sentiment, it is good to have the sober voice of Drummond to remind immature sensibilities that artistic dedication and achievement involve more than merely putting a pen to paper and letting the ink run. (pp. 247-48)

John Nist, "Contemporary Brazilian Poetry," in Books Abroad (copyright 1963 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 37, No. 3, Summer, 1963, pp. 245-51.∗


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[The keynote of Carlos Drummond de Andrade's first volume of poetry], and to a great extent the keynote of [his] poetry to the present, can be isolated in the first lyric from Alguma Poesia, "Poema de sete faces." Here Drummond expresses the impossibility of reconciling his own values with those of the world. This dissonance, this friction between systems, not even a perfect rhyme will remedy, and there is no choice but to be "gauche." (p. 58)

While Drummond does not find in perfect rhyme the magic link with which to resolve the differences between the individual and his wasted spiritual ecology—finds it, in fact, a pseudo-solution—he never wholly gave up various kinds of formal patterning. (p. 59)

What was never clear during the early years of modernism, what was blurred by both proximity and polemic, now with hindsight becomes much clearer. From the beginning Drummond attempted to harmonize the liberating impulse of free verse with his personal passion for order and pattern. This attempt was not unique to him. It can be identified even more easily in the work of his friend and compatriot Manuel Bandeira, who was even more reluctant to burn away his own past, and who even accepted the mantle of unofficial laureate. Both poets sought a kind of modus vivendi cum aggiornamento which would not require that they reject violently their personal pre-modernist values. (p. 61)

In a real sense, Drummond and Bandeira oscillated between past and present, between traditional and formal postures and the poetic politics of their own time. Occasionally, and more frequently with increasing age, Drummond placed the poetics of modernism at the service of the shining human scenes he had lost [as in "Country Places" ("Estancias")]…. Here the liberation from conventional syntax makes possible the memory, and the memory is redemptive: only through it can the dead "live with us," "stay with us," "burn in us … as the flame which sleeps in the logs thrown in the shed" already burns, because it will burn, and because (in this poem at least) time is no prison. And love is the energy that moves one to remember.

Such an intimate connection of love and memory often makes Drummond an erotic poet of great intensity, and no manifestation of love, however bitter or base, could be strange to him who must keep himself alive as the savage link in his own bloodline, for love's sake. One of his most moving poems ["Rape" ("Rapta")], written in regular decasyllabic lines, relives the myth of Ganymede. This is not Goethe's Ganymede, however, who sought the figure of the transcendental father; here the homosexuality is neither skimmed over nor judged, and the bitterness of the experience is negated only by the heroic form itself. (pp. 61-2)

The association of the boy Ganymede with "pure form" which "freely degrades itself" and the declaration that after debasement he is pure form which rises "more perfect" yet … may also be read as an allegory of Drummond's own experience…. Pure form must be subjected to the agony of knowledge which is imparted in the vast world, in the "wide design / of Nature, the ambiguous, the reticent," and will receive in exchange

                    double strands of bitterness,
          harshness of love lodged in a hard caress,

—as accurate a description of life as poet has ever proposed. (p. 63)

Virginia de Araújo and Joaquim-Francisco Coelho, "Drummond de Andrade: An Introduction," in Chicago Review (reprinted by permission of Chicago Review; copyright © 1975 by Chicago Review), Vol. 27, No. 2, Fall, 1975, pp. 56-63.

Wilson Martins

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[Carlos Drummond de Andrade is] eminently Brazilian, with an acute eye for the ridicule, steely irony, skepticism tempered by tenderness and vice-versa and, above all, his flawless congeniality to the complex and contradictory state of mind and soul that is "to be Brazilian."

Although he wrote in one of his arts poétiques, "Do not make lines out of events," it is impossible to dissociate his poetry from the "events" of literary and social history since 1922. Not that he took facts as themes, but in the sense that facts created an atmosphere, intellectual and emotional, which reflected and certainly conditioned the "atmosphere" of his poetry…. Each one of his main volumes corresponds to a particular moment in the history and evolution of literary principles and moral concepts. In 1930 Alguma poesia was the book of victorious modernismo and the no less victorious inauguration of the Second Republic. (p. 16)

The Second Republic, in literature as well as in politics, was rapidly disintegrating, however, as Sentimento do mundo (Sense of the World; 1940), with the first intrusion of "events," showed with insistent urgency…. Brazilian intellectuals fought with words the same war others were fighting with swords; Drummond entered the second phase of his career as a poet, going through a process of ever-increasing sympathy with socialist ideas without ever accepting full regimentation in any extremist party….

[His resignation from the Writers Guild], along with general trends in poetry (the replacement of Modernist generations by the so-called Generation of '45), signaled Drummond's gradual but steadfast withdrawal from "events" and correspondent immersion in personal, emotionally autobiographical and hermetic poetry. The consequence was a period of "pure poetry," if we can call it that, represented by Claro enigma. It must be noted, however, that, having developed his poetry in progressively transcending stages, Drummond never disavowed any of his successive selves, integrating each instead into the next….

[In Claro enigma Drummond surpasses modernist poetry and ideological verse] in favor of broader concepts: man and his fate, literature as a reality in its own right. But the dialectics of Drummond's spirit demanded that he "reintegrate" this world of abstractions and pure intellectual hedonism into his national roots and his own personal origins—and the next opera omnia was called Fazendeiro do ar & poesia até agora (Farmer of the Clouds and Poetry until Now; 1953). Why "farmer of the clouds"?… [It] points to the permanent obsession of his poetry: namely, a mythical past forever lost in the fog of memory, the dearly departed in their dusty frock coats, family albums where Time has left the yellowed footprints of its passage, Minas Gerais and its old ghosts floating in almost inaudible murmurs of incomprehensible voices….

Thus there is a strong central current that unifies and nourishes the whole of Drummond's work, beyond and above all the changes of inspiration and esthetic concepts it went through along the years. (p. 17)

Drummond's celebrated irony is in fact a defense against emotion, particularly against sentimental pathos. Brazilian readers were never fooled by that, and what touches them deeply is the submerged strain of melancholy, even despair and anguish, that pervades the whole work. But irony takes care of all that. Life is what it is—no use for grand gestures or solemn proclamations on the mountain. All of Drummond's work could be interpreted in that perspective…. (p. 18)

Wilson Martins, "Carlos Drummond de Andrade and the Heritage of Modernismo," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter, 1979, pp. 16-18.




Drummond de Andrade, Carlos