Carlos Drummond de Andrade Drummond de Andrade, Carlos - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Carlos Drummond de Andrade 1902-1987

Brazilian poet, essayist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Drummond's career through 1999. For criticism prior to 1979, see CLC, Volume 18.

Considered one of the best Latin American poets of the twentieth century, Drummond helped introduce Brazilian verse to modernism. He was both a socialist and a personal, self-conscious poet.

Biographical Information

Drummond was born on October 30, 1902, in Itabira, Brazil, to a privileged family. In 1925 he married Dolores Morais, with whom he later had a daughter. In the mid-1920s, Drummond founded the journal A Revista, which became the voice of Brazilian modernism. He also served on the staff of the newspaper Diario de Minas and eventually became an editor at the official state newspaper, Minas Gerais, during the late 1920s and early 1930s when he was also developing as a creative writer. In addition, Drummond taught school and served in various important cultural posts. He was a socialist who advocated justice for the less fortunate but often also wrote in a very private, introspective way. He continued an active writing career until shortly before his death from a heart attack in Rio de Janeiro on August 17, 1987.

Major Works

Drummond began his writing career when he allied himself with a number of writers and artists in the 1920s known as Semana de Arte Moderna, a group which introduced modernism into Brazilian poetry. Drummond's first poetry collection, Alguma poesia (1930), established his reputation as a major poet. In A rosa do povo (1945), he showed himself to be an effective left-wing social critic. Yet, much more than his famous contemporary Pablo Neruda, he wrote highly autobiographical, inner-directed works. He had no patience, however, with sentimentality. Eventually disillusioned with socialism, Drummond expressed the confusion of the late 1940s era in Brazil in his Novos Poemas (1948). Drummond began to achieve recognition as an important modernist poet with the publication of his Fazendeiro do ar & Poesia ate agora (1955), a volume of his collected works. Returning to personal contemplation, Drummond used his childhood experiences in the Boitempo trilogy (1968-79). Among his important later works was As Impurezas do branco (1973), whose poems attempt to reconstruct past time in structured forms. Drummond was also noted as a short story writer, an essayist, and a translator of many works by such literary giants as Molière, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Knut Hamsun, and Federico Garcia Lorca. Drummond's own works have been translated into a number of other languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish.

Critical Reception

English-language criticism of Drummond was hindered by the unfamiliarity of most critics with the Portuguese language. Many of Drummond's literary contemporaries, such as Fernando Pessoa and João Cabral de Melo Neto, suffered from similar critical neglect. John Nist was an early translator of Drummond's poetry and also a critic who introduced Drummond's work to English-speaking audiences, pointing out Drummond's place of honor in Brazilian literature and his unshakable honesty of expression. Beginning in the late 1970s, World Literature Today and a number of other specialized journals began to pay attention to Drummond's poetry, often urging their North American readers to learn to appreciate the poet as an extraordinary voice of Brazilian modernism. A number of critics did close textual analyses of Drummond's poems, emphasizing the difficulty of classifying his work, his sense of irony, his use of autobiographical material, and his mastery of metrical forms. Increasing critical attention to Drummond, including a detailed profile in Scribner's Latin American Writers in 1989, has finally established Drummond as a major figure in world literature.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Alguma poesia (poetry) 1930

Brejo das almas (sound recording) 1934

Sentimento do mundo (poetry) 1940

Poesias (poetry) 1942

A rosa do povo (poetry) 1945

Novos poemas (poetry) 1948

Claro enigma (poetry) 1951

Poemas (poetry) 1951

Fazendeiro do ar & Poesia ate agora (collected poetry) 1955

Obra completa (complete works) 1964

In the Middle of the Road (poetry) 1965

*Boitempo e A Falta que ama (poetry) 1968

Reunião (poetry) 1969

Caminhos de Joao Brandao (essays) 1970

As Impurezas do branco (poetry) 1973

*Menino antigo (poetry) 1973

Poesia completa e prosa (collected poetry and prose) 1973

*Esqueçer para lembrar (poetry) 1979

A Paixão medida (poetry) 1980

The Minus Sign: Selected Poems (poetry) 1981

Nova Reunião. 2 vols. (poetry) 1983

Travelling in the Family: Selected Poems (poetry) 1987

*These works comprise the Boitempo trilogy.

Wilson Martins (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Martins, Wilson. “Carlos Drummond de Andrade and the Heritage of Modernismo.” World Literature Today 53 (1979): 16-18.

[In the following essay, Martins explains Drummond's vision of modernism and notes the popular and critical attention the poet has received.]

To a large extent, the work of Carlos Drummond de Andrade is the poetic legacy of modernismo.1 Born in 1902, he published his first volume of verse, Alguma poesia (Some Poetry), in 1930; others, like Manuel Bandeira (1886-1968) and Mário de Andrade (1893-1945), came from that noman's-land sometimes called pré-modernismo, which means that they had to make the revolution and to fight at the barricades. Not so with Carlos Drummond de Andrade; for him modernismo was a war already won, and the only task left was to occupy and explore the conquered territories—which he did, masterfully.

Of course, he is much more than a faithful follower and an adherent; it would be more correct to see him as one of the Apostles who went about spreading the Message. All these theological metaphors are authorized by Mário de Andrade, who christened Manuel Bandeira as “modernismo's Saint John the Baptist”; if that is true, Drummond has been its Beloved Son in whom the gods of literature are well pleased. In fact, being anti-Brazilian, or at least a-Brazilian, in some aspects (his introversion and reserve, his horror of rhetoric and bombast), he is on the other hand 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. His career, like Roman highways, is marked with successive milestones that signal not only the journey and the distance but also, in this case, the landscape. 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. Times were ripe for simplicity and directness of expression, for snapshots of the “real Brazil,” for tireless exercises in self-criticism, for repudiation of the past and for the poetry of the common man (both as author and reader).

Everything was clear and familiar, or was it? Under the species of the poem “In the Middle of the Road” the closet's skeleton was found in one room of the colonial house, spotlighted by the brilliant tropical sun and incredibly fascinating. Unexpectedly, it caught the imagination of the readers, rejected the everyday poetry of the volume and gave it its “real” meaning.

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.
Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

(Elizabeth Bishop, tr.)

What in the world could that possibly mean? Written about 1925—that is, at the very beginning of Drummond's career—the poem anticipated and announced (which, of course, no one could have known at the time) the hermeticism of Brazilian poetry in the 1930s and 40s and beyond, represented in his own work by Claro enigma (Clear Enigma; 1951). Meanwhile, all the philistines had their day: roaring laughter was heard all over the country, and everyone proposed a mock explanation, going from pure and simple mental derangement to the very well-known writer's urge to baffle the bourgeois. Later on, with good humor and superlative cunning, the author himself would write the history of the whole episode in Uma pedra no meio do caminho: Biografia de um poema (A Stone in the Middle of the Road: Biography of a Poem; Rio de Janeiro, 1967).

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. The war was there, and “the war was in us” (to recall the title of Marques Rebelo's novel); Drummond was no longer the parochial dweller of the small Brejo das almas (Morass of Souls; 1934), in the State of Minas Gerais, but a citizen of the world. Long before Marshall McLuhan, poets were aware of the global village; polarized to the right and the left, 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.

One may even consider the whole episode a misunderstanding in semantics: since the political situation of the time was viewed and felt as “fascist,” to oppose it was inevitably to seem “leftist”; later on, when the unfathomable political...

(The entire section is 2343 words.)

J. G. Merquior (review date 26 June 1981)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Merquior, J. G. “Measuring the Mess.” Times Literary Supplement (26 June 1981): 736.

[In the following review, Merquior places A Paixão Medida in the context of Drummond's earlier work and discusses the poet's use of a particular metrical form.]

Drummond de Andrade (b 1902) and João Cabral (b 1920) are the two foremost living Brazilian poets, and well known and influential in the world of Iberian literature at large. A Paixão Medida (The Measured Passion) and A Escola das Facas (The School of Knives) are their latest collections to be published.

Drummond's poetic career began in 1930 and the seventeen...

(The entire section is 729 words.)

Giovanni Pontiero (essay date 6 January 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pontiero, Giovanni. “The Amorous Theme in the Poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade.” Annali Istituto Universitario Orientale, Napoli, Sezione Romanza 24 (6 January 1982): 143-55.

[In the following essay, Pontiero discusses the ways in which Drummond's poetry deals with the theme of human love and points out the evolution of the poet's techniques and styles.]

É um amor

perfeito? perfeito da china? perfeito do mato? perfeito azul? perfeito bravo? próprio? materno? filial? incestuoso? livre? platônico? socrático? de vaqueiro? de carnaval? de cigano? de perdição? de...

(The entire section is 4041 words.)

Klaus Müller-Bergh (review date autumn 1983)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Müller-Bergh, Klaus. “Translations.” World Literature Today 57 (autumn 1983): 620.

[In the following review, Müller-Bergh gives a favorable evaluation of a German translation of Drummond's poetry.]

Rio de Janeiro's literary establishment commemorated Carlos Drummond de Andrade's eightieth birthday (31 October 1982) with an early present, “Drummond 80 Anos,” a special issue of the literary section of the Jornal do Brasil (2 October 1982). His neighbors in Copacabana painted an abstract, stylized green, yellow and blue (the colors of the Brazilian flag) people's rose on the asphalt square in front of the apartment house where he lives, at the...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

John Gledson (review date 27 April 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gledson, John. “The Exile at Home.” Times Literary Supplement (27 April 1984): 461.

[In the following review of Nova Reunião, Gledson acknowledges the difficulty of classifying the poet's work into simple categories and discusses the relative lack of familiarity with Drummond in North America.]

In October 1982, when Carlos Drummond de Andrade had his eightieth birthday, the public celebrations—balloons over Copacabana beach, poems showered from the air over Belo Horizonte, the capital of his native state, as well as more conventional newspaper and television adulation—might have found some echo outside Brazil. They found very little, and the...

(The entire section is 954 words.)

Robert E. Di Antonio (essay date 1986-87)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Di Antonio, Robert E. “The Confessional Mode as a Liberating Force in the Poetics of Carlos Drummond de Andrade.” Quaderni Ibero-Americani 61-2 (1987-87): 201-07.

[In the following essay, Di Antonio contends that Drummond reveals his private thoughts often in his poetry, thus engaging the reader in an existential way.]

Eternal truths need a human language that alters with the spirit of the times. The primordial images undergo ceaseless transformations and yet ever remain the same …

Carl Gustav Jung1

é sempre possível plantar una semente, acender una...

(The entire section is 1911 words.)

David H. Rosenthal (review date 13 December 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rosenthal, David H. “Unpredictable Passions.” New York Times Book Review (13 December 1987): 32-3.

[In the following review of two books by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa and Drummond's Travelling in the Family, Rosenthal notes Drummond's sense of irony, contemplative nature, and colorful use of poetic language.]

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-87) and Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) rank among the foremost poets of our century, yet neither has received much recognition in the United States. It is tough being an author whose native language is deemed “minor.” Still, one can't grumble, for here we have a generous selection of each. Perhaps the gods...

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Maria Lúcia Milléo Martins (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Martins, Maria Lúcia Milléo. “Elizabeth Bishop and Carlos Drummond de Andrade: ‘Opening of Tin Trunks and Violent Memories.’” In “In Worcester, Massachusetts”: Essays on Elizabeth Bishop, edited by Laura Jehn and Angela G. Dorenkamp, pp 225-34. Peter Lang, 1999.

[In the following essay, Martins compares the themes of childhood and family in the work of Drummond and American poet Elizabeth Bishop, a well-respected translator of Drummond's work.]

The quotation in the title is taken from “Travelling in the Family,” one of Elizabeth Bishop's first translations of Carlos Drummond de Andrade. As in “Infancy,” “Family Portrait,” and “The...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Costa Lima, Luiz. “Carlos Drummond de Andrade.” In Latin American Writers, pp. 957-74. New York: Scribners, 1989.

Lengthy biographical-critical assessment of Drummond.


de Araújo, Virginia, and Joaquim-Francisco Coelho. “Drummond de Andrade: An Introduction.” Chicago Review 27, no. 2 (fall 1975): 56-63.

An assessment of the modernist impulses in Drummond's poetry.

Nist, John. “Conscience of Brazil: Carlos Drummond de Andrade.” Américas 15, no. 1 (January 1963): 32-5.

An early English-language review of...

(The entire section is 143 words.)