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More Giants of Brazilian Literature: Mário de Andrade and Cecília Meireles

In my previous post, I wrote about a few works by Brazilian writers I started reading in my youth. In this post I write about Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) for the first time and about Cecília Meireles (1901-1964) again. Expect to see more posts about her! She is my favorite Portuguese-language poet.

The brilliant Mário de Andrade was a poet, novelist, musicologist, art historian and critic, photographer, and one of the main figures in Brazilian Modernism. You may be familiar with the title Macunaíma: The Hero with no Character. It has been translated into several languages, and a new translation into English by Katrina Dodson is now available. Katrina Dodson best describes the book: "The novel, or 'rhapsody,' as Andrade called it, revels in an experimental language that mixes aggressively colloquial Brazilian Portuguese with Tupi and other Indigenous languages alongside words with African roots, reflecting the country’s syncretic collision of communities. The story begins in the northern Amazon and takes the shape-shifting hero and his brothers on a journey through the backlands and urban capitals of Brazil, as they discover the alien customs and environments of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in their quest to reclaim the hero’s magic talisman, the muiraquitã, which has fallen into the hands of a filthy rich Italo-Peruvian captain of industry, Venceslau Pietro Pietra, who is also Piaimã the Giant, eater of men."

I have not read Macunaíma. I have read another novel by Mário de Andrade, which I loved as a teenager and am looking forward to reading again: Amar, Verbo Intransitivo (To Love: Intransitive Verb). It too has been translated into English; one translation came out in 1933, another in 2018 by Anna Lessa-Schmidt. Amar, Verbo Intransitivo, published in 1927, is the story of the relationship that forms between a teenager from a rich São Paulo family and the German tutor his parents have hired. The tutor-pupil relationship grows into the (carefully planned?) sexual initiation of the young man and the scandal that ensues. The novel depicts the Brazilian society of the time--a young republic going through fast industrialization and churning out the nouveau riche along with their aspirations and hypocrisies. I love Mário de Andrade's style: unconventional, energetic, piercing. So many years later, I still hear this sentence from Amar, Verbo Intransitivo in my head: "Carlos era um machucador." Carlos was a hurter.

Mário de Andrade and my beloved Cecília Meireles were contemporaneous writers, and although their styles differed greatly, they enjoyed and admired each other's work. Mário de Andrade sought to break from tradition. His erudition found its way onto the page in an innovative, anti-academic way. Cecília Meireles's work was very inventive as well, but her writing still had elements of Symbolism, which some Modernists criticized her for. Mário de Andrade came to Cecília Meireles's defense time and again. But the admiration and support were mutual. Cecília Meireles also championed Mário de Andrade's work.

Here is an untitled poem Cecília Meireles wrote in response to criticism of her poetry. (My translation. I took some liberties, mind you, to preserve the rhymes.)

Cecília Meireles's poems haven't been widely translated. An entire chapter, however, is devoted to her work in Women's Writing in Latin America (Routledge, 1991), edited by Sara Castro-Klarén, Sylvia Molloy, and Beatriz Sarlo. I know Professor Alexis Levitin has published his translations of Meireles's poems but not recently, so unfortunately they may not be available on the internet.

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