Born: Itabira do Mato Dentro, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 31 October 1902. Education: Educated at Arnaldo College, Belo Horizonte, 1910-13; forced to return home because of poor health, where he was educated privately; Jesuit Anchieta College, Novo Friburgo, 1916-18 (expelled); studied pharmacy 1923-24, qualified 1925, but never practised. Family: Married Dolores Dutra de Morais in 1925; one daughter. Career: Journalist, Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, 1920-22; co-founding editor of the magazine, A Revista, 1925: closed after three issues; teacher of geography and Portuguese, Itabira, 1926; worked on newspapers Diario de Minas, 1926-29, and Minas Gerais,1929, both Belo Horizonte; civil servant from 1928: chief secretary to minister of education, Rio de Janeiro, 1934-45 (resigned); briefly co-editor, Tribuna Popular, 1945; worked for Office of the National Historical and Artistic Heritage, 1945-62. Visited Buenos Aires, 1950 and 1953. Contributor to several newspapers and journals, including Correio de Manha and Jornal de Brasil, 1963-84. Awards: Brasilia prize for literature (refused), 1975; National Walmap prize for literature, 1975. Died: 17 August 1987.
Obra poetica. 8 vols., 1989.
Alguma poesia. 1930. Brejo das almas. 1934.
Sentimento do mundo. 1940.
A rosa do povo. 1945.
Novos poemas. 1948.
Poesia ate agora (includes Novospoemas). 1948.
Claro enigma. 1951.
Viola de bolso. 1952.
Fazendeiro do ar e Poesia ate agora. 1954.
A vida passada a limpo. 1959.
Antologia poetica. 1962.
Ligao de coisas. 1962.
In the Middle of the Road (selected poems), translated by John Nist.1965.
Jose e outros. 1967.
Boitempo; A falta que ama. 1968.
Reuniao (includes all collections published 1930-62, except Viola de Bolso). 1969.
As impurezas do branco. 1973.
Menino antigo—Boitempo II. 1973.
Poesia completa eprosa. 1973.
Souvenir of the Ancient World, translated by Mark Strand. 1976.
Discurso deprimavera. 1977; enlarged edition, 1978.
O marginal Clorindo gato e a visita. 1978.
Esquecer para lembrar—Boitempo III. 1979.
A paixao medida. 1980.
The Minus Sign: A Selection from the Poetic Anthology, translated by Virginia de Araujo. 1981.
Nova reuniao. 2 vols., 1983. Corpo. 1984.
Amar ds aprende amando. 1985.
Travelling in the Family, edited by Thomas Colchie and Mark Strand, translated by Colchie, Strand, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gregory Rabassa, 1987. Poesia errante, derrames liricos. 1988. Farewell. 1996.
O gerente (stories). 1945.
Contos de aprendiz (stories). 1951.
Confissoes de Minas. 1944.
Passeios na Ilha (articles and essays). 1952.
Fala, Amendoeira. 1957.
A bolsa e a vida (includes verse). 1962.
Rio de Janeiro em prosa e verso, with Manuel Bandeira. 1965.
Cadeiro de balango (articles). 1966.
Obra completa. 1967.
Caminhos de Joao Brandao (includes verse). 1970.
Opoder ultrajovem (includes verse). 1972.
De noticias o nao noticias farz-se a cronica, historias, dialogos,diragagoes. 1974.
Os dias lindos: cronicas. 1977.
Contos plausiveis. 1981.
Boca de Luar. 1984.
Historia de dois amores (for children). 1985.
O observador no escritorio (diary). 1985.
Moga deitada na grama (chronicles). 1987.
Auto-retrato e outras cronicas (articles), edited by Fernando Py. 1989.
O avesso das coisas: aforismos. 1989.
Translator, Uma gota de veneno, by Frangois Mauriac. 1943.
Translator, As relagoesperigosas, by Choderlos de Laclos. 1947.
Translator, A fugitiva, by Proust. 1956.
Translator, Artimanhas de Scapino by Moliere. 1962.
”Conscience of Brazil: Carlos Drummond de Andrade,” in Americas, 15(1), 1963, and The Modernist Movement in Brazil, 1967, both by John Nist; Lira e antilira: Mario, Drummond, Cabral by Luiz Costa Lima, 1968; A rima na poesia de Carlos Drummond de Andrade by Helcio Martins, 1968; ”Inquietudes na Poesia de Drummond” by Antonio Candido, in his Varios Escritos, 1970; Drummond: A Estilistica da Repetigao by Gilberto Mendonga Teles, 1970; Carlos Drummond de Andrade (biography) by Assis Brasil, 1971; A Astucia da Mimese: Ensaios sobre lirica, 1975, and Verso universo em Drummond, 1975, both by Jose Guilherme Merquior; Terra e familia na poesia de Carlos Drummond de Andrade by Joaquim Francisco Coelho, 1973; Poetas modernos de Brasil, 4. Carlos Drummond de Andrade by Silviano Santiago, 1976; Colegao fortuna critica, 1. Carlos Drummond de Andrade edited by Sonia Brayner, 1977; Drummond: Uma poetica do risco by Iumna Maria Simon, 1978; A dramaticidade na poesia de Drummond by Donaldo Schuler, 1979; Drummond o "Gauche" no tempo, 1972, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade: analise da obra, 1980, both by Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna; Poesia e poetica de Carlos Drummond de Andrade by John Gledson, 1981; ”The Precarious Self: Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s Brejo das Almas," in Hispania, 65, 1, 1982, and The Unquiet Self: Self and Society in the Poetry of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, 1984, both by Ricardo da Silveira Lobo Sternberg; Os Sapatos de Orfeu: Biografia de Carlos Drummond de Andrade by Jose Maria Cangado, 1993; Confidencia Mineira: O Amor na Poesia de Carlos Drummond de Andrade by Mirella Vieira Lima, 1995; Carlos Drummond de Andrade by Francisco Achcar, 2000.
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. I shall never forget this event in the life of my tired eyes. I shall never forget that in the middle of the road there was a stone there was a stone in the middle of the road in the middle of the road there was a stone
If Carlos Drummond de Andrade were still alive he might well feel irritated at being reminded that the above poem, ”No meio do caminho” (”In the Middle of the Road”), remains his best known, and in a sense, most celebrated, poem. It was certainly, along with ”Ode ao burgues” [Ode to the Bourgeois] by Mario de Andrade, the greatest succes de scandale created by the Brazilian Modernist Movement in the 1920s. It is but one of the 56 poems that comprise Drummond’s (he liked to be know by his mother’s family name) first collection that he did not publish until the age of 28. At first sight it looks like yet another of those poemas-piadas (joke-poems) with which the cheerfully irreverent Modernists either delighted or scandalized their public. Less charitably, one critic described this poem as the work of a man who had turned into a parrot.
The poem, like many more in Alguma poesia and the collections that followed it, Brejo das almas [Marsh of the Souls], Sentimento do mundo [Sentiment of the World], Jose, and A rosa do povo [The People's Rose], is the reductio ad absurdam of the peculiarly drummondian poetic process whereby poetry is distilled from the banal. Contemplation of the stone is a metaphor for life that is senselessly circular, returning one ceaselessly to the blank contingency of matter. Repetition, in the poem, as in life, reigns supreme. In another early poem Drummond writes: ”Planet, planet, vast planet/if I had been christened Janet/it’d be a rhyme, much less a start./ Planet, planet, vast planet/But so much vaster is my heart.” In the same poem, Drummond creates the concept of the gauche: ”Go, Carlos! Be gauche in life”. The poet’s fallible subjectivity will always torment him. He, the subject, confronts the ineffability of the object. His mission is to achieve an equilibrium between these two. The timid poet from the exterior of Minas Gerais would confront and interpret existence. Poetry is provoked out of a desperate search for this equilibrium over some 60 years of poetic creation.
The poetic stance of the gauche, the awkward, left-handed, marginalized outsider avant la lettre, was Drummond’s response to the riddle of existence. In one of his rare prose poems, entitled ”O enigma,” composed some 20 years later, he confronts again the image of an irreducible and incomprehensible object in the road, but it is not a stone; it is an ”enigma,” an ”enormous thing.” There are stones, but these are, presumably, human beings on the road of life. The mysterious form stands in their path; it paralyses them forever. Of course, as the poet observes, if the enigma could be interpreted it would no longer be an enigma. It is a projection of man’s own imagination and his contradictions. The stones bewail their lot:
Oh! what good is intelligence . . . We were intelligent, and yet, to ponder on the threat is not to remove it; that only creates it. Oh! what good is sensitivity—sob the stones. We were sensitive, and the gift of compassion rebounds upon us, when we thought to show it to less favoured species.
”O enigma” is the final poem in Novos poemas [New Poems], and like his most celebrated volume, A rosa do povo [The People's Rose], was a product of the 1940s in which Drummond did attain some kind of equilibrium between the utterly unreliable self, or subject, and the equally unknowable world of things. In ”A flor e a nausea” he portrays himself as defeated prisoner of society and oppressed by tedium; and yet in the ”river of steel” that is the busy street, a flower is born: ”It is ugly. But it is a flower. It has made its way through the asphalt, the tedium, the loathing and the hate.” The flower, traditional symbol of life and hope, joins with the very visual image of the gauche in the figure of Charlie Chaplin, another obscure marginal—but with the power, as Drummond portrays him in the final poem of A rosa do povo, entitled ”Canto ao homem ao povo Charlie Chaplin” [Song of the Man of the People Charlie Chaplin], to bring a form of redemption to the oppressed: ”and they speak as well, the flowers that you love so dearly when they are trodden underfoot.”
This is a humane poetry of love; but despite the strong vein of eroticism in the early volumes—Drummond’s very last collection was an entire set of erotic poems—and the strong theme of human solidarity that informs the poetry of the 1940s, love is seen, in the present tense, as a sad game, and in retrospect, as an aching nostalgia for the passing of all that, with hindsight, one might still hold dear. Like the Modernist Movement which in his youth inspired him, Drummond seeks to forge an identity for Brazil, but in doing so creates a tragic vision of his destiny in the historical continuum that is Brazil. If the modernistas reached out into the four corners of their vast country to seize, spatially, the totality of their nation, Drummond’s mission turned out to be more temporal. He chose to plunge into the past, the past he knew, that of rural Minas Gerais, in order to articulate his own destiny as well as that of Brazil. In the process, he universalized his poetic drama: by evoking the past, he hoped to explain the present. It is a painful process that may be doomed to failure. His supreme myth plucked out of past time is his birthplace, Itabira: ”Itabira is just a photograph on the wall./But how it makes me suffer!” It is above all the poet’s lucidity, honesty, and struggle for truth that makes him suffer in the course of his odyssey through the past and present of Minas Gerais. The great church clock in the poem ”O relogio” [The Clock] in the collection Boitempo [Ox-time] symbolizes Drummond’s fate as the poet from Minas whose function is to bear witness, record and interpret Brazil, past, present, and future. But the poet in his old age has travelled far not only in terms of longevity but also in terms of ontological and poetic investigation. The poetry, of Boitempo and beyond seeks profound acceptance and disengagement, yet always within the unspoken pact forged with the phenomenological and spiritual world in his most overtly philosophical collection, Claro enigma [Clear Enigma]. Minas Gerais means ”General Mines,” seen as a landscape of untold mineral wealth since the discovery in the 18th century of silver, gold, diamonds, and later, iron ore in vast quantities. This wealth built the now decaying baroque cities of Minas. Drummond meditates in ”Os bens e o sangue” [The Gods and the Blood] on the wealth of which he has been disinherited and the blood he has inherited.
As he contemplates the family archive, his ancestors seem to address him across the decades and acknowledge his role in the continuum: ”You are our natural seed and we fructify. you,/we are your explanation, your simplest virtue. . . /For it was only right that one of us should deny us the better to serve us.” Thus does Drummond fulfil a destiny, tragic in its resignation. In another poem from Claro enigma, ”Morte das casas de Ouro Preto” [Death of the Houses of Ouro Preto], the rain falls endlessly on the decaying mansions of the once fabulous city. Water in Drummond is flux, passing time, destruction, and eternity. Now it is no longer a matter of change but of the absorption of man-made structures into the timeless pathos of Minas, back into the soil of Minas in order to complete the cycle: ”May the beams of today body forth into trees!/May the dust on them be again the dust of the highways!”.
For all his intermittent engagement with the theme of love, with the problems of urban society and with politics, Drummond is, ultimately, a great existential poet; perhaps the greatest that America has produced.