João Cabral de Melo Neto: Biography and Poems | Brazilian Poetry

João Cabral de Melo Neto Brazilian Poet


João Cabral de Melo Neto (January 6, 1920 – October 9, 1999) was a Brazilian poet and diplomat, and one of the most influential writers in late Brazilian modernism. He was awarded the 1990 Camões Prize and the 1992 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the only Brazilian poet to receive such award to date. He was considered until his death a perennial competitor for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Melo Neto's works are noted for the rigorous, yet inventive attention they pay to the formal aspects of poetry. He derives his characteristic sound from a traditional verse of five or seven syllables (called ‘’redondilha’’) and from the constant use of oblique rhymes. His style ranges from the surrealist tendency which marked his early poetry to the use of regional elements of his native northeastern Brazil.

Weaving The Morning

One rooster cannot weave a morning.
He will always need other roosters:
one to catch the cry that he
and toss it to another, another rooster
to catch the cry that a rooster before him
and toss it to another, and other roosters
that with many other roosters crisscross
the sun threads of their rooster cries,
so that the morning, form a tenuous tissue,
will grow by he weaving of all the roosters.


And enlarging into a fabric involving all,
erecting itself into a tent where all may enter,
extending itself for all, in the canopy
(the morning) that floats without any frame:
the morning, a canopy made of a weave so airy
that, one woven, it rises by itself: balloon light.

Translated by Richard Zenith

Sprechless Rivers

When a river cuts, it cuts completely
the discourse its water was speaking;
cut, the water breaks into pieces,
into pools of water, paralyzed water.
Situated in a pool, water resembles
a word in its dictionary situation:
isolated, standing in the pool of itself
and, because I is standing, stagnant.
Because it is standing, it is mute,
and mute because it doesn´t communicate,
because this river´s syntax, the current
of water o which it ran, was cut.


The course of a river, its river-discourse,
can rarely be swiftly restored;
a river needs considerable water current
to remake the current which made it.
Unless the grandiloquence of a flood
imposes for a time another language,
a river needs many currents of water
for all of its pools to be phrase —
being restored from one pool to the next
into short phrases, then phrase to phrase,
until the river-sentence of the only discourse
in which it can speak will defy the drought.

Translated by Yves Boonefoy


My eyes have telescopes
trained on the street
trained on my soul
a mile away.

Women come and go swimming
in invisible rivers.
Cars like blind fish
compose my mechanical visions.

For twenty years I've not said the word
I always expect from me.
I´ll go on indefinitely gazing
at the portrait of me, dead.

Translated by W. S. Merwin

From: Death & Life Severina

The grave you are,
measured by strife
is the smallest share
you've got in life.

Neither wide nor profound,
Just the perfect range,
it’s the piece of ground
yours innately grange.

It’s not a big grave,
but measured and spared,
the land which you crave
one day to see shared.

It’s a big grave for your blunt
dead body, untied and uncurled,
you’ll feel yourself more pleasant
than you ever felt in the entire world.

Translated by Eduardo Miranda