João Cabral de Melo Neto

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João Cabral de Melo Neto
João Cabral.jpg
Born João Cabral de Melo Neto
(1920-01-09)9 January 1920
Recife, Brazil
Died 9 October 1999(1999-10-09) (aged 79)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Occupation Writer
Nationality Brazilian
Notable awards Camões Prize
Neustadt International Prize for Literature

João Cabral de Melo Neto (January 9, 1920 – October 9, 1999) was a Brazilian poet and diplomat under the aesthetics of modernism. He was awarded the 1990 Camões Prize, the greatest literary prize in the Portuguese language, and the 1992 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.


Melo Neto was born in Recife, Pernambuco, and died in Rio de Janeiro, and worked as a diplomat for most of his life. He occupied the 37th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters from 1968 until his death in 1999. He is often quoted as saying "I try not to perfume the flower". His works are said to be dry, devoid of the exaggerated emotions that are usually associated with poetry, sticking instead to images, actions and physical descriptions rather than feelings. The image of an engineer designing a building is often used to describe his poetry. It usually follows a strict meter and assonant rhymes.

His poetry, ranging from a tendency to surrealist folk poetry, but characterized by esthetic rigor with a confessional poems averse and marked by the use of rhymes, inaugurated a new form of poetry in Brazil. Brother of the historian Evaldo Cabral de Melo and cousin of the poet Manuel Bandeira and the sociologist Gilberto Freyre, Cabral was a friend of the painter Joan Miró and the poet Joan Brossa. A member of the Pernambuco Academy of Arts and the Brazilian Academy of Letters, he was awarded several literary prizes. When he died in 1999, it was speculated that he was a strong contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

He was married to Stella Maria Barbosa de Oliveira, with whom he had the children Rodrigo, Inez, Luiz, Isabel and João. His second marriage was in 1986, to the poet Marly de Oliveira.


In the poetry of Cabral, antithetical dualities adorned with baroque are worked to exhaustion: between time and space, inside and outside, massive and non-massive, male and female, northeast and Andalusian fertile semidesert, or Savanna and Pernambucan humid desert. It is a poetry that causes some shock in one who expects a poetry of emotions because his work is basically cerebral and "sensationalist," seeking a purely objective constructive and communicative poetry.

Although there is a tendency in his surrealist poems, especially in the initial, as in Stone Sleep, seeking a poetry that was also significant, Melo Neto need not resort to pathos ("passion") to create a poetic atmosphere. Avoiding any romantic tendencies, he seeks an elaborate construction of language and thought and said of his poetry, turning the whole image perception in something concrete and related to the senses, especially to the touch, as can be seen well in a single-blade knife. In this poem, Cabral presents the image of the knife cutting through the feeling of emptiness that makes it seem as if a knife is cutting into flesh.

Some words that are often used in his poetry are: sugar cane, stone, bone, skeleton, tooth-edged, razor, knife, scythe, blade, cut, skinned, bay watch, dry, mineral, desert, aseptic, empty, hungry. Things sound and tactile sensations: a poetry of concrete.

He was rejected several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature (which until now has never been given to a Brazilian). He received numerous awards in Brazil and abroad, always leaving their mark, and he was a great inspiration for the concrete poetry movement in Brazil and the world.


Melo Neto's most famous poems are:

  • "Morte e Vida Severina" (translated in part by Elizabeth Bishop as "The Death and Life of Severino"), his most famous work, is a long narrative poem (in most editions over 80 pages long) that describes the life of a poor rural man in the dry northeastern part of Brazil and his migration to the city. The main character, Severino, whose name works as an adjective to his own life, represents every person who inhabits that region and suffers from its misery.
  • "Uma Faca só Lâmina" (A Knife All Blade) is also considered to be one of his best works, and was translated to English in 1980. The poem is about the many ways to describe "that sorrowful absence in a man".
  • "Cão sem Plumas" (A Dog Without Feathers) describes the Capibaribe River of Pernambuco and the poverty-stricken community that surrounds it.

His poetic works, a trend that goes to the surrealist poetry popular, are characterized by aesthetic rigor, with poems averse to confessionalism and marked by the use of toantes rhymes, inaugurated a new form of poetry in Brazil.


  • Pedra do Sono [Rock of Sleep] (1942)
  • Os Três Mal-Amados [The Three Not-loved] (1943)
  • O Engenheiro [The Engineer] (1945)
  • Psicologia da Composição com a Fábula de Anfion e Antiode (1947)
  • O Cão Sem Plumas [The Dog Without Feathers] (1950)
  • O Rio ou Relação da Viagem que Faz o Capibaribe de Sua Nascente à Cidade do Recife [The River or About the Course of the Capibaribe River from Its Source to the City of Recife] (1954)
  • Morte e Vida Severina (1955)
  • Dois Parlamentos [Two Parliaments] (1960)
  • Quaderna (1960)
  • A Educação pela Pedra [Education By Stone] (1966)
  • Museu de Tudo [Museum of Everything] (1975)
  • A Escola das Facas [The School of Knives] (1980)
  • Auto do Frade (1984)
  • Agrestes (1985)
  • Crime na Calle Relator (1987)
  • Primeiros Poemas [First Poems] (1990)
  • Sevilha Andando [Walking Around Seville] (1990)

Further reading[edit]


  • Education by Stone: Selected Poems / João Cabral de Melo Neto; translated by Richard Zenith, 2005
  • Selected Poetry, 1937-1990 / João Cabral de Melo Neto; translated by Djelal Kadir, 1994
  • The Aesthetics of the Object in the Poetry of João Cabral de Melo Neto / Marta Peixoto, 1977
  • The Poem and the Canvas: Pictorial Implications in the Works of João Cabral de Melo Neto / Danilo Pinto Lôbo, 1972
  • João Cabral de Melo Neto / Benedito Nunes, 1971


  • João Cabral de Melo Neto e a Estratégia do Equilíbrio / Stephen Bocskay, 2013
  • João Cabral de Melo Neto : o homem sem alma ; Diário de tudo / José Castello., 2006
  • Tradição e ruptura: João Cabral de Melo Neto em Barcelona, 1947-1950 / Nicolás Fernández-Medina., 2005.
  • Os signos de uma educação : a água e a pedra na poética de João Cabral de Melo Neto / Walter Filho., 2003
  • O poeta e a mídia : Carlos Drummond de Andrade e João Cabral de Melo Neto / Fábio Lucas., 2002
  • O poema no sistema : a peculiaridade do antilírico João Cabral na poesia brasileira / Homero Araújo., 2002
  • João Cabral e o poema dramático, Auto do frade / Níobe Abreu Peixoto., 2001
  • João Cabral de Melo Neto / João Alexandre Barbosa., 2001
  • A poesia crítica de João Cabral de Melo Neto / Helton Gonçalves de Souza., 1999
  • João Cabral : a poesia do menos e outros ensaios cabralinos / Antonio Carlos Secchin., 1999
  • João Cabral de Melo Neto : o homem sem alma / José Castello., 1996
  • A bailadora andaluza : a explosão do sagrado na poesia de João Cabral / Waldecy Tenório., 1996
  • João Cabral em perspectiva / Maria do Carmo Campos., 1995
  • Lira e antilira : Mário, Drummond, Cabral / Luiz Costa Lima., 1995
  • Manuel e João : dois poetas pernambucanos / Assis Brasil., 1990
  • Idéias fixas de João Cabral de Melo Neto / Félix de Athayde., 1998
  • A Viagem ou Itinerário que fez João Cabral de Melo Neto do Racionalismo ao Materialismo Dialético / Félix de Athayde., 2000


  • Piedra fundamental : poesia y prosa / João Cabral de Melo Neto., 2002
  • A la medida de la mano / Angel Crespo., 1994

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Assis Chateaubriand
Brazilian Academy of Letters - Occupant of the 37th chair

1968 — 1999
Succeeded by
Ivan Junqueira