Brazilian Literature 101 First Topic: The Country and the Beginning of its Literature

 

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Brazil, which in Portuguese spells with an “s”, is the largest country in Latin America, and the fifth largest in the world. The most recent census indicates a population of 190.732.694 people (http://www.ibge.gov.br) living in over 8 million square km.

When Pero Vaz de Caminha landed the terrain bounded on the East by the Atlantic Ocean, he was the secretary of Pedro Álvares Cabral, a nobleman and explorer regarded as the discoverer of the country. Moreover, he became the author of the first Brazilian literary piece: Carta de Pero Vaz de Caminha, a detailed report about their findings written as a letter to the king Manuel I of Portugal (also known as “The Fortunate”). The missive is considered to be the most accurate account of the territory they found and its people. In the accounts, Caminha draws the land as a place where whatever planted would grow and flourish, and the dwellers he described as undressed handsome men and beautiful women, who painted their bodies and ate the yam, seeds and fruits they grew. That was in year 1500.

During the sixteenth century, explorers were sent to Brazil with a couple of missions: to write and portray the land and natives, and to describe the fauna and flora of that which would be the colony of Portugal until 1815. The travel reports, now understood as “travel literature,” or “travel writings” are informative texts. We also call them “historical chronicles.” As records of foreigners perceptions on the Brazilian land, the writings were much descriptive with frequent comparisons between what was found in the new land and what was already known in Europe. Bananas, for instance, were once compared to cucumbers.

The first half century in the history of Brazil is also a part of the history of Jesuit missionaries. Salvador, in the Northeast, and Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, in the Southeast were founded by them. In those lands, the Jesuits remained from 1549 to 1605, when they wrote texts with intents of converting the Brazilian natives to Catholicism. The poetry and the drama they created are known as “catechismal literature” for they depict biblical scenes.

In literature studies we say that was the “Quinhentismo.” Remarkable works from those years were, besides the Carta de Pero Vaz de Caminha (the letter-report to the king), Poema à Virgem (A Poem to the Virgin, dedicated to the Virgin Mary) and Arte da gramática da língua mais usada na costa do Brasil (The Grammar Art of the Language Most Spoken on the Brazilian Coast, the first grammar of the native language Tupi), by José de Anchieta; and Cartas do Brasil (Letters from Brazil), by Manuel da Nóbrega.

Then came a time marked by contrasts, metaphors, drama, exuberance, tension. It was the Baroque, an age of harmonious dissonance. In Brazil, still a colony in a large unexplored land, there were few writers. Because there weren’t publications, neither a big public, it is said that the country produced a “literary manifestation,” as opposed to saying there was a Brazilian Literature, which arose in the nineteenth century with regular publications.

The Brazilian Baroque literary manifestation started in 1601 with the epic poem entitled Prosopopeia, by Bento Teixeira. Then came Antônio Vieira, a catholic priest, and Gregório de Matos, the first great Brazilian poet who wrote satirical, lyric, and sacred verses. Vieira was a priest caught in the middle of Protestants and Catholics, who used his rhetoric to speak for the Roman church. His most important sermon, the Sermão da sexagésima, explains the perfect structure to engage an audience. For starters, one must speak to the eyes, not to the ears. Furthermore, a sermon is like a tree with its strong, solid roots (engagement, and knowledge support), trunk (topic), branches (diverse and germinating from the same subject), leaves (covering the branches, after all discourses must be decorated by words), sticks (condemning bad habits), flowers (sentences), and fruits (the goal).

You do not want your sermon constructed only with trunks, for it will be plain wood; neither only with flowers, for it will be a bouquet. But most of all, you do not want your text to be only fruits, because there are no fruits without a tree.

Second Topic: Neoclassicism and Romanticism in Brazil.

By Ana Luiza Libânio

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