37b. Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Jorge de Sena and International Prizes: a Personal Correspondence (2)

Frederick G. Williams
Drummond_por_Portinari_.jpeg
Drummond retratado por Portinari

Regarding anyone thinking there might have been some collusion between the two of them, Sena exclaims: «they don’t know our nature!» Finally, Sena sets the record straight on another matter; not only is he Brazilian in sentiment, as Drummond had said, but by naturalization as well. Sena had requested Brazilian citizenship in 1962 and received it: «a nationality I still maintain*) says Sena, a fact «which in Brazil was never made very public, since they don’t believe very much in the naturalization of Portuguese, except the corner baker». Sena then explains, «That’s why I always present myself as a Portuguese writer, a Brazilian citizen and a North American professor».

The jury to decide the recipient of the prize was not scheduled to meet for several more weeks. In the meantime, acceding to Sena’s request, Drummond sent him more of his books; Obra Completa (Complete Works), the 1967, 2nd. ed., contained an inscription which makes reference to their being compatriots, although separated by the Atlantic ocean:

Ao caro Jorge de Sena,
Com o abraço amigo do seu compatricio do lado de cá do Atlântico

(mas nao importam as margens)
Carlos Drummond

To dear Jorge de Sena,
With the friendly embrace, of your compatriot on this side of the Atlantic
(but which bank doesn’t matter)
Carlos Drummond

There was also a P. S.:

A letra ruim é criada
de caduquice, mas é
uma pena estragá-la.
CD. Rio, Junho 1972

Poor handwriting is the
handmaiden of senility, but it’s
a pity to waste it.
CD Rio, June 1972

In another inscription, Drummond acknowledges Sena’s unselfish desire to have other writers properly recognized:

A Jorge de Sena,
poeta que se preocupa em laurear outros poetas, o abraço admirado e afetuoso de
Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Rio de Janeiro, Junho, 1972

To Jorge de Sena,
A poet who is concerned with honoring other poets, the affectionate and admiration filled embrace of
Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Rio de Janeiro, June, 1972.

Sena acknowledged receipt of the books in a letter dated June 24, 1972. He tells Drummond of his plan to seek out other members of the jury while in Europe:

Em Atenas, espero encontrar-me com… (um) membro do júri, e o mesmo penso poder fazer, mais tarde, ao regressar pela Europa, em Paris e na Bélgica, com mais dois, um checo e outro belga. Os outros estão por lugares por onde não passo, ou a veranear-se algures pelos Mediterrâneos e Algarves, em estado de incógnitos ou de perdidos na multidão estival. Os encontros dar-me-ão, pelo menos, uma ideia do que andará por trás das cortinas, se é que anda alguma coisa.

In Athens, I expect to meet with… a member of the jury, and I intend to do the same, later, when I return from Europe, in Paris and in Belgium, with two more: a Czechoslovakian and a Belgian. The others are all in places where I won’t be going, or they have gone vacationing somewhere in the Mediterranean or Algarve in a state of incognito, or are lost among the seasonal crowds. The meetings will at least give me an idea of what’s going on behind the curtains, if anything.

Sena then goes into a lengthy rehearsal of some genealogical research he has conducted which bears in part on the Drummond family in Europe. Among other things, he finds that one ancestor may have been an illegitimate son of Shakespeare.

When the Neustadt International Prize for Literature was announced later in the year, the recipient was not Carlos Drummond de Andrade, rather, as Sena had sensed it might, it went to a distinguished Hispanic-American: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Obviously disappointed, Sena gave vent to his feelings by composing a poem he entitled «A Drummond quando fizer setenta anos» (To Drummond When He Reaches Seventy). Dated October 20, 1972, it is a fitting conclusion to the literary prize episode. The twenty-seven line poem, published posthumously in 40 Anos de Servidao (40 Years of Servitude), is divided into four stanzas of unrhymed verse. Sena speaks of those who have received international recognition while none has come to Drummond. He bemoans the fact that there are more Spanish speaking nations (and hence more votes) than there are Portuguese. He focuses on each of the poet’s names and closes with a stanza made up of the titles of Drummond’s books:

A DRUMMOND QUANDO FIZER SETENTA ANOS

Mistral (Gabriela) Asturias (Miguel Ângelo)
e o Pablo de Neruda Chile — a ti coisa nenhuma.
Os Castros de Ferreira mais Amados Jorges
partilham prémios do Lácio de Paris — a ti coisa nenhuma.
E todos acabam acadêmicos e tu não vais pedir
Os votos acadêmicos — a ti coisa nenhuma.

Escreves em português e o Brasil é um só — as bananas
das repúblicas hispânicas são muitas, à
esquerda e à direita. Não és embaixador,
não foste nunca embaixador senão lá de Itabira.
Andrade isso és mas não és de São Paulo,
cubista ou folclorista. Pelo Rio
passaste sempre esguio entre as mulheres,
os literatos e os arranha-céus, silente e pisco.

O maior, todos concordam. Mas em crónica
como em poesia tens cultura a mais,
poesia, a mais, humanidade a mais,
e dignidade a mais — a ti coisa nenhuma.
Carlos (Magno) Drummond (of Hawthornden quiçá
filho bastardo do suspeito Shakespeare)
de (partícula que irrita os bibliotecários norte-americanos)

Andrade — aos setenta anos como sempre
fazendeiro do ar no brejo das almas,
fabricando claros enigmas de alguma poesia,
encomendando às amendoeiras que falem por ti
a rosa do povo, o sentimento do mundo
e a vida (a tua e a dos outros) passada a limpo
 [13].

30/10/72

TO DRUMMOND WHEN HE REACHES SEVENTY

Mistral (Gabriela) Asturias (Miguel Angel)
and Pablo de Neruda Chile – for you nothing at all.
The Castros de Ferreira plus Amados Jorges
share prizes from the Latium of Paris – for you nothing at all.

And all of them end up in the Academy but you won’t ask
for academic votes – for you nothing at all.
Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Jorge de Sena and International Prizes
You write in Portuguese and Brazil is only one — the bananas
of Hispanic republics are many, on the
left and on the right. You’re not an ambassador,
you’ve never been an ambassador except from Itabira.
You are an Andrade, but not from Sao Paulo,
cubist and folklorist. Through Rio
you passed always tall among the ladies,
the literati and the sky-scrapers, silent and twinkly.

The greatest, everyone agrees. But in your chronicles
as in your poetry you have culture in excess,
poetry in excess, humanity in excess,
and dignity in excess – for you nothing at all.
Carlos (The Great) Drummond (of Hawthornden perhaps
the bastard son of the suspected Shakespeare)
de (a particles that irritates North American bibliographers)

Andrade — at age seventy as always
farmer of the air in the swamps of the souls,
constructing clear enigmas of some poetry,
recommending to the almond trees that they speak for you
the rose of the people, the sentiment of the world
and life (yours and of others) that’s been cleansed.

30/10/72

Sena next heard from Drummond in 1974 in the form of an inscription on the fly-leaf of As Impurezas do Branco (The Impurities of Whiteness). Together with the customary sentiments of appreciation for the poet, acknowledgement is made for receipt of Trinta Anos de Poesia (Thirty Years of Poetry), but there is no mention of the Neustadt International Prize. Sena, however, had not given up on getting Drummond his deserved recognition. Together with Carlo Vittorio Cattaneo and Luciana Stegagno Picchio, Sena had been actively engaged in promoting his Brazilian friend in Italy. Ironically, however, the Etna Taormina International Poetry Prize was won by another Brazilian poet, Murilo Mendes, and still later, by Jorge de Sena himself. For Drummond, the international prizes remained illusive (and still do).

When Sena heard of a plan to draft Drummond for Honorary Membership in the Modern Language Association of America, and that the poet had not responded, he quickly wrote explaining the honor attached to the nomination and urged him to accept, stressing the importance such recognition could have for the Portuguese language and its literatures (letter dated February 2, 1975):

Não há substancialmente diferença entre aceitar-se aquele prêmio de Books Abroad que infelizmente não consegui que fosse seu, e o título de «membro honorário» da MLA, a não ser que esta honra é um pouco menor do que aquela teria sido. Mas é de certa importância que seja atribuída, na medida em que representa algum reconhecimento, que tanto nos falta, da língua portuguesa, no mundo universitário que é precisamente aquele (não tenhamos ilusões) aonde a literatura pode ter alguma repercussão sendo estrangeira. Não tenho a pretensão de influir na sua decisão se lhe escrevo, e por parecer-me que V. não sabe o que a MLA simplesmente é.

There is no substantial difference between accepting the prize of Books Abroad, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to make yours, and the title of «Honorary Member* of the MLA, except that the latter is a bit less prestigious than the former would have been. But it is important that this should be attributed to you since it represents some recognition of the Portuguese language, which we so lack, in the academic world, which is precisely (let’s not have any illusions) where foreign literature can have some repercussion. If I write you it is not to influence your decision, rather, it seemed to me that you simply might not have known what the MLA stood for.

Drummond responds in a letter dated February 13, 1975. Sena had read him correctly and he admits that the arguments are persuasive in favor of his accepting the honor:

Pouco importa, ainda, que desta vez o alvo seja bem mais simples… O mais importante no caso, para mim, é a reiteração de sua simpatia por este botocudo das selvas de Itabira, a quem você procura colocar em posição bem visivel perante os meios culturais além-fronteira. Como isto não é comum nos costumes literários vigentes, a grata emoção que me desperta viria entremeada de espanto se não se tratasse de você, de sua infatigável capacidade de ocupar-se e preocupar-se com o próximo individualmente, e com a projeção das letras em nossa língua, a que, com benevolência de amigo, quer associar o episódio da minha escolha para a Modern Language Association of America.

Furthermore, it matters little that the goal be rather more modest. … Of greatest importance to me in this case, is the reiteration of your regard for this rustic from the back-country of Itabira, whom you are trying to place in a more visible position before the cultural organizations beyond these borders. Since this is not a common practice in today’s literary circles, the pleasurable emotion it awakens within me would be intermingled with amazement if the impulse had not come from you, from your untiring capacity to concern yourself with your fellow-beings, individually and with the projection of letters in our language, and to which, with the benevolence of a friend, you wish to associate my appointment to the Modern Language Association of America.

After explaining why he had not responded to the MLA -not being associated with any university, the recognition of his own artistic limitations and other assorted disclaimers of a modest and shy man – Drummond accepts the nomination: “what the heck!, it’s easier to agree (with your arguments) than to refuse. I accept. I’ll write to Judith Coppy today to formalize my acquiescence and thank the Association”. Drummond ends his letters – which is the last one Sena will receive from him – expressing hope in the final outcome of the current political upheaval in Portugal and in the future of Brazil:

Tenho pensado muito em você, sabe? e, com saudade, do nosso Casais (Monteiro), ao ler as notícias agitadas de Portugal. Sei que a liberdade não se conquista sem choques, decepções e revisões de comportamento, num processo complicado e às vezes aparentemente contraditório. Mas gostaria tanto que o processo não se eternizasse! Como quer que seja, somos aqui uns tantos a desejar o melhor para o povo de lá, na esperanqa de também conseguirmos por aqui uma situação digna e aberta. Esperemos.

Did you know I’ve been thinking a lot about you? and missing our (departed) Casais (Monteiro, Portuguese poet, exiled in Brazil) as I read the agitated notices out of Portugal. I know that liberty is not won without clashes, deceptions and revisions of comportment in a complicated and at times apparently contradictory process. But I very much hope that the process not be eternal! Be that as it may, several of us here wish the very best for the people there, in the hope that here we, too, may achieve a situation of opennes and dignity. Let’s hope.

The association between Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Jorge de Sena was not based on geographical proximity, blood ties or schoolboy acquaintanceship. They were never in each other’s physical company for more than a few hours at most. Yet theirs was a shared respect for not only the great talent each possessed, but for what each represented: independence of mind; abhorrence for mediocrity, sham and pretense; fierce loyalty to truth, honesty, and integrity.

They were not divided in petty national rivalries, but sought the recognition of their common Portuguese language and heritage, and above all, the recognition of genuine talent in its own right.

Besides giving us insights into their personalities, the correspondence raises an important issue: what is the relationship between the language of expression used by the writer, his talent and publicity in competing for the international prizes? The general lack of recognition for authors writing in Portuguese is an omission which is increasingly more difficult to explain given the number of gifted writers in that language.

Jorge de Sena died June, 4, 1978, therefore Carlos Drummond de Andrade necessarily has the last word. Four days after his friend’s passing, Drummond published an essay in the Jomal do Brasil (Journal of Brazil) entitled «Jorge de Sena, Tambem Brasileiro» (Jorge de Sena, Also Brazilian):

«Morreu um dos raros Portugueses universais do nosso tempo» – disse em Lisboa o poeta Eugénio de Andrade, ao comentar o falecimento de Jorge de Sena em hospital de Santa Barbara, na California. E disse bem, mas poderia chamar-lhe igualmente «um dos raros brasileiros universais do nosso tempo».

«One of the rare universal Portuguese men of our time had died» – said poet Eugenio de Andrade in Lisbon as he commented on the death ofjorge de Sena in a hospital in Santa Barbara, California. And he was right; but he could have just as easily called him «one of the rare universal Brazilian men of our time».

Drummond then cites parts of Sena’s letter to him regarding his Brazilian citizenship, and after speaking in glowing terms of his longtime poet-friend, he laments that Brazil, like Portugal before, had not really known Jorge de Sena nor had recognized his great worth while he lived there. He ends with a not-too-oblique reference to Sena’s steadfast concern to project Drummond and other authors who wrote in Portuguese on to the international scene:

Não soubemos conservá-lo conosco, nem sequer chegamos a conhecê-lo na plenitude de seu espírito. Foi um professor que passou pelo Brasil, de 1959 a 1965. Mas que sonhou em dar ao Brasil, através da língua portuguesa, uma situação de prestígio na literatura mundial. Se não o conseguiu, não foi por omissão. Merece a nossa lembrança, embora tardia.

We knew not how to keep him here with us, nor did we come to know him in the fullness of his spirit. He was a professor who passed through Brazil from 1959 to 1965. But he dreamed of giving to Brazil, through the Portuguese language, a position of prestige in world literature. If he didn’t achieve it, it was not through omission. He deserves to be remembered, belated though it be.

 

Notas:

1. The Poetry of Jorge de Sena, A Bilingual Selection, ed. Frederick G. Williams (Santa Barbara: Mudborn Press, 1980). The Minus Sign, Selected Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, trans. Virginia de Araujo (Redding Ridge, Ct.: Black Swan Books, 1980).

2. Poetas Novos de Portugal (New Poets of Portugal), ed Cecilia Meireles (Rio de Janeiro: Ediqoes Dois Mundos, 1944).

3. Sena’s second volume of poetry is Coroa da Terra (Crown of the Earth) (Porto: Lello e Irmao, 1946). In the preface to the second edition of Poesia I (Poetry I), which contains the third edition of Crown of the Earth, Sena discloses the reasons why he dedicates the book to Ribeiro Couto. First, as Brazil’s highest diplomatic representative, Couto had been influential in eliminating or softening the reprisals against some of those who opposed Salazar during the war (as one of the protestors, Sena was scheduled to be shipped to Cape Verde). Second, because of Couto’s personal magnetism and literary reputation, the very prestigious but according to Sena also very traditionalist publishing firm of Lello e Irmao agreed to publish the unknown poet.

4. See especially his dedicatory remarks to Antonio Candido in Uma Canção de Camões (A Song of Camoes) (Lisbon: Portugalia Editora, 1966), pp. 1-2; and the dedication to Os Sonetos de Camões e O Soneto Quinhentista Peninsular (The Sonnets of Camoes and the Peninsular Sonnets of the Sixteenth Century) (Lisbon: Portugalia Editora, 1969), pp. i-iii.

5. Sena loved books and owned an immense personal library, with books literally overflowing the shelves that stood from floor to ceiling on every wall in nearly every room of his spacious house. The collection has been estimated at upwards of 12,000 volumes. It is a working library as opposed to a collection of rare books and manuscripts. The areas included are divided into four main language groups: Portuguese, English, French and Spanish. The principal literatures represented are Portuguese, Brazilian, English, American, French, Spanish and Spanish-American, and include both works of literature (covering the Classics, medieval, Renaissance and modern) and criticism. Art and music are also strongly represented in the collection. As a Camoes scholar and a specialist on the Mannerist period, and as a leading critic of twentieth century poet Fernando Pessoa, the library has extensive holdings in these areas.

6. «Uma arte poetica» (A Poetic Art), Mundo Literário, No. 3 (1946), p. 7.

7. Mundo Literário, No. 3 (1946) p. 13.

8. Mundo Literário, No. 4 (1946), pp. 9-10. The English text, together with all other quotes including poems in this essay, are my translations.

9. Correspondence between Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Jorge de Sena is in the possession of his widow Mecia de Sena and is quoted with permission from her and Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Original spelling (accents) has been retained.

10. Concerning this practice see Joaquim-Francisco Coelho, «Sobre uma correspondencia em verso com Jorge de Sena» (On Corresponding in Verse with Jorge de Sena), in Studies on Jorge de Sena: Proceedings of the Colloquium in Memory of Jorge de Sena, University of California, Santa Barbara, April 6-7, 1979, eds. Harvey L. Sharrer and Frederick G. Williams (Santa Barbara: Jorge de Sena Center for Portuguese Studies and Bandanna Books, 1981). pp. 197-208.

11. Jorge de Sena, 40 Anos de Servidão (40 Years of Servitude) (Lisbon: Moraes Editores, 1979), p. 77.

12. Jorge de Sena, As Evidencias (The Evidences) (Lisbon: Centro Hibliografico, 1955), p. 39.

13. Jorge de Sena, 40 Anos de Servidão (40 Years of Servitude) (Lisbon: Moraes Editores, 1979), pp. 134-35- Jorge de Sena’s widow, Mecia de Sena, sent this poem to Drummond before its publication. His response, dated from Rio de Janeiro, October n, 1978, reads in part:

Fico-lhe profundamente agradecido pela boa lembrança de mandar-me o poema inédito de Jorge. Lendo-o, foi como se eu tivesse a meu lado o seu marido, com a sua espontânea e combativa generosidade de sempre. Com que saudade o recordo e lamento não me ter beneficiciado mais de sua presença no Brasil. O Jorge era desses raros exemplares de escritor, que dizem o que pensam e sentem, num mundo de opiniões falsificadas. Ter recebido o seu aprego e a sua amizade é alguma coisa que valoriza a minha vida. Esses versos são preciosos para mim.

I am profoundly grateful that you thought of sending me the unpublished poem by Jorge. Reading it, it was as though I had your husband by my side, with his usual spontaneous and combative generosity. With what longing I remember him and lament not having taken greater advantage of his presence while in Brazil. Jorge was one of those rare examples of a writer who, in a world of falsified opinions, says what he thinks and feels. To have received his approbation and his friendship is something which enriches my life. Those verses are precious to me.
 

 

O Dr. Frederick G. Williams é professor catedrático de literatura em português. Foi aluno de Jorge de Sena e depois seu colega na Universidade da Califôrnia, Santa Barbara. Organizou o primeiro colóquio sobre Sena, cujas atas foram publicadas posteriormente. Conheceu Carlos Drummond de Andrade pessoalmente e com ele se correspondeu. Também organizou o primeiro colóquio sobre Drummond, cujas atas foram publicadas. Depois de 25 anos ensinando na UCSB, o Professor Williams passou a integrar o corpo docente do Departamento de Espanhol e Português da Universidade de Brigham Young, onde lhe foi outorgada a Cadeira Literária Gerrit de Jong Jr. em Estudos Luso-Afro-Brasileiros. Hoje reside no Brasil onde serve como Presidente do Templo do Recife da Igreja de Jesus Cristo dos Santos dos Últimos Dias (Mórmon).

* Quaderni Portoghesi nº 13/14, Pisa, Giardini, 1983, p.331-58