João Cabral de Melo Neto

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João Cabral de Melo Neto
Joao Cabral.jpg
BornJoão Cabral de Melo Neto
(1920-01-06)6 January 1920
Recife, Brazil
Died9 October 1999(1999-10-09) (aged 79)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Notable awards Camões Prize
Neustadt International Prize for Literature

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. [1]


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. In the auto Morte e Vida Severina , his only work which has come to be widely read by the general public, Melo Neto's addresses the culture and the unforgiving life in arid Pernambuco.

Life and career

Melo Neto was born in Recife, Pernambuco, and spent most of his youth in his family's sugar-cane mills in the interior of the state. [2] He was a cousin of distinguished poet Manuel Bandeira and sociologist Gilberto Freyre. In 1940, his family moved to Rio de Janeiro.

Two years later, Melo Neto published his first book of poems, Pedra do Sono, from his own expense, with a circulation of 340 copies. [3] In 1945, he applied to the post of diplomat, a position he would hold for most of his life. The following year, he married Stella Maria Barbosa de Oliveira, with whom he had five children.

After passing through several different countries, he became consul of Brazil in Porto in 1984, only returning to Rio de Janeiro three years later. He worked for many years in Spain, and his experiences in Seville would leave palpable influences in his poetry.

In 1956, Melo Neto published his most famous work, Morte e Vida Severina , and, in 1968, he was elected to the 37th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. [2]

In 1986, he married Marly de Oliveira and, two years later, he retired, resigning from his office as ambassador. Melo Neto died in 1999, in Rio de Janeiro. [3] In a career spanning more than fifty years, Melo Neto published 18 books of poetry and two plays. [4]


Poetry is not the product of inspiration triggered by feeling, but the product of the poet's patient and lucid work. [5]

The image of an engineer designing a building, an epithet Melo Neto himself adopted, is often used to describe his poetry. From the start, his poetry was extraordinarily rich in imagery. Commenting Pedra do Sono, his first book, Antonio Candido, who noted his debt to cubism and surrealism, observed how his poems were composed from the accumulation of concrete and sensory images, using words in an almost pictorial manner. [6]

Quickly, however, he proved highly attentive to the social reality of his state. In O cão sem plumas (“A Dog without Feathers”)’, his first long poem, dated from 1950, he portrayed the lives of the destitute classes, who depended on the Capibaribe River, and described the toiling of the sugar-cane mill. Three years later, in O Rio (“The River”) he assumed the voice of the river, narrating in first-person its course and the villages and landscapes it crossed. [7]

Clarifying his debts to Melo Neto, Augusto de Campos has said: “One might say that he has no antecedents in Brazilian poetry, but his work has consequences. It is Concrete poetry that will sustain, continue, expand and broaden this poetic language that is not sentimental, but objective, a poetry of concretude, a critical poetry, as João's poetry is.” [8]




Further reading




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  1. "João Cabral de Melo Neto: Biography and Poems | Brazilian Poetry" . Retrieved 2021-05-28.
  2. 1 2 ""João Cabral de Melo Neto, Biografia"". Academia Brasileira de Letras (in Portuguese). Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  3. 1 2 ""João Cabral de Melo Neto"". Lúcia Gaspar (in Portuguese). 28 August 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  4. ""Poesia Concreta e Visual"". Casa do Bruxo. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  5. A poesia não é fruto de inspiração em razão do sentimento”, mas o “fruto do trabalho paciente e lúcido do poeta”. Quoted in:
  6. Candido, Antonio. Poesia ao norte. ‘’Remate De Males’’, 2012, accessed 21 October 2019. Originally published in 1943
  7. "João Cabral de Melo Neto". Enciclopédia Itaú Cultural. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  8. "Pode-se dizer que ele não tem antecedentes na poesia brasileira, a obra dele tem conseqüentes. Porque é a poesia concreta que vai manter, continuar, expandir e levar para outros caminhos essa linhagem de uma poesia não sentimental, de uma poesia objetiva, uma poesia de concretude, uma poesia crítica, como é a poesia de João." Quoted in: ""Poesia Concreta e Visual"". Casa do Bruxo. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Assis Chateaubriand
Occupant of the 37th chair of the
Brazilian Academy of Letters

Succeeded by
Ivan Junqueira