Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (36)

Gregorio de Matos, Brazil, 1636–1696: Two poems

To the Veritable Judge Belchoir da Cunha Brochado


Learn’                          wis                                noble huma                  afa

               >d                          >e                                               >n                      >ble

Principle                      awar                                         benig                amia


Differ                                      singular preci                                    unshaka

               >ent                                                  > ous                                           >ble

Magnific                                              ilustri                              incompara


In the worl                      of grave just                                                inimita

                    > d                                                >ice                                          >ble

Much love           lauds                     slu                              of applause incredi


For endeavor        so much work and so tru                                            terri

        > ing                                        > ly                                                > ble

Render                                                 readi              executions always indefatiga


Your reputa                  sir, true                                                       noteriet

                        >tion                                                                                        >y

In that loca                   that never sees                                                    da


Where from Ereb          there remains only a                                         memor

                            >us                                                                                       >y

So             gracio                        to grant                     such                       energ


A      in all thi          land there is            gentle                                         glor

   >s              > s                                                                                                  >y

A      remote a                                         any                                           felicit


Translated from Portuguese by Jennifer Cooper



in Portuguese and Tupi


Is there anything like seeing a Paiaia

So much inclined to be a Caramuru,

Descended from the bloodline of the tatu,

Who speaks a twisted language like Cobepá?                           


The female line of which is called Carima

Muqueca, pititing, caruru,

Manioc mush, wine of fermented cashew

Mangled in a mortar from Priraja


The male line of which is called the Aricobe

Whose Cobe daughter and a pale-faced Paí

Cohabited on Passé Promontory


The white man was a Mara-u marauder

She an Indian maiden all the way from Mare

Cobepá, Aricobé, Cobé, Paí


Translated from Portuguese by Jennifer Cooper and Jerome Rothenberg






If you are fire why do you glow so weakly?

If you are snow why do you burn without a break?

                 — Gregório de Matos


(1) [An experimental poet avant la lettre], Gregório de Matos came to be known as Boca de Inferno  Mouth of Hell — for his searing criticism and satire directed to the evils and hypocrisies of both the Bahian elites and the Portuguese colonial project in general. After working as a judge in Portugal for thirty years, de Matos returned to his hometown, Salvador, Brazil, where for his activities and his poetry he was banished by the colonial authorities to Angola. A year after, De Matos was allowed to go back to Brazil, where his publications were banned.


In his works  which move from the religious to the laudatory, the amorous to the pornographic  he not only criticized and caricatured the elites but registered the daily life and the language of marginalized voices, including Tupi-Guarani and Afro-Brazilian, with a burgeoning move toward a new orality.


(2) The opening piece presented here is from a group of laudatory poems, this one to the judge Belchoir da Cunha, of Bahia. The form involves a playful construction common to the anagrams and labyrinthian forms developed first in the Iberian and European Baroque. In the wordplay here, the last letters or suffixes of various words are shared from one line to the next.


In “Soneto,” the terminal words of each line are from the indigenous Tupi-Guarani and appear, as in the English version, without translation.


[Commentary by Jennifer Cooper]


N.B. Another excerpt from the assemblage of the poetry of the Americas “from origins to present,” edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Javier Taboada, is scheduled for publication by the University of California Press.