The two traditions of Augusto dos Anjos

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By Zenir Campos Reis*

Since the 1990s, we have had three editions of the work of Augusto dos Anjos available in bookstores. Publisher Paz e Terra republished it in the last days of 1995, all the poetry, In the previous year, June 1994, Antonio Arnoni Prado had prepared, for Martins Fontes, me and other poems. A few months later, Alexei Bueno would be in charge of organizing, for Nova Aguilar, the Complete work of the poet from Paraíba.

These three titles confirm the change in audience, in my view intentional, sought by the successive organizers of the poems since 1965. That year, three years late, the commemorative edition of the fiftieth anniversary of the only book published by Augusto dos Anjos was published, Eu. In the first edition, the white cover displayed the title with large red capitals printed in the center. At the top, the black letters with the author's name and, at the bottom, city, Rio de Janeiro, and date, 1912.

After the poet died, aged 30, in Leopoldina (MG), in, Órris Soares gathered the recent production of his countryman to the original collection, including even an unfinished poem, “A meretriz”. The Official Press of the State of Paraíba publishes, in 1920, me and other poems, prefaced by the organizer. Until the 28th edition, in 1961, these were the known poems by Augusto dos Anjos, and with that title they were popularized. Publisher Bedeschi, with a catalog of popular and popular works, published it, with great success, from the 7th edition (1936). On newsprint and at an affordable price.

In the last 30 years, the public and university critics have been interested in the book. The most obvious change is the consecration of the 872 pages, bible paper, from Nova Aguilar, our equivalent of the prestigious Pléiade collection by Gallimard in France.

Its new audience does not need to identify the title: the poet's name is enough as a reference; understands and admits the inclusion of verses excluded by the author's self-criticism, beginner's verses, verses that come from 1900, when the poet was only 16 years old; welcomes strange prose and documents of biographical interest with interest; finally, he salutes the new scholars, who have been working for a more faithful presentation of the texts and for the understanding of the poems. But, depending exclusively on these editions, the poet seems increasingly distant from the large public he conquered.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Santa Helena Mill, in Cruz do Espírito Santo, 40 kilometers from João Pessoa, Paraíba, successor to the Pau-d'Arco and Coité mills, which belonged to the Augusto dos Anjos family.

Locating it was difficult: my friends and I had forgotten the current name of the plant and we tried to find out about it in the city. After a few failed attempts, we were referred to an elderly lady, who perhaps knew the property where the poet was born. “Antonio Augusto is my son's name; Augusto dos Anjos? I do not know." Then came the question: when we ask about the poet, what image do we evoke? The most likely thing is that our interlocutor, in the floodplains of Paraíba, thought of a viola singer, perhaps a repentista. None with that name came to mind. A photographer, who overheard the conversation, was the one who guided us.

On the spot, we tried to confirm with two ladies who were passing by. We got more than confirmation: “Here is the place I miss you”, said the oldest. “Here I had my children and here I raised them.”

He showed us a house in ruins, which would be the house where Augusto dos Anjos was born. Then, guided by Mr. José Maria, a worker at the plant since 1942, we went, as night fell, to see the tamarind tree under which the young poet used to study:

In my Father's time, under these branches,
Like a wax funeral candle,
I cried billions of times with cancer
Of inexorable works!
Today, this tree, with ample wraps,
Guard, like a last box,
The past of the Brazilian flora
And the paleontology of the Oaks!
When all the clocks stop
Of my life, and the voice of obituaries
Screaming on the news that I died,
Returning to the homeland of homogeneity,
Embraced with Eternity itself
My shadow will stay here!

(Under the Tamarind, in the original spelling [1])

We heard from our guide precisions in locating facts about the biography of the famous countryman, his family, the wet nurse, Guilhermina. She contrasted her information with that of the “known”, certainly those who write books, without directly knowing the places with which she became familiar in more than half a century of work, in contact with the popular oral tradition.

We have, of course, two traditions: the popular one is more dispersed and discontinuous, because it is not based on documents fixed on permanent supports, which are, for example, books. He lives the precarious life of personal, fragile testimony, which has the variable duration of human life and the precision of the unsteadily attentive ear. In fact, a selective ear for what, in culture, more strictly, serves the understanding of the world and self-understanding.

The university, erudite, written tradition benefits from the stability guaranteed by the printed book. With such a foothold, it can be more continuous and more conscious. It is the aspiration, at least, perhaps unattainable, of specialized critics. The book also allowed the poems of Augusto dos Anjos to coexist with critical texts that parasitized, sometimes lovingly, the editions: prefaces, afterwords, notes.

For the requirements of university critics, of the three recent editions, the most satisfactory is the one prepared by Alexei Bueno. With the taste of a bibliophile, he revisits the original publications to clarify doubts. Perhaps, it remains to indicate more clearly his itinerary of fixing the text of the production of Augusto dos Anjos. A similar lack is felt with regard to critical fortune, derived almost entirely from the critical volume organized by Afrânio Coutinho and Sônia Brayner. To be complete, the work could take advantage of the texts of the poet's school tests, transcribed in the books by Democrito de Castro e Silva, cited in the bibliography. The originals of these proofs were lost, as I was informed, in a fire in the archives of the Recife Faculty of Law.

The best critical study among those now edited, it seems to me, is that of Ferreira Gullar, which accompanies all the poetry, from Paz e Terra, since 1977. A poet and a great reader himself, he scrutinizes details of the work, pointing out continuities with the Brazilian literary tradition, as well as discontinuities in relation to it. But, in fact, the entire production of Augusto dos Anjos is not there. Nor does he retain the organization of the traditional core of his poems. From the point of view of textual criticism, it is the most precarious collection. In the same edition, a welcome novelty, the ear signed by Otto Maria Carpeaux, another great reader of the poet, became a preface.

The difficult and, paradoxically, popular poet was lucky to find sensitive and competent interpreters. However, there is no shortage, university students or not, of those who stumble over words, sometimes ignoring not knowing their meaning, other times tangling up the syntax. When it is written that the verses have “unfailing rhyme and meter” one probably thought “impeccable”, but what does an “undeniable sonnet” mean?

I stay here hoping that the two traditions, popular and university, meet. But, I realize, the satisfaction of this desire presupposes the realization of another: that society be transformed, that the gap that separates the needy majority from the fortunate minority at different levels be eliminated.

Only then will we be able to fully understand the multiple attribution of meaning: it is, yes, the house of Augusto dos Anjos, but also “the place of my saudade”.

*Zenir Campos Reis was professor of Brazilian Literature at FFLCH-USP

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