From the mists of Alcácer-Quibir

Hans Hofmann, Combinable Wall I and II, 1961


Commentary on the book by Alípio Freire.

In the book announced by Expressão Popular, Alípio Freire embarks on unprecedented aesthetic adventures, practicing the free verse of a sequence of poems of varying lengths. Or, to put it another way, a long poem arranged in parts – cycle, rhapsody or suite.

This is how the main myths of Western civilization are summoned, and particularly the Luso-Brazilian ones, as the title of the book already suggests. The aura that pervades this lyric emanates from the backlight of D. Sebastião's trajectory, even when it does not deal directly with the theme. Without the aegis of D. Sebastião, much would remain to be understood.

More than the Brazilians, this myth belongs to the Portuguese, with well-known reflections on these lands: starting with the toponym of what was for centuries the capital of Brazil and is still its postcard, the Very Heroic and Loyal City of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, so named in honor of the one who was then the king. Not to mention the numerous outbreaks of sebastianism, which appeared here and there.

All of this began in Alcácer-Quibir, in 1578. For, when he fell in that battle in North Africa, in which he was leading a thoughtless and anachronistic crusade against the Moors, the young D. Sebastião was only 24 years old. His corpse was never found, this disaster plunging the country into unprecedented catastrophe. With him perished the finest flower of nobility whose age matched his own. In the absence of heirs of the royal lineage, Portugal lost its independence, passing to the crown of Spain. Only in 1640, and at great cost, would it regain autonomy.

As the king had not officially died, but only disappeared, the myth of his return immediately began to be woven. Now he was The Encoberto, hidden by the mists from which he would one day reemerge, to lead the nation back to a triumphant destiny.

But the wound was deep. This is how Sebastianism was born, leaving indelible marks on the social body and Portuguese literature. False D. Sebastião appeared successively, dragging the people who believed in them and ran to their appeal. the famous Trovas of Bandarra – a clairvoyant shoemaker – were read not as popular chimeras, but as re-actualizations of Nostradamus; and both in Bandarra and in Nostradamus it was possible to decipher indications of the return of the messiah. This peculiarly Luso-Brazilian form of messianism – when, in times of crisis, the people embody a savior – resulted in outbreaks of sebastianism that lacerated the history of Portugal and Brazil.

In fact, the death of D. Sebastião brings a bang to the end of the great period of navigations and discoveries, a golden age that ended abruptly, with the Portuguese nation entering a gradual decline from then on, from which it would never recover. So much is enough to create a myth and its radiations.

In Portugal, it resulted in high literature and inspired the greatest writers, from the ominous omens of The Lusiads to the utopia of Father Vieira's Fifth Empire. The latter, born and raised under Spanish rule, tried to convince King D. João IV that it was up to His Majesty to personally assume the mission of O Encoberto. Signs like these permeate the work of Fernando Pessoa, especially Message, when, in the poem “D. Sebastião, king of Portugal”, attributes these words to the King: “… where the sand is / It remained my being that there was, not what there is.”. In praising madness, to which the enterprise’s folly is due and for that very reason its greatness, it ends with notable verses: “Without the madness that is man/ More than a healthy beast,/ A postponed corpse that procreates?”

Such is the vast historical and mythological background that feeds the imagination of these pages: the resonances are not limited to the title, but spread throughout the entire poetic cycle. The first two poems, one medium and the other very short, “Cântico” and “Recomeço de Século”, form an introit and constitute an incitement to the continuity of lives and existential processes.

The central feature of this rhapsody is its universal scope. The poet stops and, from a panoramic view, in an inaugural gesture, summons the history of the world and the trajectory of humanity. To record, the surrealist inspiration, which seizes and transfigures into words a very rich, multicultural material, in a meditation on our origins.

The handling of intertextuality and the dialogue with the great literary tradition of the “last flower of Lazio” can be noted from the outset: Fagundes Varela, Oswald de Andrade, Fernando Pessoa, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, Mário de Andrade and many others, including Omar Khayam. But pop quotes also abound, coming from sayings and catchphrases, or else picked up in songs: “get your bearings, boy” and “I'm sailing, I'm tempering”. They underline the presence of readymade, in incrustations of the most diverse origins, including scholarly Latin (“Morituri te salutant”). The fusion between erudite and popular emphasizes the speech, which makes good use of the colloquial.

Another register to highlight, and which could not be less in this poet, is the humor, in several gradations, that go from the most shameless to the most insidious. The intrusion of the playful, the childish, even the tatibitate, only accentuates the humour. An effect to which the chaotic enumeration and the penchant for the “word pulls word” contribute, either by paronomasia or by affinity of meaning. Vocabulary opulence gains extraordinary relief.

However, surrealism is perhaps the richest vein this suite will draw on, already appearing prominently in Ground zero, with its tributes to Oswald, in Mourarias da Nau Catarineta and Cordel da Senhora Rainha Dona Tareja. In the latter, differing from the predominant free verse in the suite by using the larger redondilha typical of the genre, the poet interrogates the mother of D. Afonso Henriques, founder of the Portuguese nation. The latter, as is known, expelled the Moorish invader and fell out with his mother, ordering her to be put in chains, as contemporary chroniclers say. The poet tries to unravel the enigma of the myth – yet another Portuguese myth to compose the literary material –, since the queen's reputation embraces several versions.

All these characteristics strengthen the Romance of the Golden Dog, an extensive poem that occupies more than half of the set. The elements that had been accumulating harmoniously converge there: surrealism, word games, historical sources. In the unstoppable outpouring of the imagination, the poem is visionary, prophetic, sibylline, an example of invoking poetry. It is no coincidence that there are so many biblical allusions.

In this instance, the sources become even more remote: no longer just Lusitanian sagas, but oriental, Hebrew, Arabic and Greek ones. The reader's suspicions are aroused and directed by the notes at the end of the poems, indicating in which latitudes they were composed.

In a previous book, Paradise Station, A beautiful volume released by Expressão Popular, Alípio Freire collected part of his poems, created over many years and which, rarely in the country, focus on politics.

Written in memory of a militant past, they celebrate the chronicle of resistance to the dictatorship and those who fell in it. Wide lyrical flights predominate, in a diction of many degrees of elaboration, which is intended to be plain and unpretentious. As an example of From the mists of Alcácer-Quibir, they bring an open dialogue with our poetic tradition, at all times bursting with interpellations to other vates, who came before and who impressed this one.

In the art of this relentless combatant, there is no disenchantment, only hope and purpose to continue the fight, bearing losses, bearing scars. His themes, despite everything, do not steal the shine from the ray of sunlight given off by humor, which often illuminates the panorama of Paradise Station – another element in common with the present book, not sparing the reader of the author's claw.

In the previous book there was still a certain contention. Now, the estrus broke the chains and took free flight, very free.

However, the poet's credo, which is never denied, had already been planted (or chanted, as it was written in the time of D. Sebastião) in a stone pattern, in those pages that came before. As he himself well knows, when he explains it in what could be the motto of his coat of arms, albeit a proletarian coat of arms by conviction:

With memory at 64
the feet at 22
the head at 68
and the heart without time

And the wording could not be more precise. The year '964 brought about the rupture of our destinies, by interrupting the Brazilian democratic trajectory through the brutality of a military dictatorship. In '968 our lives were defined before the AI-5, when the perspectives closed towards zero and darkness fell, sounding the death knell of the hopes of an entire generation. But faith in utopia forged resistance and found shelter in confrontational political positions, finding aesthetic support in the libertarian and avant-garde ideals of the 1922 Modern Art Week: a feat only a heart that is suspended above time is capable of. Without it any survival would be in vain; is what this poet says, who now lends us his voice.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


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