On 8 October 1863 in São Luís, Maranhão, Catullo da Paixão Cearense was born. His parents were Maria Celestina Braga da Paixão and Amâncio José da Paixão Cearense, a goldsmith. Catullo had two brothers: Gil and Gerson. When he was ten, his family moved to the semi-arid region of Ceará, and seven years later (in 1880), they were living at 37 Rua São Clemente in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro.
Catullo studied at the Colégio Teles de Meneses where, among other subjects, he learnt the French language profoundly. He would translate the works of many internationally renowned poets into Portuguese, and in 1885 moved into the house of Empire Senator Silveira Martins to teach Portuguese to the politician’s children.
Studious as he was, the young Catullo also founded a school in the neighbourhood of Piedade, Rio de Janeiro state, teaching several languages.
Because he was physically strong, the young man got a job as a longshoreman at the port of Rio. In his spare time, Catullo studied music and even played two instruments: five-key flute and guitar.
In the evenings, he attended student dorms, being friends with bohemians and choro composers including Calado, the flautist Viriato, conductor and composer Anacleto de Medeiros, and Albano, Quincas Laranjeira and singer Cadete.
Catullo began putting together the lyrics of a series of songs and publishing them through Livraria do Povo. Later, he would also publish his works, like O cantor fluminense [The Fluminense Singer] Lira dos salões [Lira of the Halls], Novos cantares [New Songs], Lira brasileira [Brazilian Lira], Canções da madrugada [Late-night Songs], Trovas e canções [Poems and Songs] and Choros ao violão [Guitar Choros]. He was known as “vate sertanejo” [the country prophet].
The main music composed by Catullo were as follows:
● Flor amorosa [Loving Flower] (in partnership with Antonio Callado – 1880)
● Luar do sertão [Hinterland Moonlight] (with João Pernambuco – 1914)
● Ontem ao luar [Yesterday in the Moonlight] (with Pedro Alcantara in 1907, and lyrics in 1913)
● Por um beijo [For a Kiss] (with Anacleto de Medeiros – 1906)
● Rasga o coração [It Tears My Heart] (with Anacleto de Medeiros – 1887)
● Talento e formosura [Talent and Beauty] (with Edmundo Octavio Ferreira – 1904)
Catullo wrote 15 books of poetry, including: Meu sertão [My Hinterland] (1918), Sertão em flor [Hinterland in Bloom] (1919), Poemas bravios [Wild Poems] (1921), Mata iluminada [Illuminated Forest] and Aos pescadores [To the Fishermen] (1923), Meu Brasil [My Brazil], Um boêmio no céu [A Bohemian in Heaven] and Alma do sertão [Soul of the Hinterland] (1928), and Poemas escolhidos [Selected Poems] (in 1944).
As the poet was also a musician, he would adapt his poetry to the songs of famous composers like Chiquinha Gonzaga, Anacleto de Medeiros, João Pernambuco, Pedro Alcantara, Antônio Callado, and in the voices of Cadete, Vicente Celestino, Mário Pinheiro, Eduardo das Neves and others. In this sense, his work could spread and he acquired a lot of popularity and fame.
On May 10, 1946, at the age of 83, the famous popular poet, violinist, composer, playwright and singer Catullo da Paixão Cearense passed away in Rio de Janeiro. The illustrious Northeasterner, however, had already become immortal in life, at least through his song Luar do sertão, which all Brazilians continue to sing on moonlit nights:
Oh, que saudade
do luar da minha terra
lá na serra
branquejando folhas secas
Este luar, cá da cidade
Não tem aquela saudade
lá do sertão.
Oh, I miss
the moonlight of my land
there in the mountains
whitening the dry leaves
on the ground!
This moonlight, here in the city
Without that longing
of the moonlight
there in the hinterland.
do sertão. (bis)
There is no
in the hinterland. (repeat)
Se a lua nasce
por detrás da verde mata,
um sol de prata
prateando a solidão!
E a gente pega na viola
e a canção
é a lua cheia
a nos nascer
do coração! ...
If the moon rises
behind the green forest,
it looks more like
a silver sun
And we pick up the viola
that keeps the beat
and the song
is the full moon
our heart! …
Recife, 6 April 2004.
(Updated on 10 October 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, August 2016
CATULLO da Paixão Cearense (foto). Disponível em: <http://paginas.terra.com.br/educacao/projetovip/catulo1.jpg>. Acesso em: 4 dez. 2003.
MEDIA Player (audio). Disponível em: <http://www.geocities.com/aochiadobrasileiro/Cronologia/1914/CabocadiCaxanga.mp3>. Acesso em: 4 dez. 2003.
SARAIVA, Gumercindo. Antologia da canção brasileira. São Paulo: Saraiva, 1963.
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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Catullo da Paixão Cearense. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Acesso em:dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.