[…] He wasn’t the Prince of Asphalt, but he was, in the eyes of the people, the King of Poetry in the Semi-Arid region and of Brazil in its pure state.
(Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Jornal do Brasil, 9 September 1976).
A cabeça um tanto grande e bem redonda, (The head, big and completely round)
O nariz, afilado, um pouco grosso; (the nose, sharp, a little wide)
As orelhas não são muito pequenas, (The ears are no so little)
Beiço fino e não tem quase pescoço. (Thin lips and almost no neck)
Tem a fala um pouco fina, voz sem som, (Has a little fine, voice without sound)
De cor branca e altura regular, (White and average height)
Pouca barba, bigode fino e louro. (Not much beard, a thin moustache and blond)
Cambaleia um tanto quanto ao andar. (A swagger as he walks)
Olhos grandes, bem azuis, da cor do mar; (Large eyes, deepest blue, the colour of the sea)
Corpo mole, mas não é tipo esquisito, (A soft body, but not in a bad way)
Têm pessoas que o acham muito feio, (There are those who think he is ugly)
Sua mãe, quando o viu, achou bonito! (His mother, when she saw him, considered him beautiful!)
The popular poet Leandro Gomes de Barros was born on ‘Fazenda Melancia’ (Watermelon Farm), in the municipality of Pombal, Paraíba, on 19 November 1865.
At the beginning of the 1880s he moved to the town of Teixeira, one of the cradles of popular literature in Northeast Brazil, where his tutor was Father Vicente Xavier de Farias, and where he lived with violinists and singers like Ignácio da Catingueira, Romano da Mãe d’Água, Bernardo Nogueira, Hugolino do Sabugi and Nicandro Nunes da Costa.
Leaving Paraíba, he travelled to Pernambuco and resided firstly in Vitória de Santo Antão, then later in Jaboatão, where he lived until 1906, and married Venustiniana Eulália de Sousa, with whom he had four children: Rachel, Erodildes (Didi), Julieta and Esaú Eloy.
Author of hundreds of cordel pamphlets, which he first published at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1890s, Leandro Gomes de Barros was one of the few popular poets to have this activity as his main source of income throughout his life.
From 1907, he moved to Recife, residing at various addresses, including 87 Motocolombó St in the Afogados neighbourhood.
At the time, he became the owner of a small press, Typografia Perseverança (Perseverance Printing), created only and exclusively to print and distribute his pamphlets. The difficulty the printer faced was huge, and as such the editor-poets had to be creative, taking advantage of the down-time of the newspaper printers or small graphic printers to publish their work.
Leandro travelled widely to promote and sell his work. He lived with cultured men and it is likely that he read scholarly poets such as Castro Alves, Gonçalves Dias, Camões, besides being very familiar with the Bible, perhaps as a result of the time he spent under the tutelage of Fr Vicente Xavier de Farias, Priest and Schoolmaster in the Teixeira village.
In tune with the events of his day and very curious about the past, he had no qualms reusing the themes of the past like the growth of the ‘boi’ (Boi Misterioso), cangaço or European themes (Charlemagne of King Arthur), creating an extremely Brazilian poetry. His works covered all the genres and modalities of popular literature: ‘fights’, novels, satire and social critique. The most recurring themes in his work were the report-pages, with daily living subjects, disasters, war, politics, cangaço, satire – especially towards marriage – the Catholic and Protestant religions, taxes, politicians and charlatans; as well as romances, fairy tales and legends.. The frequent themes in his poetry concern women, mother-in-laws and cachaça. He also created some markers like the Cancão de Fogo (Fire Song), which incorporated autobiographical quotes and parts of João Leso.
One of the pioneers of Brazilian popular poetry, Leandro Gomes de Barros wrote hundreds of cordel pamphlets, some of which achieved high popular status, such as O Cachorro dos Mortos (The Dog of the Dead); Branca de Neve e o Soldado Guerreiro (Snow White and the Warrior Soldier); Batalha de Oliveiros com Ferrabrás; Peleja de Riachão com o Diabo (The Battle of Riachão with the Devil); História da Donzela Teodora (The Story of Miss Teodora); Juvenal e o Dragão (Juvenal and the Dragon); Antônio Silvino; o Rei dos Cangaceiros (The King of the Cangaceiros) and O Boi Misterioso (The Mysterious Bull).
His work has been studied by several researchers, having also influenced some famous writers like Ariano Suassuna who has confirmed to have been inspired by two of his pamphlets: O enterro do cachorro (The Dog’s Burial) and A história do cavalo que defecava dinheiro (The Story of the Horse Who Pooped Money), in writing O auto da Compadecida (Auto of A Lady of Mercy).
The folklorist Luiz da Câmara Cascudo, whom he’d met in João Pessoa, wrote about him:
[...] He lived exclusively to write popular verse, inventing challenges between singers, constructing novels, narrating the adventures of Antônio Silvino, reporting facts and making satires. Fruitful and always new, original and spiritual, he is responsible for 80% of the glory of current singers. He published around one thousand cordel pamphlets, having ten thousand editions. This unlimited source ran uninterrupted while Leandro lived. He is still the most widely-read popular writer. He wrote for the countryside dwellers, the hicks, singers, ‘cangaceiros’, mule drivers, merchants and cowboys. He is read at the markets, on the farms, under the trees during lunch time at the farms, in the poor houses back yards, spoken with love and strongly admired. His novels and romantic stories in verse are known by heart by the tellers. So his works Alonso and Marina, O Boi Misterioso, João da Cruz, Rosa e Lino de Alencar, O Príncipe e a Fada (The Prince and the Fairy), the satire Cancão de Fogo (Song of Fire), kinds of Cynical Words, Forjaz de Sampaio, the Abandoned Orphan, are indispensable literature for the country folk of Northeast Brazil. I don’t know if he managed to compare himself to a singer. I met him in the Paraíba capital. Short, rude, clear-eyed, a thick moustache, round head, slightly pointed, laughing, telling anecdotes, speaking in a singing-like and slow Northeast accent, seeming more like a farmer than a poet,but full of joy, grace and opportunity.
Leandro Gomes de Barros died on 4 March 1918, in Recife.
After his death in 1921, his publishing rights were sold by his widow to the poet João Martins de Atayde, who published them, omitting the name of the author and altering, in some of them, the acrostic in the final verse of many pamphlets, in an attempt to confuse the identification of the work.
Currently, there are various researchers attempting to restore the correct authoring of his works and of other popular poets.
Recife, 29 May 2008.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
AMORIM, Maria Alice. Clássico subestimado no cenário da poesia. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 30 abr. 2008. Especial: Nobreza o Cordel, p. 4-5.
BIOGRAFIA à moda da Casa. Disponível em: <http://www.casaruibarbosa.gov.br/SubsiteCordel/leandro_biografia.html>. Acesso em: 19 de maio de 2008.
CÂMARA CASCUDO, Luis da. Vaqueiros e cantadores: folclore poético do sertão de Pernambuco, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte e Ceara. Porto Alegre : Globo, 1939. 274p.
LEANDRO Gomes de Barros, 1865-1918. Disponível em: <http://www.itaucultural.org.br/aplicexternas/enciclopedia/poesia/index.cfm?fuseaction=Detalhe&CD_Verbete=562>. Acesso em: 16 maio 2008.
NUNES FILHO, Pedro. Guerreiro togado: fatos históricos de Alagoa do Monteiro. Recife: UFPE, Ed. Universitária da UFPE, 1997. 572p.
RENATO L. Rei da poesia do sertão. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 30 abr. 2008. Especial: Nobreza o Cordel, p. 2.
VIANA, Arievaldo. 140 anos de nascimento de Leandro Gomes de Barros, o rei da Literatura de Cordel. Disponível em: <http://www.camarabrasileira.com/cordel77.htm>. Acesso em: 16 maio 2008. [xilogravura de Klévisson Viana disponibiizada neste texto]
______. Leandro foi gênio em todos os estilos: entrevista. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 30 abr. 2008. Especial: Nobreza o Cordel, p. 3.
how to quote this text
Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Leandro Gomes de Barros. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.