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Manuel Bandeira (poet)

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Poet, Teacher, Chronicler


Manuel Bandeira (poet)

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 16/02/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

One of the greatest Brazilian poets, Manuel Carneiro de Souza Bandeira Filho was born in Recife, Pernambuco on 19 April 1886 to Manuel Bandeira and Francelina Ribeiro de Souza. Besides being a poet, he was also a teacher, journalist, inspector, translator and literary critic.

Manuel Bandeira lived only the first year of his life in Recife, and soon moved to the cities of Petrópolis and Rio de Janeiro, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Some time later, he returned to Recife, where his grandfather Teotônio Rodrigues (at 263 Rua da União) also resided, remaining there for another four years – from six to ten years of age. The poet always confessed, however, that his deepest roots lay in Petrópolis and not in Recife.

Returning to Rio de Janeiro, Manuel Bandeira studied at Colégio Pedro II. In 1903, he enrolled in the engineering-architecture course at the Polytechnic School of São Paulo. However, due to acquiring a severe lung disease in late adolescence, he had to drop out of school and take care of his health for years at a stretch.

As tuberculosis was considered a stigmatising disease at the time – because it was contagious and incurable – patients were forced to experience a painful solitude, that is, to be isolated from healthy people. Seeing himself condemned to the deprivation of everything that characterises the life of a young man represented the end of many dreams for the young Manuel Bandeira. He learned, however, to live with his illness and accumulated a vast knowledge of it.
The patient’s condition, therefore, contributed to the future poet managing reality, supporting it and surpassing it, developing his artistic and intellectual abilities, and improving his technique of poetic art. In this sense, faced with the limitations and barriers imposed by fate, Manuel Bandeira decided to make a definitive commitment to poetry.

Without losing hope, his father began a long pilgrimage in search of the cure for the young tuberculosis sufferer. He took him first to Campanha in Minas Gerais, where Bandeira lived from 1905 to 1906. Having to face an itinerant life in search of an improvement in health, he then went to the city of Teresópolis in Rio de Janeiro, residing there from 1906 to 1907. For two consecutive years – from 1907 to 1908 – he was in the cities of Quixeramobim, Uruquê and Maranguape in Ceará. The constant moves in search of an appropriate climate to treat tuberculosis influenced not only the way the future poet lived, but also the way he understood the world.

He travelled to Switzerland in 1913 at the behest of the family, and stayed at the Clavadel Sanitarium for fifteen months. It was there that Manuel Bandeira became aware of the definitive character of his illness. Since there was no possibility of healing at the time, the young man had to learn through discipline the rules of coexisting with the contracted illness. He devoted himself to reading and studying, as well as learning guitar – his great companion. Having spent five years in Switzerland, Manuel Bandeira was able to learn the German language fluently and to know a great deal about European art and culture. Always feeding the hope of healing, even in the most painful periods of his life, the poet never let himself be assailed by the sense of the purely tragic. Quite the contrary: he developed an extraordinary poetic production, restructured his identity and thus undertook a form of dialogue with the surrounding world, without lacking in his good humour. His poem Pneumotórax [Pneumothorax] is quite elucidative in this sense.

Febre, hemoptise, dispnéia, suores noturnos.
A vida inteira que podia ter sido e que não foi:
tosse, tosse, tosse.
Mandou chamar o médico:
Diga trinta e três.
Trinta e três, Trinta e três... Trinta e três.
O senhor tem uma escavação no pulmão esquerdo
e o pulmão direito infiltrado.
Então, Doutor, não é possível fazer um PNEUMOTORAX?
Não. A única coisa a fazer é tocar um tango argentino.

Fever, haemoptysis, dyspnoea, night sweats.
A whole life that could have been and was not:
cough, cough, cough.
He sent for the doctor:
Say thirty-three.
Thirty-three, Thirty-three... Thirty-three.
You have an excavation in your left lung
And the right lung infiltrated.
So, Doctor, is not it possible to do a PNEUMOTHORAX?
No. The only thing to do is play an Argentine tango.

Manuel Bandeira returned to Rio de Janeiro only in 1917, beginning to dedicate himself to teaching at the University of Brazil’s Faculty of Philosophy, at the Pedro II College and at the Carioca Gymnasium. He was also a Secondary School Inspector from 1935. He was closely linked to the symbolist school, and the young poet published his first book, A cinza das horas [The Ash of the Hours], in 1917. In the poem Epígrafe [Epigraph] he humbly wrote:

Sou bem-nascido. Menino,
Fui, como os demais, feliz.
Depois, veio o mau destino
Veio o mau gênio da vida,
E fez de mim o que quis.
Rompeu em meu coração,
Levou tudo de vencida,
Rugiu como um furacão,Turbou, partiu, abateu,
Queimou sem razão nem dó -
Ah, que dor! Magoado e só,
-Só! - meu coração ardeu:
Ardeu em gritos dementes
Na sua paixão sombria...
E dessas horas ardentes
Ficou esta cinza fria.
Esta pouca cinza fria.

I’m well-born. Boy,
I was, like the others, happy.
Then came the bad fate
Came the evil genius of life,
And did to me what he wanted.
Broke in my heart,
Took everything by defeat,
Roared like a hurricane, Darkened, split, struck,
Burned without reason or mercy -
Ah, what a pain! Hurt and alone,
-Alone! My heart burned:
Burned in demented shouts
In its dark passion...
And from those ardent hours
remained this cold ash.
This little cold ash.

His second publication, entitled Carnaval [Carnival], was released two years later. The consecration of Manuel Bandeira as a modernist poet, however, came about through work Rithmo dissoluto [Dissolute Rhythm] in 1924. Continuing to produce, in 1930 he published Libertinagem; in 1936, two other works – Estrela da manhã [Morning Star] and Crônicas da província do Brasil [Chronicles of the Province of Brazil] (in prose); and in 1938, Guia de Ouro Preto [Ouro Preto Guide]. The poet edited the work Lira dos cinqüenta anos [Lira of the Fifty Years], Apresentação da poesia brasileira [Presentation of Brazilian Poetry] (but did not include his own poems in this) and Noções de história das literaturas [Notions of the History of Literatures] in 1940.

As expected, Manuel Bandeira was elected in 1940 to occupy chair number 24 at the Brazilian Academy of Letters, becoming one of its illustrious members. His poetic production does not stop. In 1948, it was the turn of Mafuá do Malungo; followed by Literatura hispano-americana [Hispanic-American Literature] in 1949 and Opus 10 in 1952. In the late 1950s, his (bronze) bust was erected in the city of Recife at the intersection of the streets União and Riachuelo.

In Itinerário de Pasargada, his biography published in 1954, Manuel Bandeira reveals to the world the discipline he had been forced to follow in the first thirteen years of tuberculosis treatment, as well as the effort he had to make in order to associate some productivity with the parsimonious use of his physical strength. Many authors affirm, in this sense, that the presence of irony in his poems was due to the daily coexistence of the author with the nightmare of the death.

Still in 1954, Bandeira published the work De Poetas e poesia [Of Poets and Poetry], and in 1957, Frauta de papel. Poesia e prosa [Poetry and Prose] (in two volumes) was edited in 1958, when the poet was seventy-two. Finally, in 1966, at the age of eighty, he released the book Andorinha, andorinha [Swallow, Swallow].

He faced tuberculosis every day, and it was by struggling with all his might to live that the consecrated poet – without ceasing to be sentimental – constructed all his literary output. His legacy to the Brazilian people represents the miracle and victory of health over illness and of life over death.

No one imagined that Manuel Bandeira could live so many years staggering towards death. It was because of the stigma of his infirmity that he was unmarried all his life. The poet died on 13 October 1968, as a result of an ulcer in his duodenum, at eighty-two years of age. His work, however, is still alive. Finally, readers need only know the following: Manuel Bandeira was completely mistaken about his value when he wrote these lines:

Criou-me, desde eu menino,
Para arquiteto meu pai.
Foi-se-me um dia a saúde...
Fiz-me arquiteto? Não pude!
Sou poeta menor, perdoai!

He has raised me, since I was a boy,
To be an architect, my father.
Away from me went my health one day...
Did I become an architect? I could not!
I’m a minor poet, forgive me!

Recife, 18 October 2003.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

sources consulted

CÂMARA, Leônidas. A poesia de Manuel Bandeira: seu revestimento ideológico e formal. Estudos Universitários. Recife, v. 9, n. 2, p. 73-98, abr./jun. 1969

MANUEL Bandeira [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 16 fev. 2017.

MAZZARI, Marcus V. Os espantalhos desamparados de Manuel Bandeira. Estudos Avançados, São Paulo, v. 1, n. 1, p. 255-276, 1987.

PORTO, Ângela. A vida inteira que podia ter sido e que não foi: trajetória de um poeta tísico. História, Ciências, Saúde, Rio de Janeiro, v. 6, n. 3, p. 523-550, nov. 1999/fev.2000.

SILVA, Jorge Fernandes da. Vidas que não morrem. Recife: Departamento de Cultura, Secretaria de Educação, 1982.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Manuel Bandeira (poeta). Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.