Evocation of Recife poem

The following is a poem by Manuel Bandeira, a famous Brazilian poet who was from Recife. In the poem, written in 1925, he speaks of his love for the city he grew up in (mind you, he was born in the late 1800s so the Recife he knew looked something like this, from 1890).

Here’s the same poem narrated by Bandeira and, if you care for a French version set to music, there’s that, too. The original poem in written form is here (PT, about 60% down on the list). If you’re looking for information about Bandeira and Modernism in the Northeast, go here (PT).

Evocation of Recife
Translation: Candace Slater

not the American Venice,
not the Mauritsstad of the merchants of the Dutch East India Company
not the Recife of Portuguese peddlers
not even the Recife I later learned to love –
the Recife of freedom-seeking revolutions
but a Recife without history or literature
the Recife of my childhood

Union Street where I played crack-the-whip and broke Dona Aninha Viega’s windows
Totônio Rodrigues was very old and wore his pince-nez on the tip of his nose.
After dinner the families took their chairs out on the sidewalk, – gossip, flirting, laughter
We children played in the street
The boys shouted:

Run Rabbit !
Don’t run !

In the distance the little girls’ petal-soft voices sung out in varied tones:

Rosebush give me a rose
Carnation give me a bud

(Of those roses many a rose
must have died in the bud…)

in the far corners of the night
a bell
One grown-up said:
“Fire in Saint Anthony!”
Another exclaimed, “No, in Saint John!”
Totônio Rodrigues always thought it was Saint John.
The men put on their hats and went out, smoking
and I hated being a boy because I couldn’t go with them to see the fire

Union Street…

The streets of my childhood had such lovely names!
Sun Street
(I hate to think they may have renamed it after some So-and-So)
Behind the house Nostalgia Street…
…where we used to sneak a smoke
On the other side the Dawn Street wharf…
…where we used to fish in secret.


There way in the distance, the fields of Caxangá
and its straw bathhouses
One day I saw a young girl completely naked in her bath
I froze there, my heart beating wildly
She laughed
It was my first ecstatic vision
Floods! The floods! Mud dead ox trees debris whirlpools – all gone
And between the pillars of the railway bridge daredevil country boys in rafts of banana logs


I lay my head in the girl’s lap and she began to run her fingers through my hair


Union Street where every afternoon the black woman who sold bananas passed by in her bright coarse shawl
and  sugar-cane peddler
and the vendor of peanuts
we called beenuts and that were boiled instead of roasted
I remember all their chants:

Eggs, fresh and cheap
Ten eggs for a quarter

That was so long ago…

Life didn’t reach me through newspapers or books
but came from the mouths of the people, bad speech of the people
good speech of the people
because it’s the people who speak Brazilian Portuguese with gusto
while we
all we do
is imitate monkey see, monkey do
the language of the classics
Life with a whole slew of things I didn’t really understand
Territories for me yet uncharted


Union Street…

My grandfather’s home

I never thought that house could disappear!
Everything there seemed charged with eternity

My grandfather, dead.

Recife, now dead, bighearted Recife, Recife Brazilian as my grandfather’s home.


One response to “Evocation of Recife poem

  1. Pingback: Recife’s Silent Film Era | Eyes On Recife·

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