The sense of loss that permeates the poetry of Cecília Meireles (1901-1964) probably had its deepest roots in the fact that
by the time she was three years old both parents, her two brothers, and her only sister were dead. She was left in the care
of her maternal grandmother, an Azorean, whose songs and stories of her native Sao Miguel instilled in her a sensitivity for
her Portuguese heritage and tradition. In 1934, the tragic death of her husband, painter Fernando Correia Dias, whose bouts
with depression led him to suicide, left her alone to raise their three young daughters.
Meireles’ lyrical and highly personal poetry, often simple in form yet containing complex symbolism and imagery, combines
an economy and elegance of language with a wide cultural sensibility. She traced the spiritual roots of her verse to the lyrics
of Ancient Greece, to the cultures of the Orient, the Middle Ages, the English romantics and French and German symbolists.
A common theme in her verse is the spiritual and emotional relationship with the forces of nature. As the early mystics lost
themselves in God, Meireles’ quest was for secret and solitary love in the mirror of nature: “I searched for my
shape among the designs left by the waves, to feel, in the night, the perfume of my own duration.” (VIAGEM)
If there is any escape from time, it is through assimilation into things that are timeless: the sea, the sky, the infinity
of space, and music, that least earthbound of arts. “Poetry is like a cry, but transfigured. I try to make from that
cry music.” Her symbols are those that are freest of the human limitations of space or time: the wind, the stars, the
air, the sea, a bird in flight.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Meireles began writing poetry at the age of nine. She became a public school teacher at age sixteen
and two years later established her literary reputation with the publication of a collection of sonnets. She continued to
study languages, literature, educational theory, music and folklore. She wrote several children’s books and founded
the first children’s library in Rio. A journalist and teacher, Meireles lectured throughout the world and wrote constantly
for newspapers and magazines. She translated into Portuguese the poetry of Tagore and the great Chilean, Gabriella Mistral.
She published an art and literary newspaper representing the rising Brazilian avant-garde.
Meireles was preoccupied with the fleetingness of life and life’s achievements: “The notion of the transitoriness
of all that exists is the foundation of my personality, and explains what I have done in literature, journalism, education
and folklore. It is the purpose of my work to awaken human beings from that kind of somnambulism into which too many let themselves
fall. To show the depth of life, without any philosophical pretention of salvation, but through poetic contemplation, compassion,
“I sing because the moment exists and my life is complete, and I know one day I shall be mute . . . that is all.”
In 1965, the year following her death, the most distinguished of all literary prizes in Brazil, the Premio Machado de Assis,
was conferred upon her complete works by the Brazilian Academy of Letters. In his memorial tribute, the great Brazilian poet
Carlos Drummond de Andrade said: “Within a sublime verse, in an infinite journey beyond the mystery of religions and
dreams, Cecília Meireles spent her life. This extraodinary woman was an an instrument, and in reality very well-tuned to reveal
to us the most impermanent and perfect