Cruz e Sousa

(24 November 1861 – 19 March 1898 / Nossa Senhora do Desterro)

Biography of Cruz e Sousa

Cruz e Sousa poet

João da Cruz e Sousa was a symbolist poet from Santa Catarina, Brazil. A son of freed slaves, he was one of the great Afro-Brazilian writers. He published his first poem in 1877. He was one of the pioneers of Symbolism in Brazil.Son of manumitted slaves, since he was a child, he received the custody and a good education from his ex-lord Marshal Guilherme Xavier de Sousa, whose family name he adopted. Cruz e Souza learned French, Greek and Latin, besides have been disciple of the German Fritz Müller, whom he learned Math and Science. In 1881, he directed the journal Tribuna Popular, whereupon he fought the slavery and the racial prejudice. In 1883, he was refused as Laguna promoter for being black. In 1885, he published his first book, Tropos e Fantasias with Virgilio Varzea. Five years later he went to Rio de Janeiro, where he worked as an archivist at Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil, also helping with the journal Folha Popular. In February 1893 he publishes Missal and in August, Broquéis, initiating Symbolism in Brazil, which extends itself until 1922. In November of the same year, Cruz e Souza married Gavita Gonçalves, whom he had four kids, all dead prematurely due to tuberculosis, leading him to madness. He died on March 19, 1898 at the miner city of Antonio Carlos, in a village named Estação do Sitio, to where he was transported carrily, overcome by tuberculosis. He had his body transported to Rio de Janeiro in a wage destined for horse transports. Upon arrival, he was buried in the cemetery of St. Francis Xavier by his friends, among them José do Patrocínio; where he remained until 2007, when his remains were accepted by the Santa Catarina History Museum - Cruz e Souza palace downtown Florianopolis. He was a member of the Academia Catarinense de Letras, whose chair is the patron 15.

A Forerunner of Negritude

Cruz e Sousa's 'fault' lay in his being a black (Symbolist) poet in a climate given over to prejudice, mediocrity, and Parnassian strictures of art. His fellow intellectuals could neither abide nor comprehend him while, for his part, he regarded them and their feeble creations with utter disdain. The child of a free black woman and a black slave father, Cruz e Sousa was wholly black, without the mulatto-coloring so useful as a laisser-passer in the society of his day. In 1893 he married Gayita Rosa Goncalves, an educated black girl who worked as a seamstress. In the same year he brought out two collections of poems, Missal and Shields, which critics wasted no time in attacking-one anonymous author going so far as to publish a parody in which he castigated both the poet's race and his verse. "A spiritualizing, half-wit dunce brought up in distant Mozambique has picked at true Art with his beak Swaying sickly, with sonorous grunts. And all the blacks from Senegal do a buck-and-wing as they caterwaul and hail him with rockets exploding in the air." A proud artist who was aware of the depth of his talent, Cruz e Souza refused to bow to the literary establishment, with which he could never racially, culturally, or socially identify. Both as an artist and as a man, he realized that his 'identity' and 'fate' were inseparable; and in defiance of their 'nigger' he lifted aloft the banner of Blackness. "I bore, like corpses lashed lashed to my back and incessantly and interminably rotting, all the empiricisms of prejudice, the unknown layers of long) dead strata, of curious and desolate African races that Physiology had doomed forever to nullify with the mocking papal laughter of Haeckel! . . . All the doors and passage-ways along the road of life are closed to me, a poor Aryan artist-yes, Aryan, because I acquired, by systematic study, all the qualities of that great race. To what end? A sad black man, detested by those with culture, beaten down by society, always humiliated, cast out of every bed, spat upon in every household like some evil leper! But how? To be and artist and black?" O my hatred, my majestic malice my sacred, pure and benign malevolence anoint my forehead with your pure kiss so that I may be both proud and humble Humble and generous to the meek but haughty to those lacking Desire, lacking in Goodness and faith, who know not the lamp of the gentle, fecund sun. O my hatred, my blessed emblem which flaps in the wind of my soul's infinity while the others' banners droop Hearty, benign hatred be my shield! against those villains of love, whose infamy resounds from the Seven Towers of Mortal Sin. -"Sacred Hate", translation by Julio Finn.

Cruz e Sousa's Works:

Books

Broquéis (1893)
Missal (1893),
Evocações (1898)
Faróis (1900)
Últimos Sonetos (1905)

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