Brazilian poet and dramatist João Cabral de Melo Neto, who died in 1999, left behind a wealth of work, much of it chronicled in Education By Stone. The Collection pulls mostly from 1950-1980, the period of his major work (once Cabral lost his sight in the early 1990’s, he quit writing altogether). Throughout his career, Cabral eschewed personal revelation, opting to concentrate on the solid objects of reality. His images are so material so tangible, they feel like the work of a master surrealist. In “The Dog Without Feathers,” for example, Cabral travels a terse, epigrammatic path through images of dogs biting seas, killed by rivers. One is gently lulled by the poem’s pace before realizing the sublime violence of observation:
The river fears the sea
As a dog fears a door that’s cracked open,
As a beggar fears
An apparently open church,
Cabral’s careful juxtaposition of objects here lends a devilish sense of foreboding. His work is filled with these types of images and truisms; he reminds the reader that there are subtleties both real and imagined in everyday things, that “the blood of a dog / is heavier / than the dog itself” and that “whatever lives / inflicts life / on silence.”
Cabral’s infliction of life on silence was a profound one. Although Education By Stone sadly excludes his later work, including poems from his last book before going blind, Sevilha Andando, it provides a cohesive English-language overview of one of Brazil’s most profound and influential poets.