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Crystal Clear: The Sub-Objective Poetry of Cesário Verde

Figure 1: José Joaquim Cesário Verde. (n.d.). [Photograph]. Portal da Literatura.

The poet was born in Lisbon in 1855. Since his father was a wealthy hardware dealer and farmer, José Joaquim Cesário Verde became familiar early on with the city and the countryside. He published his first verses at the age of eighteen and died at the age of thirty-one, in Caneças, where he lived for a while in search of a treatment for tuberculosis – the disease that took his life.

Cesario was born at a time when Realism was prominent in Europe. The main characteristic of this movement is that "the realists reacted violently and hostilely against everything that was identified with Romanticism (...); [consequently, they were] supporters of objectivism." (MOISÉS, 1973, p. 204). To focus on the object (and not on the individual), the Realists had to be guided by Reason, or intelligence: therefore, they were Rationalists. They also followed the Positivist line - "only what can be observed, documented, analyzed, experimented, that is, what presupposes a scientific behavior matters" (MOISÉS, 1973, p. 204-205) - and Determinism, believing that the work of art is influenced by the environment, inheritance (genetics), and circumstances. It is also worth noting that those belonging to the realist movement were anti-monarchist, anti-bourgeois, and anti-clerical.

Literary works now came to play a role as a weapon of combat, reform, and social action; it was now a compromised (engagée) art. Novelists were doing thesis work: to prove the effect of Determinism on the life and behavior of men; they would portray the problem in their characters who, living in a certain environment, being exposed to certain circumstances and endowed with a certain genetic load, would come to behave in a certain way.

The poetry of this movement brings to the fore again the lyricism of Bocage and Camões. The authors of that time believed that the poem was the ideal mold to unite the revolutionary ideas of the Realist generation to an easier communication of its explosive content. Several strands started from the same root: "realist" poetry, represented by Guerra Junqueiro, Gomes Leal, Antero de Quental, Teófilo Braga, and others; everyday poetry, grounded by Cesário Verde; metaphysical poetry, with Antero de Quental as its representative; and poetry of Parnassian vehemence, written by João Penha, Antônio Joaquim de Castro Feijó, and the Brazilian Antônio Cândido Gonçalves Crespo, who was born in Rio de Janeiro but moved to Lisbon when he was still a teenager.

Although the Realists prized mainly for pure objectivity, Cesário Verde stood out for his distinctive style: he poetized the prosaic, the everyday life, taking into account the impression that the outside leaves on the inside. He seeks to capture the moment when the objects, seen from a certain perspective, gain their entire individuality - and this occurs in a tiny fraction of time. Objective reality merges, then, with subjective reality, and a third reality arises: the objective-subjective, or vice-versa; this mentalization of the object is what true "realism" would be. According to Massaud Moisés, the unique classification for Cesario Verde's poetry "serves as a transit between Romanticism and Realism, on one hand, and as a bridge for some of the attitudes that will be in vogue in the Symbolist and Modernist aesthetics" (MOISÉS, 1973, p. 217). He inherited from Baudelaire the lyrical attitude towards external reality (which, we must admit, is not a factor in common with realist ideals) and his poetic conduct guided by his root drama - tuberculosis - which made him have a vision of life different from the others, making him pursue his inner chaos without worrying about literary movements.

Cesario had four phases in his short poetic career. In the first one, he is concerned with the accuracy of form. In addition, he maintains a "façade cynicism" transformed into humourism, which hides a sensitivity that the poet perhaps did not yet know existed.

In the second one, the author already matures and begins to observe daily reality and to portray it antilirically.

In the third one, the Portuguese writer starts to observe the city and the thousand mysteries it hides in its "natural" everyday life. Writing to his friend Silva Pinto, in 1879, he confessed, "I am not like many who are in the middle of a large gathering of completely isolated and abstract people. To me what surrounds me is what concerns me." (VERDE, 1879)