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History of Portuguese Literature Origins of Portuguese Literature The Portuguese Language Oral Literature Fiction Lyricism
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Herberto Helder


My eyes release what is imprisoned on the page: the white from the white and the black from the black

(Ben Ammar)

He is the mythical poet of contemporary Portuguese modernity, not only because of the particular intensity of his work (whether considered as a whole or through the simple reading of just one of his verses), but also because of his discreet lifestyle and his aversion to all forms of literary institutionalism.

Words do not make the man understand, it is necessary to make oneself a man in order to understand the words.

From O Amor em Visita, 1958, until, more recently, Do Mundo, 1994, and including Electronicolírica, 1964, and Última Ciência, 1988, his poetry has passed through various literary currents, displaying a very singular and elaborate form of writing and providing an example of a flawless achievement, without any weaknesses or concessions.


This woman is as beautiful
as a mountain flower,
but she is cold, cold, as cold
as the bank of snow
where cold flourishes.


At four in the morning, I uproot
weeds from the rice-field.
But what is this: the dew of the field,
      or tears of pain?

In his fiction writing, Os Passos em Volta, 1963 (short stories), he displays the same type of careful elaboration in his use of language and addresses the problematics of the human digression in search of, or dispersing, both his meaning and his entirety.


The letters slept in the sloping night, and were
wild brambles. Along them
slipped the sloping sleep: mercury,
light parsley.

                                             A Máquina Lírica

(The poems reproduced here were taken from the volume Poesia Toda, Herberto Helder - Assírio & Alvim, 1990)

© Instituto Camões, 2001