For Mário Cesariny

true democracy will only be possible when all men are poets. But this … [is] … not democracy – but ANARCHY!

António Maria Lisboa, “Uma carta de António Maria Lisboa”, in Mário Cesariny, A Intervenção Surrealista

I believe in the unbelievable.

Pedro Oom, “O Sonhador Espacializado”, in Mário Cesariny, A Intervenção Surrealista

My name is tired of being written on the list of tyrants: condemned to death!
the days and nights of this century have screamed so much in my chest that there is a miraculous tree in it

Mário Cesariny, Autografia I

Today would be the 100th birthday of the Portuguese surrealist painter and poet, Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos (August 9, 1923 – November 26, 2006). To celebrate the occasion, his art-life, and perhaps to modestly help to spread the word in the English speaking world, we share below a collection of poems (in Portuguese and English, and unless otherwise indicated, from Poem Hunter website), and interview and a brief biography by Richard Zenith.

Miguel Gonçalves Mendes dedicated a beautiful documentary film to Cesariny, entitled Autografia, released in 2004. The film is available on youtube, but exclusively in Portuguese. We nevertheless close with the film.

You are welcome to Elsinore

Entre nós e as palavras há metal fundente
entre nós e as palavras há hélices que andam
e podem dar-nos morte violar-nos tirar
do mais fundo de nós o mais útil segredo
entre nós e as palavras há perfis ardentes
espaços cheios de gente de costas
altas flores venenosas portas por abrir
e escadas e ponteiros e crianças sentadas
à espera do seu tempo e do seu precipício

Ao longo da muralha que habitamos
há palavras de vida há palavras de morte
há palavras imensas, que esperam por nós
e outras, frágeis, que deixaram de esperar
há palavras acesas como barcos
e há palavras homens, palavras que guardam
o seu segredo e a sua posição

Entre nós e as palavras, surdamente,
as mão e as paredes de Elsinore

E há palavras nocturnas palavras gemidos
palavras que nos sobem ilegíveis à boca
palavras diamantes palavras nunca escritas
palavras impossíveis de escrever
por não termos connosco cordas de violinos
nem todo o sangue do mundo nem todo o amplexo do ar
e os braços dos amantes escrevem muito alto
muito além do azul onde oxidados morrem
palavras maternais só sombra só soluço
só espasmos só amor só solidão desfeita

Entre nós e as palavras, os emparedados
e entre nós e as palavras, o nosso dever falar

You are welcome to Elsinore

Between us and words there’s molten metal
between us and words there are spinning propellers
that can kill us ravish us wrench
from our inner depths the most worthwhile secret
between us and words there are burning profiles
spaces full of people with their backs turned
tall poisonous flowers closed doors
and stairs and ticking clocks and seated children
waiting for their time and their precipice

Along the walls in which we live
there are words of life words of death
there are vast words that wait for us
and other, fragile words that have stopped waiting
there are words lit up like boats
and there are words that are men, words that conceal
their secret and their position

Between us and words, without a sound,
the hands and walls of Elsinore

And there are words of night words that are moans
illegible words that rise to our lips
diamond words unwritten words
words that can’t be written
because here we don’t have any violin strings
we don’t have all the world’s blood or the air’s whole embrace
and the arms of lovers write high overhead
far beyond the blue where they rust and die
maternal words just shadow just sobbing
just spasms just love just solitude’s dissolution

Between us and words those who are walled in,
and between us and words our duty to speak



Faz-se luz pelo processo de eliminação de sombras
Ora as sombras existem as sombras têm exaustiva vida própria
não dum e doutro lado da luz mas no próprio seio dela
intensamente amantes loucamente amadas
e espalham pelo chão braços de luz cinzenta
que se introduzem pelo bico nos olhos do homem

Por outro lado a sombra dita a luz
não ilumina realmente os objectos
os objectos vivem às escuras
numa perpétua aurora surrealista
com a qual não podemos contactar
senão como os amantes
de olhos fechados
e lâmpadas nos dedos e na boca


Light occurs when
shadows are eliminated
Shadows are what exist
shadows have their own exhaustive life
not on this or that side of light but in its very heart
intensely loving insanely beloved
and they spread over the ground their arms of gray light
that enter human eyes at the corners

On the other hand the shadow called light
doesn’t illuminate objects really
objects live in the dark
in a perpetual surrealist aurora
which we cannot contact
except the way lovers do
with eyes closed
and lamps in our fingers lamps on our lips


Love, Freedom, Poetry – Interview with Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos – 2002 (Internet Archive/Way Back Machine)

ÓSCAR FARIA – Revolution is one of the essential objectives of the surrealist movement. How did you experience of the 25th of April, 1974?

MÁRIO CESARINY – We were very poorly seen by Salazar and by the Marxists; we had two enemies. There is a letter from António Dacosta, which is in my house – I don’t know where, I hope it appears – in which he tells me about his trip to Paris, in 1947, where he attended meetings of the surrealist group with André Breton and Benjamin Péret. I know that saying this may sound weird, but I think I should say it: he starts to explain to Péret what is happening in Portugal – “There is anti-fascism, of course, but at the same time we cannot accuse or denounce the Stalinists because of the prevailing fascism and because Salazar arrests all the communists”. Péret, who was well aware of what was going on around the world, said: “Oh, Salazar arrests the communists, then Salazar does very well”. This anecdote is complicated, what is implied by all this, but now take it any way you want.

Question – But Breton also approached Soviet communism …

Answer – In two words I’ll tell you. I suffered a very persistent and very annoying persecution at the hands of the regime, because they found a nicer and more atrocious way to piss me off: I was reported as a vagrant at the Lisbon Judiciary Police, I had my card there… reported no, I was a suspect, suspected of vagrancy, which was also a term applied to people who were a little strange. And, in the name of this suspicion of vagrancy, I suffered a persecution that only came to an end on the 25th of April, because all of that was illegal. I’m not a martyr or a hero of the anti-fascist struggle, I’m not, but I was very upset, because at any hour, at any moment, in any year, I could receive a summons from the police: you sir, come here – a horrible thing. That only ended with the 25th of April, because all of that was illegal.

Q. – Did they bother you many times?

A. – It’s not too annoying; it is that they had the power to piss you off whenever they wanted. They could even let twenty years go by without getting upset, but after twenty years they remembered: “Look at this one, let’s call him”. It was something always hanging over one’s head, a sword. I was afraid to answers the phone, I was afraid to go to the post office: they didn’t treat me badly or hit me, but it was a very boring thing, very humiliating to go to polioce stations. I always went to bed very late and I always got up very late, which for the police was horrible: “he doesn’t work”, that kind of thing. And one morning my sister Henriette calls me and says: “Mario, the dictatorship is over” – “What?”, “The dictatorship is over”. I go out into the street with a camera and for almost a year, it wasn’t exactly a year, but almost a year, no matter what time I went to bed, at eight o’clock I got up with a fresh head. Do you understand what this means…

Q. – What were the actions carried out by the surrealists against the regime?

A. – There was a glory in Portugal, which was that of being a martyr, being arrested and being tortured by the regime: we didn’t think that was an interesting thing; our interventions were a bit like showing up, saying something, leaving soon and showing up elsewhere: a guerrilla war. Since we couldn’t make a revolution – and we didn’t, of course – our revolution was a kind of implosion, it exploded inside; it couldn’t go outside, because censorship wouldn’t allow it, it was from the inside. It is a pity that the condition of the surrealists under the dictatorship is not studied a little more, because there was much that is interesting to know in this respect. And then António Maria Lisboa died, who, in my opinion, is the greatest – some will say it’s me, but I’m not, he’s the greatest, he just doesn’t have such beautiful verses, his poetry is hard, harsh. We had the neo-realists, who were the socialist-realists, and we had Salazar’s turmoil: these two forces against us. The generations that came after didn’t really know what was going on either… It was a bit of a crazy idea, because I spoke with André Breton and we agreed to do a small magazine, but it was a bit of a crazy idea, I see that today, it was impossible to try a public expansion, because we would go straight to prison and we weren’t very interested in being martyrs and heroes of Stalinism. Cruzeiro Seixas went to Africa, António Maria Lisboa died, Pedro Oom shut himself up at home, like a great abjectionist, and then our group dispersed.

Q. – What is the big difference between surrealism and abjectionism?

A. – Who captured the great phrase was Pedro Oom, the creator of abjectionism: “What can a desperate man do, when the air is vomit and we are abject beings”. It refers to the political condition. What can this man do? He might commit suicide, for example. He can go out into the street, like the crazy ones, and kill a lot of people. What did he do: he closed himself in the house. I went to his house once and I froze. It wasn’t a house; it was something stripped of everything, with a plastic flower in the hallway: nothing. Pedro Oom gave up everything and, nevertheless, he wrote one or two of the most beautiful poems that were written at the time and then he went home and ended up that way: a suicide, if not personal, in relation to everything. It appeared rarely. Abjectionism also infected António Maria Lisboa a bit. António Maria Lisboa committed suicide against his will, he didn’t really want to die, but such is imprudence … he went to Paris the first time, but the second time he went to Paris he no longer had a lung …

Q. – Was it his death that was the most difficult in your life?

A. – I am not saying that, but I will say that António Maria Lisboa was, for sure, although his work is not extensive, a very high point, if not the highest, of all of us. For me, in this past century, there have been two great revolutions: the Russian and the Surrealist. The Russian revolution ended in what it ended in, a tragedy, hell. The surrealist revolution was wisely buried by society. First, ignored by the generation that came after – Cruzeiro Seixas is of another opinion, very optimistic, not me, I think that the surrealist revolution is not just the paintings that are put on the walls, it was intended to be a revolution, much more utopian than the Russian; now Magritte and Max Ernst are worth millions, which is society’s way of stifling it -, then, because the current members of the Assembly of the Republic read the abecedarium of Portuguese literature through the history of Portuguese literature by Óscar Lopes and António José Hail. Óscar Lopes was, and still is, a member of the central committee of the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party), see what that means; the other had a more open spirit, but he got the hang of it; so they all learned the abecedarium of surrealism’s burial and they are still at it today.

Q. – What can be done to get around this situation?

A. – I can’t do anything. All I can do is go out into the street with a machine gun and kill a lot of people.

Q. – Fulfil Breton’s gesture?

A. – Yes. Go out into the street with a revolver. They are prophetic, his texts, because that is what is happening now. In America, it can happen any day: the little child goes to school with a machine gun and kills all his classmates and other things like that. Another thing that can be a negative aspect is drugs. Breton also tried them, but that reached such a point, in a group… It is known and said that one night, it was no longer at Breton’s house, it was in a small house like a “chateau”, there was already one who walked behind Eluard with a dagger to kill him. It was too bad, never mind [laughs]. Society took on all the most negative aspects: drugs and killing people right and left, which is what is happening, this is prophetic.

Q. – And what are the most positive aspects of surrealism?

A. – It is the desperate struggle for love, freedom and poetry: that’s it. It seems that it is a trinity that replaces freedom, equality, fraternity: freedom, love, poetry – that’s living it, it’s a bit complicated, isn’t it?

Q. – You have already mentioned António Maria Lisboa. Another figure who marked you and who, in artistic terms, you came to compare to Rimbaud, is Maria Helena Vieira da Silva…

A. – This is the old story that is also connected with the surrealism exhibition. I have a book called “Vieira da Silva/Arpad Szènes, or the Surrealist Castle”, where I even invented an expression that I really like, which is “the copyist-surrealists”. In England, surrealist painting is all half Dali and half Magritte, and from there, they don’t move on. In 1940, before leaving for Brazil, Vieira da Silva and Arpad held an exhibition in their studio, an exhibition that João Gaspar Simões went to and about which he wrote a short chronicle in which he spoke about Breton and surrealism. When António Pedro was trying to launch dimensionism – something that, if he wasn’t opposed it, ignored surrealism – with a companion who was possibly more fascist than he was, a certain Dutra Faria.

Q. – Is surrealism’s political position anarchism?

A. – It is possibly so. No, it is utopian socialism. The last major exhibition organized by André Breton, in Paris, was called – and there is an admirable catalogue – “L’Écart Absolu” [dedicated to Charles Fourier, the show took place at the L’Oeil Gallery, in 1965], that is to say “absolute”, total withdrawal from politics, from art: to disappear. Why it failed: it didn’t fail in museums, but the deep vote of the surrealists, which was also a social revolution and the total revolution of language and the total revolution of human revolutions: all of that failed.

Q. – In the case of sexual relations, the Surrealists, especially Breton, were always very strict about homosexuality…

A. – That is said about Breton and it is true, but the man was like that, what is to be done. But I remember that in the famous conversations about sexuality, Péret says he is neither for nor against: “I have nothing to do with it”. And the Breton replies: “If you continue with those terms, I’m leaving”. It’s a personal choice. And yet, he did things like a Tsar… he made exceptions, like the Marquis de Sade. It is clear that Breton had his slips, like everyone else. [René] Crevel was a homosexual and Breton knew it perfectly well, and Crevel killed himself because of Breton, when it was the story of the congress of writers in favour of the Soviet Union, in which they did not allow Breton to speak; Crevel – his texts are very important – killed himself and left a paper saying “I am disgusted”. Also debatable is the story of the “femme-enfant”, the girl-woman, who is also a Breton myth; but these are personal myths, they are not mandatory: it’s not Breton’s fault, it’s the fault of those who accepted the shouting matches. I don’t accept it, that’s it, it’s over.


Discurso ao príncipe de Epaminondas, mancebo de grande futuro

Despe-te de verdades
das grandes primeiro que das pequenas
das tuas antes que de quaisquer outras
abre uma cova e enterra-as
a teu lado
primeiro as que te impuseram eras ainda imbele
e não possuías mácula senão a de um nome estranho
depois as que crescendo penosamente vestiste
a verdade do pão a verdade das lágrimas
pois não és flor nem luto nem acalanto nem estrela
depois as que ganhaste com o teu sémen
onde a manhã ergue um espelho vazio
e uma criança chora entre nuvens e abismos
depois as que hão-de pôr em cima do teu retrato
quando lhes forneceres a grande recordação
que todos esperam tanto porque a esperam de ti
Nada depois, só tu e o teu silêncio
e veias de coral rasgando-nos os pulsos
Então, meu senhor, poderemos passar
pela planície nua
o teu corpo com nuvens pelos ombros
as minhas mãos cheias de barbas brancas
Aí não haverá demora nem abrigo nem chegada
mas um quadrado de fogo sobre as nossas cabeças
e uma estrada de pedra até ao fim das luzes
e um silêncio de morte à nossa passagem

Words to Prince Epaminondas, a lad with a great future

Strip yourself of truths
the great before the small
your own before any others
dig a pit and bury them
at your side
first those that they imposed on you when you were still a docile child
and had no stain except for that of a strange name
then those that as you grew you painfully put on
the truth of bread the truth of tears
for you are neither flower nor mourning nor consolation nor star
then those you won with your semen
where the morning raises high an empty mirror
and a child cries between clouds and an abyss
then those they’re going to place above your portrait
when you provide them with the great remembrance
they all expect so anxiously expecting it of you
Then nothing, just you and your silence
and veins of coral tearing at our wrists
And now, my lord, we can proceed across
the naked plains
your body with clouds upon its shoulders
my hands full with a white beard
There, there will be no delay no shelter no arrival
just a square of fire above our heads
a street of stone to the end of the lights
and the silence of death as we pass


Em todas as ruas te encontro

Em todas as ruas te encontro
em todas as ruas te perco
conheço tão bem o teu corpo
sonhei tanto a tua figura
que é de olhos fechados que eu ando
a limitar a tua altura
e bebo a água e sorvo o ar
que te atravessou a cintura
tanto tão perto tão real
que o meu corpo se transfigura
e toca o seu próprio elemento
num corpo que já não é seu
num rio que desapareceu
onde um braço teu me procura

Em todas as ruas te encontro
em todas as ruas te perco

In every street I find you

In every street I find you
in every street I lose you
I know your body so well
I dreamed of your figure so often
that I walk about with eyes closed
limiting your height
and I drink the water and sip the air
that crossed your waist
so very close and so very real
that my body transfigures itself
and touches its very element
in a body that is no longer its own
in a river that disappeared
where an arm, yours, seeks me out

In every street I find you
in every street I lose you

[translation ours]


Voz numa pedra

Não adoro o passado
não sou três vezes mestre
não combinei nada com as furnas
não é para isso que eu cá ando
decerto vi Osíris porém chamava-se ele nessa altura Luiz
decerto fui com Ísis mas disse-lhe eu que me chamava João
nenhuma nenhuma palavra está completa
nem mesmo em alemão que as tem tão grandes
assim também eu nunca te direi o que sei
a não ser pelo arco e flecha negro e azul do vento

Não digo como o outro: sei que não sei nada
sei muito bem que soube sempre umas coisas
que isso pesa
que lanço os turbilhões e vejo o arco íris
acreditando ser ele o agente supremo
do coração do mundo
vaso de liberdade expurgada do mênstruo
rosa viva diante dos nossos olhos
Ainda longe longe a cidade futura
onde “a poesia não mais ritmará a acção
porque caminhará adiante dela”
Os pregadores de morte vão acabar?
Os segadores do amor vão acabar?
A tortura dos olhos vai acabar?
Passa-me então aquele canivete
porque há imenso que começar a podar
passa não me olhes como se olha um bruxo
detentor do milagre da verdade
“a machadada e o propósito de não sacrificar-se não constituirão ao sol coisa nenhuma”
nada está escrito afinal

Voice in a stone

I don’t adore the past
I’m not three times a master
I made no pact with the underworld
that’s not why I’m here
sure I saw Osiris but at the time he was called Luiz
sure I was with Isis but I told her my name was João
no word is ever complete
not even in German which has such big ones
and so I’ll never succeed in telling you what I know
unless by an arrow from the wind’s blue and black bow

I won’t say as someone else did that I know I know nothing
I know that I’ve always known a few things
and that this counts for something
and that I hurl whirlwinds and see the rainbow
believing it to be the supreme agent
of the world’s heart
vessel of freedom purged of menstruation
living rose before our eyes
The future city where “poetry will no longer give rhythm
to action since it will march ahead of it”
is still far far away
Will there be an end to the preachers of death?
An end to the reapers of love?
An end to the torture of eyes?
Then pass me that jack-knife
because there’s a lot we need to start pruning
pass it don’t look at me as if I were a wizard
entrusted with the miracle of truth
“the swinging of an axe and the goal of not being sacrificed won’t build anything under the sun”
nothing is written after all


A um rato morto encontrado num parque

Este findou aqui sua vasta carreira
de rato vivo e escuro ante as constelações
a sua pequena medida não humilha
senão aqueles que tudo querem imenso
e só sabem pensar em termos de homem ou árvore
pois decerto este rato destinou como soube (e até como não soube)
o milagre das patas – tão junto ao focinho! –
que afinal estavam justas, servindo muito bem
para agatanhar, fugir, segurar o alimento, voltar atrás de repente, quando necessário

Está pois tudo certo, ó “Deus dos cemitérios pequenos”?
Mas quem sabe quem sabe quando há engano
nos escritórios do inferno? Quem poderá dizer
que não era para príncipe ou julgador de povos
o ímpeto primeiro desta criação
irrisória para o mundo – com mundo nela?
Tantas preocupações às donas de casa – e aos médicos – ele dava!
Como brincar ao bem e ao mal se estes nos faltam?
Algum rapazola entendeu sua esta vida tão ímpar
e passou nela a roda com que se amam
olhos nos olhos – vítima e carrasco

Não tinha amigos? Enganava os pais?

Ia por ali fora, minúsculo corpo divertido
e agora parado, aquoso, cheira mal.

Sem abuso
que final há-de dar-se a este poema?
Romântico? Clássico? Regionalista?

Como acabar com um corpo corajoso humílimo
morto em pleno exercício da sua lira?

To a dead rat found in a park

Here this creature ended its vast career
as a dark and living rat beneath the starry expanse
its diminutive size only humiliates
those who want everything to be enormous
and who can only think in human or arboreal terms
for surely this rat used as well as it knew how (or didn’t know)
the miracle of its tiny feet – so close to its snout! –
which were after all just right, serving perfectly
for clawing, scurrying, securing food or beating a retreat, when necessary

So is everything as it should be, O “God of small cemeteries”?
But who knows who can know when a mistake has been made
in hell’s central offices? Who can be sure
that this creation so disdained by the world
but with a world inside it
wasn’t initially conceived to be a prince or judge of nations?
The worries it aroused in housewives and physicians!
Who are we to play at good and evil when they’re beyond us?
Some lad understood the uniqueness of its life
and ran over it with the wheel by which, eye to eye,
the victim and the executioner love each other

It had no friends? It deceived its parents?

It ran all about, a tiny body that had fun
and now just lies there, gooshy, smelly.

What sort of conclusion does this poem,
without exaggeration, merit?
Romantic? Classical? Regionalist?

What end belongs to a brave and humble body
killed at the height of its lyrical powers?


Poema podendo servir de posfácio

ruas onde o perigo é evidente
braços verdes de práticas ocultas
cadáveres à tona de água
e um corpo
um corpo para cortar as lâmpadas do dia
um corpo para descer uma paisagem de aves
para ir de manhã cedo e voltar muito tarde
rodeado de anões e de campos de lilases
um corpo para cobrir a tua ausência
como uma colcha
um talher
um perfume

isto ou o seu contrário, mas de certa maneira hiante
e com muita gente à volta a ver o que é
isto ou uma população de sessenta mil almas devorando almofadas escarlates a caminho do mar
e que chegam, ao crepúsculo,
encostadas aos submarinos

isto ou um torso desalojado de um verso
e cuja morte é o orgulho de todos
ó pálida cidade construída
como uma febre entre dois patamares!
vamos distribuir ao domicílio
terra para encher candelabros
leitos de fumo para amantes erectos
tabuinhas com palavras interditas
– uma mulher para este que está quase a perder o gosto à vida – tome lá –
dois netos para essa velha aí no fim da fila – não temos mais –
saquear o museu dar um diadema ao mundo e depois obrigar a repor no mesmo sítio
e para ti e para mim, assentes num espaço útil,
veneno para entornar nos olhos do gigante

isto ou um rosto um rosto solitário como barco em demanda de vento calmo para a noite
se nós somos areia que se filtre
a um vento débil entre arbustos pintados
se um propósito deve atingir a sua margem como as correntes da terra náufragos e tempestade
se o homem das pensões e das hospedarias levanta a sua fronte de cratera molhada
se na rua o sol brilha como nunca
se por um minuto
vale a pena
isto ou a alegria igual à simples forma de um pulso
aceso entre a folhagem das mais altas lâmpadas
isto ou a alegria dita o avião de cartas
entrada pela janela saída pelo telhado
ah mas então a pirâmide existe?
ah mas e então a pirâmide diz coisas?
então a pirâmide é o segredo de cada um com o mundo?

sim meu amor a pirâmide existe
a pirâmide diz muitíssimas coisas
a pirâmide é a arte de bailar em silêncio

e em todo o caso

há praças onde esculpir um lírio
zonas subtis de propagação do azul
gestos sem dono barcos sob as flores
uma canção para ouvir-te chegar

A poem that can serve as an afterword

streets where the danger is obvious
green arms of occult practices
corpses floating on the water
and a body
a body for blocking the day’s lamps
a body for falling through a landscape of birds
for going out early in the morning and coming back very late
surrounded by dwarfs and lilac fields
a body for covering your absence
like a bedspread
a place setting
a perfume

this or its contrary, but somehow gaping
and with many people there to see what it is
this or a population of sixty thousand souls devouring scarlet pillows on their way to the sea
and arriving, at dusk,
next to the submarines

this or a torso dislodged from a verse
and whose death makes everyone proud
o pallid city built
like a fever between two floors!
we’ll home deliver
dirt for filling up candelabras
smouldering beds for erect lovers
slates with forbidden words
– a woman for the fellow who’s losing interest in life (Here, take her!),
two grandchildren for the old woman at the end of the line (That’s all we have!) –
we’ll pillage the museum give a diadem to the world and then require it to be put back in the same place,
and for you and for me, favorably situated,
some poison to pour into the giant’s eyes

this or a face a solitary face like a boat in search of a gentle breeze for the night
if we’re sand that’s sifted
in a slack wind among painted bushes
if an intention is bound to reach its shore like the ocean’s currents shipwrecks and storms
if the man of hostels and boardinghouses lifts his damp cratered forehead
if the sun outside is shining more than ever
if for a minute
it’s worth
this or happiness in the simple form of a pulse
shimmering amid the foliage of the loftiest lamps
this or the said happiness the airplane of cards
that comes in through the window that goes out by the roof
so does the pyramid exist?
so does the pyramid say things?
is the pyramid each person’s secret with the world?

yes my love the pyramid exists
the pyramid says many many things
the pyramid is the art of dancing in silence

and in any case

there are public squares where a lily can be sculpted
subtle regions where blueness flows
gestures belonging to no one boats underneath flowers
a song by which to hear you arrive


Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos

Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos has remained, his whole life long, an ‘amateur’ of art and of life. A lover, not a professional. And so it seems like an accident that he stands out as one of Portugal’s major poets of the second half of the 20th century, as well as a notable painter. When I say ‘amateur’, I don’t mean that his literary and artistic activities were a sideline. They were, in fact, his full-time ‘profession’. But he didn’t pursue them with the care or ambition typical of a professional.

While studying Fine Arts as an adolescent in Lisbon, where he was born, Cesariny and several classmates began to frequent the Café Herminius. They and other young men who met at the café were initially adherents of Neo-Realism but soon came to feel that this doctrinaire aesthetic, in its orthodoxly Marxist opposition to Salazar’s oppressive regime, had itself become a source of oppression for nonconforming artists and writers. Cesariny invented a pseudonym called Nicolau Cansado [Weary Nicholas] whose verses parodied the relentlessly class-conscious productions of the Neo-Realists.

A short time later, in 1947, the Herminius group, joined by several others, founded Portuguese Surrealism, whose heroic phase lasted for about five years. One of the key players, António Maria Lisboa (1928-1953), died young, while others gradually dispersed (see the editorial for July 2005), leaving Cesariny to prolong the movement almost single-handedly, through his own creative output, his studies and theoretical texts, and the various anthologies he has compiled of Portuguese Surrealist writings. But I repeat: Cesariny has done all this as an amateur, in a spontaneous fashion rather than as the systematic defense of a cause, let alone the building of a career.

Surrealism, for this poet, was a lifestyle, one that constantly spat on conventions and pushed against the limits imposed by an autocratic political regime, by society at large, and by human reason itself. One of his most famous poems, ‘you are welcome to elsinore’, is a scathing indictment of Portugal under Salazar, whose small-minded and isolationist philosophy of government (“Proudly alone” was one of the dictator’s mottos for the nation) infected daily life itself, standing like an impassable wall “between us and words”, making communication, poetry and love’s free expression all but impossible.

For Cesariny, a homosexual, the open expression of love was especially problematic (he was occasionally arrested for ‘immoral’ behavior), such that love became almost a synonym for freedom. A number of his poems document both the liberating hope (‘poem that can serve as an afterword’) and liberating effect (‘de profundis amamus’) of love. Love and poetry, intimately related in this poet’s experience, were not only a means for asserting his freedom in the Elsinore that was Salazarist Portugal; they were also vehicles for going beyond the confines of reason. Poems such as ‘The ship of mirrors’ were written, says Cesariny, according to the ‘automatic’ principles propounded by the French Surrealists to reach the unconscious by circumventing the rational mind.

In the 1980s Cesariny stopped writing poetry altogether, dedicating himself exclusively to painting. This, like poetry before it, has been a vital activity – his way of living day to day –, not the building of a personal monument to resist mortality. The refusal to separate art from life seems to be the distinguishing mark of Surrealism as understood and practiced by this poet.

Richard Zenith

(from Internet Archive/Way Back Machine)



For more on Mário Cesariny, both in English and Portuguese, and Cesariny’s relationship to anarchism, see the following: Mário Cesariny: Between us and words; Mário Cesariny, the poet and the painter; Poet’anarquista; Anarquismo em Portugal.


Autografia I

Sou um homem
um poeta
uma máquina de passar vidro colorido
um copo uma pedra
uma pedra configurada
um avião que sobe levando-te nos seus braços
que atravessam agora o último glaciar da terra

O meu nome está farto de ser escrito na lista dos tiranos: condenado à morte!
os dias e as noites deste século têm gritado tanto no meu peito que existe nele uma árvore miraculada
tenho um pé que já deu a volta ao mundo
e a família na rua
um é loiro
outro é moreno
e nunca se encontrarão
conheço a tua voz como os meus dedos
(antes de conhecer-te já eu te ia beijar a tua casa)
tenho um sol sobre a pleura
e toda a água do mar à minha espera
quando amo imito o movimento das marés
e os assassínios mais vulgares do ano
sou, por fora de mim, a minha gabardina
e eu o pico do Everest
posso ser visto à noite na companhia de gente altamente suspeita
e nunca de dia a teus pés florindo a tua boca
porque tu és o dia porque tu és
a terra onde eu há milhares de anos vivo a parábola
do rei morto, do vento e da primavera
Quanto ao de toda a gente — tenho visto qualquer coisa
Viagens a Paris — já se arranjaram algumas.
Enlaces e divórcios de ocasião — não foram poucos.
Conversas com meteoros internacionais — também, já por cá passaram.
Eu sou, no sentido mais enérgico da palavra
uma carruagem de propulsão por hálito
os amigos que tive as mulheres que assombrei as ruas por onde passei uma só vez
tudo isso vive em mim para uma história
de sentido ainda oculto
magnífica irreal
como uma povoação abandonada aos lobos
lapidar e seca
como uma linha férrea ultrajada pelo tempo
é por isso que eu trago um certo peso extinto nas costas
a servir de combustível
e é por isso que eu acho que as paisagens ainda hão-de vir a ser escrupulosamente electrocutadas vivas
para não termos de atirá-las semi-mortas à linha

E para dizer-te tudo
dir-te-ei que aos meus vinte e cinco anos de existência solar estou em franca ascensão para ti O Magnífico
na cama no espaço duma pedra em Lisboa-Os-Sustos
e que o homem-expedição de que não há notícias nos jornais nem lágrimas à porta das famílias
sou eu meu bem sou eu partido de manhã encontrado perdido entre lagos de incêndio e o teu retrato grande!

Autografia I

I’m a man
a poet
a stained glass ironing machine
a glass a stone
a configured stone
a plane that goes up carrying you in its arms
who are now crossing the last glacier on earth

My name is tired of being written on the list of tyrants: condemned to death!
the days and nights of this century have screamed so much in my chest that there is a miraculous tree in it
I have a foot that has traveled around the world
and the family on the street
one is blond
another is dark
and they will never meet
I know your voice like my fingers
(before I met you I would go kiss you at your house)
I have a sun on the pleura
and all the water of the sea waiting for me
when I love I imitate the movement of the tides
and the most vulgar murders of the year
I am, outside myself, my trench coat
and I the peak of Everest
I can be seen at night in the company of highly suspicious people
and never by day at your feet flowering your mouth
because you are the day because you are
the land where I have lived the parable for thousands of years
of the dead king, of wind and spring
As for everyone else’s — I’ve seen something
Trips to Paris—some have already been arranged.
Occasional marriages and divorces — there were many.
Conversations with international meteors — they have also already passed through here.
I am, in the most energetic sense of the word
a breath-propelled chariot
the friends I had the women I haunted the streets I walked through just once
all this lives in me for a story
of still hidden meaning
magnificent unreal
like a village abandoned to wolves
terse and dry
like a railroad track outraged by time
that is why I carry a certain extinct weight on my back
to serve as fuel
and that is why I think landscapes have yet to be scrupulously electrocuted alive
so we don’t have to throw them half-dead down the line

And to tell you everything
I will tell you that in my twenty-five years of solar existence I am in frank ascension for you The Magnificent
in bed in the space of a stone in Lisbon-Of-The Fears
and that the expedition-man of which there is no news in the newspapers or tears at the door of the families
it’s me darling it’s me gone in the morning found lost between lakes of fire and your big portrait!

[translation ours]

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