The Brazilian ‘Tanka’ by Raimundo Gadelha

by Valterlei Borges de Araújo


The present essay considers reverse hybridization possibilities: this is a terrain where the merging of two or more cultures contributes to the formation of a new product.  Raimundo Gadelha, contemporary Brazilian poet, searches for inspiration in Japanese culture, in the ‘Tanka’, a traditional Japanese art form little-known in Brazil. Here, the normal flux of events is inverted: first we have the Tanka in Portuguese, which is only afterwards translated into Japanese and exported to its homeland, arriving there as an imported product. —Raimundo Gadelha


Raimundo Gadelha’s poetry, with urban images and themes, functions as a collage, superimposing languages, times and spaces: Portuguese and Japanese; São Paulo and a small village in Japan; the West and the East.  Studying through a Communications scholarship during three years in the 1980s in Japan, Gadelha, born in the Brazilian Northeast, in the State of Paraíba, is confronted by the megalopolis and all its cosmopolitan and cultural apparatuses. The fascination exerted by Tokyo and the encounter with Japanese literature compelled the writer to fall for this “New World” and to desire, as it was said by Masuo Yamaki – his translator from the Portuguese into the Japanese – “to discover and to discover himself in the mysterious terrain of Eastern poetry” (Yamaki, s/p, 1992).

Gadelha is strongly influenced by classical Japanese poetry, having published two bilingual Portuguese-Japanese books, both co-edited by the ‘Aliança Cultural Brasil-Japão’ (Brazil-Japan Cultural Alliance), which is an organ destined to approximate the culture of both countries.  These books are: ‘Um estreito chamado horizonte’ (A strait called horizon) (1992), which is the object of this study, and ‘Em algum lugar dentro de você mesmo’ (Somewhere already inside yourself) (1994).

The first one, written on the Tanka structure, is an unprecedented book in Brazilian literature exactly for having a Brazilian writing Tanka in Portuguese and maintaining all its original characteristics. Until then, there were only a few translated books. It is important to highlight that, although Gadelha keeps the standard pattern from Japan, he can incorporate, sometimes subjectively, so-called national elements and especially elements which allow the identification of his poetry as fruit of the cultural entanglement. The second book is written in free verses. However, it shows the same theme which seems to orient most of his work: the mixing of different cultures.

As in most of his published books, between poetry, romance and photography, in ‘Um estreito chamado horizonte’ the poet writes colloquially, but this does not result in superficiality.

Posso entender (I may understand)

o silêncio do pós-guerra (the post-war silence)

dos japoneses… (of the Japanese…)

Os mortos são guerreiros (The dead are warriors)

que merecem descanso (who deserve rest)

A book of Tanka and photography born after many voyages by Gadelha through the world, ‘Um estreito chamado horizonte’ reveals a poet who translates the daily life of the modern world with a profound feeling. His work translates much of the period of changes after World War II in which genocide (and its consequences) became part of the daily news.

Other times, this same daily life comes charged with some non-conformity:

No céu do Japão (In the sky of Japan)

tremula a bandeira (the wobbling flag)

da América (of America)

E feroz, o capital (And fierce, the capital)

muda tudo em volta (changes everything around).

Here, he is faced by the problems of post-modernity, like the homogenization of the big cities, for example. The symbol of Japanese tradition versus the avalanche of American modernization. The same capital which in the middle 1940s destroyed the country, now lives side-by-side with an age-old culture and sustains a new imperialist structure based on market relations.

Elsewhere, but still in the contemporaneous reality, the eyes are turned to the interior and to what is around:

Noites, bares (Nights, bars)

Tantas, tantas pessoas… (So many, many people…)

E em cada uma (And in each one)

um pouco do que já fui, (a little of what I was,)

muito do que quero ser (a lot of what I want to be).

In the midst of the big population and, at the same time, in the solitude of big cities, there is the need for a refuge, which many times happens in the escape from reality. All the work shows a search for the interior and this search is a reflex of the fragmentation of the modern world:

Sinal vermelho (red light)

Paro, espero, penso: (I stop, I wait, I think:)

tudo que faço (all I do)

depende tão, tão pouco (depends so, so little)

do meu próprio querer (on my own will).

The speed of daily life destroys Man, transforming him partly into a gear. The busy life of big cities does not allow reflection. When there is a little time left, there arises, still amidst all the noise, the feeling of the little decision power this time left allows us.

Here, the poet appears as observer:

Durante horas (During hours)

o bêbado conversou (the drunk talked)

com o manequim (with the manikin)

e em nenhum momento (and in no time)

faltou entendimento (there wasn’t understanding).

The remarks by Paes Loureiro (2004, p. 108) on the book Vida útil do tempo’, could as well be extended to all of Gadelha’s work: ‘The author highlights the signs of brevity and everyday life. It is the being put on the mirror of each day, of the simple hours, of the sweetness of a pleasurable fidelity to remote or recent circumstances of its life’, as a voyeur of everyday life. As if one needed to be drunk, escape from reality, for the time, meager as it was, to allow for a long conversation.

The solitude of the big cities is also another subject very marked in his work:

Num só prédio (In just one building)

trinta mil pessoas… (thirty thousand people…)

Fico a pensar (I ponder)

em quantas não estarão (how many are)

tão sozinhas quanto eu (as lonely as me).

Often, the poet takes up the city life style which, with the overpopulation, antagonistically, causes emptiness, an enlargement of the distance between people. In this scenario of chaos and hurry, where there is no time to think, the poet, in his turn, meditates on the solitude of the big urban centers.

Óculos ray-ban (Ray-ban glasses)

Blue-jeans esfarrapados (Ragged blue-jeans)

Ternos, gravatas… (Suits, ties…)

Sob cada fantasia (Under each costume,)

Habita solidão (solitude inhabits).

Or still in this other poem which deals with the same theme and which may also be understood as a reflex of the transitory fashions which pertain to late modernity, besides highlighting once again the homogenization, here in the fashions of the mass market. Fashion, as in jeans and the Ray-Ban glasses spread across the globe as an epidemic, next to the conservatism of suits and ties: tradition versus mass culture walking side-by-side, and both as part of the society of the spectacle, where, behind the stereotypes and appearances, there is the hidden solitude of a being that is (still) human.

Usually the techniques used by Gadelha make the reader reflect on his position and the human and behavioral transformations happening around him in the contemporary world:

Cidade grande… (Big city…)

Olhando as pessoas (Looking at the people)

e as vitrinas (and the showcases,)

senti que os manequins (I felt the manikins)

parecem bem mais reais (seemed much more real).

As highlighted by Renata Pallottini (1998, p. 13), the poet is ‘attracted by the urban requests, by the provocations the city does to him, […] accepting the rules of the game our times proposes to us’. In no moment, therefore, is the surrounding reality denied. Gadelha positions himself as an observer of the automated city, where the showcases of the stores, many times, exert more attraction over people than the person walking by their side. It is necessary to use the time in a better way to be able to observe and to feel what happens in the world.

In a small essay in the book ‘Vida útil do tempo’ (Life cycle of time), Nelly Novaes Coelho (2004, p. 7-11) characterizes Gadelha as neohumanist with existentialist roots. She also adds his poetry is a ‘boundless interrogation’ and that it reveals a new man still unborn, looking for himself and his place in the world. ‘It is while he is searching for the possible answers for these doubts that the voyages and the pursuits happen…’

It is important, also, to think that time is needed for contemplation.  Time becomes almost palpable, until the poet thinks about its better use, as an extremely needed tool, but hardy manageable.  The old dilemma of these days: Is time money? Gadelha seems to agree with the Brazilian composer Belchior: “quanto mais eu multiplico / diminui o meu amor” (the more I multiply, my love diminishes). They differ in the sense Gadelha accepts this condition.

Gadelha’s Tanka reveals itself, therefore, as a product resulting from the contemporaneity exactly because it contains an array of possibilities of interpretation which leads us to reflect on the current process lived by society. Thus, his poetry serves as a critical mirror to recognize the contemporary transformations and, more specifically, the Brazilian artistic transformations, because in face of easiness of travel and of cultural exchange all production is significantly changed; this way the artist’s mundane perception is also modified.


ARAÚJO, Valterlei Borges. 2007. Uma geografia cultural na poesia: a hibridação cultural a partir da obra de Raimundo Gadelha. Trabalho de conclusão de curso. Graduação em Produção Cultural. Universidade Federal Fluminense. Niterói, RJ, Brasil. 73 p.

COELHO, Nelly Novaes. 2004. O poeta e o novo humanismo. In: GADELHA, Raimundo. 2004. Vida útil do tempo. São Paulo: Escrituras Editora

GADELHA, Raimundo. 1992. Um estreito chamado horizonte. São Paulo: Massao Ohno Editor / Aliança Cultural Brasil-Japão.

GADELHA, Raimundo. 1994. Em algum lugar dentro de você mesmo. São Paulo: Aliança Cultural Brasil-Japão / Arte Pau-Brasil.

GADELHA, Raimundo. 2000. Em algum lugar do horizonte. São Paulo: Escrituras.

PAES LOUREIRO, João de Jesus. 2004. O tempo revisitado. In: GADELHA, Raimundo. 2004. Vida útil do tempo. São Paulo: Escrituras Editora.

PALLOTINI, Renata. Apresentação. 1998. In: GADELHA, Raimundo. 1998. Para não esqueceres dos seres que somos. São Paulo: Escrituras Editora.

YAMAKI, Masuo. O Tanka chega ao Brasil. In: GADELHA, Raimundo. 1992. Um estreito chamado horizonte. São Paulo: Massao Ohno Editor / Aliança Cultural Brasil-Japão.