by Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987)
John loved Teresa who loved Raymond
who loved Mary who loved Jack who loved Lily
who didn’t love anybody.
John went to the United States, Teresa to a convent
Raymond died in an accident, Mary became an old maid,
Jack committed suicide and Lily married J. Pinto Fernandez
who didn’t figure into the story.
When I first read this poem I knew that I loved it, but I couldn’t figure out why. I’ve read it many times since then, but its meaning only hit me recently. It’s just so simple, so plainly obvious, that I totally missed it - This poem is about nothing! De Andrade deconstructs the lives of his subjects into their most important human aspects, only to tear them apart and show just how insignificant they are. Despite the calm, impersonal tone, the poem is utterly ruthless. Death and suicide are tossed about with abandon. Love is rendered fruitless. Lives are swept apart with the stroke of a pen, leaving the reader in a cold, uncaring world. De Andrade believes that there is no grand plan for any of us, no assurance of happiness. And the beauty of the poem is that none of this is spoken; it is all left for the reader to discover on his own.
Stephen Crane puts the message much more bluntly:
A Man Said to the Universe
by Stephen Crane, 1899
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!"
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”