Cook Music Library Digital Exhibitions

João Cabral de Melo Neto (Brazil, 1920-1999)

Photo: João Cabral de Melo Neto, 1970

João Cabral de Melo Neto (1970)


Poet and diplomat

João Cabral de Melo Neto is one of the most influential Brazilian poets of the second half of the 20th century. Born to a distinguished family of sugar planters in Pernambuco, he pursued a career in the Brazilian foreign service. Originally inspired by the literary avant-garde, Melo Neto later cultivated a style that diverged from the traditional lyricism and sentimentalism in Brazilian poetry. His poetic expression, austere, structured, and highly sensorial, has been called objective. Traces of his Northeastern rural upbringing infuse his work, inspiring the imagery of drought-prone landscapes and certain tropes as well as the preoccupations with the social condition of the rural poor in the region. 

In 1968, João Cabral de Melo Neto was elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters. In 1990, he received the prestigious Camões Prize, followed by the coveted Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1992) and the Reina Sofía Ibero-American Poetry Prize (1994). He was related to distinguished figures in Pernambuco’s intellectual circles: his younger brother, prominent historian Evaldo Cabral de Melo (1936—), and his cousins, celebrated poet Manuel Bandeira (1886-1968), and internationally renowned sociologist Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987). Melo Neto was a close friend of acclaimed novelist Clarice Lispector (1920-1977), another Ibero-American cultural luminary honored in this digital exhibition.

Statue: João Cabral de Melo Neto in Recife

Demetrio Albuquerque. João Cabral de Melo Neto.

Circuito da Poesia, Recife, PN


View a chronology of João Cabral de Melo Neto's life.


João Cabral de Melo Neto - Academia Brasileira das Letras (ABL) 

Arquivo João Cabral de Melo Neto - Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa



Morte e vida severina: auto de Natal pernambucano (trans., The Death and Life of a Severino). João Cabral de Melo Neto’s acclaimed play in verse published in 1955 [pdf format]. 

Conversas com o poeta João Cabral de Melo Neto - Special issue of Sibila: revista de poesia e cultura, ano 9, número 13, agosto de 2009 [Download special issue].

Clearance granted by Brazilian government censorship office for staging of Morte e vida severiana in 1985 (text in Portuguese) - Fundo Documental Serviço de Censura de Diversões Públicas (Rio de Janeiro) (9 October 1985) / Arquivo Nacional do Brasil.

Collection of records relating to miliary regime censorship of theater production of João Cabral de Melo Neto's play Morte e vida severina (1973-1985)


Musical Adaptations

O vento no canavial: para coro a capela, musical score for mixed chorus. Composed by Ernst Widmer, lyrics by João Cabral de Melo Neto.

Adaptations of Morte e vida severina, João Cabral de Melo Neto’s masterpiece.

João Cabral de Melo Neto – Poesia e Prosa com Maria Bethânia [Artist Maria Bethânia reads excerpts from Morte e vida severina by João Cabral de Melo Neto, Canal Arte 1, 2020].

Morte e vida severina: auto de Natal pernambucano - theater adaptation staged at the Teatro da Universidade Católica de São Paulo (TUCA), 1966. Music arragements by Chico Buarque.

Morte e vida severina - Theater adaptation staged at Praça Cívica do Campus Universitário - UFRN, Natal/Rio Grande do Norte, 2003. Produced by Prefeitura do Natal. Broadcasted by TVU/RN.

Morte e vida Severina - a movie by Zelito Viana (1977)

Soundtrack of the 1977 Zelito Viana movie “Morte e vida severina" y Airton Barbosa 

Morte e vida severina - Musical teledrama (teleteatro) produced by TV Globo in 1981, directed by Walter Avancini, with music by Chico Buarque.           

Morte e vida severina - Animated version for TV, based on graphic novel adaptation by Miguel Falcão of João Cabral de Melo Neto’s classic (2010)

More about this animated version.

More about adaptations of João Cabral de Melo Neto's Morte e vida severina.

No centenário de João Cabral. Morte e vida severina completa 65 anos, by André Santa Rosa, January 9, 2020 [Article by published in Diário de Pernambuco celebrating the 65th anniversary of the publication of Morte e vida severina.]

Online Audio and Visual Recordings

O Rio by João Cabral de Melo Neto - Audiobook, Canal Livrão

Recife/Sevilha: João Cabral de Melo Neto (documentary) -  Giros Produções, 2003.

João Cabral de Melo Neto por êle mesmo (recording of poetry reading) - Festa, Companhia Brasileira de Discos, 1969. 


João Cabral de Melo Neto (part 1) - De Lá Pra Cá, TV Brasil (2009).

João Cabral de Melo Neto (part 2) - De Lá Pra Cá, TV Brasil (2009).

Recordar é TV celebra a poesia de João Cabral de Melo Neto - TV Brasil, former TEV-RJ


João Cabral de Melo Neto – Neustadt Prize Laureate (1992)

João Cabral de Melo Neto – Camões Prize for Literature (1990)

João Cabral de Melo Neto - Templo Cultural Delfos

100 anos de João Cabral, uma vida em prosa e verso - Diário de Pernambuco, January  9, 2020 [Accessed Nov. 20, 2020].

Contam de Clarice Lispector, a poem by João Cabral de Melo Neto. [originally publised in Agrestes (Poesia – 1981/1985). Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1985].