Manoel de Barros began writing poetry at the age of thirteen. For the next eighty years, until his death on November 13, 2014, at ninety-eight, he wrote of the wetlands like no other Brazilian poet before him or since. He invented a language to speak not for his own experience of the wetlands but for how the birds experienced it. He wrote of the world as seen by the ants and of the music heard at the bottom of the river and of a humbleness before nature that was not of a poet who visited for a weekend or a month to escape urban life but of a poet who was born into a lush green place and felt himself to be such a part of it that he never lived anywhere else.
Translating his poems dramatically changed my thinking about the relationship between nature and language. For Manoel de Barros, nature and language were one and the same. He sought words that were the birds and therefore “belonged to no language.” As we lose species after species to human destruction, Manoel de Barros speaks for what we are losing with a swiftness that it is nearly unfathomable. – Idra Novey