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Nuno Júdice, master of melancholia and irony, has died

Atualizado: 28 de mar.


Nuno Júdice by Bruno Simões Castanheira

Nuno Júdice, one of the most significant figures in contemporary Portuguese literature, known for his contributions as a poet, essayist and literary critic, has died at age 74.


Born on April 29, 1949, in Algarve, Portugal, he wrote his first poems when he was eight years old. Influenced by structuralism, he made his literary début in 1972 with the poetry collection A Noção do Poema ("The Notion of the Poem"), followed by over thirty more poetry collections and dissertations. 


The Poem


It’s the simplest things that I hear in the wind’s

intervals, when the simple beating of the rain

on the windows breaks the silence of night, and its rhythm

overwhelms that of words. Sometimes, it is a

tired voice, that tirelessly repeats

what the night teaches those who live it; other

times, it runs, hurriedly, mowing down meanings

and phrases as though it wanted to reach the end, more

quickly than the dawn. We’re talking about simple things,

like the sand which is scooped up, and runs

through your fingers while your eyes search

for a clear line on the horizon; or things

that we suddenly remember, when

the sun emerges from a brief tear in the clouds.

These are the things that happen, when the wind

remains; and it is these we try to recall, as though

we had heard them, and the noise of the rain

on the windowpanes had not snuffed out their voice.


© Translation: 2007, Martin Earl


He explored various forms of expression, including poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism in literature, art history, philosophy, and geography. In 1993, he published an anthology, first published in French, entitled Voyage dans un siècle de Littérature Portugaise (tr: Voyage through a Century of Portuguese Literature) about twentieth-century Portuguese literature.


His literary career spanned several decades, and his academic work reflects a broad range of interests, from Medieval and Renaissance literature to modernist and contemporary literary trends. He also wrote extensively on Portuguese poets and authors, contributing to the understanding and appreciation of Portuguese literature both within and outside Portugal.


His work has been translated into several languages, including English, allowing his poetry to reach a global audience. The bilingual anthology The Cartography of Being: Selected Poems 1967 – 2005, translated by Paulo da Costa, includes fifty-one poems selected from Júdice’s extensive poetic work, presented in Portuguese alongside their English translations.


Meditation on Ruins


He disembarked in a living room without chairs or gilt mouldings:

just rotting beams, vases with plastic flowers, windows

whose broken panes looked out onto the highway. No wind,

no sea: only the sound of cars entering through the cracks

to echo on the ceiling (rafters showing through the stucco

remains). Outside he hung on to the rusted rails

of decrepit balconies. He discerned, through the underbrush

that was overrunning everything, a landscape worthy

of a Romantic painting. The houses covering the valley and

the hills taken over by scrap iron hide a past

with flocks and shepherds. But perhaps the flute’s song

was never heard here. Indeed, this house conserves nothing

but ancient silences, which the using has transformed into sepia

spots in memory. Now they’re blended into the colour of the walls

and harbour only dens of scarcely discernible reptiles,

in winter, hidden from the universe. But someone was here

very recently. And a pile of wood still smokes as

the sun ascends from the horizon, where dawn’s cold colours

do not dissipate, and no bird greets

the new day.


© Translation: 1997, Richard Zenith



Often characterized by its depth, intellectual rigor, and the exploration of themes such as memory, history, and the nuances of language and perception, his poetry included experiments with linguistic and stylistic elements, reflections on literature and its interactions with other art forms, and philosophical observations.


As a poet, he grapples with existential themes, such as the passage of time, the nature of reality and illusion, and the search for identity, and is known for his lyrical quality, precise language, and thematic complexity, often delving into the philosophical.


He directed the literary journal Tabacaria, published by the Casa Fernando Pessoa, and translated, among others, Corneille’s and Shakespeare’s plays as well as Emily Dickinson’s poems into Portuguese. In 1994, when Lisbon was the European Capital of Culture, Júdice organized a series of events on European poetry.


He represented Portugal as a cultural attaché in Paris from 1997 to 2004, where he also directed the Instituto Camões. The Portuguese government named him the official delegate to the 1997 Frankfurt Book Fair, which focused on Portugal. For many years, he was the managing editor of Colóquio-Letras the literary journal of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.


He completed his doctorate in Medieval Studies at the Faculty for Social Sciences and Humanities, where he taught French and Portuguese literature as an associate professor until 2015.


His writing and distinguished academic career, scholarship, and critical works, contributed significantly to the study of Portuguese literature, particularly in the areas of Medieval and Renaissance literature influencing a generation of poets and writers in Portugal and beyond. His commitment to exploring the boundaries of language and form, combined with his deep literary knowledge, has inspired many emerging writers, playing a direct role in shaping the careers of younger poets and scholars.


His enduring impact on Portuguese literature, and his contribution to the broader literary landscape, make him one of the most important Portuguese poets of his generation. His work continues to inspire and challenge, offering profound insights into the human condition, art, and the power of words, a unique voice in Portuguese and global letters.


Melancholia


The difference between two faces, is sometimes

nothing; and just the remnants of a look, can make

eyes remember other eyes, or

a sudden colour, in a rainy afternoon, lift

the clouds of the spirit, the winter of the soul,

and bring the false movement of light

in spring, as brief as the words that

say love, and as love, such as brief.


 

Prestigious Awards


Nuno Júdice gained international recognition as a testament to the universal themes and innovative techniques present in his writing. His extensive literary works, particularly in poetry, gained him many accolades both in Portugal and internationally, reflecting his stature as a poet of global significance, Some of his most notable awards include:


Pen Club Prize (1985) – This award is given by the Portuguese PEN Club, part of the international association of writers, to recognize outstanding literary works.


Dinis Prize (2016) – Awarded for his poetry, this prize is named after King Dinis of Portugal, who was himself a poet and a patron of the arts.


Queen Sofia Ibero-American Poetry Prize (2013) – One of the most important and prestigious poetry awards in the Ibero-American world, this prize recognized Júdice’s contribution to Ibero-American literature. It is awarded by the National Heritage and the University of Salamanca to a living author who has a significant body of work in the field of poetry written in Spanish or Portuguese.


Association of Writers (APE) Literary Grand Prize (2021) – This prize is awarded by the Portuguese Association of Writers and is one of the most prestigious literary awards in Portugal.




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