Castro Alves

Portrait of Castro Alves

Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves was a Brazilian poet and playwright famous for his abolitionist and republican poems. He was born on 14th March 1847 in Castro Alves, Brazil and died on 6th July 1871 in Salvador, Brazil aged 24 years.

Major Works

“Espumas Flutuantes” (Floating Foam) (1870)
A Cachoeira de Paulo Afonso (The Paulo Alfonso Falls) (pub 1876)
Osescravos” (The Slaves) (pub 1883)
Hinos do Equador” (Hymns of Ecuador) (pub 1921)

Biography Timeline

Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves was born on 14th March 1847 in Castro Alves, Brazil. His father was the medical doctor Antônio José Alves. His mother was Clélia Brasília da Silva Castro. He was looked after by the family maid, Leopoldina, who told him stories and legends. He went to primary school in Sao Felix with his brother.

1854: The family move to the provincial capital and live in a house where Júlia Fetal had been murdered and he hears ghost stories about it. He studies at the Colégio Sebrão.

1858: He moves with his brothers to the Ginásio Baiano school run by Abílio César Borges, the Baron of Macaúbas. 

1859: He starts writing his first verses. His mother dies of lung cancer and his brother José Antônio threatens suicide by trying to throw himself out of a window. 

1861: He publishes poetry in several newspapers honouring Archbishop Antônio de Macedo Costa, who had recently died.

1862: His father remarries, to Maria Ramos Guimarães, and on 25th January Alves moves to the city of Recife with his older brother to enrol in a course at the law school. They live in the Convent of São Francisco and he continues to send works to newspapers.

1863: He publishes “A Canção do Africano” (The Song of the African) in the first issue of the newspaper “Primavera”. In March he takes the college entrance exam but fails on geometry. He also writes the poems “Pesadelo” (Nightmare) and “Meu Segredo” (My Secret). He sees the Portuguese actress Eugena Infante da Camara perform in the play “Dalila” at the Sao Joao Theatre in Salvador and falls in love with her.

1864: On 9th February his brother José Antônio suffering from mental health problems commits suicide and the poet returns to Bahia. 

1865: He returns to Recife in March with the poet Fagundes Varela and, aged only sixteen, he begins writing his verse for “Os Escravos” (The Slaves). Amongst his influences are the romantic writers Victor Hugo, Lord Byron, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Musset-Pathay and Heinrich Heine. On 10th August he recites “O Sábio” (The Wise Man) at the Law School and then tries to enlist in a volunteer academic battalion of the army to fight in the war against Paraguay but fails his medical. He goes to live with his new lover Idalina but the relationship is short lived and he returns to Bahia with Varella on 16th December.

1866: His broken-hearted father dies on 24th January. Now short of money to pay his rent his landlord writes in the newspaper “Diario de Pernambuco” that he owes him money. He falls in love with two Jewish sisters, Ester and Simmy and writes the poem “A Hebreia” (The Hebrew) for them. He joins Bernardo Guimarães and others in founding a society for the abolition of slavery in Brazil. His friend Tobias Barreto falls in love with Adelaide Amaral, an actress who works with Eugênia Câmara and the two men begin to bicker about who is the greater actress and their friends even boo their rivals during performances. Eventually Eugênia leaves the wealthy bookkeeper Verissimo Chaves and moves in to live with the poet in Jaboateo where he writes the play “Gonzaga” and begins a novel (since lost).

1867: The couple move to Salvador in May and stay in a hotel. Eugênia wishes to return to the stage and they move to Quinta da Boa Vista where his father’s hospital was and live in his old house. She performs at the São João Theatre on 20th June and they both recite poetry to much acclaim. On 7th September “Gonzaga” is premiered, with Eugênia in the lead role, which is also a great success.

1868: In February they board a steamer to Rio de Janeiro where he introduces himself to the famous poet José de Alencar and reads him “A Cascata de Paulo Afonso” (Paulo Afonso’s Waterfall). Alencar is impressed and recommends him to Joaquim Machado de Assis as a member of the Condoreira (Condor) school of poets. In March they move on to Sao Paulo where he becomes part of the “Bucha Paulista” a secret legal society created to support students in precarious financial situations. He is successful in the city but he and Eugenia move apart and she looks for other lovers. In November his tuberculosis worsens and he goes to the countryside to seek fresh air. Unfortunately, when he jumps a ditch, his shotgun goes off and hits him in his left foot. He drags himself to the house of a friend who fetches a doctor but the wound does not get better. 

1869: On 19th March he travels to Rio de Janiero with a friend to seek medical help and writes a letter of thanks to his friends in Sao Paolo in the “Correio Paulistano” newspaper. He arrives in Rio on 21st March where the surgeons Andrade Pertence and Mateus de Andrade amputate his left lower limb without the aid of an anaesthetic. In November, still in love with Eugenia, he writes “Adeus” (Goodbye! Forever Goodbye) and sails for Bahia. On the boat he has the idea for his book “Espumas Flutuantes” (Floating Foams).

1870: On 14th October, weakened by tuberculosis, he asks his friend José Joaquim da Palma to recite the verses of “Deusa Incruenta – A Imprensa as Antithesis to Terribilis Dea” (Unbloody Goddess – The Antithesis to Terribilis Dea” by Pedro Luís Pereira de Sousa against the war. The following day he is strong enough to recite at the São João Theatre and receives a standing ovation from the audience. In November “Espumas Flutuantes” is finally published and contains some of his most brilliant love lyrics according to critics.

1871: On 9th February, he dedicates the verses of “No Meeting du Comité du Pain” (At the Meeting of the Comité du Pain) to the campaign that is being carried out in the capital of Bahia to raise funds for French orphans and widows of the Franco-Prussian war. In Salvador his sister Adelaide introduces him to the Italian singer Agnese Trinci Murri. He declares his love for her on 21st March at a soiree and she reciprocates. They ride horses to Barra Lighthouse in Salvador in May which he writes about in “Noite de Maio” (May Night).

Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves died of tuberculosis on 6th July 1871 in Salvador, Brazil. He was buried in the Campo Santo Cemetery in the city. On 6th July 1971 the Mayor arranged for his remains to be transferred to his monument at Praça Castro Alves. “A Cachoeira de Paulo Afonso (The Paulo Alfonso Falls) is finally published in 1876 and “Osescravos” (The Slaves) about a slave girl raped by her master’s son along with other abolitionist poems was published in 1883.

Further Information

List of works by Alves.