“On the banks of an affluent river of brown waters, Paraibuna […]” (MENDES), at a house on 4 Rua Direita, Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, the poet Murilo Mendes was born on May 13th, 1901. The boy who “wanted to uncrown emperors” (MENDES) soon noticed his own closeness to poetry, when Comet Halley was visible in 1910. Years later, in 1917, he witnessed Nijinsky dance at the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro, an event that would become his second poetic call, according to Murilo himself. At age of 19, he began his literary path, writing chronicles for the independent gazette from Juiz de Fora “A Tarde”, under the pen names MMM and De Medinacelli.
On December of 1920, Murilo moved to Rio de Janeiro to act as an archivist at the Department of National Patrimony of the Ministry of Finances, where he met Ismael Nery. In the 1920s, he collaborated with many Modernist magazines. Under his father Onofre Mendes’ incentive, Murilo published in 1930 the book Poemas: 1925-1929, considered by Mário de Andrade as “the most historically important book of the year”. This statement was later confirmed as the book won the Poetry Award of the Graça Aranha Foundation. Even though in the future this book would not be considered as representative of his works, the poet published in 1932 the poem-joke book História do Brasil. In 1934, the passing of painter, poet and philosopher Ismael Nery, a friend who Murilo greatly admired, led Mendes back to his catholic origins. In a partnership with Jorge de Lima, his closest friend beside Ismael Nery, in 1935 Murilo publishes Tempo e eternidade, in which he discusses Catholicism aesthetically. His following works are: O sinal de Deus (1936), A poesia em pânico (1938), O visionário (1941), As metamorfoses (1944), Mundo enigma (1945) and Poesia liberdade (1947).
In 1952, he traveled to Europe for the first time and began a friendship with André Breton, René Char, Camus, Magritte, among others. Between 1953 and 1956, the poet spoke in universities in Belgium and Holland. In 1957, aged 56, he settled in Italy, having been hired by the Ministry of International Relations to teach Brazilian Studies at the University of Rome. In 1959 he published “Siciliana”, a bilingual text translated by G. Ungaretti and in 1965 he published “Italianíssima: 7 murilogrammi”. The poet returned to his origins with the book “A idade do serrate”, written between 1965 and 1966 and published in 1968. Murilo received the International Poetry Prize Etna-Taormina in 1972 and in that same year he visited Brazil after 17 years away. With the initiative of the Cultural Council of the State of São Paulo, the first series of the book Retratos-relâmpago was published in 1973; the second series was published in the year of the poet’s death.
Murilo Mendes was spending the summer of 1975 in Portugal, at the house of his father-in-law Jaime Cortesão, when on August 13th he suffered a sudden cardiac syncope and passed away in Lisbon, a city in which he had described in his book Janelas verdes (1989) as “famously beautiful”.