João de Deus Ramos (March 8, 1830 – January 11, 1896), better known as João de Deus, was one of the greatest Portuguese poets of his generation. Next to Camões and perhaps Garrett, no Portuguese poet has been more widely read, more profoundly admired than João de Deus; yet no poet in any country has been more indifferent to public opinion and more deliberately careless of personal fame. He is not responsible for any single edition of his poems, which were put together by pious but ill-informed enthusiasts, who ascribed to him verses that he had not written; he kept no copies of his compositions, seldom troubled to write them himself, and was content for the most part to dictate them to others. He has no great intellectual force, no philosophic doctrine, is limited in theme as in outlook, is curiously uncertain in his touch, often marring a fine poem with a slovenly rhyme or with a misplaced accent; and, on the only occasion when he was induced to revise a set of proofs, his alterations were nearly all for the worse. And yet, though he never appealed to the patriotic spirit, though he wrote nothing at all comparable in force or majesty to the restrained splendour of Os Lusíadas, the popular instinct which links his name with that of his great predecessor is eminently just. For Camões was his model; not the Camões of the epic, but the Camões of the lyrics and the sonnets, where the passion of tenderness finds its supreme utterance.
Braga has noted five stages of development in João de Deus' artistic life: the imitative, the idyllic, the lyric, the pessimistic and the devout phases. Under each of these divisions is included much that is of extreme interest, especially to contemporaries who have passed through the same succession of emotional experience, and it is highly probable that Caturras and Gaspar, pieces as witty as anything in Bocage but free from Bocage's coarse impiety, will always interest literary students. But it is as the singer of love that João de Deus will delight posterity as he delighted his own generation. The elegiac music of Rachel and of ma, the melancholy of Adeus and of Remoinho, the tender and sincerity of Meu casto lírio, of Lágrima celeste, of Descale and a score more songs are distinguished by the large, vital simplicity which withstands time. It is precisely in the quality of unstudied simplicity that João de Deus is incomparably strong. The temptations to a display of virtuosity are almost irresistible for a Portuguese poet; he has the tradition of virtuosity in his blood, he has before him the example of all contemporaries, and he has at hand an instrument of wonderful sonority and compass. Yet not once is João de Deus clamorous or rhetorical, not once does he indulge in idle ornament. His prevailing note is that of exquisite sweetness and of reverent purity; yet with all his caressing softness he is never sentimental, and, though he has not the strength for a long fight, emotion has seldom been set to more delicate music. Had he included among his other gifts the gift of selection, had he continued the poetic discipline of his youth instead of dedicating his powers to a task which, well as he performed it, might have been done no less well by a much lesser man, there is scarcely any height to which he might not have risen.
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