“Annunciation” by Vinícius de Moraes

Montevideo
Virgin! Daughter of mine
Where have you been
You’re all dirty
You smell of jasmine
Your skirt’s stained carmine
And your earrings are clinking
Tlintlintlin?
Mother dear
I’ve been in the garden
I went to look at the sky
And I fell asleep.
When I awoke
I smelled of jasmine
An angel was scattering petals
Over me . . .

Translated from the Portuguese by Natalie d’Arbeloff, from Annunciation: Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary, ed. Elizabeth Adams (Montreal: Phoenicia, 2015). Used by permission of the translator. (Read the poem in its original language.)

Jasmine tree (Photo: Raita Futo)

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Vinícius de Moraes (1913–1980) was a Brazilian poet, lyricist, essayist, playwright, and diplomat who contributed to the birth of bossa nova music. Natalie d’Arbeloff (b. 1929) is a London-based painter, printmaker, cartoonist, and maker of artist’s books, born in Paris of French and Russian parents; she has also lived in Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil, Italy, and the United States.

“Annunciation” takes as its subject the teenage Mary’s mystical encounter with an angel (Luke 1:26–38), after which she becomes pregnant with the Son of God. Moraes sets the event in Montevideo, Uruguay, imagining a dialogue, after the fact, between Mary and her mother.

The central image of scattered jasmine petals is a lovely inversion of the “deflowering” euphemism for first-time sex. In the Holy Spirit’s coming upon her to conceive Jesus, Mary was flowered—her prime beauty bestowed, not (if we were to use the outdated, sexist metaphor) taken away.

While Christianity maintains that Mary remained a virgin at least until Jesus’s birth, her becoming pregnant marked her physically, indelibly. Moraes goes so far as to suggest there was a tearing of the hymen—hence her red-stained skirt, which I read as blood. However, his retelling is nonliteral, more in the mode of magic realism, so there’s no need to get all clinical or to try to “explain” the imagery. It’s dreamlike.

The Gospel-writer suggests that Mary interacted with the angel Gabriel in a vision (i.e., a waking dream), but in Moraes’s poem the primary interaction takes place during sleep. In her dream, Mary hears the divine call and consents to its demands, and when she awakes, like in the movies, a material manifestation of the spiritual experience is there to tell her it was real: she is covered in sweet-smelling jasmine.

What is your reaction to or interpretation of the poem?

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Annunciation-themed posts from the Art & Theology archives include:

2 thoughts on ““Annunciation” by Vinícius de Moraes

  1. My reaction is I take Scripture’s account at its word, mystery that it is, and I believe Oswald Tanner’s beautiful painting of the Annunciation comes closest to how things happened. . Thank you for all you do to create this beautiful Blog

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  2. lovely thank you. Interesting to think about what Mary told her mother, in addition to the Joseph-centred narrative we are familiar with. Elaine Storkey helped me a lot with coming to terms with the conception of Jesus. interesting to think of magic realism illuminating the NT- thanks too, for pointing out the flowering metaphor, it seems so hopeful when measured alongside the traditional patriarchal interpretation. I did not see that, but your analysis was really helpful.

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