In both New and Old Testament texts, the constant reference to the stone is an easy-to-assimilate metaphor, used to educate the illiterate during preaching, a bridge-symbol from religious concept to practice. In Isa 51:1-2, the Hebrew word sûr (rock), contains the metaphor of a quarry. God says, “‘listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn. One of the most salient features of the stone symbolism is that it is used to refer and describe the existence of God such as in Ps 42:9 “I say to God my Rock (sal’ î), "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” In the New Testament we are urged to embrace the stone as the foundation of that faith: “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.”
In the beginning of last century, the stone was dressed with new metaphors deeply connected to our human experiences. For the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the stone is that difficulty in the middle of the way that makes us slow down and rethink our place in the world. It is the small object that, yet ephemeral and recurrent, will change the course of our histories. “In the middle of the road there was a stone/there was a stone in the middle of the road/ there was a stone/ in the middle of the road there was a stone. /Never should I forget this event/ in the life of my fatigued retinas”, writes the poet. In the middle of the road, there was a stone (1924), considered a weak one back then due to the repetitiveness of the main verse when it was first published, today it is certainty one of Drummond’s most respected and well-known work. The repetition of these verses Can be thought as the recurrent journey of Sisyphus and his stone, both eternally trapped into the physical laws of this planet and the rage of the gods.
In Education by the Stone, written in 1928, the poet João Cabral de Melo Neto liberates the stone from any possible symbolism. He opts for the hard objective reality, hiding any open and sentimental significance. In the following two verses, “In the backlands the stone does not give lessons, / And if it gave them, nothing would be taught; ” the realities that informed his building materials were the arid lands of his native northeastern Brazil where its inhabitants don’t have the means to romanticize life. The poet constructed his poems as an architect. The stone is just a stone as the hardship of living is nothing else but what it is: emotionally removed from context, without giving subjective reflection or apparent compassion.
In If you hold a stone, Caetano Veloso, the acclaimed Brazilian musician and writer, projects the weight of our human condition and our capacity for change into the stone he urges us to hold in the center of our hands. Veloso recorded his self-titled album in England when the artist was in an exile imposed by the Brazilian government of the time for being subversive. The song was written in 1971 and was dedicated to the visual artist Lygia Clark in the context of meeting her in Europe and becoming more exposed to her art. The lyrics clearly reveals the necessity of a kind of trans-formative art: “If you hold a stone, hold in your hand/ If you feel the weight/ You’ll never be late/ To understand… Mas eu não sou daqui/ Marinheiro só/ Eu não tenho amor.” The “if you” transfers the first person in the speech to effectively evoke the second person: the other. The transformation of the human experience does not happen in isolation but with the other and through the exercise of empathy, acknowledgment of loneliness and the pain itself, all contained in his experience as foreigner and a man in exile. The only possible verses to be sung in Portuguese comes from a Brazilian folk song that says “ I am not from here/ I am a lonely sailor/ I do not have love in me.”