The booklet of cordelian poetry first of all entertains in its role as the primary written document of the folk-popular literary tradition in much of Brazil, a tradition coming from the chapbook literature of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. In these stories the Brazilian reader discovers medieval chivalry in the stories of Charlemagne and the Twelve Knights, old fairy tales including Snow White, the oriental tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba, and traditional Catholic stories of Jesus, Mary, the apostles and saints in their battles against the evils of Satan. In addition, there is a plethora of love and adventure stories, of princes and princesses, of monsters and dragons to be slain. And there is humor, the Brazilian "quengo" or "amarelo," the local version of the clever rogue, a "pícaro" who survives by wit. In almost all these story-poems there is present a strong, moral undercurrent: Good conquers Evil in all its forms.
"Cordel" entertains as well with the written version of the oral, improvised poetic duel known in Portuguese as "peleja, desafio, cantoria" or "repente." Two poets face each other, and wit, intelligence and a quick tongue determine the winner.
The current event story-poems chronicle religious, social, economic and political events and their protagonists during the entire twentieth and beginnings of the twenty-first centuries. Religious fanatics and wars in the backlands, Robin Hood-like bandits who ravaged the Northeast for almost forty years, and the ups and downs of national political and economic life – these are the staples of "cordel." The poetry chronicles the infant First Republic, the upheaval of the 1920s, and the odyssey of revolt, revolution, Corporate State and finally, workers democracy, under Brazil's most famous politician, Getúlio Vargas. What comes next is the dynamic and chaotic quest for democracy for the next ten years under President Kubitschek and the founding and building of Brasília, Jânio Quadros' eccentricities in his efforts to sweep away the corruption of the past during his six brief months in office, and reformer-leftist Jango Goulart's turbulent four years. "Cordel" then tells of the balance of the century in the dark years of the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 and the return to "normality" and Brazil's quest every since for a place in the sun (other than the beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana or Itapuã).
Most recently "cordel" has chronicled the political scandals of the "money in the shorts," "the big monthly payments" to corrupt politicians, and the highly popular regime of Lula, the poor northeastern migrant in São Paulo, turned union leader and now populist president.
Cordelian reporters looked outside Brazil as well and chronicled World War I, World War II, and the major international conflicts since then, giving emphasis to the role of the United States and its leaders. Most recently, the poets document international terrorism in the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and Bush father and son's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The poets send Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Ladin, Blake of England and especially George W. Bush to hell for their efforts.
Finally, "cordel" directly or indirectly always teaches. It offers traditional Catholic "old church" teachings in stories on traditional religion and morality. But Brazilian religious syncretism and flexibility of character allow as well Kardec Spiritism, Afro-Brazilian religion and Indigenous spiritism. In moral "examples" "cordel" tells the reader how to live, but most often with tongue-in-cheek stories like "The Girls Who Beat Up Her Mother on Good Friday and Was Turned into a Dog."
One can say, in summation, that "cordel" in its entirety portrays life in the 20th and beginnings of the 21st centuries.