Filipino poems by English author who stood in the moonlight
Fernando Pessoa: poetry
DON SEBASTIAN, KING OF PORTUGAL
A goal, yes, a goal because I wanted greatness
how they do not bestow the heavenly ones.
Because I experienced the dream too hard
faded where the seagulls shriek,
my old, not my living being.
Inherit my folly from me
with everything that is fermenting in it!
What would be more than the fed up animal
worthy of man without foolishness,
living corpse that multiplies!
Portugal's greatest lyric poet since Camões remained as inglorious and poor as the creator of the Lusiads. His biography is more colorless than that of his great predecessor: born on June 13th, 1888 in Lisbon as the son of a government employee who worked part-time as an opera critic, he lost his father at an early age and spent nine years of youth with his remarried mother in Durban (South Africa), where he was took up the formation of an English colonial high school. After his return to Portugal (1905) he hardly left Lisbon and consciously - for the sake of his poetry - limited himself to a modest but free activity as a foreign correspondent for various trading houses. When he died of hepatic colic on November 30, 1935 - as a result of excessive consumption of brandy - only one book by him had been published and the rest of the work was only known to a small group of initiates. The only earthly legacy of the poet was a chest with mountains of sighted and unseen manuscripts. In the 25 years since Pessoa's death, an eight-volume complete edition, still incomplete in its prose section, has been brought to light from this chest, which is beginning to spread the fame of the Portuguese poet across Europe.
Pessoa has long hesitated whether to become an English or a Portuguese poet. More significant than the fact that he wrote English poetry before opting for the Portuguese language is his encounter with the English intellectual world in general. It saved him from provincialism, this eternal danger to the intellectuals of small countries. “You cannot build an education with Camões alone” (E.R. Curtius). From England Pessoa received a solid knowledge of the English and ancient classics. The French language gave him many stimuli: he knew Baudelaire and the Symbolists, Marinetti's Futuristic Manifesto and, from the great German authors, Goethe, Heine and Nietzsche in translations.
Pessoa defined his position within lyric poetry in a posthumous record:
The first degree of lyric poetry is where the poet focuses on his feeling and expresses that feeling. However, if he is a being with changeable and varied feelings, he will, as it were, express a multitude of personalities that are only held together by temperament and style. One step further and we have a poet in front of us who is a being with manifold and fictional feelings, more imaginative than emotional, and who experiences every mental state more with intelligence than with sensitivity. This poet will express himself like a multitude of personalities who are no longer united by temperament and style, but only by style; for temperament has been replaced by imagination and feeling by intelligence. A step further on the way to depersonalization or, better said, fantasy, and we have before us the poet who lives himself in each of his various spiritual states in such a way that he completely gives up his personality, in such a way that he, by talking about every spiritual Experienced state analytically, gaining the expression of another person from it, as it were; even the style becomes diverse. One last step and we find the poet who is different poets at the same time, a dramatic poet who writes poetry. Each group of imperceptibly related states of the soul becomes a personality with its own style, whose feelings differ from the typical emotional experiences of the poet himself, and can even be quite opposite to them. And so lyrical poetry comes ... to dramatic poetry without taking on dramatic form.
The three poets that Pessoa created: Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis, should be viewed as characters without drama. Pessoa has given each of them their own biography and their own contradicting artistic intentions, mixing fiction and spontaneity so artfully that his work has incited criticism into the strangest speculations about the meaning of these "heteronyms". The famous passage from a letter by the poet to the critic Casais-Monteiro shows how inseparably inspiration, fiction and the joy of practical jokes are fused together:
Around 1912 ... it occurred to me to write some poems of a pagan kind. I sketched something in free verse and then gave it up. Nevertheless, in the misty penumbra, I had a rough picture of the person who had written these verses. Ricardo Reis was born without my knowledge. A year and a half or two later, one day it occurred to me, the Sá-Carneiro (a poet who was also Pessoa's best friend) to play a prank and invent a bucolic poet of a complicated kind and introduce him to him with a tinge of probability ... I spent a few days working this poet out, but nothing came of it. The day I finally gave up, I stood at a tall chest of drawers, took a piece of paper and began to write, standing up, as I write as often as possible. I wrote over 30 poems in one go, in a kind of ecstasy ... It was the triumphant day of my life; I will not see another of this kind. I started with a title: "The Keeper of the Herd". And then someone appeared in me, to whom I immediately named Alberto Caeiro. Excuse the absurdity of the sentence: my master appeared to me.
The poetry of heteronyms provides, as it were, the counterpoints to Pessoa's own poetry. If Pessoa ipse is above all the poet of the suffering for thought - “what feels in me must always think” - then Master Caeiro's abstract bucolic appears as a constant escape from having to think. By calling things by their names, Caeiro is claiming the poet's old right to participate in the creation of the world through the act of naming, and for that very reason rejects all speculations about the world as incompatible with this mandate. Caeiro is the structural engineer among heteronyms; his dynamic opponent is his “student” Alvaro de Campos, a ship engineer who trained in Glasgow and who - as it is indicative - “lives idly in Lisbon”. His motto: “To pretend means to recognize oneself” (“fingir é conhecer-se”) characterizes Pessoa's heteronyms as an aid on the way to self-discovery. He is the "hysteric" among Pessoa's creatures; his emotional world ranges from the bursting euphoria of the early great odes with their glorification of modern technology and civilization to that in their nonchalance so abysmal despair of the world and self in the later poems, in which certain complexes of feeling of existential philosophy are anticipated. Alvaro de Campos is the modernist among Pessoa's heteronyms; his early odes, trained on Walt Whitman's hymn, appeared in the short-lived magazine in 1915 Orpheu. The only two numbers of the Orpheu mark the breakthrough of modernism in Portugal and aroused such anger that the Lisbon press recommended the city madhouse as the most appropriate place to live for young poets. Certainly Alvaro de Campos ’euphoric frenzy - in the" Ocean Ode ", in the" Triumph Ode "- has nothing in common with Walt Whitman's healthy, genuine enthusiasm; he betrays everywhere - through his masochistic traits, through his pathological influence - the brokenness of the tender poet, a consciousness of decadence, Nietzsche's Will to power helps to turn into megalomania. Nevertheless, the “ocean ode” is perhaps Pessoa's greatest work, a precisely composed hymn to seafaring and the sea that could only emerge from the Atlantic soul of a Portuguese. In the “Ocean Ode” there appears a motif that recurs in the entire poetry of Pessoa: the longing for the lost paradise of childhood as a counterpoint to the adult's mental suffering.
The zeitgeist speaks more openly from Fernando-Alvaro-Pessoa-Campos than from Alberto-Fernando-Pessoa-Caeiro or Ricardo-Fernando-Pessoa-Reis, and yet Ricardo Reis's classical poetry of Odes accompanied Pessoa's life more evenly than the poetry of the other heteronyms. The form artist Reis will evoke echoes of Klopstock, Hölderlin and George in German readers. Like them, Reis also endeavors to reshape ancient poetry out of a modern spirit. The Portuguese language is of course unsuitable for submission to ancient meters; The classicism of the Odes, apart from the subject matter, is more visible in a purist choice of words, which contrasts sharply with Campos ’unbridled fireworks of words. The proximity of the ancient poetry and the invocation of the old gods should not be misleading: Reis is not a mere imitation of the old. In his odes, too, we find ourselves in post-Nietzsche areas: the Christian expectation of salvation has disappeared and in its place the old, iron fate has taken its place, which even the gods do not command. Pessoa's theosophical thought processes play a not insignificant role: his belief in a tiered realm of spirits, the lowest ranks of which serve a trial period on earth and then rise to the higher realms of the hierarchy, which only the initiate of theosophy can already suspect on earth. If Reis breathes new life into humanistic poetry, this is just another counterpoint to the heated modernity of his rival Campos.
It is one of the paradoxes of this "drama in poets" that Pessoa ipse expressly describes himself as a Christian, albeit as a "Gnostic and therefore Christians who reject all organized churches". All his life, Pessoa researched the “secret traditions of Christianity”, translated theosophical writings from English and tried to investigate possible paths to the occult. But he was more of an artist than a religious person, and so the themes of occultism have become thematically artistic statements in the so-called "esoteric poems", but it would certainly be a mistake to want to attach central importance to them.
Also Pessoa's nationalism, laid down in his only book published during his lifetime, the Embassy, ties in with a secret tradition - this time in Portugal. According to popular belief, the young King Sebastian, who fell in the fight against the Moors and whose death ended the political decline of Portugal, will one day come back and lead his country to new dimensions. Pessoa takes possession of this myth and spiritualizes it: in the last of the five world ages that the earth should experience according to Daniel's prophecy, the poet hopes for a spiritual mission of universal character for his country:
Hellas and Rome and Christianity,
Europe - they sank into the grave,
Went the way of all time.
Who is ready to serve the truth
For whom Don Sebastian gave his life?
In an early poem by Alvaro de Campos there are the following lines:
I belong to the class of Portuguese who became unemployed after the discovery of India.
In spite of this resignation, Pessoa consciously affirmed the fate of his old race: the adventurism of his people has turned inside him. The great journey into the unknown, where all horizons are open, man is completely on his own and abandoned to failure, became a spiritual event for this poet. Left to his own devices, in the confines of an intellectual adventure, he dared the journey; He bought his art with the conscious renunciation of all earthly dwelling, of fame, of love and professional honors. In this way he quietly became a martyr of poetry in our century, a martyr for whom posterity first made wreaths, in Portugal even that of a new national poet, which Pessoa, had he experienced, would certainly have acknowledged with gentle irony.
Georg Rudolf Lind, epilogue, September 1961
The present selection
includes Pessoa's greatest poem, "The Sea of the Sea"; also exemplary pieces from the work of the Portuguese, in which four poetic modifications can be distinguished. He himself sealed this unique quartering by giving himself, as an author, the names Alvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro and Ricardo Reis in addition to his own: they are all represented here with characteristic samples.
Suhrkamp Verlag, blurb, 1962
Fernando Pessoa - The stranger to himself
Poets have no biography. Your work is your biography. Pessoa, who always doubted the reality of this world, would probably approve without hesitation if I turned directly to his poems and ignored the circumstances and incidents of his earthly life. Nothing in his life is extraordinary - nothing but his poems. I don't think his "case" - there is no getting around using that disgusting word - explains it; however, I believe that in the light of his poems his "fall" ceases to be one. Incidentally, his secret is decided in his name: Pessoa means person in Portuguese and comes from persona, the mask of the Roman actors. Mask, dummy, nobody: Pessoa. His story could be reduced to the back and forth between the unreality of his daily life and the reality of his fictions. These fictions are the poets Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and above all Fernando Pessoa himself. It is therefore not useless to recall the most important facts of his life, but one should always keep in mind that they are Traces of a shadow. The real pessoa is different.
He was born in Lisbon in 1888. In childhood he becomes a half-orphan through the death of his father. His mother is getting married again; In 1896 she moved with her children to Durban, South Africa, where her second husband had been sent as consul of Portugal. English education. The Anglo-Saxon influence on the thought and work of the bilingual poet remains constant. In 1905, when he wanted to attend the University of Cape Town, he had to return to Portugal. In 1907 he left the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Lisbon and founded a printing company. A failure. This word will appear more often in his life. He now works as a “foreign correspondent”, that is to say as an outpatient writer of business letters in English and French, a modest activity with which he will earn his living for most of his life. At one point the gates of a university career open to him, albeit with reluctance; with the pride of the shy, he declines the offer. I said Reluctance and Proud, maybe I should have said Displeasure and Sense of reality: In 1932 he applied for the post of archivist in a library and was turned away. But there is no rebellion in his life: just a modesty bordering on contempt.
He has not left Lisbon since returning from Africa. At first he lives in an old house with an old youthful aunt and a crazy grandmother; then with another aunt; for a while also with his mother, who has again become a widow; and for the rest of the years he lives here and there. He meets up with his friends on the street and in a café. Lonely drinker in taverns and inns in the old town. More details? In 1916 he plans to practice as an astrologer. Occultism has its dangers, and once Pessoa finds himself embroiled in a case that the police had instigated against the English magician and "satanic" Aleister Crowley, who was looking for adepts for his erotic-mystical order while passing through Lisbon. In 1920 he falls in love, or at least he thinks so, with a shop girl; the relationship does not last long: “My fate”, he writes in a suicide note, “obeys another law, whose existence you do not even suspect…” One does not know about other love affairs.There is an undercurrent of painful homosexuality in the “Ode Marítima” (Sea Ode) and “Saudaçao a Walt Whitman” (Greetings to Walt Whitman), great poems, an announcement of those who fifteen years later would call García Lorca “Poeta en Nueva York ”(poet in New York) should write. But Álvaro de Campos, a professional provocateur, is not all pessoa. There are other poets in Pessoa. Since he is "chaste", all of his passions are imaginary; rather, its great vice is the imagination. That's why he doesn't move from his chair. And there is also a pessoa that belongs neither to everyday life nor to literature: the disciple, the initiate. Nothing can and should not be said about this pessoa. Revelation, deception, self-deception? All together, maybe. Pessoa, like the master in one of his hermetic sonnets, knows and is silent.
Anglomaniac, nearsighted, polite, shy, dressed in black, reserved and simple, a cosmopolitan who preaches nationalism, solemn explorer of vain things, a humorist who never smiles and makes our blood run cold, inventor of other poets and destroyers of himself, writer of paradoxes as clear as water and breathtaking like this: To pretend means to recognize oneself, a mysterious person who does not cultivate the secret, mysterious as the moon in the midday sky, the silent phantasm of the Portuguese midday: who is Pessoa? Pierre Hourcade, who met him towards the end of his life, writes:
When I said goodbye to him I never dared to turn around again; I was afraid to see it evaporate, vanish into thin air.
Did I forgot something? He died of hepatic colic in Lisbon in 1935. He left three volumes of poems in English, a small volume of Portuguese poems, and a chest full of manuscripts. Not all of his works have been published yet.
His public life, somehow you have to call it, runs in the semi-darkness. Literature from the fringes, a poorly lit area in which - conspirators or moonstrucks? - move the indistinct figures Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Fernando Pessoa. For a moment they are caught in the spotlight of scandal and polemics. Then dark again. Almost anonymity and almost fame. Everyone knows the name Fernando Pessoa, but few know who he is and what he does. Reputation of a writer in Portugal, Spain and Hispanic America means in practice:
Your name sounds so familiar, aren't you a journalist or a film director?
I suspect Pessoa was not at all uncomfortable with such a mix-up. Rather, he was still cultivating it. Times of hectic literary activity, followed by periods of displeasure. Even if he is only seldom seized by the labor frenzy and in fits and starts - hand strokes to terrify the few people in official literature - he is persistent in his solitary work. Like all great idlers, he spends his life making lists of works that he will never write; And just as it happens with the weak-willed, if only they are passionate and resourceful, he writes almost surreptitiously, in order not to burst, in order not to go mad, on the edge of his grand plans every day a poem, an article, a contemplation. Distraction and tension. Everything bears the same stamp: these texts were written out of imperative necessity. And it is precisely this, the necessity, that distinguishes a real writer from one who has only talent.
He wrote his first poems in English between 1905 and 1908. At that time he read Milton, Shelley, Keats, Poe. Later he discovered Baudelaire and met several "Portuguese subpoets". He is only gradually returning to his mother tongue, although he will never stop writing in English. Until 1912 the influence of symbolist poetry and "Saudosismo" (cult of remembrance) prevailed. That year he published his first work in the magazine A Águia (The eagle), the organ of the "Portuguese Renaissance". His collaboration consisted in a series of articles on Portuguese poetry. It is typical of Pessoa that he begins his writing career as a literary critic. The title of one of his texts is no less significant: “Na Floresta do Alheamento” (In the forest of alienation). The theme of alienation and the search for oneself, in the enchanted forest or in the abstract city, is more than a theme: it is the subject of his work. During these years he is looking for himself; soon he will invent himself.
In 1913 he met two young men who would be his most loyal companions in the short futuristic adventure: the painter Almada Negreira and the poet Mario de Sá-Carneiro. Other friendships: Armando Côrtes-Rodrigues, Luis de Montaevor, José Pacheco. Still caught in the magic of “decadent” poetry, these young people try in vain to renew the symbolist direction. Pessoa invents "Paulismo". And suddenly, through Sá-Carneiro, who lives in Paris and with whom he has feverish correspondence, the discovery of the great modern uprising: Marinetti. The fruitfulness of Futurism is indisputable, although its luster later faded with the repeated abdication of its founder. The movement found immediate resonance, probably because it was less of a revolution than a mutiny. It was the first spark, the spark that detonated the powder keg. The fire spread quickly, from one end of Europe to the other, from Moscow to Lisbon. Three great poets: Apollinaire, Mayakowski and Pessoa. The following year, 1914, was to be the year of discovery for the Portuguese, or more precisely, that of birth: Alberte Caeiro and his pupil, the futurist Álvaro de Campos and the classicist Ricardo Reis appear.
The release of the heteronyms, an internal event, is followed by the public act: Orfeu: the explosion. The first issue of the magazine appears in April 1915; in July the second and last, Little? Rather too much. The group was not homogeneous. The very name "Orpheus" clearly shows the symbolist influence. Even with Sá-Carneiro, despite its impetuosity, the Portuguese critics state that the “decadentismo” continues. With Pessoa the split is clear: Álvaro de Campos is a complete futurist, while Fernando Pessoa is still a "Paulist" poet. The public received the magazine with indignation. The texts of Sá-Carneiro and Campos caused the journalists, as usual, to rage. The insults were followed by ridicule; to the mockery of silence. The circle was closed. Is there anything left? In the first issue the "Ode triunfal" (Triumph-Ode) appeared; in the second the “Ode marítima”. The first ode is a poem that, regardless of its tics and artifice, already has the direct tone of "Tabacaria" (tobacco shop), the recognition of the weightlessness of man compared to the heavy weight of social life. The second poem is more than just the fireworks of futuristic poetry: a great spirit delirious in a loud voice, and its scream is never animal nor superhuman. The poet is not a “little god” but a fallen person. The two poems are more reminiscent of Whitman than Marinetti, a brooding and negative Whitman. But that's not all. The contradiction is system, forms the coherence of his life: at the same time he writes “O Guardador de Rebanhos” (The Shepherd), a posthumous book by Alberto Caeiro, the Latinized poems of Reis and Epithalamium and Antinous, "Two of my English poems, very discreet and therefore not to be published in England".
Adventure Orfeu is suddenly interrupted. In view of the attacks by the journalists, and probably also shocked by Álvaro de Campos' excessiveness, some no longer participate. Sá-Carneiro, always unsteady, returns to Paris. A year later he committed suicide. Another attempt in 1917: the only number from Portugal Futurista, edited by Almada Negreira, in which the ultimatum of Álvaro de Campos appears. It is difficult today to read this torrent of invectives, although some have retained their wholesome virulence:
D’Annunzio, Don Juan on Patmos; Shaw, cold tumor of Ibsenism; Kipling, scrap-trading imperialist ...
The episode Orfeu ends with the dissolution of the group and the death of one of its leaders. One will have to wait fifteen years for a new generation to come. There is nothing unusual about it. The amazing thing is the appearance of the group that is ahead of its time and society. What was written in Spain and Hispanic America during these years?
The following period is relatively lackluster. Pessoa publishes two volumes of English poetry, 35 sunnets and Antinous (both 1918) by the Londoner Times and from Glasgow Herald discussed very politely and with little enthusiasm. The first contribution for Pessoa appears in 1922 Contemporânea, a new literary magazine: “O Banqueiro Anarquista” (The Anarchist Banker). During these years he also had his political impulses: hymns of praise for nationalism and the authoritarian regime. Reality opens his eyes and compels him to withdraw: on two occasions he opposes the authority of the state, the church and social morality. The first time to defend Antonio Botto, the author of Cançõesin which the Uranian love is sung. The second time he opposed the “Kampfbund der Studenten”, which pursued free thinking under the pretext of putting an end to the so-called “Sodom literature”. Caesar is always a moralist. Álvaro de Campos distributes a leaflet: “Aviso por causa da moral” (A word about morality); Pessoa issues a statement; and the attacked, Raúl Leal, wrote the leaflet: "Uma lição de moral aos estudantes de Lisboa e o descaramento da Igreja Católica" (A moral lesson for the students of Lisbon and the audacity of the Catholic Church). The focus has shifted from free art to freedom of art. Our society is such that the creative person is condemned to heterodoxy and opposition. The clear-sighted artist does not avoid this moral danger.
In 1924 a new magazine: Atena. She only has five numbers. A second infusion was never good. In reality it is Atena a bridge between Orfeu and the young people of Presença (1927). It seems that every generation chooses its own tradition. The new group discovers Pessoa: he has finally found a conversation partner. Too late as always. Shortly afterwards, a year before his death, the grotesque incident occurred: a poetry competition advertised by the Ministry of National Propaganda. The theme, of course, was a song in honor of the nation and the empire. Pessoa sends “Mensagem” (message), poems that are an “occult” and symbolic interpretation of Portuguese history. The book must have embarrassed the civil servant jurors of the competition. They awarded him the “second class” award. It was his last literary attempt.
It all begins on March 8, 1914. But it is better to quote here an excerpt from a letter from Pessoa to one of the young men of Presença, Adolfo Casais Monteiro:
Around 1912 it occurred to me that I should write some pagan poems. I designed a few things in free verse (not Álvaro de Campos' style) and then gave up trying. But in the semi-darkness I saw a blurred image of the person who wrote these verses (Ricardo Reis was born without my knowledge). A year and a half or two later I came up with the idea of playing a prank on Sá Carneiro, inventing a somewhat tricky bucolic poet and presenting him as if he were a real being. I spent several days doing it, but I didn't want to succeed. One day, when I had already given up - it was March 8, 1914 - I stood in front of a high chest of drawers, picked up a pile of paper and began to write while standing, as I always do whenever possible. And I wrote over thirty poems in a row, in a kind of ecstasy that I cannot describe in detail. It was the triumphant day of my life, I'll never see one like it again. I started with a title, “O Guardador de Rebanhos”. And then someone appeared in me whom I immediately named Alberto Caeiro. Excuse the absurdity of the sentence: my master had appeared in me. That was my immediate feeling. And it was so strong that no sooner had the thirty poems been written than I wrote “Chuva obliqua” (Sloping Rain) by Fernando Pessoa on a new sheet of paper, also in one go. Immediately and until the end (…) It was the return of Fernando Pessoa-Alberto Caeiro to Fernando Pessoa par excellence. Or better: it was Fernando Pessoa's reaction to his non-existence as Alberto Caeiro (…) When Caeiro appeared, I immediately tried, unconsciously and instinctively, to find students for him. I snatched the latently existing Ricardo Reis from his false heroism, found a name for him and made him like myself, because at that moment saw I already have him. And suddenly, of opposite origin to Reis, another person appeared imperiously. In one go, without interruption or improvement, the "Ode triunfal" by Álvaro de Campos was created. The ode withthat name and the person with his name.
I do not know what to add to this confession.
Psychology offers us different explanations. Pessoa himself, interested in his case, finds two or three. A crude pathological:
I am probably a neurasthenic hysteric (…) and that explains right or wrong the organic origin of heteronyms.
I wouldn't say “right or bad”, but hardly. The questionability of these hypotheses is not that they are wrong: they are incomplete. A neurotic is a man possessed; is the one who copes with his mental disorders a sick person? The neurotic suffers his obsessions; the creative man becomes their master and transforms them. Pessoa says that he has lived with imaginary people since childhood. ("Of course I don't know whether it is they who do not exist or whether it is me who does not exist: we must not be dogmatic in these matters.") The heteronyms are surrounded by a swirling multitude of half-beings: the Barón de Teive; Jean Seul, French satirical journalist; Bernardo Soares, ghost of the ghostly Vicente Guedes; Pacheco, a pale copy of Campos… Not all are writers: there is a Mr. Cross, a tireless participant in the contests in syllable and crossword puzzles in English magazines (an infallible means, Pessoa believed, of getting rich), Alexander Search and other. All of this - like his loneliness, his secret alcoholism and much more - sheds light on his character, but does not explain his poems to us, which is all that matters to us.
The same can be said of the “occult” hypothesis, to which Pessoa, who is far too critical, does not openly apply, but to which he alludes. It is well known that the ghosts who guide the media, even if they are the ghosts of Euripides or Victor Hugo, betray an astonishing literary awkwardness. Some people suspect that it is a "mystification". The error is doubly gross: Pessoa is neither a liar, nor is his work a fraud. There is something terribly vulgar about the modern mind: in real life people tolerate all kinds of nefarious realities, but they cannot bear the existence of the fable. And that is precisely what Pessoa's work is: a fable, a fiction. If one forgets that Caeiro, Reis and Campos are poetic creations, one forgets too much. Like all creation, these poets were born into play. Art is play - and something else. But there is no art without play.
The authenticity of heteronyms depends on their poetic coherence, on their probability. They were necessary creations, otherwise Pessoa would not have devoted his life to living and creating them; What matters today is not that they were necessary for their author, but whether they are also necessary for us. Pessoa, her first reader, did not doubt her reality. Reis and Campos said things he might never have said. In contradicting him, they gave him expression; by giving him expression, they forced him to invent himself.We write to be what we are or to be what we are not. In either case, we seek ourselves. And when we are lucky enough to find ourselves - a sign of creation - we will discover that we are an unknown. Always the other, always him, inseparable from us and a stranger to us, with your face and with mine, you always with me and always alone.
The heteronyms are not literary masks:
What Fernando Pessoa writes belongs to two types of works that we could call orthonymous and heteronymous. It cannot be said that they are anonymous or pseudonymous works because they really are not. The pseudonymous work is that of the author himself, only that he draws it with a different name; the heteronymous is that of the author who is alienated from his person (…).
Gérard de Nerval is the pseudonym of Gérard Labrunie: the same person and the same work; Caeiro is a heteronym of Pessoa: it is impossible to confuse them. The Antonio Machado case is also different. Abel Martín and Juan de Mairena are not entirely the poet Antonio Machado. They are masks, but transparent masks: a text by Machado is no different from a text by Mairena. In addition, Machado is not obsessed with his fictions, there are no creatures that haunt him, contradict him or negate him. In contrast, Caeiro, Reis and Campos are the heroes of a novel that Pessoa never wrote. "I am a dramatic poet," he confessed in a letter to J.G. Simôes. Nevertheless, the relationship between Pessoa and his heteronyms is not the same as that of the playwright or novelist to his characters. He is not an inventor of poet personalities, but a creator of poetic works. That is an essential difference. As A. Casais Monteiro says: "He invented the biographies for the works and not the works for the biographies." These works and the poems of Pessoa written for them, for or against them are his poetic work. He himself becomes one of the works of his work. And he doesn't even have the privilege of being the critic of this clique: Reis and Campos treat him rather condescendingly; the Barón de Teide does not always greet him; Vicente Guedes, the archivist, looks so much like him that he feels a little sorry for himself when he meets him in a local pub. He is the bewitched magician, so completely obsessed with his phantasmagoria that he is observed, even despised or pityed by them. Our works judge us ...
Alberto Caeiro is my teacher. This statement is the touchstone of an entire work. And one could add that Caeiro's work is the only positive statement that Pessoa made. Caeiro is the sun, and around it are Reis, Campos and Pessoa itself. In all of them there are particles of negation or unreality: Reis believes in form, Campos in sensory perception, Pessoa in symbols. Caeiro doesn't believe in anything: he exists. The sun is life filled with itself; the sun does not see, for all its rays are looks that have been transformed into warmth and light; the sun has no self-consciousness, because with it thinking and being are one and the same. Caeiro is everything that Pessoa is not, and also everything that no modern poet can be: the human being reconciled with nature. Man before Christianity, of course, but also before work and history. Before consciousness. By the mere fact of his existence, Caeiro negates not only the symbolist aesthetics of Pessoa, but all aesthetics, all values, all ideas. Is nothing left? Everything remains, but free from the phantasms and cobwebs of culture. The world exists because my senses tell me so; and in telling me this, they are telling me that I also exist. Yes, I will die and the world will die too, but to die is to live. Caeiro's testimony annuls death; in negating consciousness, it negates nothing. He does not claim that everything is, because that would be to represent an idea; he says everything exists. And what's more: he says that there is only what exists. Everything else is deceptions. Campos then puts the icing on the cake: “My teacher Caeiro was not a pagan; he was paganism. ”I would say: an image of paganism.
Caeiro hardly went to schools. When he learned that he was being called a "materialistic poet", he wanted to know what kind of doctrine it was. When he heard Campos ’explanation, he was amazed:
This is an idea of clergymen without religion! You say, do you say that space is infinite? In which room did you see this?
In front of his amazed pupil, Caeiro claimed that space was finite: “What has no limits does not exist…” The other replied: “And the numbers? After the 34 comes the 35 and then the 36 and so on… ”Caeiro looked at him pityingly:“ But these are just numbers! ”And drove with dazzling childliness continued: “Is there a number 34 in reality?” Another anecdote: he was asked: “Are you satisfied with yourself?” And he replied: “No, I am satisfied.” Caeiro is not a philosopher, he is a wise man. Thinkers have ideas: for the wise life and thinking are not separate from each other. It is therefore impossible to present the ideas of Socrates' or Laoti. They left no teachings, but a handful of anecdotes, riddles, and poems. Chuang Tzu, more honest than Plato, does not want to convey philosophy to us, but rather to tell a few short stories: philosophy is inseparable from the narrative, it is narrative. The doctrine of the philosopher stimulates refutation; the life of the wise man is irrefutable. No wise man has ever proclaimed that the truth can be learned; all, or almost all, have said that the only thing worth living for is that Experience the truth is. Caeiros ’weak point is not his idea (this weakness is more his strength), but the unreality of the experience he claims to be.
Adam in a country house in the Portuguese province, without a wife, without children and without a creator: without consciousness, without work and without religion. A sensuality among sensualities, an existence among existences. Here and now stone is stone and Caeiro is Caeiro. After that, everyone will be different. Or the same. Same or different: everything is the same because everything is different. To name is to be. The word with which he names the stone is not the stone, but it is just as real as the stone. Caeiro doesn't want to name the beings, and that's why he never tells us whether the stone is an agate or a pebble, whether the tree is a pine or a holm oak. Nor does he want to establish relationships between things; the word like does not appear in his vocabulary. Every thing is absorbed in its own reality. If Caeiro speaks, it is because man is a living being that can speak, just as the bird is a living being that can fly. Man speaks like the river flows or the rain falls. The innocent poet need not name things; his words are Trees, clouds, spiders, lizards. Not the spiders I see, but the ones I say. Caeiro is amazed at the idea that reality is intangible: here it lies before us, one only needs to touch it. All you have to do is speak.
It would be easy to prove to Caeiro that reality can never be grasped by hand and that we must conquer it (even at the risk that it will evaporate or become something else the moment we catch it: Idea, utensil). The innocent poet is a myth, but a myth that establishes poetry. The real poet knows that words and things are not the same, and therefore, in order to restore a unity, even if it is uncertain, between man and the world, he names things with images, rhythms, symbols and comparisons. The words are not the things: they are the bridges that we build between them and us. The poet is the consciousness of the words, that is, the homesickness for the real reality of things. But even words were things before they became names of things. They were in the myth of the innocent poet, that is, before the birth of language. The opaque words of the real poet evoke speaking before the birth of language, the anticipated paradisiacal correspondence. Innocent speaking: a silence in which nothing is said because everything is said, everything says itself. The poet's language feeds on this silence, which is innocent speaking. Pessoa, a real poet and a skeptical man, had to invent an innocent poet to justify his own poetry. Reis, Campos and Pessoa say mortal and historical words, words of doom and dissolution: they are the premonition of unity or the homesickness for it. We hear them against the background of the silence of this unity. It is no accident that Caeiro dies young before his students begin their work. It is their foundation, the silence that nourishes them.
Caeiro, who is the most natural and simple of the heteronyms, is the least real. It is because of an excess of reality. Man, especially modern man, is not quite real. It is not a compact being like nature or things; self-consciousness is its insubstantial reality. Caeiro is an absolute affirmation of existence, and therefore his words seem to us truths of another time, that time when everything was one and the same. Sensually perceptible and untouchable presence: as soon as we name it, it evaporates! The mask of innocence that Caeiro shows us is not wisdom: to be wise means to come to terms with the knowledge that we are not innocent. Pessoa, who knew this, was closer to wisdom.
The other extreme is Álvaro de Campos. Caeiro lives in the timeless presence of children and animals; the futurist Campos at the moment. For the former, his village is the center of the world; the other, cosmopolitan, has no center; he lives banished in this nowhere that is everywhere. Nevertheless, they are similar: both cultivate free verse; both do violence to the Portuguese; neither disdain the prosaisms. They only believe in what they can touch, they are pessimists, they love concrete reality, but not their own kind, they despise ideas and live outside history, one in the fullness of being, the other in the utter lack of being . Caeiro, the innocent poet, is what Pessoa could not be; Campos, the vagabond dandy, what he could have been but wasn't. They are pessoa's impossible life possibilities.
Campos ’first poem is deceptively original. The "Ode triunfal" is apparently a brilliant echo of Whitman and the Futurists. But as soon as one compares this poem with those written in the same years in France, Russia and other countries, one becomes aware of the difference. Whitman really and firmly believed in people and machines; rather, he believed that natural man is not incompatible with the machines. Its pantheism also included industry. Most of his descendants do not harbor such illusions. Some see machines as wonderful toys. I think of Valéry Larbaud and his Barnaboothwho bears more than one resemblance to Álvaro de Campos. Larbaud's attitude towards the machine is epicurean; that of the futurists visionary. They see it as a means of destroying false humanism, albeit also the natural people. They do not want to humanize the machine, but rather to create a new human species similar to it. Except maybe Mayakovsky, but even he ... The “Ode triunfal” is neither epicurean, nor romantic, nor triumphant: it is a song of anger and defeat. And that is what makes them original.
A factory is “a tropical landscape” populated with huge lascivious wild animals. An endless fornication of wheels, pistons and rollers. As the mechanical rhythm becomes sharper, the paradise of iron and electricity turns into a torture chamber. The machines are genital organs of destruction: Campos wants to be shredded by these racing propellers. This strange vision is not as fantastic as it seems, and not just an obsession with Campos. The machines are the replication, simplification and multiplication of life processes. They charm us and fill us with horror because they give us the feeling of intelligence and unconsciousness at the same time: everything they do, they do well, but they don't know what they are doing. Isn't this a picture of modern man? But machines are only one side of today's civilization. The other is social promiscuity. The “Ode triunfal” ends with an outcry; Transformed into a bundle, a box, a package, a wheel, Álvaro de Campos loses the use of the word: it hisses, it screeches, it rattles, it hammers, it rattles, it bursts. The word Caeiros evokes the unity of man, stone and insect; the Campos ’the incoherent sound of history. Pantheism and pan-machineism, two ways of destroying consciousness.
"Tabacaria" is the poem of regained consciousness. Caeiro wonders what am I ?; Campos: who am I? From his room he looks at the street: cars, passers-by, dogs, everything real and everything hollow, everything very close and yet so far. Opposite, confident like a god, änigmatically smiling like a god, rubbing his hands like God the Father after his terrible creation, the owner of the tobacco shop appears and disappears again. There comes Esteva, the carefree, Esteva into his junk-temple-cave without metaphysicswho speaks and eats, who has feelings and political opinions and who observes the necessary holidays. From his window, from his consciousness, Campos looks at the two puppets and, seeing them, sees himself. Where is reality: in me or Esteva? The tobacco shop owner smiles and doesn't answer. As a futuristic poet, Campos first asserts that the only reality is sensation; a few years later he wonders whether he has any reality himself.
By nullifying self-awareness, Caeiro negates history; now it is history that Campos negates. A marginal life: his siblings, if he has any, are the prostitutes, the drifters, the dandy, the beggar, the rabble of the lower and upper classes. His rebellion has nothing to do with the ideas: salvation or justice: No: everything else, just have no reasons! Everything, just don't take humanity seriously! Everything, just no philanthropy! Campos also rebels against the idea of rebellion. It is not a virtue, not a state of consciousness - it is the consciousness of a feeling:
Ricardo Reis is a heathen out of conviction; Antonio Mora from intelligence; it is me from rebellion, that is, from temperament.
His sympathy for the poor is tinged with contempt, but he feels this contempt above all for himself:
I have sympathy for all of these people
Especially when they don't deserve sympathy.
Yes, I too am a vagabond and a pushy beggar (…)
To be a vagabond and a beggar does not mean to be a vagabond and a beggar:
It means standing outside the social hierarchy (…)
Means not to be a public prosecutor, not a permanent employee, not a prostitute,
No aspirant to poor law, no exploited worker,
No sick person with incurable ailments,
No one who thirsts for justice, not even a cavalry captain,
That means, in a nutshell, not to be these social people of the novelists,
Who stuff themselves with letters because they have reason to cry
And stand up against society for having the brains to do it (…)
Their stray and begging are not conditioned by any external circumstance; they are incurable without salvation. To be such a drifter is be emotionally lonely. And below, with this brutality that aroused Pessoa's annoyance: I cannot even take refuge in opinions about social conditions (…) I am sane. Nothing about aesthetics with a heart: I'm in my right mind. Crap! I am sane.
The sense of exile has been a permanent feature of modern poetry for a century and a half. Gérard de Nerval pretends to be Prince of Aquitaine; Álvaro de Campos chooses the vagabond's mask. The change is instructive. Troubadour or beggar, what is this mask hiding? Maybe nothing.The poet is conscious of his historical unreality. Only when this consciousness withdraws from history does society sink into its own opaqueness, it becomes Esteva or the owner of the tobacco shop. Some will say that Campos' attitude is not "positive". A. Casais-Monteiro replied to such criticism:
The work of Pessoa is indeed a negative work. It does not serve as a model, it teaches neither to govern nor to be governed. On the contrary, it serves to train the mind to disobey.
Unlike Caeiro, Campos is not out to be everything, but to be everyone and to be everywhere. He pays for the dispersion into plurality with the loss of identity. Ricardo Reis chooses the other possibility latent in the poetry of his teacher. Reis is a hermit as Campos is a vagabond. His Hermitage is a philosophy and a form. The philosophy is a mixture of stoicism and epicureanism. The form is the epigram, ode and elegy of the classicist poets. Only that classicism is a nostalgia, that is, a romanticism that does not know about itself or that disguises itself. While Campos writes his long monologues, which are always closer to introspection than to the hymn, his friend Reis embosses little odes about joy, the flight of time, Lydia's roses, the deceptive freedom of man, the vanity of the gods. Raised in a Jesuit school, doctor by profession, monarchist, living in exile in Brazil since 1919, pagan and skeptic by conviction, Latinist by upbringing, Reis lives outside of time. He seems, but is not, a man of the past: he has chosen to live in a timeless wisdom. Cioran recently pointed out that our century, which invented so many things, has not created what we need most. So it is not surprising that some are looking for it in the Eastern tradition: in Taoism, in Zen Buddhism: in reality these teachings fulfill the same function as the moral philosophies at the end of antiquity. Reis ’stoicism is a way of being out of the world - and staying in it. His political views have a similar status: they are not a program, but a negation of the circumstances of his time. He does not hate Christ, but neither does he love him; he detests Christianity, although, after all, an esthete, he admits with regard to Jesus that "his melancholy, painful manner has given us something we lacked". Reis ’true God is destiny, and all, people and myths, are subject to his rule.
Rice's shape is admirable and monotonous, like everything that is of artistic perfection. In these little poems, apart from the familiarity with the Latin and Greek originals, one notices a clever mixture, obtained by distillation, of the Lusitan classics and those translated into English Anthologia Graeca. The correctness of his language worried Pessoa:
Caeiro writes poor Portuguese; Campos writes it sufficiently well, although he makes mistakes and he says, for example, “eu próprio” instead of “eu mesmo”; Reis writes it better than I do, but with a purism that I consider exaggerated.
The somnambulistic exaggeration of Campos ’turns into the opposite and becomes the exaggerated accuracy of Reis. Neither the form nor the philosophy justify Reis: they justify a phantasm. The truth is that rice doesn't exist either, and he knows it. Clearly, with a clear view that penetrates deeper than the bitter one from Campos, he looks at himself:
I don't know who it is, my past
I was someone else, and I don't even recognize myself
When my soul
That strange he feels that I remember feeling.
Day by day we leave each other
Nothing certain that connects us to us
We are who we are and what
We were is something seen from within.
The labyrinth in which Reis gets lost is that of himself. The poet's inner gaze, something completely different from introspection, brings him close to Pessoa. Although both use fixed meters and forms, traditionalism does not link them because they belong to different traditions. What connects them is the feeling of time - not as something that happens before our eyes, but as something that we become. Arrested in the moment, Caeiro and Campos freely affirm being or lack of being. Reis and Campos get lost on the mountain paths of their thinking, in a bend in the path they find each other and, by becoming one with themselves, they embrace a shadow. The poem is not the expression of being, but the commemoration of this moment of unification. An empty monument: Pessoa builds a temple for the stranger; Rice, who is meager, writes an epigram that is also an epitaph:
May doom besides seeing him
Deny me everything: stoics without severity,
Chiseled saying of fate
Enjoy, letter after letter.
Álvaro de Campos quoted a saying by Ricardo Reis: I hate the lie because it's an inaccuracy. These words could also be applied to pessoa, provided that one does not confuse lie with imagination or accuracy with severity. Reis' poetry is precise and simple like a linear drawing; those of Pessoa as precise and complex as the music. Complex and varied, it goes in different directions: prose, poetry in Portuguese and poetry in English (French poems can be ignored as irrelevant). The prose writings, although not yet fully published, can be divided into two large groups: those signed with his name and those of his pseudonyms, especially of Barón de Teive, impoverished aristocrat, and Bernardo Soares ’,“ clerks ”. In various places Pessoa emphasizes that they are not heteronyms:
Both write in a style that, good or bad, is mine ...
It is not absolutely necessary to study the English poems; they are of literary and psychological interest, but do not seem to me to add much to English poetry. The poetic work in Portuguese, from 1902 to 1935, includes Mensagem, lyric poetry and dramatic poems. The latter, in my opinion, are of marginal importance. Even if you leave it aside, it remains an extensive poetic work.
A first difference: the heteronyms write in a single direction and in a single flow of time. Pessoa forks like a delta, and each of its arms offers us the image, the images, of a moment. Lyric poetry branches into Mensagem, the Cancioneiro (Songbook) (with the poems that have not yet been published and scattered) and into the Hermetic Poems. As always, the classification does not correspond to reality. Cancioneiro is a symbolist book, interspersed with hermetisms, although the poet does not use the images of the occult tradition directly. Mensagem is above all a book of heraldry - and heraldry is a branch of alchemy. Ultimately, the Hermetic poems are symbolist in form and spirit; you do not need to be an “initiate” to gain access to them, nor does their poetic understanding require special knowledge. Rather, these poems, like the rest of his work, require a deep and nuanced understanding. To know that Rimbaud was interested in Kabbalah and that he equated poetry with alchemy is useful and brings us closer to his work; but to really get into it we need a little more and a little less. Pessoa defined this something as follows: affection, intuition, intelligence, understanding and, most delicate, grace. This list may seem exaggerated. But I don't see how one can really read Baudelaire, Coleridge, or Yeats without these five requirements. However, the poetry of Pessoa presents fewer difficulties than the Hölderlins, Nervals, Mallarmés… For all poets of the modern tradition, poetry is a system of symbols and analogies, corresponding to that of the Hermetic Sciences. Corresponding to it, not identical to it: the poem is a constellation of signs that have their own light.
Pessoa took hold Mensagem as a ritual on; or also: as an esoteric book. If one takes external perfection into account, this is his most perfect work. But it is a fabricated book, by which I do not mean to say that it is insincere, but that it arose out of speculations and not out of the poet's intuitions. At first sight it is a hymn to the glory of Portugal and the prophecy of a new kingdom (the fifth) that will not be material but spiritual; his rule will extend beyond historical space and time (a Mexican reader is immediately reminded of the "cosmic race" of Vasconcelos). The book is a gallery of historical and legendary people who are removed from their traditional reality and transformed into allegories of another tradition and another reality. Perhaps without being fully aware of what he is doing, Pessoa evaporates the history of Portugal and instead presents another, purely spiritual one, which is its negation. The esoteric character of Mensagem forbids us to read it as a purely patriotic poem, as some official critics would like to. It must be added that its symbolism does not redeem it. So that the symbols actually become symbolic, they have to stop symbolizing, have to become perceptible to the senses, living creatures and not museum emblems. As in every work in which the will rather than the inspiration is in play, there is in Mensagem few poems that reach the “state of grace” that distinguishes poetry from beautiful literature. Yet these few live in the same magical space of the best poems of the Cancioneiro and some of his hermetic sonnets. It is impossible to describe what this space consists of; for me it is that of poetry par excellence, a real, tangible area that is illuminated by a different light. It doesn't matter that there are few poems. Benn said:
None of the great poets of our time left behind more than six to eight completed poems (…) So for these six poems the thirty to fifty years of asceticism, suffering and struggle.
The Cancioneiro: a woe from a few living beings and many shadowy formations. The woman, the central sun, is missing. Without a woman, the universe of the sensually perceptible dissolves, there is neither solid land, nor water, nor the embodiment of the intangible. The terrible lusts are missing. There is a lack of passion, this love, which is longing for a single being, whatever it may be. There is a vague sense of brotherhood with nature: trees, clouds, stones, everything fleeting, everything floating in a temporal vacuum. Unreality of things, image of our unreality. There is negation, weariness, and desolation. By doing Livro de Desassossêgo (Book of Restlessness), of which only fragments are known, Pessoa describes his spiritual landscape:
I belong to a generation that was born without belief in Christianity and that no longer believed in any of the other views; we were not enthusiastic about social equality, beauty, or progress; we did not look for other religious forms in Orient and Occident (every culture has an intimate relationship with the religion it represents; in losing ours we lost everything); some of us devoted ourselves to conquering everyday life; we, from a better family, renounced the res publica, wanted nothing and asked for nothing; others indulged in the cult of confusion and noise: they thought they were alive when they heard themselves, they thought they loved when they encountered the externalities of love; and we, the rest, Race of the end times, the spiritual limit of the dead time, live in negation, dissatisfaction and desolation.
This portrait is not the pessoas, but it is the background against which its figure stands out and with which it sometimes blurs. Spiritual limit of dead time: the poet is an empty person who, in his helplessness, creates a world in order to discover his true identity. All of Pessoa's work is a search for lost identity.
In one of his most quoted poems, he says:
The poet is a simulant who deceives so perfectly that he himself still simulates that the pain he really feels is simulated.
In telling the truth, he is lying; by lying he is telling the truth. We are not dealing with an aesthetic, but with a creed. Poetry is the unveiling of the poet's unreality:
Between the moonlight and the leaves
Between the calm and the forest,
Between being naked and the night wind
A secret passes
Follow the passage of my soul.
What is passing by: is it Pessoa or someone else? Over the years and with further poems, the question arises again and again. He doesn't even know if what he's writing is his. Or rather, he knows that it is not, although it is:
Why am I being fooled into thinking that what is mine is what is mine?
The search for the self - lost and found and lost again - ends in disgust:
Nausea, desire for nothing: live so as not to die.
It is only from this perspective that one can understand the full meaning of heteronyms. They are a literary invention and a psychological necessity, but they are more than that. In a sense, they are what Pessoa could or should have been; in another, deeper sense, what he did not want to be: a personality. On the one hand, they wreak havoc with the idealism and intellectual convictions of their inventor; on the other hand, they show that innocent wisdom, the marketplace and the philosophical hermitage are self-deception. The moment is as uninhabitable as the future; and stoicism is a means that kills. And yet the annihilation of the ego, because these are the heteronyms, leads to a secret fertility. The real wasteland is the ego, and not only because it locks us up in ourselves and thus condemns us to live with a phantasm, but also because it wilts everything it touches. The experience of Pessoa, perhaps without his own intention, is in the tradition of the great modern poets since Nerval and the German Romantics. The I is an obstacle is the Obstacle. Therefore any purely aesthetic judgment about his work is inadequate. Even if one has to admit that not everything he has written is of the same quality, everything, or almost everything, is shaped by the traces of his search. His work is a step towards the unknown. It's a passion.
Pessoa's world is neither this world nor the other. The word absence could define it if by absence one understands a fluid state in which presence dissolves and absence is an announcement - of what? -, is the moment in which the present is no longer and what shows up hinting at what will perhaps be. The urban desert is covered with signs: the stones say something, the wind, the lighted window and the lonely tree on the corner say something, everything says something, not what I say, but something else, always something else, just that what can never be said. Absence is not just a lack, but also a premonition of a presence that is never fully revealed. Hermetic poems and chants coincide: in the absence, in the unreality that we are, something is present. Amazed among people and things, the poet walks through a street in the old town. He enters a park and the leaves are stirring. You are about to say something ... No, you have not said anything. Unreality of the world in the last light of day. Everything is motionless, in anticipation. The poet now knows that he has no identity. Like these houses, almost golden, almost real, like these trees floating in the evening hour, he too is withdrawn from himself. And the other, the doppelganger, the true pessoa does not appear. He will never appear: there is no other. What appears, creeps in, is the other, what has no name, what cannot be named and what our poor words beg for.Is it the poetry? No: poetry is what remains and comforts us, the awareness of absence. And again, barely audible, a murmur of something: pessoa or the imminent imminence of the unknown.
Octavio Paz, 1961, from Octavio Paz: Essays 2, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1984
Winner in failure
- Fernando Pessoa and Robert Walser, two distant relatives. -
"I failed like all of nature," says Fernando Pessoa's assistant accountant Bernardo Soares in the confession Book of Unrest. It seems as if only our time is susceptible to such failure, just as Robert Walser, this virtuoso in the art of beautiful failure, is only now beginning to be recognized in its comprehensive meaning. At least a The reason for the late discovery of Fernando Pessoa and Robert Walser is probably that they both Poet beyond systems were; they cannot be pressed into either ideological or literary-stylistic schemes; Just as they cannot be politically co-opted by either the right or the left, they were also alien or indifferent to the prevailing styles of their time, or else they deliberately deformed and exploded them.
There are certainly Art Nouveau elements in Robert Walser and futuristic echoes in Fernando Pessoa, more precisely in Alvaro de Campos, which he created; but Walser is neither an Art Nouveau author nor Pessoa a futurist, Art Nouveau or Futurism are just masks among other masks for both. And just as Robert Walser, in his provocative variety of expressions, also has an idyllic, neo-romantic and almost edifying side (which seems to predestine him, who favored the genre of the school essay, to be a primer author) There is also a backward-looking side with Pessoa: he had to create two heteronyms for his antiquing, archaic and “pagan” needs as well as his classicistic inclinations, Alberto Caeiro and Ricardo Reis.
But Caeiro and Reis are not pessoa. Just all together - and besides the well-known and already mentioned four heteronyms there are still numerous others, such as Vicente Guesde, the archivist, the Barón de Teide, Jean Seul, the French satirical journalist, Antonio Mora, the philosopher of Neopaganism, not allowed forget Charles Robert Anon and Alexander Search, the English spelling heteronyms from his youth - are Pessoa. Pessoa, that means both in Portuguese person as well as mask (the word is derived from the Latin persona). In fact, no other modernist author can distinguish between person and mask as little as in the case of Fernando Pessoa. So that Octavio Paz, who said that the heteronyms are “not literary masks”, is ultimately just as right as the one who would claim that even Pessoa ipse is still a mask.
"He is the most covert of all poets," said Elias Canetti of Robert Walser and saw Walser's peculiarity in the fact that this one never express his motives. With Pessoa this denial of motive is at least as pronounced as with Walser. Both think very little of "the truth" or truths. "Always be aware that expressing yourself means nothing more than lying to you," Pessoa's assistant accountant Soares noted once in the Book of Unrest. And another time: “The lie is ... the ideal language of the soul.” In his prose piece “Lie auf die Bühne” (“Lie on the Stage”) from 1907, which was directed against the naturalism that dominated the stage at the time and ended with the inimitable sentence: “I am for one Lies theater, God help me! ", Robert Walser had also propagated an art that" spins out golden, ideal lies in large, unnaturally beautiful forms ". Only when the illusion is factored in from the start, says Soares = Pessoa, there is no disillusionment. But only art can master this art of illusion:
Love, sleep, drugs and poisons are elementary forms of art, or, better said, they produce the same effect as they do. But love, sleep and drugs are always followed by disillusionment. You get tired of love or let it down. You wake up from sleep, and while you slept you haven't lived. Drugs are paid for by ruining the same physique they were used to stimulate. But there is no disillusionment in art, because the illusion was factored in from the start. There is no awakening from art, because we do not sleep in it, even if we may dream. In art there is no tribute, no penalty that we have to pay for enjoying it.
Aren't even pessoas heteronymous embodiments of such "golden, ideal lies" in the Walser sense? Of course, nothing can hide the fact that this play with masks, this compulsion to lie in art, this compulsion to fake, result in Pessoa as in Walser from a fundamental experience of deficiency, an unprecedented weakness of the ego; both can only fake self-confidence, only simulate it on paper. A weak self creates other selves to distract from its weakness. However, these heteronyms remain an expression of a lack of autonomy, they remain signs of failure.
"The poet is a simulant who deceives so perfectly that he himself still simulates that the pain he really feels is simulated," writes Soares = Pessoa. The proximity of this sentence to Robert Walser is evident. In one of his late poems being the expression late both with Pessoa and with Robert Walser is misleading insofar as both “late works” come from their mid-forties! - Under the title "Autopsychography", Pessoa ipse has known how to disguise the compulsion to simulate as a mere game:
The poet is fooling us:
So far does he play his game
That sorrow he really feels
Played grief becomes.
And who then reads what he wrote:
Instead of that double torment
Does he feel a third thing now:
The pain he doesn't feel
And so, the mind to pass the time,
Does it roll on its track:
The little toy train
Commonly called "heart".
Transfer: Paul Celan
Robert Walser, too, has repeatedly known how to sublimate his failure to reality. And those sentences with which Soares = Pessoa describes himself as a puppet, a "book creature" would have seemed familiar to him:
I am largely the same prose that I write. I unfold in periods and sections, I become punctuation, and as the images (metaphors) are distributed unleashed, I dress like children as a king made of newspaper, or I adorn myself as I would from a string of words Rhythms form, like the crazy with dry flowers that stay alive in my dreams. And with all this I am as still as a doll filled with sawdust, which comes to its own consciousness and nods its head every now and then so that the bell on top of the pointed cap (an integral part of the head) makes something sound, the sounding life of the Dead, tiny hint of fate ... I have become a book being, a life read.
But where does this compulsion to turn a living one into a "book being" from? Where did this compulsion come from - cocky, haughty or discouraged? - to be isolated and completely lonely? Both the Swiss and the Portuguese fell not only out of the respective literary business of their time and their countries, but also out of any social and even family ties, both soon only dealt with themselves (when Carl Seelig found him at one of the Walks near Herisau asked who he had dealt with in Bern, Robert Walser replied: “with myself”). One will search back deeply into the childhood of these two writers, one will have to trace the silent catastrophes of childhood, if one wishes to uncover the roots of their later isolation.
Robert Walser lost his mother at an early age, Pessoa his father even earlier - but figuratively he also lost his mother, namely to her second husband, the consul general of Portugal in South Africa, to whom the mother and her children soon after the death of her first husband after there followed. This stepfather was responsible for the fact that Pessoa and his mother also threatened to lose his mother tongue, because he was brought up in English by Irish nuns in Durban. An entry in the Book of Unrest, in which Pessoa lets his soares become a complete orphan:
I don't remember my mother. She died when I was one year old ... (her) My father lived far away; he killed himself when I was three years old and I never knew him.
Robert Walser's pupil Jakob von Gunten enters in his diary:
I was never actually a child, and therefore, I confidently believe that something childhood will always cling to me. I've only grown so, got older, but the essence remained ... I don't develop.
In the diary of the assistant accountant Soares, an entry corresponds conspicuously with that of Jakob von Gunten = Robert Walser, for a brief moment it transforms the otherwise rather philosophical and distanced one Book of Unrest in a journal intimate:
God created me as a child and has always made me a child. But why did he let my life hit me, take my toys away and leave me alone during the breaks, when I crumpled my blue apron, which had become dirty from frequent crying, with weak hands?
In both authors, Pessoa and Robert Walser, the early losses left behind a fear of contact that reached into mania, which both of them converted into a transfiguration of untouchedness, into a cult of renunciation of contact.
Seeing and hearing are the only noble things that life contains. The other senses are plebeian and purely physical; the only nobility is never to touch, not to approach - that is nobility.
The former clerk and clerk Robert Walser did not express this as aristocratically as Pessoa's assistant accountant Soares, but he acted according to this maxim throughout his life; he himself dearest among the untouchables he created, the pupil Jakob von Gunten - who, by the way, noticeably bears the noble "von" in his name - proclaims just as emphatically as the failed bookseller's apprentice and poet Simon Tanner from the novel Siblings Tanner (who sees himself “still standing at the door of life”) the aristocratic distance program (even if Simon Tanner then comes down to petty-bourgeois decency instead of nobility):
I am nothing but one who listens and waits, but as such I am perfect, for I have learned to dream while I wait; it goes hand in hand, and is good for you, and you remain decent.
Robert Walser announced something similar in 1914 in a prose fragment that he noted on the back of his sketch “The Man”:
I am a mindful person. I consist almost entirely of attention. I have to take care of everything, it forces me, it pulls me away, I can't help it. I can't look away, I can't skip anything. Perhaps that is an evil. Yes, it is very likely an evil. But this peculiar evil rules and rules me, and I am his servant, must obey him. Other people sleep, I, I always wake up as if I were always on some kind of watch.
Pessoa, who once speaks of the “ecstasy of looking” and writes as Alberto Caeiro:
If you want to write my biography after my death,
nothing is easier than that.
She only has two dates - birth and date of death.
All the days in between are mine.
I am easy to come up with a formula.
I was obsessed with looking
Pessoa = Soares actually sees itself as Spy of life:
I lived among them as a spy and no one, not even myself, suspected that I was one. Everyone thought I was a relative: nobody suspected that I had been mixed up at birth ...
In Pessoa, as in Walser, the fear of contact generated from the fear of loss has become voyeurism, a kind of literary espionage activity. Both poets, struck by insomnia throughout their lives, are "eye-lovers", as Mr. Soares calls it, they drift through the streets of the cities day and night or sit in more or less poor taverns and do what Robert Walser does when they meet Alfred Fankhauser in Bern who drastically called the 1920s “Augevögle”. For both of them, the woman only exists as a projection, a dream, a beautiful lie. “We never love anyone. We just love the image we have of someone, ”writes Soares = Pessoa. Or also: “The onanist is the completely logical expression of the lover. He's the only one who doesn't fool himself and doesn't deceive himself. "Robert Walser's Jakob von Gunten proclaims the consequence:" Do without love, yes, that means love! "Soares = Pessoa adds:" Who gives love, loses love ", and finally finds the following distance formula for himself: "abdicate from life in order not to abdicate from yourself."
But what kind of self is that that is too fragile for any touch and has to say to itself: "I envy all people for not being me" (Soares = Pessoa), or: "I don't wish anyone, he was me" (Robert Walser)? It is a manifold fragmented self, surrendered to its observation particles, which is constantly forced to redefine itself and yet is never able to feel the certainty of an identity. "I constantly feel that I was someone else, that I thought as someone else," writes Soares = Pessoa, or:
In order to be able to create, I destroyed myself; I have externalized myself in myself to such an extent that I do not exist in myself other than externally. I am the living stage with different actors performing different plays.
Each perception calls out a different I, a different expression of sensitivity on this I-stage:
The slightest occurrence - a change in light, the curled fall of a dry leaf, the petal peeling off withered, the voice on the other side of the wall, or the steps of the one who raises that voice in concert with the steps of the one who she hears the half-open portal of the old estate, the inner courtyard that opens up under the arch of the houses huddled together in the moonlight - all these things that do not belong to me still bind my sensitive reflections with bonds of echo and longing. In every single one of these perceptions I am different, painfully renewing myself in every indefinite impression.
Soares = Pessoa brings the fleetingness of the appearances, their tormenting permanent metamorphosis, to the most succinct of all conceivable loss formulas: "Seeing means: having already seen." And there is always another self that sees - and has seen.
„Je est un autre“: It was Rimbaud who, before Pessoa and Robert Walser, recorded their basic experience in one sentence, a sentence that could actually be considered the motto of modernity. None of the authors who we still claim for this modernity today, however divergent they may (have been) among each other, who would not have dealt with this experience of the “I disintegration” (Gottfried Benn), von Hofmannsthal with his “Lord- Chandos-Brief ”and his“ Conversation about Poems ”(“ Like the unsubstantial rainbow, our soul stretches over the inexorable fall of existence; we do not own our self: it blows at us from outside, it flees us for a long time and returns us a breath back ... And something meets in us with others. We are nothing more than a dovecote ”) to Ernst Bloch, whose“ traces ”are opened programmatically by the two sentences:“ I am. But I have not. ”From Ezra Pound, who spoke with so many strange voices, who felt“ the souls of all greats pass through us ”and confessed:“ I began the search for the being with a book called 'Personae', in which I, as it were, dismissed a finished mask of the self with every poem ”, right up to his friend TS Eliot, in his epoch-making poem The waste land Two other people are still present when the one I speaks, but not in the sense of a romantic doppelganger, but that of an incomprehensible polypersonality (“Who is the third who walks always beside you?”).
Whether it was Marinetti, the futurist (whose work Pessoa was partially familiar with), fleeing to the front, calling to “destroy the self in literature”, or his compatriot Pirandello sent six stage characters “in search of their author”, whether it was Juan Ramón Jiménez a poem “Me and I” or Jorge Luis Borges a whole book Borges and me ("I am not me. / I am the one / who walks by my side without my seeing him / whom I often visit / and whom I often forget / the one who is quietly silent when I speak ..." , wrote Jiménez, and Borges wrote: “I live, live to myself, so that Borges can spin out his literature ... I have to stay in Borges, not in myself, if I am anyone at all, but I don't recognize myself as much in his books than in many others ... I don't even know which of us is writing this page ”), whether André Breton wrote his“ Nadja ”with the question“ Who am I? ”or Max Frisch his“ Stiller ”with the assertion“ I am not Stiller ”began, whether Julien Green, who always wrote himself as the medium of an unknown power, insisted that one could“ very well be two people ”, or Karen Blixen, who published under three names, her singer Pellegrina was a“ multiple ” asked whether Valéry Larbaud as “Mr. Barnabooth ”appeared or Witold Gombrowicz defiantly put the fourfold assertion“ I / I / I / I ”at the beginning of his diary (and thus only proved how insecure he was about this self): I-loss and I have always been and are - Decay from the desire for depersonalization can hardly be distinguished from one another.
T.S. Eliot said: “Poetry is not an expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But of course only those who have personality know what it means to want to escape it. ”Even in the authors of Mayakovsky's style who like to proclaim collective happiness (the one volume of poetry 100 million titled) or Brechts (who in his “measure” subordinated the individual “who only has two eyes” to the party with its “thousand eyes”) left its mark on this dialectic of polypersonality and the desire for depersonalization, just as it did in drugs -Texts of Huxley, Ernst Jüngers and Henri Michaux 'or in the "écriture automatique" of the surrealists, all of whom are based on the conviction that the moment the ego is silenced, the other in us - the other ego closes begin to speak. And of course the expressionistic regression dreams of Gottfried Benn also belong here:
Oh that we were our great ancestors.
A lump of slime in a warm bog.
Life and death, fertilization and giving birth
slipped forward from our silent juices.
An algae leaf or a dune mound,
Shaped by the wind and heavy downwards.
Already a dragonfly head, a gull wing
would be too far and suffer too much.
Not at all regressive, but as a welcome opportunity to be able to open up in general, Robert Walser perceives what for others is only ego poverty, painful or painfully dreamed of ego loss. In his prose piece “Friendship Letter”, printed in 1919, in which the “close self” faces life “like a giant”, it says:
How poor I am in the sea of excitement. But I am happy, because I think that only the poor are capable of disdainfully departing from the narrow self in order to lose themselves in something better, in the floating that makes us happy, in the movement that does not stop, in something high that always grows, of the vibrating general, of the never-ending common that sustains us until it may bury us in peace.
For Robert Walser and Fernando Pessoa, the endangered self is best kept in the “lower regions”, “being small and staying” is both maxim: “Be and stay small. And lift and carry me a hand, a circumstance, a wave up to where power and influence dictate, I would smash the relationships that preferred me, and I would throw myself down into the low, meaningless darkness. I can only breathe in the lower regions. ”This is how Jakob von Gunten puts it in his diary. And the assistant accountant Soares has Pessoa write in his diary: “If I had the world in hand, I am sure I would exchange it for a ticket to Rua dos Douradores” (that is that little, joyless street in Lisbon's Baixa where Soares has his office and room, according to Pessoa).
“In truth, Chef Vasques is worth more than the kings of the dream; in truth, the office on Rua dos Douradores is worth more than the great avenues of impossible parks, ”says this Soares = Pessoa.
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