Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fernando Pessoa


Fernando Pessoa

The Uncollected Poems of Alberto Caeiro

All theories, all poems
Last longer than this flower.
But that's like mist, which is uncomfortable and damp,
And larger than this flower...
The size and lastingness aren't important...
They're only size and lastingness...
What matters is that the flower lasts and has size
(If reality is the true dimension of things)...
Being real is the only true thing in the world.

Does my verse make sense if the universe doesn't make sense?
In geometry does a part exceed the whole?
In biology does the function of the organs
Have more life than the body?

From afar I see a ship go by...
Drift indifferently down the river Tagus.
Indifferent not for paying me no attention,
I don't feel distressed by that...
It's indifferent because it has no sense at all
Outside of the simple nautical fact
Of its going downriver with no reference to anything beyond that...
Downriver toward the reality of the sea.

Truth, untruth, certainty, uncertainty...
That blind man there in the road also knows these words.
I sit on a high step and have placed my hands
On top of my knee which I've crossed over the other.
So then: truth, untruth, certainty, uncertainty, what are they?
The blind man stops in the road,
I remove my hands from the top of my knee.
Truth, untruth, certainty, uncertainty, are they the same?
Something changed in one part of reality – my knees and my hands.
Which science has an understanding of this?
The blind man continues on his way and I make no more gestures.
Already time is not the same, nor people the same, nor anything the same.
Being real is this.

So I pass cleanly to Matter
To restore in its rightful place what mankind has disarranged
For its true purpose wasn't noticed.
I straighten out, like Reality's good housewife,
The curtains in the windows of Sensation
The doormats at the doors of Perception
And sweep the rooms of observation
Cleaning the dust off of simple ideas...
This is my life, from verse to verse.

I take joy in the fields without looking at them.
You ask me why I take joy in them.
Because I take joy in them, I answer.
To take joy in a flower is to be beside it unconsciously
And have a notion of its scent in our vaguest thoughts.
When I look, I don't take joy: I see.
I close my eyes, and my body, that's on the grass,
Belongs completely to the outside of someone who closes their eyes –
Before the firm freshness of the fragrant and uneven earth;
And to some of the indistinct sounds of things that exist,
And only a shadow formed of light pulses gently on my lids,
And only a trace of life is heard.

from The Keeper of Flocks


One midday towards the end of spring
I had a dream clear as a photograph.
I saw Jesus come down to earth.

He descended by a mountain path
Made a child once more,
To run and roll himself in the grass
And pluck the flowers and toss them
And laugh in a way that can be heard from afar.

He'd run away from heaven.
He was too much like us to pretend he was
The second person of the trinity.
In heaven everything was false, everything out of keeping
With flowers and trees and stones.
In heaven he always had to be serious
And from time to time become a man again
And mount the cross and always be dying
With a crown of thorns on his head
And his feet hammered-down with a spiked nail,
And with a cloth wrapped about his waist
Just like the black men in those pictures.
He wasn't even allowed to have a mother and father
Like other children.
He was fathered by two people –
An old man called Joseph, who was a carpenter,
And who wasn't his father;
And his other father was a silly dove,
The only ugly dove in the whole world
Because it wasn't of this world nor was it a dove.
And his mother hadn't loved anyone before having him.

She wasn't a woman: she was a carry-case
In which he arrived from heaven.
And they wanted him, born only of a mother,
And who never had a father to love with respect,
To preach unity and justice!

One day while God was sleeping
And the Holy Spirit was off flying,
He went to the miracle box and stole three.
With the first he ensured that nobody would find out that he'd run away.
With the second he made himself eternally human and a child.
With the third he created a Christ who'd remain eternally on the cross
And left him nailed to the cross in heaven
To serve as a model for all others.
Afterwards he ran away toward the sun
And came down on the first sun-beam he could catch.

Today he lives with me in my village.
He's a natural child with a beautiful smile.
He wipes his nose with his right arm,
Stamps in the puddles,
Picks flowers and admires them and forgets them.
He throws stones at the donkeys,
Steals fruit from the orchards
And scampers away, crying and screaming, from the dogs.
And, because he knows they don't like it
And everyone finds it funny,
He runs behind the girls
Who pass in groups along the pathways
With water-pots on their heads
And pulls up their skirts.

He has taught me everything.
He taught me how to look at things.
He pointed out all the things that can be found in flowers.
He showed me how funny the stones are
When people take them in their hand
And look at them slowly.

He speaks very badly of God.
He tells me he is a sick and silly old man,
Always spitting on the floor
And saying rude things.
The Virgin Mary spends all the eternal afternoons sewing.
And the Holy Spirit scratches itself with its beak
And roosts in the heavenly seats and dirties them.
Everything in heaven is silly like the Catholic Church.
He tells me that God pays no attention
To the things that he created –
"If he actually created them, which I doubt" –
"He says, for instance, that all living things sing his glory,
But living things don't sing anything.
If they sang they would be singers.
Living things exist and nothing more,
And that's why they are called living things".

And afterwards, tired of speaking badly of God,
The child Jesus falls asleep in my arms
And I carry him into the house.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

He lives with me in my house on the hillside.
He's the Eternal Child, the god that was missing.
He is both human and natural,
The divine one who smiles and plays.
And by this I know in all certainty
That he's truly the Child Jesus.

And he's the child who's so human he's divine
And this is my daily life as a poet,
And the reason I'm always a poet is because he's always with me,
And the merest glance
Fills me with emotion,
And the least sound, whatever it is,
Seems to speak to me.

This New Child who lives where I live
Offers one hand to me
And the other to everything that exists
And so the three of us walk on our way,
Leaping and singing and laughing
And enjoying our shared secret,
Which is knowing that in all places
The world holds no mystery
And that everything's worthwhile.

The Eternal Child always accompanies me.
My glance follows the direction in which his finger points.
My hearing, joyfully attuned to all sounds,
Is the playful way he tickles me about the ears.

We understand each other so well
In whatever company
That we never think about each other,
But live together the two of us
In intimate agreement
Like a right and left hand.

As evening falls we play at tossing stones
On the front step of the house,
Serious, as becomes a god and a poet,
And as if every stone
Were a whole universe
And as if it were a great danger
Should one fall to the ground.

Afterwards I tell him stories about men and of things relating to man
And he laughs, because everything is incredible.
He laughs at kings and at those who aren't kings,
And it saddens him to hear about wars,
And about trade, and of the ships
That throw smoke into the air on the high seas.
Because he knows that all this falls short of the truth
That a flower has to blossom
And follow the sunlight
Varying the mountains and valleys
And making one's eyes ache beside the whitewashed walls.

After this he falls sleep and I put him to bed.
I carry him in my arms into the house
And lay him down, undressing him slowly
As if following the tenderest ritual,
An utterly maternal one, until he is completely naked.

He sleeps within my soul
And sometimes wakes at night
And plays with my dreams.
He turns some of them upside down,
Throws some on top of others
And applauds his own efforts
Smiling at my sleepiness.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When I die, little boy,
I'll then be the child, the smallest one.
Take me in your arms
And carry me into your house.
Undress my worn-out human-self
And lay me in your bed.
And tell me stories if I awake
To send me back to sleep.
And give me your dreams to play with
Until the coming of the day
That you already know of.

. . . . . . . . .

This is the story of my Child Jesus.
Why shouldn't it be seen
As being any less true
Than all that's been thought by philosophers
And all that's been taught by religion?

translated from the Portuguese by Michael Lee Rattigan

Fernando Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888. He spent much of his childhood in Durban, South Africa, returning to Lisbon at the age of seventeen. He earned his living as a writer of foreign correspodence for business firms, as a translator and horoscope seller. Pessoa created a wide array of characters in the theatre of himself (made up of at least seventy two "dramatis personae"), though the three heteronyms for which he is well known are: Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis. He died in Lisbon in 1935.

Michael Lee Rattigan was born in Croydon, England. His work has been published on the internet, in magazines (most recently in OtherPoetry and Phati'tude) as well as in book form: a chapbook of poems, Nature Notes and the first complete bi-lingual translation of Fernando Pessoa's Caeiro poems. Both published by Rufus Books.


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