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Monday, October 10, 2005

If I could bite into the whole earth (Fernando Pessoa)

A while back — couple weeks now, I guess — I received an email from another John MacKenzie with a blog; this one living in Chile. He sent a Fernando Pessoa poem which he thought I might like. And I did like it, liked it so much that I tried translating it. Here's the original (my current version is below):

Si yo pudiera morder la tierra toda

Si yo pudiera morder la tierra toda
y sentirle el sabor sería más feliz por un momento...
Pero no siempre quiero ser feliz
es necesario ser de vez en cuando infeliz para poder ser natural...
No todo es días de sol
y la lluvia cuando falta mucho, se pide.
Por eso tomo la infelicidad con la felicidad.
Naturalmente como quien no se extraña
con que existan montañas y planicies y que haya rocas y hierbas...
Lo que es necesario es ser natural y calmado en la felicidad o en la
Sentir como quien mira. Pensar como quien anda,
y cuando se ha de morir,
Recordar que el día muere y que el poniente
es bello y es bella la noche que queda.
Así es y así sea.

Fernando Pessoa

If I could bite into the whole earth

If I could bite into the whole earth
and feel the flavour of all its life in my mouth
I'd be happier for a little while.
But I don't want to to be happy all the time —
to be sad is just as necessary, just as natural....

Even the sun can't shine every day;
when there's been no rain for weeks, we ask for it.
And so we must balance grief with joy.

Naturally — as those who aren't surprised
that both mountains and plains exist
and that there are rocks as well as grass —
that's how we need to live, to be calm and natural
in joy or in grief.

To feel like someone looking a long way off.
To think like a man walking a long way,
and, when it's time to die,
to remember each day dies
and that the setting sun is beautiful
and that emptiness is the beauty of the night.

And that's how it is. That's how it is.


Bruno said...

Hmm! Its funny to see that Fernando Pessoa is known in all world! Its good for my country! I am Portuguese too and i love Pessoa Poetry! :)

MackJohnny said...

Hey Bruno! Glad you visited. Pessoa is good for the world, I think.

Loren said...

We like him here in Washington State, or at least I do.

lili said...

It is very pleasant to see that Fernando Pessoa is known in all world but this is not a Fernando Pessoa ortonym's poem, as you said. These verses belong to one of his heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro, and are from a poem called "The Keeper of Herds".

"I have no ambitions and no desires.
Being a poet is not my ambition,
It's just my way of being alone."
Alberto Caeiro: "The Keeper of Herds" (O Guardador de Rebanhos)
Alberto Caeiro was Pessoa's first great heteronym; summarized by Pessoa, writing: "He sees things with the eyes only, not with the mind. He does not let any thoughts arise when he looks at a flower... the only thing a stone tells him is that it has nothing at all to tell him... this way of looking at a stone may be described as the totally unpoetic way of looking at it. The stupendous fact about Caeiro is that out of this sentiment, or rather, absence of sentiment, he makes poetry."

What this means, and what makes Caeiro such an original poet is the way he apprehends existence. He does not question anything whatsoever; he calmly accepts the world as it is. The recurrent themes to be found in nearly all of Caeiro's poems are "wide-eyed child-like wonder at the infinite variety of nature", as noted by a critic. He is free of metaphysical entanglements. Central to his world-view is the idea that in the world around us, all is surface: things are precisely what they seem, there is no hidden meaning anywhere.

He manages thus to free himself from the anxieties that batter his peers; for Caeiro, things simply exist and we have no right to credit them with more than that. Our unhappiness, he tells us, springs from our unwillingness to limit our horizons. As such, Caeiro attains happiness by not questioning, and by thus avoiding doubts and uncertainties. He apprehends reality solely through his eyes, through his senses. What he teaches us is that if we want to be happy we ought to do the same. Octavio Paz called him "the innocent poet". Paz made a shrewd remark on the heteronyms: "In each are particles of negation or unreality. Reis believes in form, Campos in sensation, Pessoa in symbols. Caeiro doesn't believe in anything. He exists."

Poetry before Caeiro was essentially interpretative; what poets did was to offer an interpretation of their perceived surroundings; Caeiro does not do this. Instead, he attempts to communicate his senses, and his feelings, without any interpretation whatsoever.

Caeiro attempts to approach Nature from a qualitatively different mode of apprehension; that of simply perceiving (an approach akin to phenomenological approaches to philosophy). Poets before him would make use of intricate metaphors to describe what was before them; not so Caeiro: his self-appointed task is to bring these objects to the reader's attention, as directly and simply as possible. Caeiro sought a direct experience of the objects before him.

As such it is not surprising to find that Caeiro has been called an anti-intellectual, anti-Romantic, anti-subjectivist, anti-poet, by critics; Caeiro simply--is. He is in this sense very unlike his creator Fernando Pessoa: Pessoa was besieged by metaphysical uncertainties; these were, to a large extent, the cause of his unhappiness; not so Caeiro: his attitude is anti-metaphysical; he avoided uncertainties by adamantly clinging to a certainty: his belief that there is no meaning behind things. Things, for him, simply--are.

Caeiro represents a primal vision of reality, of things. He is the pagan incarnate. Indeed Caeiro, Richard Zenith tells us, was not simply a pagan but 'paganism itself'.

The critic Jane M. Sheets sees the insurgence of Caeiro--who was Pessoa's first major heteronym-- as essential in founding the later poetic personas: "By means of this artless yet affirmative anti-poet, Caeiro, a short-lived but vital member of his coterie, Pessoa acquired the base of an experienced and universal poetic vision. After Caeiro's tenets had been established, the avowedly poetic voices of Campos, Reis and Pessoa himself spoke with greater assurance."
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