THREE POEMS BY PESSOA
I first became aware of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) around eight years ago. In addition to being a poet he was a prolific writer, literary critic, translator, philosopher and significant literary figure.
In reading his writings I am perpetually rewarded because one continuously encounters the unexpected. A special feature of his thought and mind is expressed in his observation that “contradiction is the essence of the universe.”
Perhaps it’s the simplicity and depth which gives his prose its power, and keeps me returning to the well.
What’s especially interesting is how he wrote under various guises. That is, he created multiple personalities and wrote from the point of view of these various characters, which he called heteronyms. Heteronyms are words that are spelled identically but have different meanings. The concept is fascinating when applied to persons and multiple personalities.
Most of his poetry was published posthumously, something else that I find fascinating. The poems are signed by the various persona he had adopted for each, an achievement in itself when you consider the quantity of names he wrote under.
A Keeper of Sheep
I’m a keeper of sheep.
The sheep are my thoughts
And each thought a sensation.
I think with my eyes and my ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.
To think a flower is to see and smell it,
And to eat a fruit is to know its meaning.
That is why on a hot day
When I enjoy it so much I feel sad,
And I lie down in the grass
And close my warm eyes,
Then I feel my whole body lying down in reality,
I know the truth, and I’m happy.
- Alberto Caeiro
To Be Great
To be great, be whole; don’t exaggerate
Or leave out any part of you,
Be complete in each thing. Put all you are
Into the least of your acts.
So too in each lake, with its lofty life,
The whole moon shines.
- Ricardo Reis
The only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning.
It’s the strangest thing of all,
Stranger than all poets’ dreams
And all philosophers’ thoughts,
That things are really what they seem to be
And there’s nothing to understand.
Yes, this is what my senses learned on their own:
Things have no meaning: they have existence.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things.
- Alberto Caeiro