01 August 2009

Into Pessoa

Now that I've got some actual books, I'm beginning to read some of Pessoa's poetry. The first, wonderful, thing about it is how easy the language is. Pessoa and his heteronyms use a limited vocabulary, using a lot of repetition. Here's an extract from the collection O Guardador de Rebanhos by Alberto Caeiro.
O único sentido íntimo das cousas
É elas não terem sentido íntimo nenhum.

Não acredito em Deus porque nunca o vi.
Se ele quisesse que eu acreditasse nele,
Sem dúvida que viria falar comigo
E entraria pela minha porta dentro
Dizendo-me, Aqui estou!

(The only inner meaning of things
Is that they have no inner meaning.

I don't believe in God because I've never seen him.
If he wanted me to believe in him,
No doubt he would come to talk with me
And would come in through my door
Saying to me, Here I am!)

Caeiro, according to the introduction to the selection, is a simple man, closely allied with the natural world, refusing to try to find any transcendent meaning. Unlike Pessoa himself, who had many metaphysical worries.

Ricardo Reis, the second heteronym in the collection, writes, according to the introduction, with a classical poise, although reflecting a struggle between epicurism and stoicism. His poems are short and formal, with classical mannerisms, and slightly harder.
As rosas amo dos jardins de Adónis,
Essas volucres amo, Lídia, rosas,
       Que em o dia em que nascem,
       Em esse dia morrem.
A luz para elas é eterna, porque
Nascem nascido já o sol, e acabam
       Antes que Apolo deixe
       O seu curso visível.
Assim façamos nossa vida um dia,
Inscientes, Lídia, voluntariamente
       Que há noite antes e após
       O pouco que duramos.

I'm not translating that in full, but the last four lines are roughly:
So we make our life a day,
Unknowing, Lidia, willingly
That there is night before and after
The little that we last.
You can imagine that the word order follows a Latin original. I don't know if it's an actual translation or a pastiche.

The third heteronym in the collection, Alvaro de Campos, has led a more extreme life, including a period of cocaine use, and has travelled widely as a naval engineer, which is why he washed up in "Barrow-on-Furness". His poems often have long rambling lines, and one is called Saudacao a Walt Whitman. Yet he can also write in strict sonnet form (as in "Barrow"). I haven't got far into his poetry yet. It is harder still to understand, containing a rich mixture of language and register, but seems to share Whitman's exuberance at the variety of life, sharpened by a sense of its transience.

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