A man may suffer as much in a suit of silks as in a sack or in a torn blanket. (31)In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferently narrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say. (Excerpt from “The Book of Disquiet”, 191)
There is a lot of things to mention about this book. I cannot possibly write about everything because an entire world lies in every paragraph of this brilliant work. So I will just write some little, rambling thoughts about one of the greatest authors that ever lived.
Pessoa or the soul of the world.
There are many boats destined for many ports, but no boat for life to stop hurting, nor a landing-place where we can forget everything. All of this occurred a long time ago, but my grief is even older. (79)
A heartbreaking beauty behind every word. A man capable of creating other men with their own strengths and weaknesses. He sees them from afar, he speaks to them as if they were strangers, as if they were extensions of his body. I cannot imagine the pressure of being a human being with a whole world inside of him, and, at the same time, capable of harboring an implacable loneliness. Infinite loneliness. Existence and resignation.
And then, I think I can imagine.
The bliss of understanding. The suffering of empathy.
Yes. The soul of the world. The plurality of thought. The division of the soul. The complexity of a quiet rebellion. The loudest rebellion in the shape of words. Words in love, in agony, in despair. That fascinating dichotomy of the powerful simplicity of words that can create people, universes, havens, a sacred place where you can pour whatever your heart cannot carry within itself, any longer.
I am tired of confiding in myself, of lamenting over myself, of pitying mine own self with tears...I have no really intimate friends, and even were there one intimate, in world’s ways, yet he were not intimate in the way I understand intimacy. I am shy and unwilling to make known my woes. An intimate friend is one of my ideal things, one of my daydreams, yet an intimate friend is a thing I never shall have. (30)
Like I said, this book contains a selected prose that covers all ground. There are notes, opinions, plays, letters (I didn't exactly enjoy his love letters that much, they reminded me of the poor man Dostoyevsky described in his wonderful White Nights; and then, after a little research, I understood*), passages about life, love, religion, solitude, women, science, philosophy, psychology, politics; real and fake authors, real and invented literary movements, short stories, quotes about other works of his, and some other curiosities. He was fond of spiritualism, astrology, occultism and many other -isms. Despite his doubts, Pessoa never abandoned his spiritual quest, presumably for the reason set forth in the Alvaro de Campos poem (81) that I quoted in the last status update.
Anyway, you can get a fair glimpse of what it means to live in a Pessoan universe. In addition to all that, you will find the helpful notes of Richard Zenith; he will give you context and a better way to comprehend this author's writings.
You cannot ask for more.
But I could ask you something. Have you ever asked yourself what is poetry? What is its nature? Pessoa gave one of the most beautiful and accurate answers I have ever read.
Poetry is in everything—in land and in sea, in lake and in riverside. It is in the city too—deny it not —it is evident to me here as I sit: there is poetry in this table, in this paper, in this inkstand; there is poetry in the rattling of the cars on the streets, in each minute, common, ridiculous motion of a workman who [on] the other side of the street is painting the signboard of a butcher’s shop... For poetry is astonishment, admiration, as of a being fallen from the skies taking full consciousness of his fall, astonished at things. (28)
Have you ever felt like you were about to lose your mind?
Add to all this other reasons still for suffering, some physical, others mental, the susceptibility to every small thing that can cause pain (or even that to a normal man could not cause pain), add to this other things still, complications, money difficulties—join all this to my fundamentally unbalanced temperament, and you may be able to suspect what my suffering is.One of my mental complications—horrible beyond words—is a fear of insanity, which itself is insanity. (32)
Have you ever lost hope? Have you ever lost faith in humanity as a whole?
Ten thousand times my heart broke within me. I cannot count the sobs that shook me, the pains that ate into my heart.Yet I have seen other things also which have brought tears into mine eyes and have shaken me like a stirred leaf. I have seen men and women giving life, hopes, all for others. I have seen such acts of high devotedness that I have wept tears of gladness. These things, I have thought, are beautiful, although they are powerless to redeem. They are the pure rays of the sun on the vast dung-heap of the world. (29)
So, even if the darkest of landscapes are being displayed in front of our eyes, there is always a little ray of light guiding us toward hope. For there are men and women fighting for their dreams and other people's dreams, always.
This writer's sensitivity was vast. He suffered for his people, for his own country. He was aware of everything that surrounded him and he, a misanthropic lover of mankind, felt an intense patriotic suffering, an intense desire of bettering the condition of Portugal. (32)
Have you ever read a play without a plot? Pessoa wrote “The Mariner”, a gem I cannot forget. The beauty of it relies on the fact that it reflects our most inner thoughts about life. If you prefer writing over plot, do not miss it. If not, skip it. Although, there is plenty of that in the entire book, so you might want to read a different one.
Pessoa has been a mirror for me since I read The Book of Disquiet, one of the most difficult books I reviewed so far. I can see myself reflected in most of his words, for better and for worse. And as I type this, I feel his presence surrounding my thoughts—a word he abhorred and so tenderly haunts me. No matter the distance, no matter the time nor place, these writers and their mirrors are with me.
What, I wonder, is the color of feeling? (80)
Pessoa's works make me feel the same way I feel while reading Borges. It seems like everything has been already thought, everything has been already felt. Everything is contradiction; my own words, as well. However, at this very moment, I cannot feel that I am alone, even if my shadow is the only thing I see. I have made a sanctuary out of The Book of Disquiet. With Selected Prose, I have created my home. I cannot imagine the consequences of reading his Selected Poetry. (True, TBOD is his finest work, but this book has an evocative beauty that also captivated me.)
SECOND WATCHER Only dreams last forever and are beautiful. Why are we still talking?FIRST WATCHER I don’t know ... (in a low voice, looking at the coffin) Why do people die?SECOND WATCHER Perhaps because they don’t dream enough … (43)
A Borgesian thought arises. Are we the real thing? Could we be the dream of somebody else? A small part of somebody else's dream that is being dreamed by somebody else, that is being dreamed by somebody else... Flesh and bones or a mere illusion.
Either way, we seem to dream, day and night. So do something. According to Pessoa, acting is disbelieving, the truth can be found only in our feelings. Learn how to experience sensations simultaneously, to scatter your spirit through your own scattered self. (63) Yet some dreams go beyond sensations. Are you willing to give up the desire of achieving dreams? If you are, that's fine. If not, you must act. Do something. Dreams can transform themselves into reality, and reality is action (“Sartreanly” speaking).
Do something. Find the voice of a writer and a mirror to look at, and do something. Solitude is a fleetingly wanted company. A passive existence is an avoidable tragedy.
Do not mind me. I am near, I am ever near. There is no near nor far for me. Space is the dream men have to submit to, but the dream is not theirs. (91)
*Note: There is an interesting passage about letters between Pessoa and Ophelia Queiroz, but I'm going to save my comments until I find and read Cartas a Ophélia. There is a lot to write concerning the matter.