The endless work of Fernando Pessoa

Paulo Pasta, Untitled, 2012, oil on canvas back, 50 x 70 cm


maybe revisit the auspicious of Fernando Pessoa can indicate that reality is this static misery that only death gives

Ah that the truth never defined
Kill the soul, which lives by not telling it!

Perhaps never, oh beautiful black sprance!,
The soul meets the ultimate horror
Of the absolute truth, where it ends
What to be, what to have, what to look for.

Each God be false and, where he is, supreme;
Sun center of a system of truths

And illusion solar systems
In the space of limitless truth
And without definition – non-existent
How much is the subject[I]

This fragment of auspicious is one more among many in which the protagonist of this infinite tragedy by Fernando Pessoa complains about reality, as if, to the conscience of something that would be called true, the horror of banality, superficiality and, at worst, , of the very end of a thrust towards something meaningful.

Pessoa's Faust is, therefore, this tireless seeker of the mystery (as the author worded the word, with the y that pulls towards the abyss, but always looks up – a spelling that is always consciously poetic, as he himself pointed out in some of his countless fragments), without actually believing that anything can be revealed from it, because “the unico mysterio, all in all / It's having a mystery of the universe, / It's having the universe, anything, / It's having.”[ii] The horror that the protagonist has of death is to find himself with this mystery, and that something is revealed there; it is better for him to mingle at night, for he has “shapeless form / From the shadow”;[iii] death is, in this sense, the terrible awakening from a dream of life:

Yes, this world with its heaven and earth
With its seas and rivers and mountains,
With its bushes, birds, animals, men,
With what man, with what art translates
Of any divine construction, it makes —
Houses, cities, cars, fashions –
This world, which I dream I recognize,
For a dream I love and for being a dream or not
I would like to never let (...)[iv]

Fernando Pessoa produces an inversion of a commonplace: death is the true life, and, static and terrible, it is better to flee from it to dream of this life, better and more beautiful, more human, in which each man is a God who gives form to the imagined world. Nothing very different from the only complete drama published by the writer in life – The Sailor. There, the three candlesticks relate a false past, which never existed, but, for that very reason, it is more beautiful; and from him comes the dream of a dream: a sailor who, unable to return to his homeland, dreams of a false country, and builds houses, friends, family, streets: “Every day I put a dream stone in this impossible building”[v]. When, however, she wants to remember her true homeland, “she saw that she didn't remember anything, that it didn't exist for him... Little girl that she remembered, it was hers in the homeland of her dream; whatever adolescence she remembered, it was the one that had been created… Her whole life had been the life she had dreamed of”.[vi]

The horror that this immediately causes in the sisters who talk that night comes from a liberation of the poetic word, as if it could create something that is more real than reality, superimposing it.

Let's say that this understanding of the imagination and the dream – of the poetic word – that shape the world is something that runs through Fernando Pessoa's work, and, as is to be expected from this poet, has its mark on heteronymy. The writers and critics who have been created by him are often more real than real authors, and if they are not, they at least act as if they were. Not only do they have their own works, with unique styles, but they are known to have biographies and physical descriptions, star maps, critical comments on the work of one and the other (in addition to more or less heated debates about the poetry of master Caeiro, of the fascist politics of Mussolini and Fernando Pessoa himself – Alvaro de Campos dislikes, for example, d'the sailor) and, for those still unconvinced, even their own signature.

Invention is, in Fernando Pessoa, the great creation of the world, and for this very reason literature would have a prominent role in this Faustian knowledge of Pessoa: the pact is for the creation of the World, so that the hell of what is only possible for the death. The difficult internal debate of Alvaro de Campos in “Tabacaria” can be read around: having in me all the dreams of the world, but being a man who is nothing, despite studies, love and belief; “because it is possible to make the reality of all this without doing any of it”.[vii] Ricardo Reis's love for the roses in Adonis' garden, “What is the day they are born, / On that day they die”, can also be understood in these lines: the life that is consciously unconscious “That there is night before and after / The little we lasted”.

In a time of war and collapse, Fernando Pessoa's poetry was able to see how dreams and imagination are capable of creating something more real than the misery of reality; “Straighten, like a good mistress of Reality, / The curtains on the windows of Sensation / (…) And dust off simple ideas”,[viii] this is the life of the poet Alberto Caeiro, verse by verse. When publishing your book Message, already during the fascist regime of Salazar, the writer makes use of this national Portuguese myth: a nothingness that is everything, a legend that flows into reality, which, finally, faces the fog; with that which still has no name, no form and is intertwined with night and shadow – a dip, in short, Faustian. All of this, of course, without losing sight of creating the sailor's dream country. The moment of dream and uncertainty is the moment of emergence, of the new, gestated during the night and prayer; invention – to bring from the impossible what now exists, because it reigns and moves the affections of the poetic word.

If already during the architecture of ruins of neoliberalism, it was Mark Fisher who made one of the most brilliant analyzes of late capitalism in recent decades, pointing out the ability to amputate revolutionary dreams (which greatly captured even the most critical currents of leftist thought), maybe revisit the auspicious by Fernando Pessoa can indicate that reality is this static misery that only death gives. O auspicious it was always a work that the author was never satisfied with, an unfinished set more than unfinished – infinite for its various suggestions of montages and possibilities, gaps and fragments, drafts and observations; like the book of distress, like the Intervals by Alvaro de Campos.

Its first fragments date from the year of the regicide of the last Portuguese monarch, on the eve of the proclamation of the First Republic of 1910, and traverse the author's entire life, with his diverse papers and inks of various different natures; as if, like his Fausto, Fernando Pessoa hesitated to put together a final work, but suggested at all times that, through suspension, poetry emerges from there whose symbols and language create something different, as formless as the night.

It would be a case of remembering, for today, then, that, for there to be something different, a world that is not this misery, it is first necessary to dream it. Dreaming of an egalitarian world, without hunger, with the environment living with us without us preying on it destructively is, therefore, a poetic task, but one that is nonetheless profoundly Real, due to its ability to overcome the misery of reality: it is, in short, a way to ward off death is to make fear those who already want to simply bury this world now.

* Guilherme Rodrigues He holds a PhD in Literary Theory from Unicamp's IEL.


[I] F. Person, auspicious, Fr. 95, c. 1915 (We follow the edition of the fragments organized by Carlos Pitella (PESSOA, Fernando. auspicious. ed. by Carlos Pittella. Lisbon: Tinta da China, 2018).

[ii] id. fr. 90.

[iii] if. fr. 85.

[iv] id. fr. 116.

[v] id. In: orpheus, no. 1, 1915, p. 34.

[vi] id. ibid. P. 35.

[vii] “Tobacconist”, v. 108.

[viii] CAEIRO, Alberto. Unjoined Poems.

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