Unlearning the Poetry with Fernando Pessoa

Unlearn to rediscover [or how to read a poetry book for 16 years]

Patience is not my virtue. One dull experience can change the way I perceive things, forever. Poetry was one of them, a collateral damage of elementary school literature program. “Well, you can’t just discard every single poem ever written, because you were forced to read national medieval poetry when you were 11, with little or no comprehension or enthusiasm”, I thought. Still, I remained quite coherent, unfortunately, and even after forcing myself to restart and rediscover, I just couldn’t find pleasure in sensations once discarded.

The poetry of Fernando Pessoa changed it all. It opened up a sealed gate, somewhere deep in the hallways of my mind, where the poetry is now welcome. I’m writing this because I believe that sometimes timing is everything, and just because you’re not ready today doesn’t mean you’ll never be.

And it even goes beyond… it’s about giving yourself a second chance, and never sealing the gates of your mind. You just might discover beauty in the unknown.

Unlearn to Rediscover

The simple process of unlearning started in 2002, when I received a gift from a dear friend, a selection of poems by Alberto Caeiro and Ricardo Reis, 2 of Pessoa’s numerous heteronyms. I was a bit skeptic when he said “you will come back to it over and over again, for a very long time”.

I flipped through the first few pages and stopped at the poem II from “The Keeper of Sheep” by Alberto Caeiro. And I stayed there for almost a week…

My gaze is clear like a sunflower.
It is my custom to walk the roads
Looking right and left
And sometimes looking behind me,
And what I see at each moment
Is what I never saw before,
And I’m very good at noticing things.
I’m capable of feeling the same wonder
A newborn child would feel
If he noticed that he’d really and truly been born.
I feel at each moment that I’ve just been born
Into a completely new world…

I believe in the world as in a daisy,
Because I see it. But I don’t think about it,
Because to think is to not understand.
The world wasn’t made for us to think about it
(To think is to have eyes that aren’t well)
But to look at it and to be in agreement.

I have no philosophy, I have senses…
If I speak of Nature it’s not because I know what it is
But because I love it, and for that very reason,
Because those who love never know what they love
Or why they love, or what love is.

To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think…1Translation: 2006, Richard Zenith From: A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems Publisher: Penguin, New York, 2006

I simply could not move on, I kept reading these lines, then reading between the lines, where the infinite world of interpretations was opening in front of me. This is not a poem, I thought, this is a bare thought, captured and than miraculously shared with me. It somehow didn’t belong on the paper, it’s too honest and innocent. I remember feeling privileged for being able to read it.

The confidence of Caeiro’s words had a very strong impact on me. Is it even possible to perceive yourself and the world in such a fearless way? To feel the wonder a newborn child would feel if he really noticed he’d been born? And to live only by seeing the world, not thinking about it. Because to think is to not understand. For someone like me, who tends to keep everything under control and overthink, these lines opened a gap between who I am and who I wanted to be, a gap that is still wide open, after 16 years. I’m still building a bridge over it, learning that the world is much simpler than I though it was, that I don’t need to assign meaning to things and people just to fulfill my own urge for order. I ought to take nature as it is, seamless and forgiving.

Fernando Pessoa wrote down my own thoughts, a century ago. A man who roamed the soulscapes of humanity and never got lost, but managed to light thousands of lanterns along the way, to illuminate the path.

Therefore, just read it, any collection you can find by Fernando Pessoa, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis or Álvaro de Campos, read it randomly, with no particular order.

I hope it will light up your path as well.

Não sou nada.
Nunca serei nada.
Não posso querer ser nada.
À parte isso, tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mundo.

I am nothing
Never shall be anything
I cannot wish to be anything
Apart from that, I have in me all the dreams of the world.

 Tabacaria, Álvaro de Campos


A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems

Books to give you hope: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

*Foto header – wikimedia “Últimos anos em Durban