Happy birthday, Fernando Pessoa! Here are some quotes from his writing.
“Be plural, like the universe!”
“To pretend is to know oneself.”
“Could it think, the heart would stop beating.”
“To write is to forget.”
“Without syntax there is no lasting emotion.”
“Words for me are palpable bodies, visible sirens, sensualities made flesh.”
“I believe that saying a thing is to keep its virtues and take away its terror.”
“I have now so many fundamental thoughts, so many really metaphysical things to say, that I suddenly get tired and decide not to write more, not to think more, but allow the fever of saying to make me sleepy, and fondle, with closed eyes, as if to a cat, all that I could have said.”
“What, I believe, produces in me the deep feeling, in which I live, of incongruity with others, is that most think with sensitivity, while I feel with thought.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been me.”
“Not pleasure, not glory, not power: freedom, only freedom.”
“Direct experience is the evasion, or hiding place of those devoid of imagination.”
“My joy is as painful as my pain.”
“My life is as if you’ve hit me with it.”
“Knowing not to have illusions is absolutely necessary in order to have dreams.”
“Better to dream than to be.”
“If we knew the truth, we’d see it; all else is system and outskirts.”
“What we see is not what we see but what we are.”
“Our problem isn’t that we’re individualists. It’s that our individualism is static rather than dynamic. We value what we think rather than what we do. We forget that we haven’t done, or been, what we thought; that the first function of life is action, just as the first property of things is motion.”
“I’m a man for whom the outside world is an inner reality.”
“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create a raw landscape within us, a sun eternally setting on what we are.”
“I always live in the present. The future I can’t know. The past I no longer have.”
“I have no ambitions nor desires.
To be a poet is not my ambition,
It’s simply my way of being alone.”
“I will be what I want. But I will have to want what I’ll be.”
“Freedom is the possibility of isolation…If you can’t live alone, you were born a slave.”
“Myth is the nothing that is everything.
“I’m beginning to know myself. I don’t exist. I’m the gap between what I’d like to be and what others have made me.”
“Every man who deserves to be famous knows it is not worth the trouble.”
“Irony is the first hint that consciousness became conscious.”
“Without madness what is man
more than the healthy beast,
corpse adjourned that procreates?”
“I am nothing.
Never shall be anything.
Cannot will to be anything.
This apart, I have in me all the dreams of the world.”
“Who am I to myself? Just a feeling of mine.”
“In order to understand, I destroyed myself.”
“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.”
“Solitude desolates me; company oppresses me.”
“The consciousness of life’s unconsciousness is intelligence’s oldest tax.”
“I’m upset by the happiness of all these men who don’t know they’re unhappy. […] Because of that, though, I love them all. Dear vegetables!”
“We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our own concept—our own selves—that we love.”
“When I write, I solemnly visit myself.”
“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”
“What is art but the denial of life?”
“Why is art beautiful? Because it’s useless. Why is life ugly? Because it’s all ends and purposes and intentions.”
“Thing thrown to a corner, rag fallen on the road, my ignoble being feigns itself in front of life.”
“Life is a thread that someone entangled.”
“My heart is a little larger than the entire universe.”
“Contradiction is the essence of the universe.”
“My past is everything I failed to be.”
“If, after I die, they should want to write my biography,
There’s nothing simpler.
I’ve just two dates—of my birth, and of my death.
In between the one thing and the other all the days are mine.”
“I’ve always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I’m not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect.”
“In today’s life, the world belongs only to the stupid, the insensitive, and the agitated. The right to live and triumph is now conquered almost by the same means by which you conquer internment in an asylum: the inability to think, amorality, and hyperexcitation.”
“Civilization consists in giving something an unfitting name, then dream about the result. And indeed the false name and the real dream create a new reality. The object really becomes another, because we turned it into another one. We manufacture realities.”
“Property isn’t theft: it’s nothing.”
“By the painful light of the factory’s huge electric lamps
I write in a fever.
I write gnashing my teeth, rabid for the beauty of all this,
For this beauty completely unknown to the ancients.
O wheels, O gears, eternal r-r-r-r-r-r-r!
Bridled convulsiveness of raging mechanisms!
Raging in me and outside me,
Through all my dissected nerves,
Through all the papillae of everything I feel with!
My lips are parched, O great modern noises,
From hearing you at too close a range,
And my head burns with the desire to proclaim you
In an explosive song telling my every sensation,
An explosiveness contemporaneous with you, O machines!”
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.