This translation is dedicated to
Alberto Caeiro da Silva was born in Lisbon on April 16, 1889, and died of tuberculosis in the same city on (...), 1915. He spent nearly all his life in a village in Ribatejo; and only returned to the city of his birth in his final months. In Ribatejo he wrote nearly all his poems, those of the book entitled The Keeper of Flocks
, those of the incomplete book, The Amorous Shepherd
, and some of his first which I myself, having inherited them for the purposes of publication with the rest, gathered together under the designation graciously suggested by Álvaro de Campos: Detached Poems
. His final poems, beginning with the one numbered (...), were written in the last leriod of the author’s life, after he had returned to Lisbon. The task befalls me briefly to establish a distinction. Some of these poems reveal, by reason of the perturbation caused by illness, something new and rather foreign — in nature and direction — to the general character of his work.
Caeiro’s life cannot be narrated: there is nothing in it to be told. His poems were the life within him. In all else there was neither incident nor story. Even the brief, fruitless, and absurd episode which gave rise to the poems of The Amorous Shepherd
was not an incident but rather, so to speak, a forgetting.
Caeiro’s work represents the absolute essence of paganism, fully reconstructed. The Greeks and the Romans, who lived in the midst of paganism and therefore did not think about it, would have been incapable of such a thing. Yet Caeiro’s oeuvre
and its paganism were never thought through, nor were they even felt. They came from something within us deeper than feeling or reason. To say any more would be to explain, which serves no end; to affirm any less would be to lie. Every oeuvre
speaks for itself with its own voice in the language that shapes both work and voice. “If you have to ask, you will never know.” There is nothing to explain. Imagine attempting to explain to someone a language he did not speak.
Ignorant of life and nearly so of letters, practically without companionship or culture, Caeiro created his work through a deep and imperceptible progress, like that which drives the logical development of civilizations through unconscious humanity’s conscious mind. His was a progress of sensation, of ways of feeling, and an intimate evolution of thought derived from these progressive sensations. Through some superhuman intuition, as one founding a religion (yet the mantle of “religious” does not suit him — witness his repudiation of all religion and metaphysics), this man described the world without thinking about it, and created a concept of the universe — a concept thoroughly resistant to exegesis.
When first confronted with the enterprise of publishing these poems, I thought I would write a long and discursive critical study of Caeiro’s work, its nature and natural destiny. But I found I could make no satisfactory study.
It weighs heavily upon me, but reason has compelled me to preface the work of my Master with a few, null words. Beyond what I have already written, I can write nothing else useful or necessary, that had not been heartfully said in Ode (...) of Book I of my works, where I weep for the man who was for me (as he will come to be for a great many others) the unveiler of Reality, or, as he himself said, “the Argonaut of true sensations” — the great Liberator, he who restores us, singing, to the luminous nothing we are; who draws us away from death and from life, and leaves us among simple which, while they last, are ignorant of life and death; who frees us from hope and despair, so that we might neither seek groundless consolation nor find pointless sadness; so that we might live unthinking alongside him, fellow guests of the objective necessity of the Universe.
I give you his work, whose editing was entrusted to me by the ineluctable hazard of the world. I give it to you, and I say:
O rejoice, all you weeping
In History, our worst disease!
Great Pan is reborn!
• — •The Keeper of Flocks
If the critic will apply himself to a careful analysis of these apparently very simple poems, he will find himself again and again faced with unexpected and increasingly complex elements. Taking for axiomatic what immediately impresses him — the naturalness and spontaneity of Caeiro’s poems — he will be surprised to find that they are at the same time rigorously unified by a thinking which not only coordinates and links them, but which also foresees objections, anticipates criticism, and explains away flaws by integrating these flaws into the spiritual substance of the work. Though we think of Caeiro as an objective poet — as indeed he is — in four of his poems we find him expressing entirely subjective emotions. But we are not allowed the cruel satisfaction of pointing out his error. In the poem preceding these poems, he explains that they were written during an illness, and therefore they must be different from his other poems, because sickness is not health. The critic is unable to raise to his lips the cup of his cruel satisfaction. When he seeks the slightly less concrete pleasure of ferreting out transgressions against the work’s own inner theory, he is confronted by poems like Nos. (...) and (...) , where his objections have already been raised, and his questions answered.
Only someone who reads this work patiently, and with readiness of spirit, can appraise what is surprising about Caeiro’s foresight and his intellectual coherence (his coherence is in fact more intellectual than sentimental or emotional).
Caeiro’s work is truly a manifestation of a pagan mind. The order and discipline of paganism which Christianity caused us to lose, the reasoned intelligence of things, which was paganism’s most obvious attribute and no longer ours — permeate his work. Because it speaks here its form, we see the essence, not the exterior shape, of paganism. In other words, I do not see Caeiro reconstructing the exterior form of paganism. Paganism’s very substance has in fact been summoned up from Avernus, as Orpheus summoned Eurydice, by the harmelodic magic of Caeiro’s emotion.
What are, by my own criterion, the faults of this work? Only two, and they do little to dim the brightness of this brother of the gods.
Caeiro’s poems lack the one thing that would complete them: there is no exterior discipline to match the strength, coherency, and order reigning in the heart of his work. He chose, as will be seen, a poetic form which, though strongly personal — as it could not fail to be — is merely the free verse of the moderns. He did not control his writing with an over-arching discipline comparable to the discipline with which he nearly always controls his emotion, with which he always controls his ideas. We may forgive this flaw, because we must forgive much in innovators, but we must not omit saying that it is a flaw, and not a distinction.
Neither did he fully control the sick emotions (still slightly demi-Christian) out of which his poet’s soul rose into the world. His ideas, always essentially pagan, are sometimes cloaked in ill-fitting emotive garb. In “The Keeper of Flocks,” one can follow a gradual perfection taking place. The final poems — especially the four or five preceding the last two — are perfectly unified in idea and emotion. I would forgive the poet for remaining burdened by certain sentimental accoutrements of Christian mentality if he had never, even at the end of the work, succeeded in ridding himself of that baggage. But since, at a certain point in his poetic evolution, he did succeed, I do chastise him, and I severely chastise him (as I severely chastised him in person), for not returning to his earlier poems and adjusting them to his acquired discipline. If he had been unable to subject any of them to this discipline, he should have crossed them out entirely. But the courage to sacrifice is a trait seldom found in poets. It is so much more difficult to remake than it is to make for the first time. Truly, contrary to the old saying, the last step is the hardest.
And so, I find the (...) poem, so irritating to a Christian, to be absolutely deplorable for an objective poet in the process of reconstructing the essence of paganism. In this poem he descends to the utter nadir of Christian subjectivism, even as deep as that admixture of the objective and the subjective which forms the characteristic malady of the moderns — from certain pages in the intolerable work of the ill-named Victor Hugo to the near-totality of the amorphous magma which sometimes passes for poetry among our contemporary mystics.
Perhaps I have exaggerated; perhaps I have abused. Having benefitted from the resurrection of paganism achieved by Caeiro, and having — as do all beneficiaries — busied myself with the easy secondary art of development, it is probably ungrateful of me to rail against the defects inherent in the innovation from which I have so benefited. But, where I find defects, even if I forgive them, I must name them as such. Magis amica veritas.
— Ricardo Reis
I’ve never kept flocks,
But it’s like I’ve kept them.
My soul is like a shepherd,
It knows the wind and the sun
And it walks hand in hand with the Seasons,
Following and seeing.
All the peace of Nature without people
Comes and sits at my side.
But I get sad
As the sunset is in our imagination
When it gets cold down in the plain
And you feel night coming in
Like a butterfly through the window.
But my sadness is quiet
Because it’s natural and it’s just
And it’s what should be in my soul
When it already thinks it exists
And my hands pick flowers
And my soul doesn’t know it.
Like the sound of cowbells
Beyond the curve of the road,
All my thoughts are peaceful.
I’m just sorry about knowing they’re peaceful,
Because if I didn’t know it,
Instead of them being peaceful and sad,
They’d be happy and peaceful.
Thinking makes you uncomfortable like walking in the rain
When the wind gets stronger and it seems to rain more.
I don’t have ambitions or desires.
Being a poet isn’t my ambition,
It’s my way of being alone.
And sometimes if I want
To imagine I’m a lamb
(Or a whole flock
Spreading out all over the hillside
So I can be a lot of happy things at the same time),
It’s only because I feel what I write at sunset,
Or when a cloud passes its hand over the light
And silence runs over the grass outside.
When I sit and write poems
Or, walking along the roads or pathways,
I write poems on the paper in my thoughts,
I feel a staff in my hand
And see my silhouette
On top of a knoll,
Looking after my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or looking after my ideas and seeing my flock,
With a silly smile like someone who doesn’t understand what somebody’s saying
But tries to pretend they do.
I greet everyone who reads me,
I tip my wide hat to them
When they see me at my door
Just as the stagecoach comes to the top of my hill.
I greet them and wish them sunshine,
Or rain, when rain is needed,
And that their houses have
A favorite chair
Where they sit reading my poems
By an open window.
And when they read my poems, I hope they think
I’m something natural —
An ancient tree, for instance,
Where they sat down with a thump
In the shade when they were kids
Tired from playing, and wiped the sweat
From their hot brows
With the sleeve of their striped cotton smock.
When I look, I see clear as a sunflower.
I’m always walking the roads
Looking right and left,
And sometimes looking behind...
And what I see every second
Is something I’ve never seen before,
And I know how to do this very well...
I know how to have the essential astonishment
That a child would have if it could really see
It was being born when it was being born...
I feel myself being born in each moment,
In the eternal newness of the world...
I believe in the world like I believe in a marigold,
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
(To think is to be sick in the eyes)
But for us to see and agree with...
I don’t have a philosophy: I have senses...
If I talk about Nature, it’s not because I know what it is,
But because I love it, and that’s why I love it,
Because when you love you never know what you love,
Or why you love, or what love is...
Loving is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not thinking...
In the evening, leaning out my window,
Watching the fields out front in the corner of my eye,
I read Cesário Verde’s Book
Until my eyes were burning.
I felt so sorry for him! He was like a man from the country
And he walked through the city like he was out on bail.
But the way he looked at houses,
And the way he saw the streets,
And the way he had of taking things in,
Was like someone looking at trees,
Or lowering their eyes to the road where they go walking
Or taking in the flowers in the fields...
That’s why he had that great sadness
He could never really say he had,
But walked in the city like someone walking in the country,
Sad like pressing flowers in books
And putting plants in jars...
This afternoon a thunderstorm fell
Down from the sky onto the hillsides
Like a huge pile of gravel...
Like someone shaking a tablecloth out of a high window,
And all the scraps falling together
Make some noise when they fall,
The hissing rain rained from the sky
And darkened the roads...
When lightning flashes in the air
And space shakes
Like a big head saying no,
I don’t know why — I'm not scared —
I start praying to Saint Barbara
Like I was somebody’s old aunt...
Ah, it’s that praying to Saint Barbara
Makes me feel even more simple
Than I think I am...
I feel homey and domestic
Like I’ve gone through life
Tranquilly, like the wall of my yard;
Having ideas and sentiments
Like a flower has perfume and color...
It makes me feel like someone who can believe in St. Barbara...
Ah, to be able to believe in St. Barbara!
Someone believes there’s a St. Barbara,
Someone has to believe she’s a person you can see
Or how else could they even conceive of her?
(This is silly! What do flowers, trees and flocks
Know about St. Barbara?... If a branch of a tree
Could think, it would never
Construe saints or angels...
It would believe that the sun
Is God, and a thunderstorm
Is an angry bunch of
People above us...
Ah, how the simplest of men
Are sick and confused and stupid
Next to the clear simplicity
And health in existing
Of trees and plants!)
And me, thinking about all this,
I became less happy again. . .
I became somber and sickened and gloomy
Like when a thunderstorm threatens all day
And even by night it doesn’t come...
There’s enough metaphysics in not thinking about anything.
What do I think about the world?
I have no idea what I think about the world!
If I get sick I’ll think about that stuff.
What idea do I have about things?
What opinion do I have about cause and effect?
What have I meditated on God and the soul
And on the creation of the world?
I don’t know. For me thinking about that stuff is shutting my eyes
And not thinking. It’s closing the curtains
(But my window doesn’t have curtains).
The mystery of things? I have no idea what mystery is!
The only mystery is there being someone who thinks about mystery.
When you’re in the sun and shut your eyes,
You start not knowing what the sun is
And you think a lot of things full of heat.
But you open your eyes and look at the sun
And you can’t think about anything anymore,
Because the sun’s light is worth more than the thoughts
Of all philosophers and all poets.
The light of the sun doesn’t know what it’s doing
So it’s never wrong and it’s common and good.
Metaphysics? What metaphysics do those trees have?
Of being green and bushy and having branches
And of giving fruit in their own time, which doesn’t make us think,
To us, who don’t know how to pay attention to them.
But what better metaphysics than theirs,
Which is not knowing what they live for
Not even knowing they don’t know?
“Inner constitution of things...”
“Inner meaning of the Universe...”
All that stuff is false, all that stuff means nothing.
It’s incredible that someone could think about things that way.
It’s like thinking reasons and purposes
When morning starts shining, and by the trees over there
A vague lustrous gold is driving the darkness away.
Thinking about the inner meaning of things
Is doing too much, like thinking about health when you’re healthy,
Or bringing a cup to a spring.
The only inner meaning of things
Is that they have no inner meaning at all.
I don’t believe in God because I never saw him.
If he wanted me to believe in him,
Without a doubt he would come to talk with me
And come in my door
Telling me, Here I am!
(Maybe this is ridiculous to the ears
Of someone who, because they don’t know what it is to look at things,
Doesn’t understand someone who talks about them
With the way of speaking looking at them teaches.)
But if God is the flowers and the trees
And the hills and the sun and the moonlight,
Then I believe in him,
Then I believe in him all the time,
And my whole life is an oration and a mass,
And a communion with my eyes and through my ears.
But if God is the trees and the flowers
And the hills and the moonlight and the sun,
Why should I call him God?
I call him flowers and trees and hills and sun and moonlight;
Because if he made himself for me to see
As the sun and moonlight and flowers and trees and hills,
If he appears to me as trees and hills
And moonlight and sun and flowers,
It’s because he wants me to know him
As trees and hills and flowers and moonlight and sun.
And that’s why I obey him,
(What more do I know about God than God knows about himself?),
I obey him by living, spontaneously,
Like someone opening his eyes and seeing,
And I call him moonlight and sun and flowers and trees and hills,
And I love him without thinking about him,
And I think him by seeing and hearing,
And I walk with him all the time.
Thinking about God is disobeying God
Because God wants us not to know him,
And so he doesn’t show himself to us...
Let’s be simple and calm,
Like brooks and trees,
And God will love us by making
Beautiful things like the trees and brooks for us,
And give us greenness in his spring,
And a river for us to go to when we end...
From my village I see as much in the Universe as you can see from earth...
So my village is as big as any other land
Because I’m the size of what I see,
Not the size of my height...
In the cities life is smaller
Than here in my house on top of this hill.
In the city the big houses shut your sight with a key,
Hide the horizon, push your eyes far away from all the sky,
Make us smaller because they take away what our eyes can give us,
And make us poor because our only wealth is seeing.
One noonday near the end of spring
I had a dream like a photograph.
I saw Jesus Christ come down to earth.
He came down the side of a hill
And turned into a boy again,
Running and rolling in the grass
And pulling up flowers just to throw them away,
And laughing so you could hear it far away.
He had run away from heaven.
He was like us too much to pretend
He was the second person of the Trinity.
In heaven everything was false, everything out of step
With flowers and trees and stones.
In heaven he always had to be serious
And from time to time become human again
And climb onto the cross, and start dying
With a crown of thorns all around,
And his feet skewered with a spike
And even with a rag around his waist
Like the black men in engravings.
They wouldn’t even let him have a father and mother
Like other children.
His father was two people—
An old man named Joseph, who was a carpenter,
And who wasn’t his father,
And the other father was a stupid dove,
The only ugly dove in the world
Because it was neither a dove nor of the world.
His mother didn’t love a man before she had him.
She wasn’t even a woman: she was the handbag
He came down from the sky in.
And they wanted him, who was born only of a mother,
And never had a father to love with respect,
To preach goodness and justice!
One day when God fell asleep
And the Holy Ghost went off flying,
He got into a box of miracles and stole three.
With the first he made it so that no one would know he had run away.
With the second he made himself a human boy forever.
With the third he created a Christ eternally crucified
And left him nailed to the cross that there is in Heaven
Where he’s used as a model for other crosses.
Then he ran away to the sun
And came down on the first ray he caught.
Today he lives in my village with me.
He is a lovely, natural, smiling child.
He wipes his nose on his right arm,
Sloshes around in puddles,
Collects flowers and loves them and forgets about them.
He throws stones at donkeys,
Steals fruit from the orchards
And runs away yelling and crying from dogs.
And, because he knows they don’t like it
And everybody else thinks it’s funny,
He runs around the girls
Who walk in groups along the roads
With jugs on their heads
And he lifts up their skirts.
He’s taught me everything.
He taught me how to look at things.
He shows me everything there is in flowers.
He shows me how stones are pleasing
When you hold them in your hand
And look at them for a while.
He tells me a lot of bad things about God.
He says he’s a stupid, sick old man,
Always hawking on the ground
And saying nasty things.
The Virgin Mary spends her afternoons in eternity knitting socks.
The Holy Ghost picks at himself with his beak
And perches on armchairs and dirties them.
Everything in heaven is as stupid as the Catholic Church.
He tells me God doesn’t understand anything
About the things he created—
“If it’s him who created them, which I doubt”—
“He says, for example, that all beings sing his glory,
But the beings don’t sing anything.
If they sang they’d be singers.
All beings exist and nothing else
And that’s why they’re called beings.”
And afterwards, tired out from telling me about God’s wickedness,
The Boy Jesus falls asleep in my arms
And I carry him home in my arms.
• — •
He stays with me in my house on the middle of a knoll.
He’s the Eternal Child, the god who was missing.
He’s the human who is natural,
He’s the divinity who smiles and plays.
And that’s why I know for certain
That he is the true Boy Jesus.
And the child so human he’s divine
Is my daily poet’s life,
And it’s because he always walks with me that I’m always a poet,
And my very smallest glimpse
Fills me with feeling,
And the smallest sound, whatever it may be,
Seems to speak to me.
The New Child who stays where I stay
Gives one hand to me
And the other to everything that exists
And so we three go along whatever road there is,
Skipping and singing and laughing
And delighting in our common secret
Which is totally knowing
There’s no mystery in the world
And everything’s worth the trouble.
The Eternal Child always accompanies me.
The direction of my eyes is his pointing finger.
My happy attentive listening to every sound
Is him playfully tickling my ears.
We get along so well together
In the company of everything
That we never think about each other,
But the two of us live together
With an inner accord
Like right and left hands.
At nightfall we play jacks
On the doorstep of the house,
Gravely as is fitting a god and a poet,
And as if each jack
Were a whole universe
And because of this it would be a great danger
To let it fall on the ground.
Afterwards I tell him stories about things only people do
And he smiles, because it’s all incredible.
He laughs about kings and about those who are not kings,
And he feels hurt when he hears about wars,
And commerce, and the ships leaving
Their smoke on the high seas.
Because he knows all of this lacks the truth
A flower has in its blooming
And which moves with the sunlight
Changing the hills and valleys
And making whitewashed walls hurt your eyes.
Then he falls asleep and I put him to bed.
I carry him in my arms inside my house
And lay him down, undressing him slowly
Like following a ritual all clean
And maternal until he’s naked.
He sleeps in my soul
And sometimes he wakes up at night
And plays with my dreams.
He throws them around in the air,
Puts one on top of the other
And claps his hands all alone
Smiling at my sleep.
• — •
When I die, little boy,
Let me be a child, the littlest one.
Clasp me to your breast
And carry me inside your house.
Undress my tired and human being
And lay me down in your bed.
And tell me stories, in case I wake up,
To make me go to sleep again.
And give me your dreams to play with
Until the day comes—
You know which day I mean.
• — •
This is the story of my Boy Jesus.
Is there any reason you see
For it not to be more true
Than everything philosophers think
And everything religions teach?
I’m a keeper of flocks.
The flock is my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and with my ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.
Thinking about a flower is seeing and smelling it
And eating a piece of fruit is knowing its meaning.
That’s why when on a hot day
I feel sad from liking it so much,
And I throw myself lengthwise on the grass
And shut my hot eyes,
And feeling my whole body lying on reality,
I know the truth and I’m happy.
“Hey, keeper of flocks,
There by the side of the road,
What does the blowing wind say to you?”
“That it’s the wind, that it blows,
That it’s blown before
And will blow again.
What does it say to you?”
“So much more than that.
It speaks to me of many other things.
Of memories and yearnings
And things that never were.”
“You never heard the wind blow.
The wind only talks about the wind.
What you heard from it was a lie,
And the lie is in you.”
That lady has a piano.
It’s nice, but it’s not the running of rivers
Or the murmuring trees make ..
Who needs a piano?
It’s better to have ears
And love Nature.
Virgil’s shepherds played the pipes and other things
And they sang about love literarily.
(So they say—I’ve never read Virgil.
Why should I read him?)
Virgil’s shepherds, poor guys, are Virgil,
And Nature is beautiful and ancient.
Lightly, lightly, very lightly,
A wind passes very lightly
And goes away, always very lightly.
And I don’t know what I think
And I don’t want to know.
I don’t bother with rhyme. Rarely
Are two trees the same, one beside the other.
I think and write like flowers have color
But with less perfection in my way of expressing myself
Because I lack the divine simplicity
Of wholly being only my exterior.
I see and I’m moved,
Moved the way water runs when the ground is sloping
And what I write is as natural as the rising wind...
The four songs following this one
Are different from everything I think,
Make lies of everything I feel,
They are the opposite of what I am...
I wrote them when I was getting sick
And so they are natural
And they agree with what I feel,
They agree with what they don’t agree with...
Being sick I should think the opposite
Of what I think when I’m healthy
(Otherwise I wouldn’t be sick),
I should feel the opposite of what I feel
When I’m healthy,
I should give the lie to my nature
Of being a creature who feels a certain way...
I should be all sick—ideas and everything.
When I’m sick, I’m not sick for something else.
So these songs which deny me
Are not capable of denying me
And are the landscape of my soul in the night,
The same in the opposite...
If only my life could be an oxcart
That goes creaking, early mornings, along the road
And when it gets where it’s going, comes back
Near dusk along the same road.
I wouldn’t have to have hopes—only wheels...
My old age wouldn’t have wrinkles or white hair...
When I’m no good anymore, they’ll pull off my wheels
And I’ll lie upside?down and broken at the bottom of a ditch.
What a jumble of Nature on my plate!
My sisters the plants,
The companions of springs, the saints
Nobody prays to...
And they cut them and they come to our table
And in the hotels the noisy guests
Who come in with their baggage
Ask for “Salad,” carelessly...,
Without thinking they demand from Mother Earth
Her freshness and her first children,
The first green words she ever said,
The first things, living and iridescent,
That Noah saw
When the waters lowered and the mountaintops
Emerged green and marshy
And in the air where the dove appeared
The rainbow was shimmering...
If only I were the dust on the road
And the feet of the poor were tromping on me...
If only I were the flowing rivers
And there were washerwomen on my bank...
If only I were the poplars next to the river
And only had the sky above me and the water below me...
If only I were a miller’s donkey
And he beat me and valued me...
Better those than someone going through life
Looking back and feeling sorry about it...
The moonlight when it shines on the grass,
I don’t know what it reminds me of...
It reminds me of my old maid
Telling me fairy tales.
And Our Lady dressed as a beggar
Helping mistreated children...
If I can’t believe they’re true anymore,
Why does the moonlight shine on the grass?
The Tejo is more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
But the Tejo isn’t more beautiful than the river that flows through my village,
Because the Tejo isn’t the river that flows through my village.
The Tejo has big boats
And there navigates in it still,
For those who see what’s not there in everything,
The memory of fleets.
The Tejo runs down from Spain
And the Tejo goes into the sea in Portugal.
Everybody knows that.
But not many people know the river of my village
And where it comes from
And where it’s going.
And so, because it belongs to less people,
The river of my village is freer and greater.
Through the Tejo you go to the World.
Beyond the Tejo is America
And the fortune you encounter there.
Nobody ever thinks about what’s beyond
The river of my village.
The river of my village doesn’t make you think about anything.
When you’re at its bank you’re only at its bank.
If I could take a bite of the whole world
And feel it on my palate
I’d be more happy for a minute or so...
But I don’t always want to be happy.
Sometimes you have to be
Unhappy to be natural...
Not every day is sunny.
When there’s been no rain for a while, you pray for it to come.
So I take unhappiness with happiness
Naturally, like someone who doesn’t find it strange
That there are mountains and plains
And that there are cliffs and grass...
What you need is to be natural and calm
In happiness and in unhappiness,
To feel like someone seeing,
To think like someone walking,
And when it’s time to die, remember the day dies,
And the sunset is beautiful, and the endless night is beautiful...
That’s how it is and that’s how it should be...
Like someone who opens the door of their house on a summer day
And peers at the heat of the fields with his whole face,
Sometimes, suddenly, Nature smacks me
Right in the face of my feelings,
And I get confused, worried, wanting to perceive
I don’t know how or what...
But who’s telling me to want to perceive?
Who says I have to perceive?
When the Summer runs the light, hot
Hand of its breeze across my face,
I only have to feel pleased because it’s a breeze
Or displeased because it’s hot,
However I feel it,
So I should feel it like that because that’s how I feel it...
My look blue as the sky
Is as calm as water in the sun.
It’s that way, blue and calm,
Because it doesn’t question and it doesn’t get surprised...
If I did question or got surprised
New flowers wouldn’t bloom in the meadows
And nothing would change in the sun in a way to make it more beautiful...
(Even if new flowers bloomed in the meadows
And the sun turned more beautiful,
I would sense fewer flowers in the meadow
And would find the sun more ugly...
Because everything’s like it is and so it’s what it is,
And I accept, and I’m not even thankful,
So I don’t seem to be thinking about it...)
What we see of things is things.
Why would we see one thing as being another?
Why is it that seeing and hearing would deceive us
If seeing and hearing are seeing and hearing?
The main thing is knowing how to see,
To know how to see without thinking,
To know how to see when you see,
And not think when you see
Or see when you think.
But this (poor us carrying a clothed soul!),
This takes deep study,
A learning to unlearn
And sequestration in freedom from that convent
Where the poets say the stars are the eternal brothers,
And flowers are penitent nuns who only live a day,
But where stars really aren’t anything but stars,
And flowers aren’t anything but flowers,
That being why I call them stars and flowers.
Those soapbubbles that kid
Amuses himself with by blowing them from a straw
Are transparently a whole philosophy.
Clear, useless and fleeting like Nature,
Friends to the eyes like things,
They are what they are
With a little round airy precision,
And nobody, not even the kid who’s making them,
Pretends they’re more than they appear to be.
Some are hard to see in the clear air.
They’re like a breeze that blows and barely touches the flowers
And we only know it’s blowing
Because something lightens in us
And accepts everything more clearly.
At times, on days of perfect and exact light,
When things have all the reality they can,
I ask myself slowly
Why I even attribute
Beauty to things.
Does a flower somehow have beauty?
Somehow a fruit has beauty?
No: they have color and form
And existence only.
Beauty is the name of something that doesn’t exist
I give to things in exchange for the delight they give me.
It means nothing.
Then why do I say, “Things are beautiful”?
Yes, even I, who live only to live,
Invisible, they come to meet me,
Men’s lies in the face of things,
In the face of things that simply exist.
How difficult to be yourself and see only what you can!
Only Nature is divine, and she’s not divine...
If I talk about her like she’s a being
It’s because talking about her I need to use the language of men
Which gives personality to things,
And imposes a name on things.
But things don’t have name or personality:
They exist, and the sky is big and the earth is wide,
And our heart is the size of a clenched fist...
Blessed be me for everything I know.
I delight in all this like someone who knows there’s the sun.
Today I read almost two pages
In a book by a mystical poet
And I laughed like someone who’d cried a lot.
Mystical poets are sick philosophers
And philosophers are crazy.
Mystical poets say flowers feel
And they say stones have a soul
And they say rivers have ecstasies in the moonlight.
But flowers wouldn’t be flowers if they felt,
They’d be people;
And if stones had a soul, they’d be living things, they wouldn’t be stones;
And if rivers had ecstasies in the moonlight,
Rivers would be sick people.
You need to not know what flowers and stones and rivers are
To talk about their feelings.
Talking about the soul of stones, of flowers, of rivers,
Is talking about yourself and your false thoughts.
Thank God stones are only stones,
And rivers are nothing but rivers,
And flowers are just flowers.
Me, I write the prose of my poems
And I’m at peace,
Because I know I comprehend Nature on the outside;
And I don’t comprehend Nature on the inside
Because Nature doesn’t have an inside;
If she did she wouldn’t be Nature.
I’m not always the same when I talk and when I write.
I change, but I don’t change that much.
The color of flowers isn’t the same in the sun
As when a cloud passes over
Or when night falls
And the flowers are the color of shadow.
But whoever looks right sees they’re the same flowers.
So when I seem to not agree with myself,
Watch me closely:
Sometimes when I’m going right,
Maybe I’ll turn left,
But it’s still me, standing on the same feet—
Always the same, thanks to the sky and the earth
And my attentive eyes and ears
And the clear simplicity of my soul...
If they want me to have mysticism, okay, I’ve got it.
I’m a mystic, but only in my body,
My soul is simple and doesn’t think.
My mysticism is not wanting to know.
It’s living and not thinking about it.
I don’t know what Nature is: I sing her.
I live on top of a knoll
In a lonely whitewashed house,
And that’s my definition.
If I sometimes say flowers smile
And if I say rivers sing,
It’s not because I believe there are smiles in flowers
And songs in the running of rivers...
It’s because that way I make false men feel more
The truly real existence of flowers and rivers.
Because I write for those who read me sometimes I sacrifice myself
To their stupidity of meanings...
I don’t agree with myself but I forgive myself,
Because only I am this important thing, an interpreter of Nature,
Because people don’t understand her language,
Because it’s not a language at all.
Yesterday evening a man of the cities
Talked at the door of the inn.
He talked to me, too.
He talked about justice and the fight for justice
And the workers who suffer,
And constant work, and those who are hungry,
And the rich, who only turn their back to it.
And, looking at me, he saw tears in my eyes
And smiled with sympathy, believing I felt
The hatred he felt, and the compassion
He said he felt.
(But I wasn’t even really listening to him.
What do I care about men
And what they suffer or think they suffer?
Let them be like me—then they wouldn’t suffer.
All the evil in the world comes from us bothering with each other,
Wanting to do good, wanting to do evil.
Our soul and the sky and the earth are enough for us.
To want more is to lose this, and be unhappy.)
What I was thinking about
When the friend of the people talked
(And what moved me to tears),
Was that the distant murmuring of cowbells
That evening didn’t seem like bells of a tiny chapel
Where flowers and brooks were at mass
With simple souls like mine.
(Praise be to God I’m not good,
And have the natural egotism of flowers
And rivers following their bed
Preoccupied without knowing it
Only with blooming and flowing.
This is the only mission in the World,
This—to exist clearly,
And to know how to do it without thinking about it.)
The man stopped talking and was looking at the sunset.
But what does someone who hates and loves want with a sunset?
Poor flowers in the beds of regimented gardens.
They look like they’re afraid of the cops...
But all the same they’re so good to bloom for us
And have the same ancient smile
They had for the gaze of the first human
Who saw them appear and touched them softly
To see if they could speak...
I find it so natural not to think
I start to laugh sometimes, all alone,
I don’t really know why, but it’s about something
To do with knowing there are people who think...
What is my wall thinking about my shadow?
I ask myself this sometimes until I notice
I’m asking myself things...
And then I get mad at myself, and feel uncomfortable
Like when my foot falls asleep...
What does this think about that?
Nothing thinks about anything.
Does the earth have consciousness of its stones and plants?
If it did, it would be people. . .
Why am I worrying about this?
If I think about these things,
I’ll stop seeing trees and plants
And stop seeing the Earth
For only seeing my thoughts...
I’ll get unhappy and stay in the dark.
And so, without thinking, I have the Earth and the Sky.
Moonlight through high branches,
All the poets say it’s more
Than moonlight through high branches.
But for me, who don’t know what I think,
What moonlight through high branches
Is, besides being
Moonlight through high branches,
Is being nothing else
But moonlight through high branches.
And there are poets who are artists
And they work on their verses
Like a carpenter with boards!...
How sad not to know how to bloom!
To have to put verse on verse, like someone making a wall
And looking to see if it’s good, and tearing it apart if it’s not!...
When the only artistic house is the whole Earth
Which varies and is always good and is always the same.
I think about this, not like someone thinking, but like someone breathing,
And I look at flowers and I smile...
I don’t know if they understand me
Or if I understand them,
But I know the truth is in them and in me
And in our common divinity
Of letting ourselves go and live on the Earth
And carrying us in our arms through the contented Seasons
And letting the wind sing us to sleep
And not have dreams in our sleep.
Like a big blotch of dirty fire
The setting sun lags among the leftover clouds.
There comes a vague whistle from far away in the very calm evening.
It must be from a train out there.
At this moment a vague yearning comes over me
And a vague placid desire
Which appears and disappears.
Also at times, on the surface of streams,
And grow and burst
And have no meaning at all
Except that they’re water?bubbles
Growing and bursting.
Blessed be the sun on other lands
Which makes all men my brothers
Because every man, one moment in the day, looks at it like me
And in this pure moment,
All clean and tender,
They go back tearfully
With a sigh they barely feel
To the true and primitive man
Who saw the sun rise and didn’t worship it yet.
Because that’s natural—more natural
Than worshipping gold and God
And art and morality...
The mystery of things, where is it?
Where is the thing that doesn’t appear
At least to show us it’s a mystery?
What does a river know about this and what does a tree know?
And I, who am no more than those, what do I know?
Every time I look at things and think about what men think about them,
I laugh like how a brook sounds cool on a stone.
Because the only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning at all,
It’s stranger than every strangeness
And the dreams of all the poets
And the thoughts of all the philosophers,
That things are really what they seem to be
And there’s nothing to understand.
Yes, this is what my senses alone have learned:—
Things don’t have significance: they only have existence.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things.
A butterfly passes in front of me
And for the first time in the universe I notice
That butterflies don’t have color or movement,
Just like flowers don’t have perfume or color.
Color is what has color in a butterfly’s wings.
In a butterfly’s movement the movement is what moves.
Perfume is what has perfume in a flower’s perfume.
A butterfly is only a butterfly
And a flower is only a flower.
Sometimes in the evening on Summer days,
Even when there’s not a breeze at all, it seems
Like there’s a light breeze blowing for a minute
But the trees are unmoving
In every leaf of their leaves
And our feelings have had an illusion,
An illusion of what would please them...
Ah, our feelings, sick beings that see and hear!
Let’s be like we should be
And not keep this necessity for illusion in us...
It should be enough for us to feel with clarity and life
And not even consider what feelings are...
But thank God there’s imperfection in the World
Because imperfection is a thing,
And having people who make mistakes is different,
And there being sick people makes the world bigger.
If there were no imperfection there would be one less thing
And there should be many things
So we have alot to see and hear...
A stagecoach passed by on the road and went on;
And the road didn’t become more beautiful or even more ugly.
That’s human action on the outside world.
We take nothing away and we put nothing back, we pass by and we forget;
And the sun is always punctual every day.
Rather the flight of a bird that goes by and leaves no trace,
Than the passing of an animal, which leaves a reminder on the ground.
A bird goes by and is forgotten, and so it should be.
An animal, when it’s not there anymore and so of no use,
Shows it was there, which is no use at all.
Memory betrays Nature,
Because yesterday’s Nature is not Nature.
What was is nothing, and to remember is to not see.
Pass, bird, pass, and teach me to pass!
I suddenly wake up in the night,
And my clock occupies the whole night.
I don’t sense Nature outside.
My room is a dark thing with vaguely white walls.
Outside there’s a quiet like nothing existed.
Only the clock goes on with its noise.
And this little thing of gears on top of my table
Smothers the whole existence of the earth and the sky...
I almost lose myself thinking about what this signifies,
But I come back, and I feel myself smiling in the night with the corners of my mouth,
Because the only thing my clock symbolizes or signifies
Filling the enormous night with its smallness
Is the curious sensation of the enormous night being filled
With its smallness...
A row of trees far away, there on the hillside.
But what is it, a row of trees? It’s just trees.
Row and the plural trees aren’t things, they’re names.
Sad human souls, putting everything in order,
Tracing lines from thing to thing,
Hanging signs with names on absolutely real trees,
And drawing parallels of latitude and longitude
All over the earth itself, innocent and more green and more flowering than that!
This way or that way,
Whether it works out or not,
Sometimes able to say what I think,
And other times saying it badly and all mixed up,
I go on writing my verses without wanting to,
As if writing weren’t a thing made of gestures,
As if writing were a thing that happened to me
Like the sun shining on me outside.
I try to say what I feel
Without thinking I feel it.
I try to lean words on the idea
And not need a corridor
From thought to words.
I don’t always feel what I know I should feel.
My thought crosses the river I swim very slowly
Because the suit men made it wear weighs it down.
I’m trying to take off what I’ve learned,
I’m trying to forget the way of remembering they taught me,
And scrape off the ink they painted my senses with,
Unpack my true emotions,
Unwrap myself to be I, not Alberto Caeiro,
But a human animal that Nature produced.
And so I write, wanting to feel Nature, not even like a man,
But like someone who feels Nature, and nothing more.
And so I write, sometimes well, sometimes badly,
Sometimes hitting what I mean, sometimes missing,
Falling here, standing up there,
But always going my way like a stubborn blind man.
Even so, I’m somebody.
I’m the Discoverer of Nature.
I’m the Argonaut of true sensations.
I bring a new Universe to the Universe
Because I bring the Universe to itself.
I feel this and write this
Knowing perfectly well
That it’s five in the morning
And the sun, which still hasn’t shown its head
Above the wall of the horizon,
Can already be seen by its fingertips
Clutching the top of the wall
Of the horizon full of low hills.
On an excessively clear day,
A day when you wish you’d worked a lot the day before
So you’d have no work left to do,
I glimpsed, like a road between trees,
What might be The Great Secret,
That Great Mystery false poets talk about.
I saw that there is no Nature,
That Nature doesn’t exist,
That there are hills, valleys, plains,
That there are trees, flowers, weeds,
That there are rivers and stones,
But there is not a whole these belong to,
That a real and true wholeness
Is a sickness of our ideas.
Nature is parts without a whole.
Maybe this is the mystery they talk about.
This was what I hit upon without thinking or pausing,
This must be the truth
That everyone goes to look for and doesn’t find,
And only I found it because I wasn’t looking for it.
From the highest window of my house
With a white kerchief I say goodbye
To my poems leaving for humanity.
And I’m neither happy or sad.
That’s the destiny of poems.
I wrote them and I should show them to everybody
Because I can’t do any different,
Like a flower can’t hide its color,
Or a river hide its flowing,
Or a tree hide that it gives fruit.
There they are, going away like in a stagecoach
And without wanting to I feel sad
Like a pain in my body.
Who knows who’ll read them?
Who knows whose hands they’ll go to?
Flower, my destiny plucked me for their eyes.
Tree, they picked my fruit for their mouths.
River, my water’s destiny was to not stay with me.
I give in and feel almost happy,
Almost happy like someone tired of feeling sad.
Go, go from me!
A tree dies and stays, scattered throughout Nature.
A flower withers and its dust endures forever.
A river runs and flows into the sea and its water will always be what it was.
I pass and I stay, like the Universe.
I put myself inside, and I close the window.
They bring me the lamp and they say good?night,
And my peaceful voice says good?night.
If only my life were always this:
A day full of sun, or soft with rain,
Or stormy to end the world,
A pleasant evening with groups of passing people
I can watch curiously from my window,
A last friendly look at the quietness of the trees,
And then after, the window shut, the lamp still burning,
Without reading anything, or thinking about anything, or even sleeping,
To feel life running through me like a river along its bed,
And outside a great silence like a god who is sleeping.The Amorous Shepherd
I am aware of the fact that these two poems are pearls of universal love poetry. We sense a new kind of love in them, and hear a new music of amorous emotion. Caeiro may have been at times unfaithful to his principles; he could never be anything but original. These love poems are unique in the history of love poetry. I recognize this fact without admiration, for I hold my admiration most high and dear. The very state of love, while natural, is hardly the proper state for the fixing of impressions we call art. There exist rare artists who manage always to hold onto themselves, and whose intelligence bridles their emotion; but these same artists certainly do not arrange their sexual emotions in columns according to some algorithm or another.
Caeiro’s metaphysical temperament was less receptive to those amorous emotions, which, already disturbing in themselves, would be even more disturbing to a temperament so foreign to them. Thus the momentary abdication of his principles and his native objectivity in the two poems of The Amorous Shepherd. How can one in love not look inside himself?
The mental addiction produced by this fruitless and disturbing amorous episode, whose details I neither know nor wish to know, ran its course in the poet’s mind and left a wake of destruction. Never again, save in fleeting poetic episodes, would Caeiro return to that supremely serene, godlike vision that he, as a poet, after gradually cleansing himself of the accretions of Christian spirituality, attained along the road he called The Keeper of Flocks
I shall dispense with further comment. In abundantly explaining the substance of Caeiro’s work, I have also implicitly explained what it degenerated into, when degenerate it did. I gladly dispense with commenting on a point whose consideration so grieves me. I urge the reader to take my lead, and pass over these two unlikable poems, thus to arrive, with no great increase in joy, at the many fragments, complete and incomplete, which close this collection of Caeiro’s works.
— Ricardo Reis
When I wasn’t with you
I loved Nature like a monk contemplating Christ...
Now I love Nature
Like a monk contemplating the Virgin Mary,
Religiously, in my own way, like before,
But in another way more moving and nearer.
I see the rivers better when I go with you
Through the fields to the bank of the rivers;
Sitting at your side looking at the clouds I look at them better—
You didn’t take me from Nature...
You changed Nature...
You brought Nature to my feet,
Because you exist I see it better, but the same,
Because you love me, I love it the same, but more,
Because you chose me to be with you and love you,
My eyes stare at everything more lingeringly.
I don’t regret anything I was before because I still am.
I only regret not having loved you.
Put your hands in mine
And let’s be quiet, surrounded by life.
The spring moon goes high in the sky.
I think of you and I’m whole inside.
When I run through the empty fields a light breeze comes to me.
I think of you, I murmur your name and I’m not me: I’m happy.
Tomorrow you’ll come and go with me to pick flowers in the field
And I’ll go with you through the fields to watch you picking flowers.
I already see you tomorrow picking flowers with me in the fields
Because when you come tomorrow and walk with me in the field to collect flowers
It will be a happiness and a truth for me
I spent the whole night without sleeping, seeing her form without a break,
And seeing her always in a different way from meeting her. . .
I make thoughts with the memory of what she is when she talks to me,
And in each thought she changes according to her likeness.
To love is to think.
And I almost forget to feel only from thinking about her.
I don’t know what I want at all, even from her, and I don’t think about anything but her.
I have a great animated distraction.
When I want to meet her,
I almost feel like not meeting her,
So I don’t have to leave her afterwards.
And I prefer thinking about her, because it’s like I’m afraid of her.
I don’t know what I want at all, and I don’t want to know what I want. All I want to do is think about her.
I’m asking nothing of nobody, not even her, except to think.
Love is companionship.
I don’t know how to walk alone on the roads anymore
Because I can’t walk alone anymore.
A visible thought makes me walk faster
And see less and at the same time really enjoy seeing everything.
Even her absence is a thing that’s with me.
And I love her so much I don’t know how to want her.
If I don’t see her, I pretend I do and I’m as strong as trees are tall.
But if I see her I tremble, I don’t know what happens to what I feel when she’s not there.
All I am is some strength abandoning me.
All reality looks at me like a sunflower with her face in the middle of it.
Every day now I wake up with happiness and sadness.
Before, I woke up without any feeling whatsoever; I just woke up.
I’m happy and sad because I’m losing what I dream
And I can be in reality where she’s what I dream.
I don’t know what to do with my sensations.
I don’t know what to do with me, alone.
I want her to say something to me so I can wake up again.
Whoever loves is different from who they are
They’re the same person without anyone.
Now that I feel love
I’m interested in how things smell.
I was never interested in a flower having smell.
Now I sense the perfume of flowers like seeing a new thing.
I know they smell just as well as I know I existed.
They’re things known from the outside.
But now I know with my breathing from the back of my head.
Today flowers taste good to me on a palate that smells.
Today I wake up sometimes and smell before I see.
Maybe someone who sees well isn’t very good at feeling
And isn’t nice because he’s so far outside manners.
There has to be a way for everything,
And each thing has its way, and so does love.
Whoever has a way of seeing fields through their grass
Shouldn’t have the blindness
I loved, and I wasn’t loved, that’s what I saw when it was over,
Because you’re not loved like being born but like it happens.
She goes on with her beautiful hair and mouth like before,
I go on like before, alone in the field.
It’s like my head had been lowered,
And if I think this, and raise my head
And the golden sun dries the need to cry I can’t stop having.
How vast the field and interior love... !
I look, and I forget, like dryness where there was water and trees losing their leaves.
I don’t know how to talk because I’m feeling.
I’m listening to my voice as if it were someone else’s,
And my voice is speaking about her as if she were speaking.
She has hair as blond as yellow wheat in the sun,
And when she speaks her mouth says things that aren’t words.
She laughs, and her teeth are as clean as stones in a river.
The amorous shepherd has lost his staff,
And his sheep are straying on the hillside,
And he didn’t even play the flute he brought to play because he was thinking so much.
No one came to him or went away. He never found his staff again.
Others, cursing at him, gathered his sheep for him.
No one had loved him, in the end.
When he got up from the hillside and the false truth, he saw everything:
The great valleys full of the same green as always,
The great distant mountains, more real than any feeling,
All reality, with the sky and the air and the fields that exist, is present.
(And once again the air, that he’d missed for so long, entered coolly into his lungs)
And he felt that the air was opening again, but with pain, a liberty in his chest.
(7/10/1930)Detached Poems (1913-1915)
It’s not enough to open the window
To see the fields and the river.
It’s also not enough to not be blind
To see the trees and the flowers.
It’s also necessary to not have any philosophy at all.
With philosophy there are no trees, there are only ideas.
There’s only each of us, like a wine-cellar.
There’s only a shut window and the world outside it;
And a dream of what you could see if you opened the window,
Which is never what you see when you open the window.
You talk about civilization, and that it shouldn’t be,
Or shouldn’t be the way it is.
You say everybody suffers, or the majority of everybody,
And it’s because humans make things that way.
You say if things were different, we’d suffer less.
You say if things were like you want them, it would be better.
I hear you without listening.
Why should I want to listen to you?
Listening to you won’t make me know any better.
If things were different, they’d be different: that’s all.
If things were like you want them, they’d only be like you want them.
Oh, you and everybody else going through life
Wanting to invent a machine for making happiness!
Between what i see in a field and what I see in another field
There passes for a moment the figure of a man.
His steps go with “him” in the same reality,
But I look at him and them, and they’re two things:
The “man” goes walking with his ideas, false and foreign,
And his steps go with the ancient system that makes legs walk.
I see him from a distance without any opinion at all.
How perfect that he is in him what he is — his body,
His true reality which doesn’t have desires or hopes,
But muscles and the sure and impersonal way of using them.
Unrecognized dirty kid playing at my door,
I’m not asking you if you’re bringing me a message of symbols.
I find it pleasing that I’ve never seen you before,
And naturally if you could be clean you’d be another kid,
And you wouldn’t come here.
Play in the dust, play!
I appreciate your presence with my eyes only.
It’s worth more to see a thing always for the first time than to know it,
Because recognizing is like never having seen for the first time,
And never having seen for the first time is only to have heard tell.
The way this kid is dirty is different from the way others are dirty.
Play! grasping that stone that fits in your hand,
You know it fits in your hand.
What philosophy comes to greater certainty?
None, and none will ever be able to come to play at my door.
Back-folded petal of a rose other people say is velvet.
I pick you up off the ground, contemplate you closely for a long time.
There are no roses in my yard: what wind brought you?
But I suddenly come from far away. I was sick for a moment.
No wind whatsoever brought you now.
Now you’re here.
What you were isn’t you, or else the whole rose would be here.
Truth, lies, certainty, uncertainty...
That blind man over there on the road knows these words too.
I’m sitting on the top step and I have my hands clasped
On the highest of my crossed knees.
Well, then, what is truth, lies, certainty and uncertainty?
The blind man stops in the road,
I unclasp my hands on top of my knee.
Are truth, lies, certainty, uncertainty the same?
Something changed in part of reality — my knees and my hands.
What science has knowledge for this?
The blind man goes on his way and I don’t make any more gestures.
It’s already not the same time, or the same people, or anything the same.
This is being real.
The laughter of a girl on the road sounds in the air.
She’s laughing at something someone I don’t see just said.
For now I remember I heard it.
But if they told me now about a girl’s laughter from the road,
I’d say: no, the hills, the dirt in the sun, the sun, this house here,
And me who only hears the silent blood in my life on the two sides of my head.
St. John’s Night beyond the wall of my yard.
On this side, me without St. John’s Night.
Because St. John is where they celebrate him.
For me there’s shadow from the light of bonfires in the night,
A sound of laughing people, the thudding of heels.
And the random shout of someone who doesn’t know I exist.
Yesterday the preacher of those truths of his
Talked to me again.
He talked about the suffering of the working classes
(Not about the people who suffer, who are the ones who really suffer when all’s said and done).
He talked about the injustice of some having money,
And other people going hungry, but I don’t know if it’s hunger for food,
Or hunger for someone else’s dessert.
He talked about whatever gets him mad.
He should be happy because he can think about the unhappiness of others!
He’s stupid if he doesn’t know other people’s unhappiness is theirs,
And isn’t cured from the outside,
Because suffering isn’t like running out of ink,
Or a trunk not having iron bands!
There being injustice is like there being death.
I would never take a step to change
What they call the the world’s injustice.
A thousand steps taken for that
Would only be a thousand steps.
I accept injustice like I accept a stone not being a perfect circle,
And a cork tree not growing into a pine or an oak.
I cut an orange in two, and the two parts can’t be equal.
Which one was I unjust to — I, who am going to eat them both?
What? I’m worth more than a flower
Because it doesn’t know it has color and I do,
Because it doesn’t know it has perfume and I do,
Because it’s not conscious of me and I’m conscious of it?
But what does one thing have to do with another
So that it could be superior or inferior to it?
I have consciousness of the plant and it has none of me.
But if the form of consciousness is having consciousness, what is there in that?
If a plant could talk, it might be able to say to me: And your perfume?
It might be able to say to me: You have consciousness because having consciousness is a human quality
And I don’t have it only because I’m a flower. Otherwise I’d be a man.
I have perfume, and you don’t because I’m a flower...
But why am I comparing myself to a flower, if I’m me
And a flower’s a flower?
Ah, let’s not compare anything at all, let’s look.
Let’s leave off analysis, metaphors, similes.
Comparing one thing to another is forgetting that thing.
Nothing at all reminds us of something else when we pay attention to it.
Each thing only reminds us of what it is
And it’s only what nothing else is.
The fact that it’s it separates it from every other thing.
(Everything’s nothing without another thing that’s not it).
Mystic, you see significance in all things.
Everything has a veiled meaning for you.
There’s something hidden in everything you see.
What you see, you always see it seeing something else.
But me, thanks to having eyes only for seeing,
I see the absence of signification in all things;
I see it and love myself, because to be a thing is to signify nothing.
Being a thing is not being susceptible to interpretation.
Shepherd on the hill, so far from me with your sheep —
That happiness you seem to have — is it yours or mine?
The peace I feel when I see you, does it belong to me or you?
No, not to you or me, shepherd.
It belongs only to happiness and peace.
You don’t have it, because you don’t know you have it.
I don’t have it, because I know I have it.
It is only it, and falls on us like the sun
That hits your back and warms you and you think about something else indifferently
And that hits my face and dazes me and I only think about the sun.
Yes, maybe they’re right.
Maybe something hidden lives in each thing,
But that hidden thing is the same
As the thing without being hidden.
In a plant, in a tree, in a flower
(In everything that lives without speech
And is a consciousness but not with what makes it a consciousness),
In the woods that isn’t trees but woods,
Total of the trees without a sum,
There lives a nymph, the exterior life inside
That gives it life;
That flowers with their flowering
And is green with their greenness.
It enters into the animal and the man.
It’s an already inside outside,
The philosophers say it’s the soul
But it’s not the soul: it’s the animal or the man itself
In its way of existing.
And I think that maybe there are beings
Where the two things coincide
And they’re the same size.
And that these beings would be the gods,
That exist like that because they completely exist,
That don’t die because they’re the same as themselves,
That can lie because they have no division
Between who they are and who they are,
And maybe they don’t love us, or want us, or appear to us
Because what’s perfect doesn’t need anything.
Maybe the nymph is the future of the tree or of the river.
They say a hidden thing lives in each thing.
Yes, it’s itself, the thing without being hidden,
That dwells in it.
But I, who have consciousness and sensations and thought,
Am I like a thing?
What is there more or less in me?
I’d be happy and good if I were only my body---
But I’m something else, too, more or less than only that.
What thing more or less am I?
The wind blows without knowing it.
A plant lives without knowing it.
I live without knowing it, too, but I know I’m living.
But do I know I’m living, or do I only know I know?
I was born, I’m living, I’ll die by a destiny I have no say in,
I feel, I think, I move by a force exterior to me,
So who am I?
Am I, body and soul, the exterior of some interior?
Or is my soul the consciousness that the universal force
Put in my body to be different from other bodies?
In the middle of everything where am I?
My body will die,
My brain will fall apart
Into an abstract, impersonal, formless thing,
I’ll no longer feel the I I have,
I’ll no longer think with my brain the thoughts I feel are mine,
I’ll no longer move by my will my hands I move.
Will I cease like this? I don’t know.
If I have to cease like this, being sorry for ceasing like this
Won’t make me immortal.
You tell me you’re something more
Than a stone or a plant.
You tell me: you feel, you think and you know
You think and feel.
Then do stones write verses?
Then does a plant have ideas about the world?
Yes: there’s a difference.
But it’s not a difference you can find;
Because having consciousness doesn’t make me have theories about things;
It only makes me be conscious.
Am I more than a stone or a plant? I don’t know.
I’m different. I don’t know what more or less is.
Is having consciousness more than having color?
Could be and couldn’t be.
I know it’s only different.
No one can prove that it’s more than only different.
I know a stone is real, and a plant is, too.
I know because they exist.
I know because my senses show me.
I know I’m real, too.
I know because my senses show me,
Though with less clarity than they show me a stone and a plant.
I don’t know anything else.
Yes, I write poems, and a stone doesn’t write poems.
Yes, I have ideas about the world, and a plant doesn’t have any.
But stones aren’t poets, they’re stones;
And plants are only plants, not thinkers.
However much I can say I’m superior to them because of that,
I can also say I’m inferior.
But I don’t say that: I say about a stone, “It’s a stone,”
I say about a plant, “It’s a plant,”
And I say about myself, “I’m me.”
I don’t say anything else. What else is there to say?
The astonishing reality of things
Is my discovery every day.
Each thing is what it is,
And it’s hard to explain to someone how much this makes me happy,
How much it’s enough for me.
It’s enough to exist to be whole.
I’ve written quite a few poems.
I’ll write many more, naturally.
Each poem of mine says this,
And all of my poems are different,
Because each thing there is is a way of saying this.
Sometimes I start looking at a stone.
I don’t start thinking if it feels.
I don’t lose myself and call it my sister.
But I like for it to be a stone,
I like it because it doesn’t feel anything.
I like it because it doesn’t have any kinship with me.
Other times when I hear the wind blow
I feel that just hearing the wind blow makes it worth being born.
I don’t know what other people will think when they read this;
But I think it must be good because I think it without difficulty
Or the idea of people hearing me think;
Because I think it without thoughts;
Because I say it like my words say it.
One time they called me a materialist poet,
And it made me wonder, because I didn’t think
I could call myself anything.
I’m not even a poet: I see.
If what I write has any worth, it’s not me who has it:
The worth is here, in my poems.
All this is absolutely independent of my will.
When spring comes again
Maybe she won’t find me in the world anymore.
Now, I like being able to think Spring is a person
So I can imagine she’ll cry,
When she sees she’s lost her only friend.
But the Spring isn’t even a thing:
She’s a manner of speaking.
Even the flowers don’t come back, or the green leaves.
There are new flowers, new green leaves.
There are other beautiful days.
Nothing comes back, nothing repeats itself, because everything is real.
If I die young,
Without ever publishing a book,
Without seeing how my poems look in print,
If someone wants to agitate for my cause,
I hope they don’t agitate.
If it happens like that, it happens right.
Even if my poems are never printed,
They have their beauty in them, if they really are beautiful.
But they can’t be beautiful and stay unprinted,
Because even though their roots are under the earth
Flowers bloom in the air free and easy to see.
It has to be that way. Nothing can prevent it.
If I die very young, hear this:
I was never anything but a kid playing.
I was a heathen like the sun and the water,
I had the universal religion only people don’t have.
I was happy because I didn’t ask for anything at all,
Or tried to find anything,
And I didn’t find any more explanation
Than the word explanation having no meaning at all.
I didn’t want anything but to be in the sun or the rain —
In the sun when there was sun
And in the rain when it was raining
(And never the opposite),
Feeling heat and cold and wind,
And going no farther than that.
One time I fell in love, I thought they would love me,
But I wasn’t loved.
I wasn’t loved for one main reason —
I didn’t have to be.
I consoled myself by going back to the sun and rain,
And sitting at the door of my house again.
When all’s said and done, fields aren’t as green for people in love
As for those who aren’t.
To feel is to be distracted.
When spring comes,
If I’ve already died,
The flowers will bloom in the same way
And the trees won’t be less green than they were last Spring.
Reality doesn’t need me.
I feel incredibly happy
When I think my death has absolutely no importance.
If I knew I was going to die tomorrow,
And Spring came the day after tomorrow,
I would die peacefully, because it came the day after tomorrow.
If that’s its time, when else should it come?
I like it that everything is real and everything is right;
And I like that it would be like this even if I didn’t like it.
And so, if I die now, I die peacefully
Because everything is real and everything is right.
They can pray in Latin over my coffin if they want to.
It’s alright with me if they dance and sing all around it.
I don’t have any preferences about when I won’t even be able to have preferences.
What comes, when it comes, will be what it is.
If they want to write my biography after I die,
There couldn’t be anything simpler.
There are only two dates — my birth and my death.
Between one and the other all the days are mine.
I’m easy to define.
I saw like mad.
I loved things without any sentimentality at all.
I never wanted something I couldn’t get because I never went blind.
Even hearing was never anything but an accompaniment to seeing.
I understood that things are real and all different from each another;
I understood this with my eyes, never with my thought.
If I understood it with thought I would’ve found everything the same.
One day I got sleepy like any kid.
I shut my eyes and slept.
Besides that, I was Nature’s only poet.
I can’t understand how somebody could think a sunset is sad.
I guess it’s because a sunset doesn’t have a daybreak.
But if it’s a sunset, how could it be a daybreak?
A rainy day is as beautiful as a sunny day.
Both exist: each one just exactly what it is.
When the grass grows on top of my grave,
Make that the sign for me to be totally forgotten.
Nature never remembers, that’s why she’s beautiful.
If they have the sick need to “interpret” the green grass on my grave,
Let them say I keep growing green and being natural.
It’s night. The night is very dark. In a house far away
The light from a window shines.
I see it, and feel human from head to foot.
It’s funny that the life of the person who lives there, and I don’t know who it is,
Interests me only because of this light from far away.
I’m sure his life is real and he has a face, gestures, family and profession
But right now all I care about is the light coming out of his window.
Even though the light’s there because he lit it,
The light is the immediate reality for me.
I never go beyond immediate reality
Because there’s nothing beyond immediate reality.
If from where I am I only see that light,
Because it’s so far away, where I am there’s only the light.
The man and his family are only real on the other side of the window.
I ‘m over here, far away.
The light goes out.
Why should I care if this guy goes on existing?
Every theory, every poem
Lasts longer than this flower.
But that’s like fog, which is unpleasant and damp,
And bigger than this flower...
Size, duration have absolutely no importance...
They’re only size and duration...
What matters is the flower lasting and having size...
(If true dimension is reality)
Being real is the only true thing in the world.
Past the curve in the road
Maybe there’s a well and maybe there’s a castle,
And maybe only the road’s continuation.
I don’t know or even ask.
While I’m walking on the road before the curve,
I only look at the road before the curve,
Because I can’t see anything but the road before the curve.
It’d do me no good to look for the other side
And at something I can’t see.
Let’s only care about the place where we are.
There’s beauty enough in being here and not anywhere else.
If there’s someone beyond the curve in the road,
Let them worry about what’s past the curve in the road,
That’s what the road is to them.
If we have to get there, when we get there we’ll know.
For the time being all we know is we’re not there.
Here there’s only the road before the curve, and before the curve
There’s only the road without any curve whatsoever.
Like a kid before they teach him to be big,
I’m true and loyal to what I see and hear.
I don’t know what understanding myself is. I don’t look inside.
I don’t believe I exist behind myself.
Patriot? No: just Portuguese.
I was born Portuguese like I was born blond and blue-eyed.
If I was born to speak, I have to speak a language.
They’re blue and calm like that
Because I don’t ask with them.
What can I ask that someone can answer?
I lie down flat on the grassy earth
And forget everything they taught me.
What they taught me never made me hotter or colder,
What they told me never changed the form of a thing for me,
What they made me learn to see never touched my eyes.
What they showed me was never there: only what was there was there.
They’re talking to me about men, about humanity,
But I’ve never seen men or humanity.
I’ve seen one man shockingly different from another,
Each one separated from another by a space without men.
I feel newborn every moment
In the complete newness of the world.
And everything felt directly brings new words.
The green of the blue sky before the sun’s about to rise
And the white blue in the west where the shining sun disappears.
True colors of things the eyes see
The not white but ashen moonlight is blue and mirrors where it falls when it falls.
I’m glad I see with my eyes and not the pages I’ve read.
I’ve never tried to live my life.
My life’s lived itself without me wanting or not wanting.
I’ve only wanted to see as if I didn’t have a soul
I’ve always wanted to see as if the eyes I was born with were strangers.
Today someone read me St. Francis of Assisi.
They read it and it shocked me.
How could a man who loved things so much
Never look at them, or know what they are?
Why should I call water my sister, when it’s not my sister?
To sense it better?
I sense it better by drinking it than by calling it anything.
Sister, or mother, or daughter.
Water’s water and that’s why it’s beautiful.
If I ever called it my sister,
Right when I called it my sister, I’d see it’s not
And if it’s water it’s better to call it water;
Or better yet, not to call it anything at all,
But drink it, feel it on my wrists, look at it,
All without a name.
Every time I think about a thing, I betray it.
I should only think about it having it in front of me.
Not thinking, but looking,
Not with thought, but with the eyes.
A thing that’s visible exists to be seen,
And what exists for the eyes doesn’t have to exist for thought;
Or else it would only exist for thought and not for the eyes.
I look, and things exist.
I think and only I exist.
I’d like to have enough time and quiet
To think about absolutely nothing,
To not ever feel myself living,
To only know myself in others’ eyes, reflected.
The morning shines. No, the morning doesn’t shine.
Morning is an abstract thing, that is, not a thing.
We start seeing the sun, here, at that time.
If the early sun is beautiful shining on trees,
It’d be just as beautiful if we called morning “We’re starting to see the sun”
As it would if we called it morning.
So, if there’s no advantage to putting wrong names on things,
We shouldn’t ever put any names on them.
On a whitely cloudy day I get sad, almost afraid,
And I begin to meditate about problems I make up.
If man were what he should be,
Not a sick animal, but the most perfect animal,
A direct animal, not indirect,
He’d be a creature with another way of finding sense in things,
Different and true.
He would’ve acquired a feeling of things being “connected”;
A feeling like seeing and hearing the “wholeness” of things,
And not, like we have, a thought about “wholeness”;
And not, like we have, an idea about the “wholeness” of things.
And so we’d see — we wouldn’t have the notion of “connected” or of “wholeness”
Because the meaning of “wholeness” or of “connected” doesn’t come from wholeness or from a connection
But from true Nature, maybe neither whole nor parts.
The only mystery of the universe is the more and not the less.
We see too much in things — that’s what’s wrong, that’s why we have doubts.
What exists transcends what I believe exists.
Reality is just real and isn’t thought about.
The universe isn’t an idea of mine.
My idea of the universe is that it’s an idea of mine.
Night doesn’t fall for my eyes
But my idea of the night is that it falls for my eyes.
Beyond my thinking and having any thoughts
The night falls concretely
And the shining of stars exists like it had weight.
Just as words fail when they try to express thought,
So thoughts fail when they try to express reality.
But, as the thought reality is not the said one, but the thought one,
So the same said reality exists, not the one being thought.
And so everything that exists, simply exists.
Everything else is a kind of being sleepy,
An old age which has been with us from the childhood of our sickness.
A mirror reflects right; it doesn’t make mistakes because it doesn’t think.
To think is essentially to be wrong.
To be wrong is essentially to be blind and deaf.
These truths aren’t perfect because they’re said,
And before they were said they were thought.
But at bottom what’s certain is that they negate themselves
In a negation opposed to them affirming anything.
Being is the only affirmation
And being opposed to it is what I wouldn’t want for me.
Accept the universe
As the gods gave it to you.
If the gods wanted to give you something else
They’d have done it.
If there are other matters and other worlds
A kid thinking about fairy tales and believing in fairy tales
Acts like a sick god, but like a god.
Because even though he affirms that what doesn’t exist exists,
He knows things exist, that he exists,
He knows existing exists and doesn’t explain itself,
And he knows there’s no reason at all for anything to exist.
He knows being is the point.
All he doesn’t know is that thought isn’t the point.
From far away I see a boat pass by on the river...
It’s going down the Tejo indifferently.
But it’s not indifferent because it’s not concerned with me
And I’m not expressing desolation with this.
It’s indifferent because it has absolutely no meaning
Outside the isolated fact of a boat
Going downriver without metaphysical permission...
Downriver to the reality of the sea.
I believe I’m going to die.
But the meaning of dying doesn’t move me.
I remember dying shouldn’t have meaning.
Living and dying are classifications like those of plants.
What leaves or flowers have classification?
What life has life or what death, death?
They’re all terms defining nothing. The only difference is an outline, a stopping place, a distinctive color,... a...
...but the Universe exists even without the Universe.
This capital truth is only false when you say it.
Night falls, the heat whelms down a little,
And I’m as lucid as if I’d never thought
And had a root, a direct link to the earth
Not this kind of link to secondary meaning observed at night.
At night when I separate myself from things,
And I approach the stars or the distant constellations —
I’m wrong: because distance isn’t nearness,
And nearing it is fooling myself.
I’m sick. My thoughts begin to be confused
But my body, taken away from things, is among them.
I feel a part of things with my touch
And a great liberty begins to make itself in me,
A great solemn happiness, like that of my being, comes.
When it’s cold in time of cold, for me it’s like a spring day,
Because since I belong to the existence of things
The natural is pleasing simply because it’s natural.
I accept life’s difficulties because they’re destined,
Like I accept extreme cold in the depth of Winter —
Calmly, without complaining, like someone simply accepting,
And I find a happiness in the fact of accepting —
In the sublimely scientific and difficult fact of accepting the inevitable natural.
What are my illnesses and the disease that comes over me
But the Winter of my person and my life?
The irregular Winter, whose laws of appearance I don’t know,
But which exists for me in virtue of the same sublime fatality.
And has the same inevitable exteriority to me
As the heat of the earth in the height of Summer
And the cold of the earth at the peak of Winter.
I accept because of my personality.
I was born subject like others to errors and defects,
But never to the error of wanting to understand too much,
Never to the error of wanting to understand only with the intellect..
Never to the defect of demanding of the World
That it be anything that’s not the World.
Whatever it is in the center of the World,
It gave me the exterior world as an example of Reality,
And when I say “This is real,” even about a feeling,
I can’t help seeing it in some exterior space,
I see it with some vision outside me and alien to me.
Being real means not being inside myself.
I have no notion of reality inside my person.
I know that the world exists but I don’t know if I exist.
I’m more certain of the existence of my white house
Than of the existence of the owner of my white house.
I believe more in my body than in my soul,
Because my body is present in the middle of reality,
Able to be seen by others,
To touch others,
To sit and stand,
But my soul can only be defined in terms of the outside.
It exists for me — in the moments when I believe it actually does exist —
Borrowed from the exterior reality of the World.
If the soul is more real
Than the exterior world, as you say, philosopher,
Why was the exterior world given to me as the model of reality?
If it’s more certain I sense
Than the thing I sense exists —
Why do I sense
And why does the thing rise up independently of me
Without needing me to exist,
And I’m always joined to me-myself, always personal and intransmissible?
Why do I move with others
In a world where we meet each other and where we’re in the same place
If this world is somehow wrong and it’s me that’s right?
If the world is wrong, then it’s everybody’s error.
And each one of us is only the error of each one of us.
Thing for thing, the World is more certain.
But why do I question myself, if not because I’m sick?
On certain days, the exterior days of my life,
My days of perfect natural lucidity,
I feel without feeling I feel,
I see without knowing I see,
And the Universe is never as real as those times,
The Universe is never (not near or far from me
But) so sublimely not-mine.
When I say “It’s evident,” do I somehow mean “It’s only me who sees it?”
When I say “It’s the truth,” do I somehow mean “It’s my opinion?”
When I say “There it is,” do I somehow mean “There it isn’t?”
And if this is so in life, why should it be different in philosophy?
We live before philosophizing; we exist before we know we do.
The first fact deserves at least precedence and worship.
Yes, rather than interior, we’re exterior,
So we’re essentially exterior.
You say, sick philosopher, philosopher to the end, that this is materialism.
But how can this be materialism, if materialisn is a philosophy,
If a philosophy would be, at least if it were mine, a philosophy of mine,
And this isn’t even mine, and I’m not even I?
I don’t care very much.
What don’t I care about? I don’t know: I don’t care very much.
War afflicting the world with its squadrons,
It’s the perfect type of error of philosophy.
War, like everything human, wants to alter.
But war, more than everything, wants to alter and alter a lot
And alter quickly.
But war inflicts death.
And death is the Universe’s disdain for us.
Having death as a consequence, war proves it’s false.
Being false, it proves that everything is false that wants to alter.
Let’s leave the exterior universe and other men where Nature puts them.
Everything is pride and unconsciousness.
It’s all wanting to shift itself, to make things, to leave a trace.
The exterior universe comes back to the heart
And the commander of squadrons in big chunks.
The direct chemistry of Nature
Leaves no empty place for thought.
Humanity is a slave-revolt.
Humanity is a government usurped by the people.
It exists because it usurped, but it’s wrong because usurping means not having the right to.
Let the exterior universe and natural humanity exist!
Peace to all pre-human things, even in people!
Peace to the entirely exterior essence of the Universe!
All the opinions there are about nature
Never made a weed grow or a flower bloom.
All the wisdom regarding things
Was never a thing I could hold like a thing;
If science wants to be truthful,
What science is more truthful than the science of things without science?
I close my eyes and the hard earth where I’m lying
Has a reality so real even my back feels it.
I don’t need reason — I have shoulderblades.
Ship leaving for far away,
Why is it that, unlike others,
I don’t miss you after you disappear?
Because when I don’t see you, you’ve stopped existing.
And if I miss what doesn’t exist,
I miss it in relation to nothing at all;
We don’t miss ships, we miss ourselves.
Little by little the field widens and brightens.
The morning loses itself in the plain’s unevenness.
I’m not part of the spectacle I see: I see it,
It’s exterior to me. No sentiment links me to it.
And this is the sentiment that links me to the morning that’s coming.
Last star to disappear before day,
I put my calm eyes on your trembling white blueness,
And I see you independently of me;
Happy because of my victory of being able to see you
And not be in any “emotional state” at all, I dream of seeing you.
Your beauty for me is in you existing.
Your grandeur is in you existing entirely outside of me.
The water tinkles in the dipper I raise to my mouth.
“It’s a cool sound” someone tells me who isn’t drinking it.
I smile. The sound is only tinkling.
I drink the water without hearing anything with my throat.
Someone who heard my poems said to me: “What’s new in this?
Everybody knows a flower is a flower and a tree is a tree.”
But I answered, not everybody, nobody.
Because everybody loves flowers because they’re beautiful, but I’m different.
And everybody loves trees because they’re green and make shade, but not me.
I love flowers for being flowers, directly.
And I love trees for being trees without my thought.
Ah, they want a better light than the Sun’s!
They want meadows greener than these!
They want flowers more beautiful than the ones I see!
This Sun, these meadows, these flowers are good enough for me.
But, if they somehow bothered me,
What I want is a sun more sun than the Sun,
What I want it meadows more meadows than these meadows,
What I want is flowers more flowers than these flowers —
Everything more ideal than it is in the same way and manner!
That thing over there was more there than it’s there!
Yes, sometimes I cry about the perfect body that doesn’t exist.
But the perfect body is the bodiest body there can be,
And the rest are the dreams men have,
The myopia of someone who doesn’t look very much,
And the way someone who doesn’t know how to stand up wants to sit down.
All Christianity is a dream of chairs.
And as the soul is the thing that doesn’t show,
The most perfect is the one that never appears---
The soul that’s made of the body,
The absolute body of things,
The absolutely real shadowless existence without errors,
The exact (and entire) coinciding of a thing with itself.
I enjoy the fields when I’m not looking at them.
You ask me why I enjoy them.
Because I enjoy them is my answer.
Enjoying a flower is being right next to it unconsciously
And having a notion of its perfume in your very dim ideas.
When I look, I don’t enjoy: I see.
I shut my eyes, and my body, which is in the grass,
Belongs entirely to the exterior of someone shutting their eyes —
To the fresh hardness of the fragrant bumpy earth;
And something of the indistinct noises of things existing,
And only a red shadow of the light heavy in my sockets,
And only a remainder of life is listening.
I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either.
Nobody goes faster than the legs they have.
If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant.
I’m in no hurry. What for?
The sun and moon aren’t in a hurry: they’re right.
Hurrying is believing people can get past their legs,
Or that, jumping, they can land past their shadow.
No; I don’t know how to hurry.
If I stretch out my arm, I get exactly where my arm gets---
Not even a centimeter farther.
I only touch where I touch, not where I think.
I can only sit down where I am.
And that’s funny like all really true truths,
But what’s really funny is that we’re always thinking something else,
And we live truant from our reality.
And we’re always outside it because we’re here.
Yes: I exist inside my body.
I’m not carrying the sun and the moon in my pocket.
I don’t want to conquer worlds because I slept badly,
And I don’t want to eat the world for breakfast because I have a stomach.
No: a son of the earth, who, if he jumps, it’s wrong,
A moment in the air that’s not for us,
And only happy when his feet hit the ground again,
Pow! In reality where nothing’s missing!
Live, you say, in the present;
Live only in the present.
But I don’t want the present, I want reality;
I want things that exist, not time that measures them.
What is the present?
It’s something relative to the past and the future.
It’s a thing that exists in virtue of other things existing.
I only want reality, things without the present.
I don’t want to include time in my scheme.
I don’t want to think about things as present; I want to think of them as things.
I don’t want to separate them from themselves, treating them as present.
I shouldn’t even treat them as real.
I should treat them as nothing.
I should see them, only see them;
See them till I can’t think about them.
See them without time, without space,
To see, dispensing with everything but what you see.
And this is the science of seeing, which isn’t a science.
Seeing things to the bottom...
And if things don’t have a bottom?
Ah, how beautiful the surface!
Maybe the surface is the essence
And what’s more than the surface, is more than everything
And what’s more than everything is nothing.
Oh face of the world, only you, of all faces,
Are your own soul that you reflect
I went out very early in the morning today
Because I woke up even earlier
And there was nothing I wanted to do...
I didn’t know which road to take
But the wind rose strong, sweeping up from one side,
And I followed the road where the wind pushed at my back.
That’s how my life has always been, and
That’s how I’d like to be able to have it always be —
I go where the wind leads me
And don’t feel like thinking.
First sign of a thunderstorm day after tomorrow.
The first white clouds hover low in a dimming sky,
Do they belong to a thunderstorm day after tomorrow?
I have certainty, but the certainty is a lie.
To be certain is to not be seeing.
There is no day after tomorrow.
There is only this:
A blue sky, a little gray, some white clouds on the horizon,
A little dirty underneath like they might become black later.
That’s what there is today,
And since today’s all there is for now, that’s everything.
Who knows if I’ll be dead the day after tomorrow?
If I’m dead the day after tomorrow, the thunderstorm day after tomorrow
Will be another thunderstorm than if I hadn’t died.
Of course I know thunderstorms don’t fall because I see them,
But if I weren’t in the world,
The world would be different —
There would be me the less —
And the thunderstorm would fall on a different world and would be another thunderstorm.
No matter what happens, what’s falling is what’ll be falling when it falls.
The snow puts a quiet blanket over everything.
You don’t feel anything except what goes on in your house.
I wrap myself in my covers and don’t even think about thinking.
I feel an animal delight and I think aimlessly,
And I fall asleep, no more useless than all the actions in the world.
(undated)The Penultimate Poem
to Ricardo Reis
I also know how to make conjectures.
In everything there’s something it is that animates it.
In a plant it’s on the outside and it’s a little nymph.
In an animal it’s an interior distant being.
In a man it’s the soul that lives with him and even is him.
In the gods it has the same size
And the same space as the body
And it’s the same thing as the body.
That’s why they say the gods never die.
That’s why the gods don’t have a body and soul
But only a body and they’re perfect.
For them the body is the soul
And they have consciousness in their own divine flesh.
(5/7/1922)The Last Poem
(dictated on the day of his death)
It may be the last day of my life.
I saluted the sun by raising my right hand,
But I didn’t really salute it or even say good-bye to it.
I showed it that I’ve liked seeing it before. Nothing else.
(undated)Notes in Memory of Master Caeiro
Álvaro de Campos
I met my master Caeiro in exceptional circumstances — exceptional in that all circumstances in life are exceptional, especially those which are nothing in themselves and come to be everything in their results.
I’d left Glasgow about three-quarters of the way through my studies in naval engineering. I’d traveled in the Orient; on returning, after disembarking at Marseilles, I felt a great weariness at the thought of continuing by sea, and so went on to Lisbon by land. A cousin of mine met me one day on a side trip to Ribatejo. He knew one of Caeiro’s cousins, and had business with him. I met with the man who was to be my master in this cousin’s house. There is no more to tell, because this, like all fecundations, is a small thing.
I see him still, with a clarity of soul that the tears of remembrance cannot dull, because the vision is not outward. I see him before me, and perhaps I will eternally see him as when I met him. First, the blue eyes of a fearless child; then, the slightly prominent cheekbones, the slightly pale coloring, and the strange Greek air, which came from inside and was an inward calmness, not outward, because it was caused neither by his expressions nor by his features. His rather thick hair was blond, but it seemed darker in the shade. He was of medium height, but would have been taller if he hadn’t stooped; his shoulders were rounded. His gestures were blank, his smile was as it was, his voice the same, projected in the tone of one who seeks to say nothing but what he is saying — neither loud nor soft, but clear, free of intent, hesitation, and timidity. His blue eyes couldn’t stop staring. If our observation found anything strange, it found it in this: his forehead, without being high, was powerfully white. It was this whiteness, which seemed greater than that of his pale face, which lent him majesty. His hands would have been delicate if his palms were not so wide. The expression of his mouth, the last thing I noticed, was as if speaking were, for this man, less than existing. It was the same smile which is attributed, in poems, to beautiful inanimate things, simply because they please us — flowers, fields, water in sunlight. It was a smile of existence, not of speaking to us.
My master, my master, lost so young! I see him again in the shadow I am in me, in the memory I keep of what is dead in me...
It was during our first conversation... How it came up, I don’t know, but he said, “There’s this guy, Ricardo Reis — you’d like to meet him because he’s very different from you.” And then he added, “Everything’s different from us. That’s why everything exists.”
That sentence, said as if it were one of the earth’s axioms, came over me like a tremor in the earth and, like all first possessions, went to the foundations of my soul. But, unlike material seduction, the effect in me was one of sudden reception in all my sensations of a virginity I’d never had before.
Once, referring to the direct conception of things that characterized Caeiro’s sensibility, I quoted, with friendly perversity, how Wordsworth described an insensitive man:
A primrose by the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.
And I translated it (omitting an exact translation of primrose, because I don’t know the names of flowers or plants): “A flower on the riverbank was a yellow flower to him, and nothing else.”
My master Caeiro laughed: “That simpleton had it right: a yellow flower isn’t really anything but a yellow flower.”
But then he suddenly became thoughtful.
“There is a difference,” he continued. “It depends on whether you think of that yellow flower as one of many yellow flowers, or only that one particular yellow flower.”
Then he went on:
“This is what your English poet means. For men like that a yellow flower is an everyday experience, or a known thing. Now, this is not so good. Everything we see, we should see it for the first time, because it really is the first time we see it. So then each yellow flower is a new yellow flower, even if we say it’s the same one we saw yesterday. We aren’t the same and the flower isn’t the same. Even the yellow itself can’t be the same. It’s a pity people don’t have the right eyes for knowing this, otherwise we’d all be happy.”
One day Caeiro said something more than astonishing to me. We were speaking, or, rather, I was speaking of the soul’s immortality. I told him I thought the concept, even if false, was necessary for existence to be supported intellectually, to be seen as something other than a more or less conscious pile of stones.
“I don’t know what being necessary is,” said Caeiro.
I answered without answering. “Tell me something. What are you to yourself, Caeiro?”
“What I am to myself?” Caeiro repeated. “I’m one of my sensations.”
I’ll never forget how that sentence crashed into my mind. It’s useful for many things, including things contrary to Caeiro’s intention. But it was mostly spontaneous, a beam of sunlight, illuminating with no intention at all.
My master Caeiro wasn’t a pagan: he was paganism. Ricardo Reis is a pagan, Antonio Mora is a pagan, I’m a pagan; even Fernando Pessoa would be a pagan, if he weren’t such a tangled skein, all inside-out. But Ricardo Reis is a pagan by character, Antonio Mora is a pagan by intellect, and I’m a pagan by rebelliousness — that is, by temperament. There was no explanation for Caeiro’s paganism: it was consubstantiation.
I will define this the way one defines the indefinable — by the cowardice of example. One of the things that most clearly distinguishes us from the Greeks is the absence of the concept of infinity in their thinking. One might even say that the Greeks were repelled by the concept of infinity. Now, my master Caeiro had that same conception, or, I should say, lack of conception. I will relate, I believe with great exactitude, the surprising conversation in which he revealed it to me.
While referring to one of his poems in “The Keeper of Flocks,” he told me that someone — I don’t know who — had called him a materialistic poet. Without finding the phrase applicable, since my master Caeiro could never be defined by any phrase, I nevertheless told him I didn’t think that calling him a materialistic poet was by any means absurd, and I explained classical materialism to him, more or less well.
Caeiro listened closely with a pained expression and then said brusquely, “But that is so stupid. That’s something for priests — without even the excuse of religion.”
I was astonished, and pointed out all the various similarities between materialism and his doctrine (but not, of course, his poetry based on that doctrine). Caeiro protested.
“But what you’re calling poetry is what everything is. It’s not even poetry — it’s seeing. These materialists are blind. You told me they say space is infinite. Where do they see that in space?”
And I, disconcerted: “But don’t you think of space as infinite? Can’t you conceive of space as infinite?”
“I don’t conceive of anything as being infinite. How could I conceive of anything as being infinite?”
“But, man,” I said, “Imagine space. Beyond that space is more space, and beyond that more, and then more, and more... It never ends...“
“Why?” asked my master Caeiro.
I underwent a mental earthquake. “Well, suppose it did end!” I shouted. “What would come after?”
“If it ended, nothing would come after,” he answered.
This type of argumentation, at once infantile and feminine, and therefore irrefutable, tied up my brain for several moments. “But is that really what you believe?” I blurted out.
“Do I believe a thing has limits!? Of course! Nothing exists that doesn’t have limits. Existence means there’s always something else, and so everything has limits. Why is it so hard to conceive that a thing is a thing, and that it isn’t always being some other thing that’s beyond it?”
At that moment I felt in my bones not that I was talking to a man, but to another universe. I tried one last time, from another angle, which I felt compelled to consider legitimate.
“Look, Caeiro... think about numbers... Where do they end? Take any number — say 34. Past it we have 35, 36, 37, 38 — there can be no end to it. There is no number so big that there is no number larger...“
“But that’s just numbers,” protested my master Caeiro.
And then, looking at me out of his formidable, childlike eyes:
“What is 34 in Reality, anyway?”
There are unexpected sentences, deep because they come from the depths, which define a man, or rather, with which a man defines himself without trying to do so. I’ll never forget a phrase with which Ricardo Reis once defined himself to me. We were talking about lies, and he said, “I abhor a lie, because it is an inexactitude.” All of Ricardo Reis — past, present, future — is in that sentence.
My master Caeiro, since he only spoke what he was, could be defined by any one of his sentences, written or spoken, especially after he was about halfway finished writing “The Keeper of Flocks.” But, among the many sentences he wrote which have been published, and among the many he said to me which I either have or have not related, the sentence which contains the most simplicity is one he said to me in Lisbon. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about — most likely, as usual, something to do with each person’s relation to themselves. I suddenly asked my master Caeiro, “Are you at peace with yourself?” and he answered, “No, I’m at peace.” It was like the voice of the earth, which is everything and no one.
The complexity of Caeiro’s simplicity is very curious. The evolution of his concept of the universe, or, I should say, his concept of the lack of universe, is also very curious. Being an absolute sensationist, his sensations are his intellect, with a reason and a critical power all their own. Starting out as a kind of faithless St. Francis of Assisi, crashing through obstacles, he slowly crept through the thicket of what he’d learned — which was, happily, very little. In the end he appeared in his nakedness. It was the culmination of The Keeper of Flocks, of the poems — so new on the surface of the most ancient function of the world! — of The Amorous Shepherd and the non-anomalous poems in his Detached Poems. The anomalous poems are death’s invasion of truth. In some of them his vision is disturbed. The naked man tries on his shroud. But, all said, taking his work as a whole, it’s nudity itself because his suit covers him poorly, and the shroud covers nothingness.
His commentary on St. Francis says it all. Once I read him a part of Fioretti, rapidly translating as I went along. I couldn’t read more than a small part of it because Caeiro, indignant, or nearly so, crankily interrupted me. “He’s a good man, but he’s drunk,” said my master Caeiro. At the time, this seemed to me an inappropriately expressed impulse; but, shortly afterward, I saw the deliquescence of the Saint’s compassion in the innocence of his soul, and I recognized what lay behind it as one would recognize a photograph. [did C. recognized himself in St. F.’s grotesque tenderness?]
I never saw my master Caeiro unhappy. I don’t know if he was unhappy when he died, or in the days preceding his death. It would be possible to know these things, but to tell the truth I’ve never dared ask those who sat with him anything about his death or how it went for him.
In any case, it was one of my life’s anguishes — one real anguish amidst so many fictitious ones — that Caeiro died without me at his side. It’s stupid, but it’s human, and that’s how it is.
I was in England. Even Ricardo Reis wasn’t in Lisbon: he’d returned to Brasil. Fernando Pessoa was there, but he might as well not have been. Fernando Pessoa feels things but he isn’t moved by them, not even inside himself.
Nothing can console me for having been away from Lisbon on that day, except for the consolation of thinking spontaneously of my master Caeiro, or of his poems. No one is inconsolable at the feet of Caeiro’s memory, or of his poems; and the idea of nothingness — the most terrifying of all ideas, when thought of with feeling — has, in my dear master’s work and in my memories of him, something as high and luminous as sunlight upon snowy, unscalable peaks.
My master Caeiro was a master of all people able to have a master. No one close to Caeiro, who spoke with him, who had the physical opportunity to share his mind, didn’t come back changed from that only Rome from whence one can’t return the way one was — unless that person wasn’t such a person; that is to say, unless that person was, like most people, incapable of being an individual except by being a body in space, separated from other bodies, symbolically damaged by the human form.
No inferior man can have a master, because the master has nothing to be master of. That’s why definite, strong temperaments are easily hypnotized, and ordinary men are hypnotized with relative ease, but idiots, imbeciles, weaklings and scatterbrains can’t be hypnotized. To be strong is to be capable of feeling.
As will have been inferred from these pages, there were primarily three people around Caeiro — Ricardo Reis, Antonio Mora, and myself. I’m not doing any favors, not even to myself, when I say we were and are three individuals absolutely distinct from ordinary animal humanity (in spirit, at least). All three of us owe the better part of the souls we have today to our contact with my master Caeiro. Since passing through the filter of that fleshly intercession of the Gods, all three of us are other — in other words, truly ourselves.
Ricardo Reis was a latent pagan. He [n.s. misunderstood] both modern life and the ancient life to which he should have been born. He [misunderstood] modern life because his intelligence was of a different quality. He [misunderstood] ancient life because you can’t feel what’s not here. Caeiro, the reconstructor of Paganism, or, better, the founder of it [?for all time?], brought to Reis the missing substance of his sensibility. And so Reis discovered in himself the pagan he was before he discovered himself. Before meeting Caeiro, Ricardo was 25 years old, and hadn’t written a single line. After meeting Caeiro, and hearing The Keeper of Flocks, Ricardo Reis began to realize he was organically a poet. Some physiologists say it’s possible to change sex. I don’t know if that’s true, because I don’t know if anything’s “true.” But Ricardo Reis certainly stopped being a woman to be a man, or stopped being a man to be a woman — as you like — when he came into contact with Caeiro.
António Mora was a shadow of speculative velleities. He’d spent his life gnawing on Kant, trying to see with that thought if life had meaning. Indecisive, like all strong men, he hadn’t found the truth, or what could have been the truth for him (the same thing, as far as I’m concerned). He met master Caeiro and he met the truth. My master Caeiro gave Mora the soul he didn’t have. Caeiro set a center within the periphery Mora had always been. And the outcome was the reduction of Caeiro’s instinctive thought to a truly logical system.
The triumphal results were those two tracts, both marvels of originality and thought, The Return of the Gods, and the Prolegomena to a Restructuring of Paganism.
As for me, before meeting Caeiro, I was a nervous machine for making nothing at all. I met my master Caeiro a little later than Reis and Mora, who had met him in 1912 and 1913, respectively. I met Caeiro in 1914. I’d already written poems — three sonnets and two longish poems (“Carnival” and “Opiator”). Those poems and sonnets show me at loose ends. Soon after meeting Caeiro, I became myself. I returned to London and immediately wrote “Triumphal Ode.” And I’ve been myself ever since, for better or worse.
Even more curious is the case of Fernando Pessoa, who, properly speaking, doesn’t exist. He met Caeiro a little before me — on March 8, 1914, according to him. Caeiro came to Lisbon to spend a week. Fernando met him, and heard him read The Keeper of Flocks. Fernando went home with a fever (as was his way) and wrote “Oblique Rain” in one go — the six poems in one sitting.
“Slanting Rain” doesn’t seem in the least like one of my master Caeiro’s poems, except in a certain straightforwardness of rhythmic movement. But Fernando Pessoa would have been incapable of drawing those extraordinary poems out of his interior world if he hadn’t met Caeiro. Moments after meeting Caeiro, he underwent the spiritual upheaval that produced those poems. It was a swift process. Fernando has an overly quick sensibility coupled with an overly quick intelligence. There was no delay in his reaction to the Great Vaccination — the vaccination against the stupidity of the intelligentsia. And the most admirable thing in Fernando Pessoa’s works is that sequence of six poems, “Oblique Rain.” There may be, or may come to be, better things in his work, but there won’t ever be anything more original, anything newer, and for that reason I don’t know if he’ll ever do anything better. There will never be anything more really Fernando Pessoa, more intimately Fernando Pessoa. How could he better express his always intellectualized sensibility, his intense, heedless attention, the hot subtlety of his cold self-analysis, than he did in those intersection-poems, where state of mind is simultaneously two, where subjective and objective are joined, yet are separate; and where real and unreal are confused, because they remain so very distinct? In those poems Fernando Pessoa took the definitive photograph of his very soul. In one moment, in a single stroke, he achieved the individuality he’d never had; and he’ll never have it again, because it isn’t his.
Viva my master Caeiro!
I always treated my master Caeiro as a human being: simply as Caeiro. I never called him master to his face: such things are said but never spoken: written, in other words, but left unsaid.
Caeiro’s work is divided — not only in his book, but really — into three parts — The Keeper of Flocks, The Amorous Shepherd, and that third part to which Ricardo Reis set the authentic title, Detached Poems. The Amorous Shepherd is a fruitless interlude, but those few poems are among the world’s greatest love poems, because they’re love poems about love, not about being poems. The poet loves because he loves, not because love exists. That’s what those poems say.
The Keeper of Flocks is Caeiro’s mental life up to the point when the coach tops the hill. In Detached Poems, it’s descending. I’ll use myself to make a distinction: there are things in Detached Poems I can imagine having written. No twisting of imagination would even let me dream of being able to write anything in The Keeper of Flocks.
In Detached Poems fatigue occurs, and therefore difference. Caeiro is still Caeiro, but he’s an ailing Caeiro. Not always ailing, but at times ailing. The same man, slightly self-estranged. This applies most of all to the middle poems in this third part of his work.
The woman Caeiro fell in love with. I have no idea who she was, and I intend to never find out, not even out of curiosity. There are things of which the soul refuses to lose its ignorance.
I’m perfectly aware no one’s obliged to reciprocate love, and great poets have nothing to do with being great lovers. But there’s a transcendent spite...
Let her remain anonymous even to God!
I don’t know who the woman was who was shameless enough to be loved by my master Caeiro. And it’s part of what I am that I don’t want to know. Whoever she was (or pretended to be), I scorn her from the height of everything I am, in name of the conscience of things. Let her always remain anonymous, even to herself. Let “god damn” be her passport, and may she never receive her visa. She deserves nothing but nonsense rhymes! What you can’t read, you rub out with an eraser.
The non-existent figure of the beloved is an inside-out abstraction in the poems of Ricardo Reis — or seen in reverse, if you will. They’re not abstractions in the sense of being abstract, but in the sense of barely having the necessary reality to be thought of as existing. They are Chloes, Lydias, and other such Latinities, not because they don’t exist, but because they may just as well be Chloe as Maria Augusta. The latter makes us imagine a seamstress, or something like that, with the aggravation of verisimilitude, but people readily see Lydia as a pagan.
Reis is lucky enough to be really good at writing with so much compression it’s almost impossible, even with presumably close attention, to get the complete and exact meaning of what he’s saying. The ode beginning “A flor que tu és, não a que dás, eu quero” (we are shocked by that “eu” before the “quero”, so counter to the whole linguistic character of Ricardo Reis!) disguises its being addressed to a boy. Few will notice the little masculine “o”:
“Se te colher avarO
A mão da infausta esfinge,” etc.
because most will get hopelessly lost in the poet’s obscure syntax.
This is a good example of his syntax, which can seem like a veil of fine silk (or whatever else you want) chastely covering the most private part of the discourse.
Since it was first said, it’s been widely held that to understand a philosophical system, it's necessary to understand the philosopher's temperament. As all widespread things with an air of certainty, this is silliness; if it weren't, it wouldn't be widespread. Philosophy gets confused with its formation. My temperament could lead me to say that two plus two is five, but the affirmation that two plus two is five is false independent of my temperament, whatever it may be. It might be interesting to know how I could have come to affirm that falsehood, but that has nothing to do with falsehood itself, only with the reason for its appearance.
My master Caeiro was a temperament without philosophy, and so his philosophy — which he had, like all people — isn’t even susceptible to these games of intellectual journalism. There’s no doubt that, being a temperament — a poet, in other words — my master Caeiro expressed a philosophy, a conception of the universe. His conception of the universe is, however, instinctive, not intellectual; it can't be criticized as a concept, because there’s none there, and it can't be criticized as temperament, because temperament can't be criticized.
The organically hidden ideas in the poetic expression of my master Caeiro have had their attempts at definition, with more or less logical felicity, in certain theories of Ricardo Reis, in certain theories of mine, and in the perfectly defined philosophical system of Antonio Mora. Caeiro is so fertile that each of us, owing all the thought in our minds to our common master, produced an interpretation of life entirely different from the other two. It really wouldn't be right to compare my metaphysics with Ricardo Reis's, which is a mere poetic vagueness trying to clarify itself (unlike Caeiro, whose soul was made of poetic certainties not trying become clear), or with Antonio Mora's, which is really a system, not an attitude or a reworking. But while Caeiro affirmed things that, being altogether certain (as we all saw already) in a logic that exceeds — as a stone or a tree — our comprehension, they were not coherent in their logical surface, Reis as well as myself (I'm not speaking of Mora, who is far superior to us in this sort of thing), were trying to find a logical coherency in what we thought, or supposed we thought, about the World. And what we thought or supposed we thought about the world, we owe to Caeiro, who discovered the souls we then colonized.
Properly speaking, Reis, Mora and I are three organic interpretations of Caeiro. Reis and I, who are fundamentally, if differently, poets, still interpret Caeiro with besmirching temperament! Mora, a pure intellectual, interprets with reason; if he has sentiment, or temperament, they’re going incognito.
The concept of life formed by Ricardo Reis is seen very clearly in his odes. Whatever his defects, Reis is always clear. His conception of life is absolutely nil. Caeiro's is also nil, but in an entirely opposite direction. For Reis, nothing can be known about reality except what's given us as a real material universe. Without necessarily believing in this universe we must accept it as such because none other was given us. We have to live in this unmetaphysical amoral universe without sociology or politics. We adhere to the external universe, the only one we have, as we’d adhere to the absolute power of a king without discussing whether it's good or bad, but simply because it is what it is. We should reduce our action to the minimum, enclose ourselves as much as possible in the instincts we were given, and using our instincts in a way that will produce the least discomfort in ourselves and others. We’re all equally entitled to avoid discomfort. It's morality, but it's clear. We eat, drink, and love (without being sentimental about food, drink and love, since that would later bring on elements of discomfort); life is a day, and night always falls; we should do neither good nor evil — we don't even know what good and evil are, and we don't know whether or not we're doing one or the other. The truth, if it exists, is with the Gods, or with the forces that shape or create or govern the world. Their actions violate all our ideas of morality or immorality. Their actions are patently beyond any concept of good and evil, and there is nothing to be hoped for from them, either for good or ill. Nothing: a landscape, a glass of wine, a little loveless love, and the vague sadness caused by our understanding nothing and having lost the little we're given. Ricardo Reis' philosophy is Caeiro ripened, falsified by stylization. But it's absolutely Caeiro, in another way: the concave side of the arch of which Caeiro is the convex side, the enclosing upon one's self of that thing which in Caeiro was turned toward Infinity — the very same infinity he denied.
This so fundamentally negative concept of things gives Ricardo Reis' poetry its hardness, its chill, which no one will deny it has, no matter how much they admire it; and those who admire it — few people — admire it precisely because of this chill. Caeiro and Reis would actually be coeval, but Caeiro's chill has no hardness; Caeiro, who is the philosophical childhood of Reis' attitude, has the chill of a statue or a snowy peak, and Reis has the chill of a beautiful mausoleum or a marvelous boulder in shadow, untouched by even a speck of moss. And this is why Reis' poetry, rigorously classical in form, is totally destitute of vibration — even more so than Horace's poetry, in spite of its greater emotional and intellectual content. Reis' poetry is intellectual (and therefore cold) to such an extent, that no one can understand a single one of his poems (a typical situation, given his excessive compression) without learning its rhythm.
What happened to me was much the same thing that happened to Reis, but he and I are antipodal. Reis is an intellectual. He possesses the minimum sensibility necessary for his intelligence not to be merely mathematical, the minimum a human being needs so that it can be proven with a thermometer that he's not dead. I'm exasperatingly sensitive and exasperatingly intelligent. In this, I seem to myself to be rather like Fernando Pessoa (with a bit more sensibility and a bit less intelligence); but, whereas in Fernando Pessoa sensibility and intelligence interpenetrate, sink into one another, intersect, in me they exist in parallel or, better, in superimposition. They’re not of a piece; they're more like bickering twins. So I formed my philosophy spontaneously from that part of Caeiro’s teaching from which Reis took nothing. I mean that part of Caeiro integrally contained in his line, “And my thoughts are all sensations.” Ricardo Reis owes his soul to the line Caeiro forgot to write: “My sensations are all thoughts.” When I called myself a “sensationist” or a “sensationist poet” I didn't mean to use the term as the name of a school of poetry (holy God, schools of poetry!); I meant the word philosophically.
I don't believe in anything except the existence of my sensations; I have no other certainty, not even of the exterior universe that these sensations present to me. I don't see the exterior universe, I don't hear the exterior universe, I don't touch the exterior universe. I see my visual impressions; I hear my auditory impressions; I touch my tactile impressions. I don't see with my eyes, but with my soul; I don't hear with my ears, but with my soul; I don't touch with my skin, but with my soul.
And, if you asked me what my soul is, I'd tell you it's me. Here’s my fundamental divergence from the intellectual foundation of Caeiro and Reis, but not from the instinctive and sensitive foundation of Caeiro. For me the universe is only one of my concepts, a dynamic projected synthesis of all my sensations. I make sure, or take care to make sure, that my sensations agree with the myriad sensations in other souls. This agreement is what I call the exterior universe, or reality. This proves nothing about the absolute reality of the universe because it exists as a result of collective hypnosis. I've seen a great mesmerist oblige a crowd of people to see the same wrong time on clocks that were perfectly right. From that I extrapolate the existence of a supreme Mesmerist; I call him God because he succeeds in imposing his suggestion on the mass of souls — however, I have no idea if he did or didn't create these souls, because I have no idea what creating is, but it's possible he created them, each unto itself, just as a mesmerist could convince me I'm someone else or that I feel pain I can't say I don't feel, because I do feel it. For me, being “real” consists in being available to the experience of all souls, not only real souls, but also possible ones. I'm also an engineer — which is to say, I have no morality, politics, or religion independent of the real measurable reality of measurable things, and of the virtual reality of immeasurable things. And, I'm a poet. My aesthetic exists in and of itself. It has nothing to do with whatever philosophy or morality I ascribe to, or the politics or the religion I'm sometimes forced to wear.
Antonio Mora, on the other hand — he got Caeiro’s message in its totality, and is making a real effort to translate it into philosophy by a process of clarification, rethinking, readjusting, altering here and there. I don't know if Mora's philosophy would have been Caeiro's if my master had had one. But I do accept that it would be Caeiro's philosophy had he not been, as a poet, unable to have a philosophy. So as seeds become plants, and the plants aren’t magnified seeds, but something entirely different in form, so from the germ contained in the totality of Caeiro's poetry, there naturally flows the very different and complex corpus of Mora's philosophy. But I'll leave the exposition of Mora's philosophy to the next section. I'm tired of wishing I understood.
I marvel at António Mora’s doctrine, and show my dissent with a delicate gesture of withdrawal. The bad thing about those men — Ricard Reis, António Mora, Fernando Pessoa, and even, because I’m beyond idolatry, even my master Caeiro — is that they only see reality. They all see clearly in their way; they’re all objectivists, even Fernando Pessoa, who’s a subjectivist as well. But I don’t just see reality — I touch it, too. Those men are more or less declared polytheists. I’m a monotheist. The world considered with sight has an essential diversity. Considered with touch, it has no diversity at all. Those men are all in their own ways more intelligent than me, but I’m more deeply practical than them. So I believe in God. Sometimes I think Milton could only attain his sublime understanding of Divinity when, bereft of sight, he returned to the great primordiality of touch, the great unity of matter. And Satan himself (who is nothing but God in His own deformed shadow), ejected from the light of appearance, couldn’t understand powerfully until his eyes became night.
The variety of the world is not variety except by perceived contraposition to any unity. And this divined unity is God.
António Mora’s philosophy is contained in one tract alone — the Prologemena to a Reformation of Paganism. The Return of the Gods is more a critical study than anything else, and the ultra-Euclidean geometric system the philosopher discovered or invented, being in fact a part of the philosophy set forth in the Prologemena, is not properly philosophy. However, I believe that António Mora planned to integrate the geometric system, as an appendix or a supplementary chapter, into the Prologemena itself. I don’t know how this stands or how it will stand; only when these unpublished works cease being so will it be seen clearly.
I believe that there can be no harm in setting forth, now, what is António Mora’s philosophical system. I even believe some good will come of it. A philosophical system needs to prendre date a little, since its substance is consubstantial with its form; a literary work, living as it does only by form (in the fullest sense) can remain unpublished for a long time. I will, then, do what is possible to set forth, in a clear summation, what makes up the Absolute Dualism of António Mora.
One of the most interesting conversations my master Caeiro entered into took place in Lisbon, when we were all together. Somehow, as we were talking, the discussion turned to the concept of Reality.
If I remember right, that part of the conversation began with FP’s offhand observation about something that had been said. This was the observation: “The concept of Being does not allow for parts or gradations; a thing either is or is not.”
“I’m not sure that’s quite right,” I objected. “You’d have to analyze this concept of being. It seems to me it’s a metaphysical superstition, at least to a point...”
“But the concept of Being is not even susceptible to analysis,” responded FP. “That is the whole basis of its indivisibility.”
“The concept might not be,” I replied, “but its value is.”
F. responded: “But what is the ‘value’ of a concept independent of the concept itself? A concept, that is, an abstract idea, is not susceptible to ‘more’ or ‘less’, which means that it is not subject to value, which is always a question of more or less. There might be value in its use or its application, but that is the value of its use or its application, not the value of the concept itself.”
At this point my master Caeiro, who with his eyes had been deeply listening to this transpontine discussion, interrupted. “Where there can’t be more or less, there’s nothing.”
“That’s a good one. Why not?” asked FP.
“Because everything that’s real can be more or less, and except for what’s real, nothing exists.”
“Give us an example, Caeiro,” I said.
“Rain,” answered my master. “Rain is a real thing. That’s why it can rain more and it can rain less. If you said to me: ‘this rain couldn’t be any more or less,’ I’d answer, ‘then this rain doesn’t exist.’ Unless, of course, you mean the rain exactly as it is at that moment: that rain is what it is, and if it were any more or less, it’d be a different rain. But what I mean is something else. . . “
That’s OK, I understand perfectly,” I cut in.
Before I could go on to say I no longer remember what, FP turned to Caeiro: “Tell me something” — pointing with his cigarette —: “what do you consider a dream? Is a dream real or not?”
“I consider a dream like I consider a shadow,” answered Caeiro, with his usual divine, unexpected promptitude. “A shadow is real, but it’s less real than a rock. A dream is real — if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be a dream — but less real than a thing. That’s what being real is like.”
FP has the advantage of living more in his ideas than in himself. He forgot not only what he was arguing, but even the truth or falsehood of what he was hearing: he was excited by the metaphysical possibilities of this sudden theory, [. . . ]
“That’s an admirable idea! And completely original! It never occurred to me —” (that “never occurred to me” so ingenuously suggestive of the natural impossibility of anything occurring to someone else that had never occurred to Fernando)... “It never occurred to me that reality could be considered as subject to degrees. In fact, this is the equivalent of considering Being not as an abstract idea but as a numerical idea...“
“You’re sort of losing me there,” hesitated Caeiro, “but I think that’s it, yes. What I mean is being real means other things are real, because you can’t be real alone; and since being real is being a thing that’s not anything else, it means being different from everything else. And since reality is something like size and weight — if it weren’t, there wouldn’t be reality — and since everything’s different, there are no two things alike in reality, just like there aren’t any two things alike in size and in weight. There always has to be a difference, even if it’s really small. That’s what being real is.”
“This is even more peculiar!” exclaimed FP. “So you consider reality as an attribute of things; so it would seem, since you are comparing it to size and weight. But tell me something: what is the thing of which reality is an attribute? What lies behind reality?”
“Behind reality?” repeated my master Caeiro. “There’s nothing behind reality. Just like there’s nothing behind size, and nothing behind weight.”
“But if something has no reality it cannot exist, and it can exist without having size or weight. . . “
“Not if it’s a thing that has size and weight by nature. A rock can’t exist without size, and a rock can’t exist without weight. But a rock isn’t size and a rock isn’t weight. A rock can’t exist without reality, too, but a rock isn’t a reality.”
“All right, “ answered F., somewhere between impatient, grasping at uncertain ideas, and having the rug pulled out from under him. “But when you say ‘a rock has reality,’ you’re distinguishing rock from reality.”
“Yes, I am: a rock isn’t reality, it has reality. A rock is just a rock.”
“And what does that mean?”
“I don’t know; it’s just there. A rock is a rock and it has to have reality to be a rock. A man isn’t a face, but he has to have a face to be a man. I don’t know why it’s like that. I don’t even know if there’s a ‘why’ for that or anything else . . .”
F. reflected. “You know, Caeiro, the philosophy that you are elaborating is a little contrary to what you think and feel. You are making a kind of Kantism of your own — creating a noumenon-rock, a rock-in-itself. I’ll explain, I’ll explain... “ He began to explain the Kantian thesis and how what Caeiro had said conformed with it or didn’t. Then he noted the difference; or what he thought was the difference: “For Kant these attributes — weight and size (not reality) — are concepts imposed on the rock-in-itself by our senses, or, better, by the fact that we observe it. You seem to be saying that these concepts are just as much things as the actual rock-in-itself. Now that is what makes your theory hard to understand, while Kant’s theory, true or false, is perfectly understandable.”
My master Caeiro listened to all this with the utmost attention. He blinked his eyes once or twice as if to shake off ideas like the way you’d shake off a dream. After thinking a bit, he responded:
“I don’t have any theories. I don’t have any philosophy. I see, but I don’t know anything. I call a rock a rock to distinguish it from a flower or a tree, or anything else that’s not a rock. Of course, every rock is different from every other rock, but not because it’s not a rock; because it’s a different size and a different weight and a different color. And a different thing, too. I call some things rocks because they resemble each other in the things that make us call a rock a rock. But what we should really do, is give each rock a different proper name, like we do to men; if we don’t, it’s because it’d be impossible to find so many words, not because it’d be a mistake . . .”
FP cut in: “Tell me one thing, to make this all clear: do you admit to a ‘rockness’, so to speak, as you admit to size and weight? Just as you say, this rock is bigger — that is, it has more size — than that one, or ‘this rock has more weight’ than that other one? In other words, could you say, ‘this rock has more rockness than that one?’”
“Yes, sir, I could, and I do, “ my master soon responded. “I’m always saying, ‘this rock is more rock than that rock.’ I always say it if it’s bigger than the other, or weighs more, because a rock needs size and weight to be a rock... but mainly if it has those attributes (as you call them) that make a rock a rock more completely than another rock.”
“And what do you call a rock you see in your dreams?” — and F. smiled.
“I call it a dream,” said my master Caeiro. “I call it a dream of a rock.”
Fernando nodded. “I understand. You — how would I say it philosophically? — you do not distinguish substance from attributes. A rock is something made up of a certain number of attributes — those necessary to make up that which we call a rock — and of a certain quantity of each attribute, which is what gives a rock a certain size, a certain hardness, a certain weight, a certain color, which distinguish it from other rocks, even though both of them are rocks because they have the same attributes, even though they have these attributes in different quantities. Now this is like denying the real existence of the rock: a rock becomes simply a sum of other real things. . . “
“But a real sum! It’s the sum of a real size and a real weight, etc. And that’s why a rock, besides having weight, size, etc., has reality too... It doesn’t have any reality as a rock: it has reality because it’s a sum of attributes (as you call them), all of them real. Since each attribute has reality, the rock has it too.”
“Let us return to the dream,” said F. “You call a rock you see in a dream a dream, or at most, the dream of a rock. Why do you say ‘of a rock’? Why use the word ‘rock’?”
“For the same reason that when you see my portrait, you say ‘that’s Caeiro’ without meaning it’s me in flesh and blood.”
We all burst out laughing. “I understand and I give up,” said Fernando, laughing with us. Les dieux sont ceux qui ne doutent jamais. I never understood that phrase of Villiers de l’Isle Adam as well as then.
This conversation remained engraved on my soul; I believe I’ve reproduced it with a clarity not far from tachygraphia, short of tachygraphia itself (I have that intense and clear memory characteristic of certain kinds of madness). And this conversation had a great result. Of course it was inconsequential, like all conversations, and it would be easy to prove, through rigorous logic, that the only ones who didn’t contradict themselves were the ones who didn’t speak. In my master Caeiro’s always interesting affirmations and responses, a philosophical mind could find reflections of what are in fact different systems. But, even as I concede this, I don’t believe it. Caeiro must have been right, even in those points where he wasn’t.
Besides, this conversation did have a great result. It was during it that António Mora drank in his inspiration for the two most awe-inspiring chapters of his Prolegomena — the chapters on the idea of Reality. Throughout the course of the conversation, Antonio Mora was the only one who said nothing. He limited himself to hearing, with his eyes turned inwards on himself, the ideas that were being said. The ideas of my master Caeiro, exposed in this conversation with the intellectual chaos of instinct, and therefore in a way that was necessarily imprecise and contradictory, were converted, in the Prolegomena, into a coherent and logical system.
I don’t intend to diminish the very real value of Antonio Mora. But, just as the base of his entire philosophical system was born, as he himself says with abstract pride, from a simple phrase of Caeiro, “Nature is parts without a whole,” so a part of this system — the marvelous concept of Reality as a “dimension,” and the derived concept of “degrees of reality” — was born, precisely, from this conversation. To every man what is his, and everything to my master Caeiro.
Ricardo Reis was listening, but he seemed less attentive to what Caeiro was saying than to some far-off manifestation, some echo of these words. After reading what Reis wrote, I understood. Sunlight was breaking against the cornices of ancient temples, and blood was draining from the dry sacrifice made by the haruspices in his soul. In some earlier incarnation — lived or metaphorical — the ancient gods had been a reality to that being; he was seeing the gods again, now, revealed by a grown-up child, and Ricardo knew they were real.
In his own way, R. Reis was also waking up.
All of ancient pagan civilization (the blood of Caeiro’s very soul) was, and is, for Reis, a dear childhood memory — the education that drove him into being.
This man first disoriented me by joyfully singing things, whether believed or taken for granted, that give everybody nothing but pain or horror — materiality, death, the nothing beyond. Then he disoriented me by not only saying all of it with joy, but also by making others feel that joy of his. When I’m depressed, I read Caeiro — he’s my fresh air. I become very calm, content, faithful — yes, I find faith in God, and in the soul’s transcendent living smallness, after reading the poems by that ungodly anti-humanist who goes unsurpassed on earth.
Why? Because of the personality behind the work, the elan vital, and where they plainly manifest themselves. It’s the poet we love in Caeiro, not the philosopher. What we really get from these poems is a childlike sense of life, with all the direct materiality of the child’s mind, and all the vital spirituality of hope and increase that exist in the body and soul of nescient childhood. Caeiro’s work is a dawn that wakes us up and quickens us; a more that material, more than anti-spiritual dawn. It’s an abstract effect, pure vacuum, nothingness.
Above and beyond all that, Caeiro’s work has a critical effect. These poems of the direct sensation in his soul set dead against our unnatural concepts, our artificial mindly civilization tabulated in double columns and stuffed into filing cabinets — these poems strip us of all our tatters, and chemically scour our faces and bellies. It’s a pharmaceutical effect — he comes into our house and shows us that a wooden table is wood, wood, and wood. He shows us that a table is a necessary hallucination of our industrial will.
If even for an instant in our lives we were able to see the table as wood, to sense the table as wood — to see the table’s wood without seeing the table — we’d be happy. We’d go back to “knowing” it’s a table, but for all our lives we’d never forget it’s wood. And we’d love the table that much more, just for being a table.
Such was Caeiro’s effect on me. I never stopped seeing the appearance of things, the human or divine integrity in matter’s material soul. I remained free. I’ve been like a Rosicrucian ever since, [[someone who prays legend or truth]], that, similar on the outside to every human, and conforming with the customs and manners of the workaday world, holds the secret of the Universe within him, and always knows the location of the “door of flight” and the magic of essenciation.
Fernando Pessoa wrote, in one go — in one go, humanly — those complex poems. Fernando Pessoa, who, when he writes a quatrain, employs strenuous industrial organization to see how he has to arrange across it the seventeen ratiocinations [**********]; who when he feels something, sets to cutting it up with a shears made of five critiques, and gets all wrapped up in the second line having a disyllabic adjective in it, and, seeing that at that point in the poem “but” wouldn’t be good grammar, he’ll work it so “although” is pronounced monosyllabically.
This man, so fruitlessly well-endowed, living constantly in the parabulia of his complexity, had at that moment — even he — his liberation. If some day forgetting himself to the point of publishing a book, if that book were a book of poems, and the little poems were dated, one would see that there is something different about those poems dated after March 8, 1914.
“I never change what I write,” my master Caeiro once told me. “If I write some way it’s because that’s how I feel, and the fact that I feel differently today doesn’t mean a thing to me. Sure, my poems contradict themselves all the time, but so what, if I don’t contradict me? There are things in some of my poems, you know?, I could never write now, not any time. But I wrote them then, in the time when I wrote them. So I let them be.”
At my questioning, he gave an example:
“Well, just look at my poem about the Boy Jesus. Today I could never say ‘the direction of my eyes is his pointing finger’ — not even if I were distracted. I could never say he plays with my dreams, throws his legs in the air and puts my dreams one on top of the other, and other stuff like that. I couldn’t even write that poem today, anyway. That’s the only thing that has any meaning.”
I defended the poem, the very sentences Caeiro was incriminating.
“No, no, there’s no excuse. They’re just lies, that’s all. The direction you look isn’t a finger, it’s a direction you look. You don’t play with dreams like you plat with jacks or empty matchboxes. It’s a whole lot of nothing, too. It was one of my distractions. I exist in my distractions, too, even though I’m distracted.
“I perfectly remember why I wrote that poem. Father B — was sitting there in my house talking to my aunt and he was saying things that bothered me so much I had to write the poem so I could breathe. That’s why it’s outside my usual breathing. But a state of irritation is a false state in me; that’s why that poem isn’t really mine, but my irritation’s, and also the person’s who most feels the same kind of irritation I felt when I felt it.
“Today, if I were irritated — that’s hard to have happen, these days — I wouldn’t write anything. I’d let the irritation irritate. Afterwards, when I felt the need to write, I’d write. I’d let the writing write.
“Even today, sometimes I write poems I don’t agree with. But I write them anyway. I think people are interesting because they’re not me, so sometimes I’m interested in a moment when I’m not me. Anyway, today it’s no longer possible for me to draw as far away from myself as I did when I wrote my poem about the Boy Jesus. I can still draw away from myself, but I can’t draw away from Reality any more.”
Caeiro was silent for a few moments. Then he went on:
“The poem of today where I draw away from myself the most is the one I wrote last month after that conversation Ricardo Reis and Antonio Mora had about paganism and the gods.” (He was referring to Detached Poems, number...)
“I was listening to them, and I started imagining how it would be if I imagined a religion. And it came to me how it must be. That’s how I wrote the poem, not as a poetic act, but as an act of the imagination... Yeah, like telling a story. I had to put ‘I know how to makes fairy tales, too’ at the beginning — but only once, of course . . .”
“There’s another of your poems that’s a little like that,” I said. Caeiro looked at me questioningly. “It’s the one in which you speak of a man in a lit-up house, far away, and you say that when you stop seeing the man, he stops existing.”
“I don’t say he stopped being real. I say he stopped being real for me. I don’t mean he’d stop being visible to someone who was where they could see him. He stopped being visible to me. He might as well have died.”
“Then you admit to two kinds of reality?”
“Many more than two,” my master Caeiro unexpectedly replied. “Look... that chair’s a chair and that chair’s wood and that chair’s the substance wood’s made of — I don’t know what a chemist would say — and that chair is maybe — definitely — many other things besides. But it’s all of them at once. If I look at it, it’s basically a chair; if I touch it, it’s basically wood, if I bite it and taste the flavor of the wood, it’s basically what wood’s made of. It’s like the left and right and front and back sides of something. Each and every one of its sides is real. The man I stopped seeing could have been real, but I was on the other side from him. Because I wasn’t on his side, he stopped being real for me.”
My master Caeiro hated ambition. One day I told him I wanted to be the freest person in the world. “Álvaro de Campos,” he said,” you’re just what you are and nothing else.”
My master Caeiro detested supposition. “Now suppose,” I once began to say, but he cut me off. “What’s there to suppose with? The eyes? The ears?” I answered, smiling, “The mind.” My master retorted [. . . ]
My master Caeiro once told me that, while the material world has one and only one advantage, its one and only advantage is its visibility. Each time I think of that dictum, I feel it more deeply, in spite of its simplicity. Think how hard it is to be a charlatan in the material world. If someone told me he had God in his pocket, I don’t know how I could possibly prove or refute that claim. But if he told me he weighed five pounds, the proof would be the simplest thing in the world. In spiritual matters we’re all able to lie at will. All told, the physical is worth more than the metaphysical.
To go blind! To go blind!, my master Caeiro howled desolately.
— You’d prefer...
— Anything but going blind, cried Caeiro.
— If they take away my testicles, they’re only taking away the possibility of all women. If they take away my eyes, they’re taking the whole universe from me.
So spoke the childlike demigod.
His organically childlike, divine judgement couldn’t conceive of the complexities of virile humanity. Yes. My master didn’t know that when our testicles are taken from us, so is our chastity — the very chastity that was meant to be preserved.
My master Caeiro couldn’t see the spiritual ramifications of spermatic fluid.
If children don’t understand adults — because, otherwise, they have nothing to understand because they’re all the same, and nothing exists that’s the same as something else —, it’s more certain that adults don’t understand children. Being adult is forgetting that you were once a child, so parents punish their children for doing what they themselves did at the same age. When parents remember what they were, and do not punish their children, it’s because they’re proceeding rationally: if they remember what they were, they believe they shouldn’t punish their children. In reality they don’t remember. If they remembered, they’d still be children.
This apropos the appalling result that, in a certain aspect, the influence of Caeiro had on the susceptible Ricardo Reis. The absence of metaphysical preoccupation in Caeiro, natural in one who thinks like a child, became, in Reis’ adult interpretation, a monstrous thing. Like Caeiro, Ricardo Reis faced life and death naturally, but, unlike Caeiro, he thought about it. It gave his poems an anguished materiality, even for he who wrote them. When Reis speaks of death, he seems to foresee being buried alive. He considers it nothing, except for the dispensable effect of feeling over himself “moist earth piled on,” and other equally suffocating ways of saying the same thing. The sentiment which in Caeiro is a field with nothing else in it is for Reis a tomb, also with nothing in it. He adopted Caeiro’s nothingness but didn’t know how to keep it free of decay.
For Reis, growing old and dying seem to be the sum and sense of life. For Caeiro, there is no aging, and dying is over there, by the hills. This comes apropos of influences, I believe.
Reis has no metaphysics. He adopted Caeiro’s, and such was the result. I don’t deny that he has aesthetic sapience; [I do deny that one can decently read]. We should all have our own metaphysics; each of us is each of us. If we take on influences, let’s take them in our rhythms, our images, in the structure of our poems. Let’s not take them into our very own souls.
Disciple, as I am, and very moved to be, of my master Caeiro, I am a disciple with my intelligence, and therefore critically. He wouldn’t have wanted to be followed in any other way: he didn’t like keeping pets.
I’ve never accepted one of Caeiro’s most original judgements — that there is some distinction between the natural and the artificial. There is no such distinction, because both are real. I understand the distinction between dreams and life, while yet conceding that a good metaphysics can confound it. But the distinction between a tree and a machine has always seemed false to me. It seems that a tree and a machine are distinct because the first is a natural product and the second is a product which appeared by the intermediation of human intelligence. But, in reality, every product is mediated: the tree appears through its seed, the machine through intelligence. And intelligence is just as much an element of reality as a seed. When we allow that the tree rises out of the seed and the machine out of the mind, we have reduced everything to material terms and have established the equal rights of matter.
No, I’ve never accepted Caeiro’s criterion about the artificial, nor Caeiro’s criterion about humanitarianism. Caeiro disdained the artificial because it is not born of the earth, and he disdained humanitarianism because it is not born of egoism. But a tree’s flower isn’t born from the earth, and the love of humanity isn’t born from egoism, but from the relaxation of egoism. Everything is natural, but with a greater circumference.
I still hear, in my heart’s memory, that cold and placid voice — yet so filled by all the inner heat of reality! — tell me, “Álvaro de Campos, I believe in what I have to accept.” How imbued with simplicity was Caeiro’s voice. I’ve adopted that sentence to the letter. I believe in a machine because I have to accept it in that same way as I accept a tree.
I know very well that Nature is the refuge, that the countryside swaddles the consumptive in all-embracing shelter, that the wind blowing through foliage, etc., etc.. But I’ve isolated myself in a great factory, among its noises; I’ve fled from the world to a grand international café. I’ve long been a hermit in the wilderness where nobody knows who I am, in a provincial villa whose name I don’t know and never will.
My master Caeiro taught me clarity and balance. He taught me to be organic in delirium and in hallucination; and to seek to have no philosophy at all, but with soul.
“If I knew English, I wouldn’t be me, I’d be someone else,” answered my master Caeiro.
Superior poets say what they really feel. Mediocre poets say what they decide to feel. Inferior poets say what they think they should feel.
This has nothing to do with sincerity. In the first place, no one knows what they really feel: it’s possible to feel relief at the death of a loved one and suppose it’s grief because that’s what we think we should feel on such occasions. Most people feel conventionally, though with the greatest human sincerity; what they don’t do is feel with any kind or degree of intellectual sincerity, and that’s what matters in a poet. So much so, that I don’t believe that there have been, in all the long history of poetry, more than four or five poets who say what they really and truly feel. Some very great poets never said it; they may have been incapable of saying it. In so many poets there are certain passages where they say what they feel. Coleridge said it once or twice: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
and Kublai Khan
are more sincere than all Milton put together. I’d even say more than all Shakespeare. Hardly a reservation when it comes to Shakespeare: he was essentially and structurally factitious, so much so that his constant insincerity became constant sincerity. Thus his enormous grandeur.
When inferior poets feel, they always feel by rote. They may be emotionally sincere, but what does that matter if they’re not poetically sincere? There are poets who spew line after line about what they feel: they never check to see whether they’re feeling it or not. Camões wails the loss of his gentle soul; ultimately, it’s Petrarch crying. If Camões had had one emotion that was sincerely his, he would have found new forms, new words — anything but the sonnet or decasyllabic verse. No: in verse he was a sonneteer, as in life, a whiner.
My master Caeiro was the world’s only entirely sincere poet.
• — • — • — • — •The Manuscripts
First posted by Berkeley Neo-Baroque Gang of One, 3.12.2006
Under continuous revision
Translation based on the critical edition by Teresa Sobral CunhaNotes in Memory of Master Caeiro
is in progress
Reproduction rights granted upon request
Many, many thanks to Dana Stevens