book reports
April 2015


Fernando Pessoa

When I was in Lisbon in January this was the only thing by Pessoa that I could find in English. I've been meaning to read his BOOK OF DISQUIET for years, and that's what I'd been looking for, but I'm glad that I found this collection of his poems instead. I've folded the corners of many pages and in the last three months I've read some of these poems enough times that they've already become familiar and classic and comforting to me.

While I was on my trip, Huseyin sent me the text of "The Tobacco Shop". It was a good coincidence since he happened to find the poem online and knew I would like it on the same day I bought the book, without either of us having mentioned Pessoa to each other yet. Since then we've talked about that poem and several of the others, and I like knowing that this book will always remind me of him.

Pessoa wrote under both his own name and at least four other "heteronyms" which he developed distinct personalities for, and who wrote letters to each other and reviewed each other's work. My favorite of his personas is probably Alberto Caeiro, who wrote slightly shorter poems than the others, and whose collection "The Keeper of Sheep" opens with the lines I never kept sheep, /
but it's as if I'd kept them.
Annoyingly, the book ends with some of the weakest poems, the ones originally written in English and some boring odes to Portuguese sailors, but I love a lot of what comes before.


I'll always be the one who waited for a door to open in a wall without doors
And sang the song of the Infinite in a chicken coop
And heard the voice of God in a covered well.


I smoked my life. How uncertain
All I saw or read! And all
The world is a great open book
That smiles at me in an unknown tongue.



other books I read this month:
GIVING IN - Daniel Zender
STATION ELEVEN - Emily St. John Mandel