Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 2, 2021

I Have More Souls Than One, by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Jonathan Griffin

Fernando Pessoa’s I Have More Souls Than One is aptly named.  This collection—by Portugal’s most famous poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher—is a series of poems which were written under four different names, (or ‘souls’).  So there are pieces of varying lengths written by Pessoa as Pessoa; and by the three most famous of his 75 creations: Alberto Caiero, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campos.  He called these heteronyms rather than pseudonyms because he thought that they had an intellectual life separate to his own.  Sometimes, according to Wikipedia, these imaginary figures sometimes held unpopular or extreme views.

Writing as Alberto Caiero, he is preoccupied by nature.

I never kept sheep,
But it is as if I did watch over them.
My soul is like a shepherd,
Knows the wind and the sun,
And goes hand in hand with the Seasons
To follow and to listen.
All the peace of Nature without people
Comes to sit by my side.  (from The Keeper of Sheep, p.3)

And he conveys a sense of the majesty of the universe:

From my village I see as much as from earth one can see of the Universe …
Therefore my village is as big as any other earth
Because I am the size of what I see
And not the size of my own height …

In the cities life is smaller
Than here at my home upon the crest of this hill.
In the city the houses shut the view and lock it,
Hide the horizon, push our gaze far away from all the sky,
Make us small because they take away from us what our eyes can give us,
And make us poor because our only wealth is to see.  (from The Keeper of Sheep, p5)

And then the simple ordinariness of this…

One wildly clear day,
The kind when you wish you had done a pile of work
Not to have to do any that day… (from The Keeper of Sheep, p9)

(I used to feel like this so often on fine days during school holidays which are not really holidays for teachers, they’re just pupil-free days at home when you do all the planning you don’t have time for during term.)

‘If, After I Die’ written under the pen name of Alberto Caeiro, is a meditation on the insignificance of human life.  You can read this one at All Poetry so I can quote this one in full:

Pessoa’s statue outside Lisbon’s famous coffeehouse “A Brasileira”.

If, after I die, they should want to write my biography,
There’s nothing simpler.
I’ve just two dates – of my birth, and of my death.
In between the one thing and the other all the days are
mine.I am easy to describe.
I lived like mad.
I loved things without any sentimentality.
I never had a desire I could not fulfil, because
I never went blind.
Even hearing was to me never more than an
accompaniment of seeing.
I understood that things are real and all different from
each other;
I understood it with the eyes, never with thinking.
To understand it with thinking would be to find them
all equal.One day I felt sleepy like a child.
I closed my eyes and slept.
And by the way, I was only Nature poet.

There are no sorrows
Nor joys either In our life.
So let us learn,
Thoughtlessly wise,
Not to live it,
But to flow down it,
Tranquil, serene,
Letting children
Be our teachers
And our eyes be Filled with Nature. (p. 15).

But I’m not so sure about this one, it seems to reject efforts to thwart death with medicine.  It’s from ‘The Gods Do Not Consent’ and it was written in 1914, just after the outbreak of WW1.  But ‘Hate You, Christ, I Do Not’ shows that it’s not a Christian religious viewpoint, Pessoa counts Christ as just one among many gods, and Wikipedia says Pessoa was an occultist:

The gods do not consent to more than life.
Let us refuse everything that might hoist us
To breathless everlasting
Pinnacles without flowers.
Let’s simply have the science of accepting (p. 22).

‘Tobacconist’s’ written as Alvaro de Campos, is a pessimistic work, best left for another time.  But ‘I Have a Terrible Cold’ is a good one for keeping a sense of perspective.

I have a terrible cold,
And everyone knows how terrible colds
Alter the whole system of the universe,
Set us against life,
And make even metaphysics sneeze.
I have wasted the whole day blowing my nose.
My head is aching vaguely.
Sad condition for a minor poet!  (p. 40).

Image credit: Statue of Pessoa in Lisbon, by Nol Aders – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=386752

Author: Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)
Title: I Have More Souls Than One
Translated from the Portuguese by Jonathan Griffin
Publisher: Penguin Moderns No 19, Penguin Books, first published (in this English edition) 2018, but first translated into English in 1974.
ASN: B076L7GC42, Kindle edition, 57 pages
Source: Personal library


Responses

  1. And nowadays, publishers seem quite keen to create different personas for their authors so that they can publish in different genres, so Pessoa was once again ahead of his time…

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  2. Indeed he was!

    Like

  3. Ah, this is one I *have* read and I did love it. Time to pick up more Pessoa!

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    • He seems a really intriguing writer to me, so I’m also going to see what else I can find.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an appealing statue!

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    • It’s gorgeous, I agree. Australia isn’t very good at acknowledging its creatives in statuary, I wish we were…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. […] Modern box set recently by Lisa’s posts on two of the books from the collection – Fernando Pessoa’s “I Have More Souls Than One” and Lorca’s “The Dialogue of Two Snails”, both of which she covered for Spanish […]

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