Monday, March 07, 2011



Yesterday I received an email from Eric Thomson describing
the Hieronomite monastery and Portuguese national pantheon where Fernando Pessoa and a triumvirate of his heteronyms are buried. Unquiet the grave of Bernardo Soares; his name is unrecorded there, but Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro Campos and Ricardo Reis each have verses inscribed on three of the four faces of the column marking FP's grave. Reis's reads
Para ser grande, sê inteiro: nada
Teu exagera ou exclui.
Sê todo em cada coisa. Põe quanto és
No mínimo que fazes.
Assim em cada lago a lua toda
Brilha, porque alta vive.
Ricardo Reis, 14-2-1933

In order to be great, be whole. Exclude
or exaggerate nothing of yours.
Be everything in each thing. Put all of yourself
into the slightest thing that you do.
So in every lake the full moon
shines, because it lives on high.
Just two words occurred to me when reading it—'oso boreis'—'as much as you can'. The following, mutatis mutandis language-wise, could almost be the second and third verses of a single poem.
And if you can't shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.

Try not to degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social events and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.
Not a bad precept for the eve of Lent, from two retiring, bespectacled clerks from coastal cities, who as emblems of their cities have usurped Alexander and Ulysses.
The translation from Cavafy's Greek is by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. The translation from the Portuguese of Pessoa can be found here.

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