Is it possible for a book to be too beautiful, too haunting, too spellbinding, to read? I hadn’t thought about that until I picked up The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith).
I started reading it four years ago, and I still haven’t reached the end. Not because it is extremely long, laborious or boring, but because it is just so beautiful and intense.
Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935) was a Portuguese writer, poet and translator. He was prolific, so prolific in fact, that he attributed his writings to heteronyms, not just pseudonyms, but “people” with histories, life stories, and their own authentic voices. He “invented” around 75 such people. Each one had their own writing style. When you read some of “their” poetry, it really is hard to believe the poems were actually written by the same person, i.e. Pessoa.
The Book of Disquiet comprises writings, passages and snippets which were left behind in a trunk when Pessoa died. I read it with a pencil in hand, to underline phrases and passages that resonate with me, or are just so beautiful to let pass by. As such, my copy is covered with pencil markings, as I mark practically everything.
I just opened the book at passage number 92. I’ve marked it. This is how it starts:
“I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. My worst sorrows have evaporated when I’ve opened the window on to the street of my dreams and forgotten myself in what I saw there.
I’ve never aspired to be more than a dreamer. I paid no attention to those who spoke to me of living. I’ve always belonged to what isn’t where I am and to what I could never be. Whatever isn’t mine, no matter how base, has always had poetry for me. The only thing I’ve loved is nothing at all. The only thing I’ve desired is what I couldn’t even imagine. All I asked of life is that it go on by without my feeling it. All I demanded of love is that it never stop being a distant dream.
In my own inner landscapes, all of them unreal, I’ve always been attracted to what’s in the distance, and the haze aqueducts – almost out of sight in my dreamed landscapes – had a dreamy sweetness in relation to the rest of the landscape, a sweetness that enabled me to love them.”
It is a book to settle down with, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and savour.