Somehow I thought of this poem in connection with the Archives of Exile project and Richard’s comment on my post yesterday. I don’t really know the poetry of Pessoa, and a quick bit of research turns up the fact that he wrote under a series of names — heteronyms, he called them — each of which had his own way of seeing the word and writing poetry. This is how Pessoa describes Caeiro, the writer of the poem below:
He sees things with the eyes only, not with the mind. He does not let any thoughts arise when he looks at a flower… the only thing a stone tells him is that it has nothing at all to tell him… this way of looking at a stone may be described as the totally unpoetic way of looking at it. The stupendous fact about Caeiro is that out of this sentiment, or rather, absence of sentiment, he makes poetry. (quoted in Wikipedia)
Rather the flight of the bird passing and leaving no trace
Than creatures passing, leaving tracks on the ground.
The bird goes by and forgets, which is as it should be.
The creature, no longer there, and so, perfectly useless,
Shows it was there — also perfectly useless.
Remembering betrays Nature,
Because yesterday’s Nature is not nature.
What’s past is nothing and remembering is not seeing.
Fly, bird, fly away; teach me to disappear.
Alberto Caeiro (Fernando Pessoa) Portugal
in Poems of Fernando Pessoa
I guess the point we are circling around is the way in which yesterday’s nature can’t be nature, or shall we say “natural”, but is culture. The wisteria in Rodney is historical, not natural, even though it is quite obviously a flowering vine blooming out of the ground in the spring. Does recognizing the wisteria as a human trace prevent me from fully seeing it, as I think I’m understanding Caeiro’s poem to say? Do Welty’s passionate things really endure in ways we can feel even when we are ignorant of the details? Or does everything simultaneously disappear and endure in some almost mystical way that is what we are feeling when we visit a ghost town or walk through ruins? And how much of this is sentimentality or nostalgia, and what of it is the essential, authentic, and totally real bond that ties humans together across life and death and time and distance?
I guess what I’m saying is just that a rose is NOT a rose, and never will be as long as we are human, whether we like it or not.
I don’t assume Pessoa’s ‘Caeiro’ is a reliable narrator.
Caeiro is slightly damaged in some way, and in this poem tries to compensate by searching for a Zen-like state of being ‘in the moment’; but he is apparently hindered by nostalgia. He calls this nostalgia ‘remembering’, but denying the (natural) process of memory is a symptom of his damage.
Incidentally: the Salvadorean poet Roque Dalton also developed a roster of ‘heteronyms’, essentially characters who expressed themselves through poetry.
If past, present and future are all NOW it all works it seems to me. There is nothing old or new – it is just now.
He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
I know very very well Pessoa and all his eteronimi, and he works on paradox like most of writers from Portugal, he is not Zen….
thanks for all your comments, here and on Facebook, and Richard’s on the AoE blog as well… I’m really struck by Eric’s comment about the distinction between nostalgia and remembering, something that Richard and I have also been talking about on and off for a while now.
Here’s a link to a post of mine on that subject on the Archive of Exile blog: http://archiveexilevoices.blogspot.com/2009/03/it-isnt-necessary-to-imagine-world.html
and here’s a larger selection (the posts tagged with “past and future”)…
I’m excited, because I think our tagging on the AoE blog is working the way I want tagging to work: yay!!! to re-read the Robert Coles compilation is particularly blowing my mind, wow..
While I was canoeing, and even now, perhaps especially now because these cultural personalities have continued to grow, to tendril me – whether decaying or subsuming or integrating is hard to say – and certainly Faulknerian in their tendrilations, I was struck by a very strong sense that lives of people gather and disperse like rain into rivers, and then the sea. We raindrops, we river, we sea of mingled salty lives again and again cloud awhile, drift into mountaintops awhile, overlook dry places, form and reform newly into selves. So, for me we are always out there, always potentially ready for some colorful period of tendril and passionate lovely purple blooming, ready to stay upon those wistful things, like hands holding cuttings in a lap.
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