January 26, 2012

Ardent Pagan: The Poems of Fernando Pessoa's Alberto Caeiro

 I feel that I am being born each moment 
Into the eternal newness of the World . . .
For Alberto Caeiro, the world is not a place of mystery or of meaning, but is simply itself, to be absorbed with all one's senses. He was one of the heteronyms, the alter-egos, of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Pessoa's prose writings have moved me, and I wrote a blog post, Memory: Constructing a Life, inspired by one of his sentences. But I was unaware of his poetry until a Facebook friend, Martyn Ravensdale, introduced me to his long poem "The Keeper of Sheep", lyrical and revelatory; I feel that it's close to being a guide to appreciating life. Pessoa wrote his poetry in the guise of several different characters; he described the appearance of Alberto Caeiro in him as "In me there appeared my Master." Caeiro wrote of meeting Jesus Christ come down to earth as an innocent small child 
And enjoying our common secret
Which is knowing through and through
There is no mystery in the world
And that all things are worth our while.
The doings of mankind, the commerce and wars and kings make him smile
Because he knows it all lacks that truth
A flower has in bloom
Which moves with the light of the sun
Changing mountains and valleys
And making eyes ache at whitewashed walls.

Caeiro argues against intellect and for pure sensation:
I'm a keeper of sheep.
The sheep are my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.

To think a flower is to see it and smell it
And to eat a fruit is to taste its meaning.
 As he argues against anthropomorphizing nature:
To talk about the soul of flower, stones, and rivers,
Is to talk about yourself, about your delusions.
Thank God stones are just stones,
And rivers nothing but rivers,
And flowers just flowers.
Being that I am now over 60 years old, perhaps with two thirds of my life done (much of my family is long-lived), I occasionally wonder what it means, this being a human on earth. There are many possible answers, but lines from another poem by Pessoa's Alberto Caeiro gives one that feels true and deep and full of grace:
The startling reality of things
Is my discovery every single day
Every thing is what it is,
And it's hard to explain to anyone how much this delights me
And suffices me.
. . . . . . . 
Occasionally I hear the wind blow,
And I find that just hearing the wind blow makes it worth
      having been born.


  1. Thank you for bringing my attention to this great poet, Altoon. I have his book on my nightstand, and read him regularly in small doses.

  2. thanks, Martyn and Erik, for commenting on this post; I'm glad it meant something to you.

  3. I'm left almost speechless. Thank you for this beautiful introduction.

  4. Those are good words, Altoon, thank you very much for passing them on.

  5. The perfect entryway back into your blog, and just what I needed today.