Extracts from the The Keeper of Flocks by Alberto Caeiro (Fernando Pessoa)

fernando-pessoa-bcn-573x1024The work of the poet Alberto Caeiro, Fernando Pessoa’s heteronymous, is a philosophy without philosophy. One that puts into question the cultural tradition that “covers” thought: philosophy, poetry, mysticism, religion. It does so by returning to nature in a way that implies an absence of meaning, concepts, knowledge structures and prejudices that distort the look of things, the experience of Nature and feel of Reality. Because it deals with an unlearning, Caeiro turns to the simple, not-thinking, almost to the absence of the word.

IX

I’m a keeper of flocks.
The flock is my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and with my ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.

Thinking about a flower is seeing and smelling it
And eating a piece of fruit is knowing its meaning.

That’s why when on a hot day
I feel sad from liking it so much,
And I throw myself lengthwise on the grass
And shut my hot eyes,
And feeling my whole body lying on reality,
I know the truth and I’m happy.

X

The frightful reality of things
Is my everyday discovery.
Each thing is what it is.
How can I explain to anyone how much
I rejoice over this, and find it enough?
To be whole, it is enough to exist.

XXI

If I could take a bite of the whole world
And feel it on my palate
I’d be more happy for a minute or so…
But I don’t always want to be happy.
Sometimes you have to be
Unhappy to be natural…

Not every day is sunny.
When there’s been no rain for a while, you pray for it to come.
So I take unhappiness with happiness
Naturally, like someone who doesn’t find it strange
That there are mountains and plains
And that there are cliffs and grass…

What you need is to be natural and calm
In happiness and in unhappiness,
To feel like someone seeing,
To think like someone walking,
And when it’s time to die, remember the day dies,
And the sunset is beautiful, and the endless night is beautiful…
That’s how it is and that’s how it should be…

(3/7/1914)

XXIV

What we see of things is things.
Why would we see one thing as being another?
Why is it that seeing and hearing would deceive us
If seeing and hearing are seeing and hearing?

The main thing is knowing how to see,
To know how to see without thinking,
To know how to see when you see,
And not think when you see
Or see when you think.

But this (poor us carrying a clothed soul!),
This takes deep study,
A learning to unlearn
And sequestration in freedom from that convent
Where the poets say the stars are the eternal brothers,
And flowers are penitent nuns who only live a day,
But where stars really aren’t anything but stars,
And flowers aren’t anything but flowers,
That being why I call them stars and flowers.

(3/13/1914)

XXVI

At times, on days of perfect and exact light,
When things have all the reality they can,
I ask myself slowly
Why I even attribute
Beauty to things.

Does a flower somehow have beauty?
Somehow a fruit has beauty?
No: they have color and form
And existence only.
Beauty is the name of something that doesn’t exist
I give to things in exchange for the delight they give me.
It means nothing.
Then why do I say, “Things are beautiful”?

Yes, even I, who live only to live,
Invisible, they come to meet me,
Men’s lies in the face of things,
In the face of things that simply exist.

How difficult to be yourself and see only what you can!

(3/11/1914)

XLIV

I suddenly wake up in the night,
And my clock occupies the whole night.
I don’t sense Nature outside.
My room is a dark thing with vaguely white walls.
Outside there’s a quiet like nothing existed.
Only the clock goes on with its noise.
And this little thing of gears on top of my table
Smothers the whole existence of the earth and the sky…
I almost lose myself thinking about what this signifies,
But I come back, and I feel myself smiling in the night with the corners of my mouth,
Because the only thing my clock symbolizes or signifies
Filling the enormous night with its smallness
Is the curious sensation of the enormous night being filled
With its smallness…

(5/7/14)

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