Category Archives: Pessoa

I don’t know what time is

I don’t know what time is. I don’t know what its real measure is, presuming it has one. I know that the clock’s measure is false, as it divides time spatially, from the outside. I know that our emotions’ way of measuring is just as false, dividing not time but our sensation of it. The way our dreams measure it is erroneous, for in dreams we only brush against time, now leisurely, now hurriedly, and what we live in them is fast or slow, depending on something in their flowing that I can’t grasp.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. Zenith)

Where did I take refuge?

I fell into a complex state of mental indiscipline and general indifference. Where did I take refuge? My impression is that I didn’t take refuge anywhere. I abandoned myself to I don’t know what.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. Zenith)

Look how it’s getting dark!

If our life were an eternal standing by the window, if we could remain there for ever, like hovering smoke, with the same moment of twilight forever paining the curve of the hills…. If we could remain that way for beyond forever! If at least on this side of the impossible we could thus continue, without committing and action, without our pallid lips sinning another word!

Look how it’s getting dark! …The positive quietude of everthing fills me with rage, with something that’s a bitterness in the air I breathe. My soul aches … A slow wisp of smoke rises and dissipates in the distance… A restless tedium makes me think no more of you…

All so superfluous! We and the world and the mystery of both.

Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. Zenith), via here

To spare himself the trouble of organizing and publishing the richest part of his prose, Pessoa invented The Book of Disquiet, which never existed, strictly speaking, and can never exist. What we have here isn’t a book but its subversion and negation: the ingredients for a book whose recipe is to keep sifting, the mutant germ of a book and its weirdly lush ramifications, the rooms and windows to build a book but no floor plan and no floor, a compendium of many potential books and many others already in ruins.

–Richard Zenith, from his Introduction to The Book of Disquiet

Everything slips away from me. My whole life, my memories, my imagination and all it contains, my personality: it all slips away. I constantly feel that I was someone different, that a different I felt, that a different I thought. I’m watching a play with a different, unfamiliar setting, and what I’m watching is me.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. Zenith)

‘I don’t sleep’

First it’s a sound that makes another sound, in the nocturnal hollow of things. Then it’s a low howl, accompanied by the creaking of the street’s swaying signboards. And then the voice of space becomes a shout, a roar, and everything shudders, nothing sways, and there’s silence in the dread of all this, like a speechless dread that sees another dread when the first one has passed.

Then there’s nothing but wind, just wind, and I sleepily notice how the doors shake in their frames and how the glass in the windows loudly resists.

I don’t sleep. I interexist. A few vestiges of consciousness persist. I feel the weight of slumber but not of unconsciousness. I don’t exist. The wind… I wake up and go back to sleep without yet having slept. There’s a landscape of loud and indistinct sound beyond which I’m a stranger to myself. I cautiously delight in the possibility of sleeping. I really do sleep, but don’t know if I’m sleeping. In what seems to me like a slumber there is always a sound of the end of all things, the wind in the darkness, and, if I listen closely, the sound of my own lungs and heart.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. R. Zenith)

The existence of others

Like someone whose eyes, when lifted up after staring at a book for a long time, wince at the mere sight of a naturally bright sun, so too, when I lift my eyes from looking at myself, it hurts and stings me to see the vivid clarity and independence-from-me of the world outside, of the existence of others, of the position and correlation of movements in space. I stumble on the real feelings of others. The antagonism of their psyches towards mine shoves me and trips up my steps. I slide and tumble above and between the sounds of their strange words in my ears, the hard and definite falling of their feet on the actual floor, their motions that really exist, their various and complex ways of being persons who are not mere variants of my own.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)


I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. 

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)

The gift of not knowing

If there’s one thing life grants us for which we should thank the gods, besides thanking them for life itself, it’s the gift of not knowing: of not knowing ourselves and of not knowing each other.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)

The battleground

Today I woke up very early, with a sudden a confused start, and I slowly got out of bed, suffocating from an inexplicable tedium. No dream had caused it; no reality could have created it. It was a complete and absolute tedium, but founded on something. The obscure depths of my soul had been the battleground where unknown forces had invisibly waged war, and I shook all over from the hidden conflict. A physical nausea, prompted by all of life, was born in the moment I woke up. A horror at the prospect of having to live got up with me out of bed. Everything seemed hollow, and I had the chilling impression that there is no solution for whatever the problem may be.
   An extreme nervousness made my slightest gestures tremble. I was afraid I might go mad — not from insanity but from simply being there. My body was a latent shout. My heart pounded as if it were talking.
   Taking wide, false steps that I vainly tried to take differently, I walked barefoot across the short length of the room and diagonally through the emptiness of the inner room, where in a corner there’s a door to the hallway. With jerky and incoherent movements, I hit the brushes on top of the dresser, I knocked a chair out of place, and at a certain point my swinging hand struck one of the hard iron posts of my English bed. I lit a cigarette, which I smoked subconsciously, and only when I saw that ashes had fallen on the headboard — how, if I hadn’t leaned against it? — did I understand that I was possessed, or something of the sort, in fact if not in name, and that my normal, everyday self-awareness had intermingled with the abyss.
   I received the announcement of morning — the cold faint light that confers a vague whitish blue on the unveiled horizon — like a grateful kiss from creation. Because this light, this true day, freed me — freed me from I don’t know what. It gave an arm to my as-yet-unrevealed old age, it cuddled my false childhood, it helped my overwrought sensibility find the repose it was desperately begging for.
   Ah, what a morning this is, awakening me to life’s stupidity, and to its great tenderness! I almost cry when I see the old narrow street come into view down below, and when the shutters of the corner grocer reveal their dirty brown in the slowly growing light, my heart is soothed, as if by a real-life fairy tale, and it begins to have the security of not feeling itself.
   What a morning this grief is! And what shadows are retreating? What mysteries have taken place? None. There’s just the sound of the first tram, like a match to light up the soul’s darkness, and the loud steps of my first pedestrian, which are concrete reality telling me in a friendly voice not to be this way.

— Pessoa , The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)