Category: Litany

Litany: 10 Excerpts from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Image Credit: Christine Zenino, Wikimedia Commons Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is aptly titled. “Disquiet” refers to a feeling of anxiety, and this story has plenty of unease for both its narrator and readers.

The narrator, perhaps a stand-in for Pessoa himself, is clearly a distant literary relative of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Eliot’s Prufrock. He is a man of inaction, excessively and perhaps obsessively analytical. He is beset on all sides by the ills of modernism–fragmentation, cynicism, paranoia, spiritual emptiness. Due to the personal, first-person perspective, it is difficult for the reader to avoid the resonance of these same ills, particularly the fragmentation.

Pessoa writes, “Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.” Sounds beautiful, yes, but after only a few pages one realizes this “profusion of selves” is also problematic. It is the paradox of choice in terms of self. Who should I be, and when, and why, and how? The narrator is frustrated, and consequently, frustrating, but that does not make him any less sympathetic.

The writing itself is the book’s best quality. Pessoa is a stylist. Like Nabokov his prose sparkles like a multi-faceted diamond bathed in light. But he is not a storyteller; he is a thought-teller, and therefore this book is not for the adventurer, but rather the contemplator. He is, in a sense, Hemingway’s exact opposite. If we can accept that then we can appreciate not only what Pessoa has written, but also how he has written it–marvelously. Below are some excerpts over which you may marvel, but I recommend you read the entire book for yourself.

1. …and from the majestic heights of my dreams, I return to being an assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon.

But the contrast doesn’t overwhelm me, it frees me. And its irony is my blood. What should theoretically humiliate is what I unfurl as my flag; and the laughter I should be using to laugh at myself is a bugle I blow to herald–and to create–a dawn into which I’m transformed.

2. And at this table in my absurd room, I, a pathetic and anonymous office clerk, write words as if they were the souls’s salvation, and I gild myself with the impossible sunset of high and vast hills in the distance, with the statue I received in exchange for life’s pleasures, and with the ring of renunciation on my evangelical finger, the stagnant jewel of my ecstatic disdain.

3. And I wonder if my apparently negligible voice might not embody the essence of thousands of voices, the longing for self-expression of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls resigned like my own to their daily lot, their useless dreams, and their hopeless hopes.

4. I feel a religious force within me, a species of prayer, a kind of public outcry. But my mind quickly puts me in my place.

5. To heed the present moment isn’t a great or lasting concern of mine. I crave time in all its duration, and I want to be myself unconditionally…Inch by inch I conquered the inner terrain I was born with. Bit by bit I reclaimed the swamp in which I’d languished. I gave birth to my infinite being, but I had to wrench myself out of me with forceps.

6. Whether or not they exist, we’re slaves to the gods.

7. Absurdity is divine…Let’s buy books so as not to read them; let’s go to concerts without caring to hear the music or to see who’s there; let’s take long walks because we’re sick of walking; and let’s spend whole days in the country, just because it bores us.

8. Sadly, or perhaps not, I recognize that I have an arid heart. An adjective matters to me more than the real weeping of a human soul.

9. Whenever I see a dead body, death seems to me a departure. The corpse looks to me like a suit that was left behind. Someone departed and didn’t need to take the one and only outfit he’d worn.

10. I want to raise my arms and shout wild and strange things, to speak to the lofty mysteries, to affirm a new and vast personality to the boundless expanses of empty matter.

Bonus – My march of triumph didn’t get as far as a teapot or an old cat. I’ll die as I’ve lived, amid all the junk on the outskirts, sold by weight among the postscripts of the broken.

– from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Richard Zenith, published by Penguin Books, 2001.

Litany: Seinfeld + Quotes + Poets = Seinquoets

As an avid Seinfeld viewer and poetry reader, I enjoy when the two inexplicably coalesce in my mind. The more I considered it, the more I realized that several Seinfeld quotes could have been uttered or written by famous poets. If you know your Seinfeld and your poetry, you’ll understand why I paired each specific Seinfeld quote with a particular poet.

Image Credit: commons.wikimedia.org
Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment & Sony Pictures, commons.wikimedia.org
  • “Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” – Robert Frost #roadnottaken
  • “I can’t go to a bad movie by myself. What, am I gonna make sarcastic remarks to strangers?” – Dorothy Parker #acidtongue
  •  “I’ve never heard of a relationship being affected by punctuation.” E.E. Cummings #modernistpoet
  • “Actually it was in gym class. I was trying to climb the ropes and Jerry was spotting me. I kept slipping and burning my thighs and then finally I slipped and fell on Jerry’s head. We’ve been close ever since.” – Allen Ginsberg #howl
  • “The sea was angry that day my friend, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.” – Stevie Smith #notwavingbutdrowning
  • “You have the chicken, the hen, and the rooster. The chicken goes with the hen… So who is having sex with the rooster?” – William Carlos Williams #redwheelbarrow
  • “Y’know I remember when I was a kid growing up, kids would make fun of my name like you wouldn’t believe – ‘Jerry Jerry Dingleberry’, ‘Seinsmelled.’”- Shel Silverstein #sidewalkends
  • “I’m not a lesbian. I hate men, but I’m not a lesbian.” – Anne Sexton #herkind
  • “Do you ever get down on your knees and thank God you know me and have access to my dementia?” – Edgar Allan Poe #darknessilluminated
  • “This woman hates me so much, I’m starting to like her.” Charles Bukowski #misogynisticlove
  • “Do you have any idea how much time I waste in this apartment?” – Emily Dickinson #aloneintheattic
  • “I couldn’t raise a kid? C’mon, I love bossing people around.” – Gertrude Stein #mentor?
  •  “Man, it’s the nineties… It’s Hammer time!” – Frank O’Hara #celebritypoems
  • “I’ve always been a stall man.” – T.S. Eliot #uptight