Verbal fauvism

Screenshot 2018-10-13 at 11.18.37 AM
Matisse, Copse of the Banks of the Garonne (1900)

Fernando Pessoa, ed Jeronimo Pizarro tr Margaret Jull Costa
New Directions 2017

Here are three quotes from the early sequences of BoD. They show off his prose style at its most fun: a scenic and sensuous description that seems to reproduce post-impressionist painting, where color takes over form and the image gets compressed to a plane; then the declamatory aesthetic theorizing of sorts; and the mannered schematic sentences.

It was one vague autumn evening, as darkness was coming on, that I set off on the journey I never made.

The sky — which I, impossibly, can recall — was nothing but a remnant of purple and dull gold, and above the lucid, dying line of the mountains hung a kind of halo, whose deathly tones gently penetrated those elusive contours. On the other side of the ship (where, beneath the awning, it was colder and darker), the ocean lay trembling as far as the sad eastern horizon, where a breath of darkness hovered like a heat haze, casting night shadows on the dark, liquid line on the farthest edge of the sea.

The sea, I remember, had shadowy overtones mixed with faint, flickering lights — and it was all mysterious as a sad thought in a moment of joy, prophesying what I do not know.


How much more beautiful La Gioconda would be if we could not see her! And if someone stole her and burned her, what a great artist he would be, far greater than the man who painted her!

Why is art beautiful? Because it is useless. Why is life ugly? because it is all aims and purposes and intentions. All its roads are intended to go from A to B. If only we could be given a road built between a place that no one ever leaves and another that no one ever goes to! If only someone were to dedicate that their life to building a road beginning in the middle of a field and ending in the middle of another, and which, if extended, would be useful, but which remained sublimely simply the middle of the road.

The beauty of ruins? The fact that they were no longer of any use.

The sweetness of the past? Being able to remember it, because to remember the past is to make it the present again, and the past is not and cannot be the present — the absurd, my love, the absurd.


I don’t get indignant, because indignation is for the strong; I don’t resign myself, because resignation is for the noble; I don’t keep silent, because silence is for the great. And I am neither strong nor noble nor great. I suffer and I dream. I complain because I am weak and, because I am an artist, I amuse myself by weaving music around my complaints and arranging my dreams as best befits my idea of beautiful dreams.

My only regret is that I am not a child, for that would allow me to believe in my dreams and believe that I am not mad, which would allow me to distance my soul from all those who surround me…

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