Valentine’s Day with… Fernando Pessoa — 14 Quotes and Reflections

The Lovers by Rene Magritte

“We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our own concept—our own selves—that we love.”

Fernando Pessoa was not what most would call a romantic. He never married and had few if any relationships.

His Book of Disquiet, from which all these quotes are taken, isn’t the most cheerful book to read if you have your mind bent on love.

“My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while. […]. I’m two, and both keep their distance—Siamese twins that aren’t attached.”

But tasting love with a pinch of salt, can’t that add to its taste? Maybe brined hearts last longer?

“There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful.”

A small skiff or a grand vessel, love’s ship leaves port full of promise. But there are inevitable storms on the way, there are glaciers that may sink it, there may be pirates too, like so many unexpected trials and challenges. And then there is no promise that the destination, should it ever be reached, will be a sunny one.

“I feel as if I’m always on the verge of waking up.”

The early days of love, when the world around us appears new and luminous is like a dream that could end at any moment.

“I’d woken up early, and I took a long time getting ready to exist.”

When it does begin to fade, doesn’t the intoxication of love make reality appear so complicated and even painful? Does our being require a tremendous adjustment to the waking state, even if it is silent, even if we don’t complain?

“If I write what I feel, it’s to reduce the fever of feeling.“

We may not always write about our loves, but we talk about them, to others or to ourselves, we try to unburden ourselves of them. Perhaps that way the fever ebbs. Or perhaps it only burns fiercer.

“The essence of what I desire is simply this: to sleep away life.”

On those days when desire is tiring, when it requires too much effort, we may yearn to sleep it away. When we sleep, we forget that we desire.

“Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.”

Lovers travel but is it a question of where or how far? Are the landscapes external or are they internal? Isn’t travel the alchemy of our feelings?

“I don’t know what I feel or what I want to feel. I don’t know what to think or what I am.”

When love gets confusing, all that we know is that we don’t know.

“…the painful intensity of my sensations, even when they’re happy ones; the blissful intensity of my sensations, even when they’re sad.”

There is a certain pleasure in love’s sadness, if you take the time to filter it. Maybe that saddens is only the distillation of the intensity of what we feel.

“…to know how to think with emotions and to feel with intellect…”

When we are in love, don’t we think with our emotions? And don’t we feel what happens with out intellect, inventing stories and hopes, explaining and rationalizing events?

“What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood.”

Is each love story unique? Or is it an inheritance we can’t forget, an old play we can’t help restage?

“Everything around me is evaporating. My whole life, my memories, my imagination and its contents, my personality—it’s all evaporating. I continuously feel that I was someone else, that I felt something else, that I thought something else. What I’m attending here is a show with another set. And the show I’m attending is myself.”

When a breakup happens, doesn’t the world that felt so solid and real start to fade away? A new old ends, and out of it, a new world slowly tries to emerge. It is a painful process, and if we feel like spectators to it rather than participants, is that such a bad thing?

“Life is full of paradoxes, as roses are of thorns.”

If, in the end, we replace love with life in the line above, would that sentence read differently?

If Pessoa didn’t love, would we be reading his words today?

Can we really live and not love?

As if it were a choice. As if we had a say on whether the sun rises in the morning and the moon comes out at night.

One thought on “Valentine’s Day with… Fernando Pessoa — 14 Quotes and Reflections

  1. Sad to think the first quote may be true. Even so, there is a tender awakening, making one kinder and more patient, even softer for the sake of that love that may only be an echo of what one feels for oneself. It’s an almost-metamorphosis and there’s beauty in that.
    I like your reflections, Vince, and surely the man who inspired them would have, too.

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