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.

What Does It Mean to Love Someone?

Love’s such a big broad word these days that you can easily smack someone in the head with it.

After all, some people LOVE hamburgers.

What’s the point of trying to define a word that, some would say (not necessarily I), has been defaced by use?

A word that means everything and nothing at the same time?

Like freedom.

Or equality.

But you see, I come across this word, “love,” even in mindfulness books written by monks.

Maybe it’s a word that everyone can use to suit their purpose.

Defining love as a theological concept would take time and to be honest with you, I’d rather play with Beethoven.

I’m going to focus only on one use of the word.

So, what does it mean to love someone?

To want that other person close to you?

For them to pay attention to you?

To want to have sex with them?

To want to spend the rest of your life with them?

To have babies with them?

Many times in my life I thought I was in love.

That I had met a special person—special not necessarily in an outward way, but special for me because she saw things in me that others did not see.

But now, when I’m on the farther side of my 20s, I begin to have my doubts.

Yes, I did love, but maybe not so much.

Maybe I loved only once or twice or three times at most.

Maybe the rest were only attempts at love or much less noble than that.

Does loving someone mean the opposite of loneliness?

Understanding and trust?

Patience and kindness?

I’m still not sure I’ve got the definition right.

Because it’s a definition that changes as we do.

If I’d have to venture a definition, though,

I’d say that to love means to care at least as much about someone else

as you care about yourself.

Or to put it in another way,

To love is not to drink all the water yourself when you’re thirsty

but to want to give the water to that other person to drink first

because you care enough about them to know that they are thirsty too.

It’s not only kindness, and it’s not entirely selfless, of course.

If that other person’s going to drink the water before you do,

you’ll feel good about having passed it on.

But there’s a consideration in love that makes all the difference.

Most of the things we do in life we do for ourselves.

Love is a lesson we’ve learned in our mother’s womb,

and when we were babies and helpless.

But it’s a lesson we tend to forget by adolescence.

And then it’s easy to confuse it for other things.

I hope I’ll get better at love as time goes on.

I hope I’ll be passing that water flask

more often

without dying of thirst.

Summer Thoughts

Painting of sun Abstract Sun by Mrunal Limaye

Time’s wound grows in me

With each new passing day.

I comfort myself with sky and sleep

With words on paper

And music that sings

Of another’s man’s sorrow.

I destroy everything I love

Because that destruction

Is another form of love.

I sit still in the sun all day

Learning how to stop thinking.

I breathe.

I only breathe.

There is a woman somewhere

Waiting for me.

This is my mission in life:

To find love that will redeem me.

I will keep saying no

To the things that bind me

To my solitude.

And if halfway down the road

I will stumble and fall

This will comfort me:

That I had the courage

To walk my own way.