The Book of Disquiet
Author:Fernando Pessoa

Most if not all men live a contemptible life: contemptible in all its joys, and contemptible in almost all its sorrows, except those that have to do with death, since Mystery plays a part in these.*

 

Through the filter of my inattention, I hear fluid, scattered sounds which rise like intermittently flowing waves from outside, as if they came from another world: cries of vendors selling what’s natural, such as vegetables, or what’s social, such as lottery tickets; the round scraping of wheels from carts and wagons that hurriedly jerk forward; cars whose veering makes more noise than their motors; the shaking of some sort of cloth out of some window; the whistle of a little boy; the laughter from an upper floor; the metallic groan of the tram one street over; the jumble of sounds issuing from the cross street; a mishmash of loud noises, soft noises and silences; halting rumbles of traffic; some footsteps; beginnings, middles and ends of people’s utterances – and all of this exists for me, who am sleeping while thinking of it, like a stone poking out of a patch of grass where it doesn’t belong.

 

Next, and coming through the wall of my rented room, it’s domestic sounds that flow together in a stream: footsteps, dishes, the broom, a song (fado?*) that’s cut short, last night’s balcony rendezvous, irritation because something is missing from the dining table, someone asking for the cigarettes left on top of the cabinet – all of this is reality, the anaphrodisiac reality that has no part in my imagination.

 

Lightly fall the steps of the junior maid, whose slippers I picture having a red and black braid, and since that’s how I picture them, their sound takes on something of a red and black braid; loudly fall the boots of the family’s son, who’s going out and yells goodbye, the slam of the door cutting the echo of the later that follows the see you; a dead calm, as if the world on this fourth floor had ended; dishes being taken to the kitchen to get washed; water running; ‘Didn’t I tell you that’… and silence whistling from the river.

 

But I dreamily and digestively drowse. I have time, between synaesthesias. And it’s extraordinary to think that, if I were asked right now what I want for this short life, I could think of nothing better than these long, slow minutes, this absence of thought and emotion, of action and almost of sensation itself, this inner sunset of dissipated desire. And then it occurs to me, almost without thinking, that most if not all people live like this, with greater or lesser consciousness, moving forward or standing still, but with the very same indifference towards ultimate aims, the same renunciation of their personal goals, the same watered-down life.* Whenever I see a cat lying in the sun, I think of humanity. Whenever I see someone sleep, I remember that everything is slumber. Whenever someone tells me he dreamed, I wonder if he realizes that he has never done anything but dream. The sound from the street gets louder, as if a door had opened, and the doorbell rings.

 

It was nothing, for the door shut immediately. The footsteps die out at the end of the hallway. The washed plates raise their voice of water and porcelain. […] A passing truck shakes the back of the apartment, and since all things end, I get up from my thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

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And I reason at will, in the same way I dream, for reasoning is just another kind of dreaming.

 

O prince of better days, I was once your princess, and we loved each other with another kind of love, whose memory makes me grieve.

 

 

 

 

 

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The so gentle and ethereal hour was an altar for prayer. The horoscope of our meeting was surely ruled by auspicious conjunctions – so subtle and silken was the vague substance of glimpsed dreams that had mingled with our awareness of feeling. Our bitter conviction that life wasn’t worth living had come to an end, like one more summer. There was a rebirth of that spring which we could now, albeit fallaciously, imagine had been ours. With humiliating similarity to humans, the pools among the trees also lamented, along with the roses in the unshaded flower beds and the indefinite melody of living – all irresponsibly.

 

It’s useless to discern or foresee. The whole of the future is a mist that surrounds us, and when we glimpse tomorrow, it tastes like today. My destinies are the clowns that the caravan left behind, with no better moonlight than that of the open road, nor any quivering in the leaves except what the breeze causes, and the uncertainty of the moment, and our belief that they are quivering. Distant purples, fleeting shadows, the dream incomplete and no hope of death’s completing it, the rays of a dying sun, the light in the house on the hill, the anguished night, the perfume of death here among these books, all alone, with life outside, the trees smelling greenly in the vast night that is starrier on the other side of the hill… And so your sorrows had their solemn and benevolent union; your few words royally consecrated the voyage, no ships ever returned, not even the real ones, and the smoke of living stripped everything of its contours, leaving only the shadows and skeletons, the bitter waters of eerie ponds among boxwoods seen through gates that from a distance recall Watteau, anguish, and never again. Millenniums just for you to come, but the road has no curves and so you can never arrive. Goblets reserved for the inevitable hemlocks – not yours, but the life of us all, and even the street lamps, the nooks and crannies, the faint wings we only hear, while in the restless, suffocating night our thought slowly rises and paces across its anxiety… Yellow, green-black, love-blue: all dead, my divine nursemaid, all dead, and all ships are the ship that never set sail! Pray for me, and perhaps God will exist because it’s for me that you pray. The fountain softly pattering in the distance, life uncertain, the smoke fading to nothing in the village where night is falling, my memory so hazy, the river so far away… Grant that I may sleep, grant that I may forget myself, lady of Obscure Designs, Mother of Endearments and of Blessings incompatible with their own existence…

 

 

 

 

 

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