Fernando Pessoa & Literary Children

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I am lazily wending my way through Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet and finding a like-minded soul: a quiet man, a homebody, a literary enthusiast.

Most interesting to me is this passage about children and their “literary” way of thinking (as opposed to those conformists in the mirror we know as “adults”). For me, this brought to mind the video of Naomi Shihab Nye quoting William Stafford about how we are all poets as children and just have to readopt the facility if we want to write poetry as adults.

Here’s the quote from Pessoa:

“Children are particularly literary, for they say what they feel and not what someone has taught them to feel. Once I heard a child, who wished to say that he was on the verge of tears, say not ‘I feel like crying,’ which is what an adult, i.e. an idiot, would say, but rather, ‘I feel like tears.’ And this phrase — so literary it would seem affected in a well-known poet, if he could ever invent it — decisively refers to the warm presence of tears about to burst from eyelids that feel the liquid bitterness. ‘I feel like tears!’ That small child aptly defined his spiral.

“To say! To know how to say! To know how to exist via the written voice and the intellectual image! This is all that matters in life; the rest is men and women, imagined loves and factitious vanities, the wiles of our digestion and forgetfulness, people squirming — like worms when a rock is lifted — under the huge abstract boulder of the meaningless blue sky.”

This is the gospel according to St. Fernando (thanks be to the writing gods)….

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4 thoughts on “Fernando Pessoa & Literary Children

  1. This kind of child worship is mostly romantic claptrap. I suspect that poets who believe this garbage never had children.

    On Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 9:00 AM, kencraftpoetry wrote:

    > Ken Craft posted: ” I am lazily wending my way through Fernando Pessoa’s > The Book of Disquiet and finding a like-minded soul: a quiet man, a > homebody, a literary enthusiast. Most interesting to me is this passage > about children and their “literary” way of thinking (as opp” >

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  2. It’s funny to find this blog (thanks to your poem shared in The Writer’s Almanac) and stumble with one my favorite books from my favorite Portuguese writer.
    I can’t help but “add” this:
    I think Pessoa praised children (particularly through his orthonymous’ poetry) as masters, because he “envy” the children (and the less intellectualized and even the “Cat Who Plays on The Street”) for their quiet – and yet imaginative – minds. He wrote abundantly about “The Pain of Thinking” and even created a Master-Heteronymous, Alberto Caeiro, that was basically a children’s mind on an old man’s skin, who didn’t over-thought everything, as Pessoa did.
    He was also a romantic soul living a platonic relationship with life, so much so that he created hundreds of imaginary writing-friends. Although, this kind of relationship with reality made him an outsider, someone that’s not (entirely) consumed by “banality’s filth” and still sees the mysterious wonder in everything (even in the most obnoxious little kid, for he is also an outsider, but he is unaware of his condition, so he does not feel its pain).
    I guess that, in the end, all this got him “exhausted with ancientness”.

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    • Thanks, Carina, for the thoughtful comment on this post. Obviously you are well-versed in Pessoa’s works (whereas I only met his writing this summer–for the first time!). Interesting about Caeiro, the “child’s mind in an old man’s skin.” Seeing the mysterious wonder in everything is a not only a valuable gift to a poet, but to any sensitive adult who would experience the world (as opposed to have the world “experience” him or her).

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