Allen’s observations on Fernando Pessoa continue
AG: ….like in Whitman. This [Fernando Pessoa’s “Poem in a Straight Line”] is parallel to the line that he [Walt Whitman] has, “These are the thoughts of all men in all ages.” And that’s a great declaration of Whitman – “These thoughts are not my own but these are the thoughts of all men in all times in all ages.
And the next poem (of Pessoa’s) begins, “Tobacco Shop” (Tabacaria) – “I am nothing/That’s all I’ll ever be/Nothing with no willpower to be something./With that reservation my dreams are boundless…” [“Nao sou nada/Nunca serei nada/Nao posso querer ser nada/ A parte isso, tenho em mim todos os sonhos do mondo”].…”I’ve clasped to my hypothetical breast [Tenho apertardo ao peito hipotetico.] more human races than Christ/I’ve secretly devised philosophies no Kant ever wrote./Yes I’ll probably always be what I am now, the fellow/ in the garret,[o da mansarda..]/Though I don’t even live there/I’ll always be the one who wasn’t born for that/I’ll always just be the one who had it in him/I’ll always be the one who waited for the door to open in the doorless wall/Who sang the song of Infinity in a hen-coop.. [E cantou a cantiga do Infinito numa capoeira]….”
AG: Actually, he’s a good poet. Through all his plainness and for all the dependence on the wizardry of the idea – “Death spreading dankness on walls and white hair on heads“ – (“Com a morte a por umidade nas paredes e cabelos brancos nos homens“) Some of the lines sound funny just because of the idea within them, but, as you may have noticed in the testimony to Whitman, there’s lots of fantastic combinations of idea and of language. Of language, especially. There was that one point where…what was it? – motors and soup?. In the Whitman ode, there’s one very climactic moment when he just went out of his head and had two totally opposite conceptions in one moment. Oh, motors and pistons.
Student: That line about pistons, right?
AG: Pistons and something else, I think. Let’s see. I wonder if I can find it. [editorial note: the line is “All the wheels, all the gears, all the pistons of the soul” – “Todos as rodas, todos os volantes, todas os embolos da alma”] – I meant to stop then and there, but I didn’t want to – “Climax of iron and motors!” – “...To be lifted to../The highest, abstract point of me and it all!/ Climax of iron and motors!” [ “..Ser levado ate…/Abstrato auge no fim cie mim e du todo!/ Climax a ferro e motores!”]- It’s really a modern..but twentieth-century (this is 1915), instead of “climax of flowers” or whatever.
Student: It’s like the Futurists.
AG: Yes. Ten years after the big Futurist explosion. And, of course, all the Futurists used motors and iron and motors. Motors came in – tramways, taxis, subways, bus motors. That one glimpse of the motors as an image, just the use of the word “motor” in a poem, updating Romantic poetry, and updating poetry to the twentieth-century when you get to gasoline and the motor in there, (it) goes on to even in “Howl” (where I was) still working that trick – “sphincters of dynamos” [“…worn out asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos..”]. You know, just combining the organic with the twentieth-century (image), an organic (but scientific or formal) with the twentieth-century motor (or) dynamo – “sphincters of dynamoes”, “cannibal dynamo”. (As) soon as they brought the cars into poetry, poetry got very funny and capable of doing all sorts of car-crashes.
Student: He mentions “parking lot”.
AG: Yeah.. Yeah. He’s got a combination of abstraction, which is very funny. Well, “red hot iron Pegasus, my twitching anxieties,/ Wavering parking place of my motorized destiny.” [“Pegaso-ferro-em-brasa das minhas ansias inquietas,/Paradeiro indeciso do meu destino a motores!]
AG: So it’s really modern. He’s just taking Whitman at his level, at his word. Taking Whitman at his word and then applying it – “Bringing the muse into the kitchen” [sic]
[from Whitman’s “Song of the Exposition” – “I say I bring thee Muse today and here,/All occupations, duties broad and close,/Toil, healthy toil and sweat, endless, without cessation/The old, old practical burdens, interests, joys,/The family, parentage, childhood, husband and wife./The house-comforts, the house itself and all its belongings, Food and its preservation..”]
Well, this is a long poem and it goes on. This “Tobacco Shop” poem goes on for another… I read up to page 81, and page 78, 77, and it goes on to page 88 – another eight pages, or another six pages, or so.
Student: That’s in the anthology?
AG: No, I didn’t put that in
AG: There’s too much to put in. I just put in one sample. And so, the point is, everybody go and check out…read up on him in the library. In other words, what I’m trying to do is (to) introduce you to his taste, introduce you to his head, or his style, and then, you’ve got the rest of your life to check him out (or the rest of this term).
[Audio for the above is available here, beginnng at approximately sixty-two minutes in and concluding approximately seventy-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in]