Expansive Poetics – 19 (Fernando Pessoa – 4)

nautical phrases

The major poem, or what is considered the major poem (of Fernando Pessoa) was too long to include (in the anthology), it’s about a thirty-page shot, called “Maritime Ode”, Ode Marítima) about standing on the dock, looking out into space. Let’s see.. And he also gets into sound – “Ahò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò – yyy…Schooner ahò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-oò -yyy…” –  he gets funny.. Let’s see if I can find that page, and he begins playing with the typeface. It’s an enormous long thing..  [Allen quotes from Pessoa’s “Maritime Ode”] – “To be on with all those crimes, to be part and parcel,/ of all those raids on ships, the massacres, the rapes!/ To be all that happened where plunder was.” – Yeah. Then it goes on.. It’s really a long poem. It’s the same thing as  “Slash me, rip me open!/ As I lie broken in small, conscious pieces,/Spill me across decks.” – And then, take a look at what the poem turns into typographically.

Student: Oh, look at that!

AG: It’s really funny.

Student: Yeah.

AG: Well, no it’s just screams and yells and..It gets bigger and bigger. Nineteen fifteen or so.. I don’t know. I’ll try and read the piece of that part..

Student: American Indian.

AG: I think it must become..

Student: Primal.

AG: Oh, it’s pretty interesting – “Make me kneel before you!/Humiliate me and beat me!/Make me your slave and your object” – Very few poets did get to this – “And let your scorn for me never abandon me,/O my masters, my masters!/. Let me always gloriously assume/ the submissive role. In bloody events and drawn out/sex bouts, fall on me like big heavy walls, oh/barbarians of the ancient sea, tear me apart and maim/me, go from east to west of my body, scratch body/trails through my flesh.” – Imagine, this is the national poet of Portugal. The Portuguese (have) to put up with this because it’s them, actually, (it’s) reflecting the destiny of the Portuguese

Student: It’s the same situation with Whitman..

AG: Yes

Student: .. in this country

AG: [continuing to quote from Pessoa] – “Kiss with cutlass, whips and frenzy/ My joyous fleshly terror of belonging to you. My masochistic itch to give in to your fury, the sentient inert object of your omnivorous cruelty. Dominators, masters, emperors and corsairs, Ah, torture me,/ Slash me, rip me open/As I lie broken in small conscious pieces/ Spill me across decks, /Scatter me over the seas, leave me/ On the islands’ greedy beaches,/Gratify on me all the mysticism I have claimed for you!/ Chisel your way through my blood to my soul. Cut and tear! Oh tattooers of my corporeal imagination!/ Flayer- lovers of my bodily submission!/ Subdue me like a dog you’d kick to death!,/Make me the sewer of your scornful mastery,/ Make me all your victims!/ As Christ suffered for mankind, I want to suffer/ For every victim at your hands/ Calloused, bloody hands with fingers split/ By your violent boardings at the gunwales/. Make of me a blob that has been drugged./ Oh, my delight. Oh, kiss of pain! -/ Dragged at the tail of horses you have whipped…/ But all this on the sea,/ on the se-eea, on the SE-EEEA!/ Ho-ho-ho-ho Ho-ho-ho-ho, on the SEE-EEA!/ Yah-yah-yah-yah!  Yah-yah-yah! Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!/ Everything screams, everything is screaming!/ /Winds, waves, ships,/ Seas, topsails, pirates, my soul, blood and the air, the air!/ Ha-ha-ha-ha  Yah-yah-yah-yah!  Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!/ Everything screaming and singing!

FIFTEEN MEN ON A DEAD MAN”S CHEST/ YO-HO-HO AND A BOTTLE OF RUM!/  Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! yah-yah-yah-yah!/ Yah-yah-yah-yah/
Ahò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò – yyy…Schooner ahò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-oò -yyy…”

This is all (mostly all) in large-phrase type.

[Allen continues] – “Darby M’Graw-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw,/DARBY M”GRAW-AW-AW-AW-AW-AW/ FETCH AFFFT THE RU-U-U-U-UM, DARHY,/ oh- ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho…” – I can’t do it. It gets bigger and bigger – Four “ho-ho-ho’s” in ascending giant type.
So it finally ends,  “HO-HO-HO-HO-HO-HO!. Something in me comes apart. A redness glows in the dust./ I feel too much to go on/feeling any more./ My soul is spent, an echo is all that’s left inside me./ The flywheel slows down noticably./ My dreams raise their hands a bit from over my eyes/. Inside I feel merely a vacuum, a desert, a nocturnal sea./ And as I feel the nocturnal sea inside me/ There rises up out of its distances, born of its silence,/ Once more, once more, that vast, most ancient cry of all,/ Suddenly as light resounds with tenderness, not sound,/ And instantly spreads all across the watery horizon,/ The gloomy humid surge of nightime humanity,/ A distant siren voice comes wailing, calling out/ From depths of distant, depths of ocean, the center of abysses,/While on the surface float, like seaweed, my/dismembered dreams./ Ahò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò – yyy…Schooner ahò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-ò-oò -yyy/ Ah, this light dew that covers my excitement…”

– It goes on and on, this poem. He never gets weary. He just keeps (on) going.So how does it end?  It’s like he said about Whitman, “I could never read much”. I never read this all through. I keep thinking, when I’m ninety years old, I’ll sit down someday and get to it.

[Allen continues] – “Poetry hasn’t lost out” – Pages later – “Poetry hasn’t lost out a bit. Moreover we now have the machine/ With its own poetry as well and a totally new way of life./ Business-like, worldly, intellectual, sentimental,/ Which the machine age has endowed our souls with./ Voyages are now as beautiful as they ever were./ And a ship will always be beautiful, simply because it’s a ship./ A sea voyage is still a sea voyage and distance exists where it always did -/ Nowhere, thank God!”

So, let’s see where it ends – “Bon voyage, that’s what life is!.” – Should I read the very last passage? Yeah. Twenty lines. (To) see where he ends up – “Slow ship pass by, pass away and don’t stop./ Leave me, pass way out of sight,/ Take yourself out of my heart,/ Vanish in the Distance, the farthest Distance, the Mist of God./ Disappear, follow your destiny, leave me behind./ Who am I to weep and ask questions?/ Who am I to speak to you and love you? /Who am I to be upset by the sight of you?/ It leaves the dock, the sun rises,/turns golden,/ The roofs of buildings along the dock begin to glow.” – Now there’s a poet with an eye! – “This whole side of the  city is sparkling” – That’s really good – that’s Whitmanic, actually. Accurate, Eliot-ic – “The roof of buildings along the dock begin to glow/This whole side of the city is sparkling./ Goodbye now, leave me – First be/ The ship in mid-river, standing/ there bright and clear./Then the ship passing the sandbar, small and black,/ Then a vague speck on the/horizon. (oh, my dread!)/ A speck growing vaguer and/vaguer on the horizon./ Then nothing at all – only me and my sorrow./ And now a great city full of sunlight,/And this moment real and bare as a deserted dock,/ And the slow-moving crane that turns like a compass,/ Tracing a semi-circular course of God knows what emotion, in the compassionate stillness of my heart.”

That’s a great effort. “Martitime Ode”. Certainly, it must be one of the great long interesting poems of the century.

His weirdness was (that) he wrote under a number of different names – he keeps claiming that he’s schizophrenic, and so he expanded out and wrote many books of poetry under different names. Pessoa

Student: Was he.. the personalities.. each name had a different..

AG:  Yeah, slightly different, slightly different..

Sudent: Is he alive?

AG: No, he died in 1925..(19)35.. The others were under (the) name “Alvaro de Campos”, or, let’s see, “Ricardo Reis” – R-E-I-S – (Ricardo Reis) was the guy who wrote “The Maritime Ode” and “The Tobacco Shop” and “Poem in a Straight Line”, and the Walt Whitman ode, and, under the name “Fernando Pessoa”, among uncollected poems, before he died, little, very elegant, rhymed verses. (For example), “Cat, you tumble down the street/ As if it were your bed/I think such luck is a treat,/ Like feeding without being fed.’ You’re just a pawn in the hands Of fate, as stones are, and people!/. You follow your instincts and glands/. What you feel, you feel – it’s simple./Because you’re like that, you’re happy./ You’re all the nothing you see./ I look at myself – it’s not me./ I know myself – I’m not I.”
Or, a little lyric again – “I’m so full of feeling/ I can easily believe/ I must be sentimental. But when I mull it over,/ I see it’s all/in thought,/ I felt nothing whatever.” – It’s very Buddhist, actually –  “I’m so full of feeling I can easily believe I must be sentimental./ But when I mull it over, I see it’s all/in thought. I felt nothing whatever.” –  “All of us alive/spend/ One life in living it,/ Another, thinking it./ And the only life we have/ Is split between/ The true one and the false./ But which is true/ And which is false/No one can explain./ And as we go on living,/ The life we spend’s the one/ That’s doomed to thinking.” –  so, just manipulation of interesting conceptions-ideas – “They say I fake or lie in everything I write. No, it’s/simply that with me imagination feels. I don’t/ use the heart…”  – “It’s simply that with me imagination feels. I don’t/use the heart” – “All I dream or go through, all I fail/or lose out is like a terrorist facing something else/again. And that’s a lovely thing. That’s why I write/steeped in things not readily at hand, free of/emotions. Serious about what isn’t. Feelings? That’s /the reader’s lot.”  – “I’m a runaway/ When I was born/ they shut me up/ inside myself/Ah, but I ran away./ If people get sick/ Of living in/ The same old place,/ why not of living/ In the/same old skin?/ My soul is on/ The lookout for me./ But I lie low./ Will it ever find me?/ Never, I hope!” –  “I’m a runaway/ When I was born/ they shut me up/ inside myself./ Ah, but I ran away” –  “Being myself, only/ Means being pinned down/ And noone at all./ I’ll live on the run,/ and really live!” –

Then, the next thing is many sonnets, (written in English! – he wrote a whole bunch of sonnets in English, 1918) – and, a little explanation of his various personalities too, called “The Genesis of My Heteronyms”  [from a letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro, 1935]

So this is quite a book, (and)  with an introduction by Octavio Paz [ see – “El desconocido de si mismo”] also..

I wanted to shift (next) to another salutationer to Walt Whitman, another person who wrote an “Ode to Walt Whitman”, (Federico) Garcia Lorca.

I think (that) Pessoa must have been a little queer, actually, I gather from the imagery…

Student: A little what?

AG:  A little gay, a little queer, or something, because there’s a little bit of funny…

Student: Masochism

AG: …masochism, but fake..

Student: Oh, when the sailors grab him..

AG: It’s real but it’s fake

Student: ..when the sailors grab him…

AG: Yeah, but he’s so bored with it, finally. It sounds like…he isn’t scared of it at all. He’s not oupset or anything.

Student: So.  like the dock poem.. the mugging poem…

AG:  The other.. Yeah,  so, there are  three great (four, maybe, but three that we’ll deal with) homoerotic salutes to Walt Whitman in appreciation of his empathies. And this (next one) is “Ode to Walt Whitman” by Garcia Lorca, in a brilliant translation (fortunately) by Stephen Spender (also gay) and J.L.Gili, in a book edited by Don Allen, the famous Don Allen of the Don Allen anthology, The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca (published by) New Directions

Student: (When was that published?)

AG: 1955, originally. I don’t think we’ll have time to read through that (but…)

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be found here, beginning approximately seventy-three-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-four-and-a-half minutes  in] 


  1. Slow ship pass by, pass away and don't stop.
    Leave me, pass way out of sight,
    Take yourself out of my heart,
    Vanish in the distance, the farthest distance, the Mist of God.
    Disappear, follow your destiny, leave me behind.
    Who am I to weep and ask questions?
    Who am I to speak to you and love you?
    Who am I to be upset by the sight of you?

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