The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa, Richard Zenith (Translator)


If I write what I feel, it’s to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess is unimportant, because everything is unimportant. I make landscapes out of what I feel. I make holidays of my sensations. (42)

He who does not know how to populate his solitude, does not know either how to be alone in a busy crowd.
– Charles Baudelaire, Crowds
Some dreams want to transcend our minds. They want to feel alive, be outside and become reality. We all have dreamed about things that, even after we woke up, we are not sure if they actually happened or never left the secure yet claustrophobic mind of ours. And so, while those dreams are trying to abandon that place, magic can happen. When they realize they can’t, tragedy awaits. 
This is the story of a man who lived a thousand lives and wrote about the fragile boundary between reality and dreaming with the most beautiful and heartbreaking prose I’ve ever encountered.
I wanted to read this book for a long time. When I found it, I did something I try not to do: I skimmed it. I wanted to see something before my better judgment had control over my literary anxiety. Before I knew, I found myself reading a mesmerizing passage that I couldn’t leave until I finished it.

Lucid Diary
My life: a tragedy booed off stage by the gods, never getting beyond the first act.
Friends: not one. Just a few acquaintances who imagine they feel something for me and who might be sorry if a train ran over me and the funeral was on a rainy day. The logical reward of my detachment from life is the incapacity I’ve created in others to feel anything for me. There’s an aureole of indifference, an icy halo, that surrounds me and repels others. I still haven’t succeeded in not suffering from my solitude. It’s hard to achieve that distinction of spirit whereby isolation becomes a repose without anguish… (579)

From that moment, I just knew it was going to be an extremely emotional experience. Whoever said that reading is a passive activity, never found a book with the power of taking his soul out for a ride.
What a book. I could relate to almost every word. Every yearning for something that could never happen. Every loss that did happen. Every thought made by a restless mind. And every feeling conceived by an isolated heart longing for an endless dream. A cure. Redemption. Or nothing.
The melancholic beauty of his prose and the heartbreaking honesty of his sorrow made me feel too small. And relieved. Suddenly, many of my thoughts and feelings were exposed in those pages that I was never able to write. And he did it. Pessoa did it with the most exquisite language you could ever hope to find. 
The atmosphere is filled with an overwhelming sense of failure and frustration.

I envy – but I’m not sure that I envy – those for whom a biography could be written, or who could write their own. In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferently narrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say. (42)

Each drop of rain is my failed life weeping in nature. There’s something of my disquiet in the endless drizzle, then shower, then drizzle, then shower, through which the day’s sorrow uselessly pours itself out over the earth.
It rains and keeps raining. My soul is damp from hearing it. So much rain… (177)


Solitude devastates me; company oppresses me. (80)

Again, fluid and uncertain, the rain pattered. Time dragged to its accompaniment. My soul’s solitude grew and spread, invading what I felt, what I wanted, and what I was going to dream. The room’s hazy objects, which shared my insomnia in the shadows, moved with their sadness into my desolation. (285)


And so, not knowing how to believe in God and unable to believe in an aggregate of animals, I, along with other people on the fringe, kept a distance from things… Could it think, the heart would stop beating. (30)

I’ve never had anyone I could call ‘Master’. No Christ died for me. No Buddha showed me the way. No Apollo or Athena, in my loftiest dreams, ever appeared to enlighten my soul. (533)

And many other displays of human nature. Devastating situations that contrast themselves with the lyrical beauty of this man’s writing.
His crude words are still little sunbeams that could enlighten the obscure depths of our souls, only if we let them. In that so human selfishness of ours, we always think nobody is suffering more than we do. We are the only ones struggling to survive in this world that we never asked for. Well, we are not; that is not an extraordinary epiphany. But reading the words of a man whose thoughts are so familiar to us always represents an inspirational experience. We feel like we just found the necessary balm to soothe our pain. That is the healing power of understanding. Of empathy. 
We are not alone. We never were. Like Soares in this book, I am acquainted with isolation more than I would have wanted to. I breath it. I am made of it. And still, somehow, I am not alone. 

A breath of music or of a dream, of something that would make me almost feel, something that would make me not think. (57)

Being fatally sensitive can be exhausting and a perpetual cause of sorrow. But the so-desired inability to feel resembles to being dead inside a living body. Human existence doesn’t limit itself to some functional organs. Feeling nothing is not the answer. You might as well be truly dead.
So, yes. This book is my newest treasure. My diary and sanctuary. I can’t help but to be grateful. It filled my head with many questions that I wish I could find the answers by myself.
What to do when we are forced to leave the safe place our dreams represent? Can they make us do it? Will we ever find the strength enough to face the world? Do we have to? 
Do we dare?

I sleep when I dream of what doesn’t exist; dreaming of what might exist wakes me up. (179)

Life should be about finding a sane balance between reality and fantasy. That reminds me of something I found the other day. I don’t know if the following words really belong to Pizarnik—they sure sound like her—and since I couldn’t find them in English, I kind of translated them. Trust me, they are too beautiful in Spanish. So, I apologize in advance. 

I am simply not from this world… I frenziedly dwell in the moon. I am not afraid  of dying; I am afraid of this foreign, aggressive land…
I cannot think about specific things; I am not interested. I cannot speak like everybody else. My words are foreign, they come from far away… What will I do when I plunge myself in my wildest dreams and cannot ascend? Because that is going to happen, eventually. I will go and I won’t know how to come back. Moreover, I will not know that there is a “coming back”.  I will not want it, perhaps.

No. Pessoa was not alone.
According to this book, Soares was not a pessimist. He was sad. He suffered and dreamed. And he complained without knowing if suffering was the norm, if he deserved it for some reason. However, he rejoiced in the fact that he could play with his complaints and made them musical because he was an artist. He could give beauty to his complaints and dreams. 
But, if you can’t do that, if you are not an artist… well. What then?
* Note: I read the English (Zenith) and Spanish (Crespo) translations at the same time. I prefer the English one.

** Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

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