Jorge Colombo /// Lisbon Revisited /// index

Two poems by Álvaro de Campos
(an heteronym of Fernando Pessoa)
translated by Richard Zenith

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TRIUMPHAL ODE (1914)

By the painful light of the factory’s huge electric lamps
I write in a fever.
I write gnashing my teeth, rabid for the beauty of all this,
For this beauty completely unknown to the ancients.

O wheels, O gears, eternal r-r-r-r-r-r-r!
Bridled convulsiveness of raging mechanisms!
Raging in me and outside me,
Through all my dissected nerves,
Through all the papillae of everything I feel with!
My lips are parched, O great modern noises,
From hearing you at too close a range,
And my head burns with the desire to proclaim you
In an explosive song telling my every sensation,
An explosiveness contemporaneous with you, O machines!

Gaping deliriously at the engines as at a tropical landscape
--Great human tropics of iron and fire and energy--
I sing, I sing the present, and the past and future too,
Because the present is all the past and all the future:
Plato and Virgil exist in the machines and electric lights
For the simple reason that Virgil and Plato once existed and were human,
And bits of an Alexander the Great from perhaps the fiftieth century
As well as atoms that will seethe in the brain of a 100th-century Aeschylus
Go round these transmission belts and pistons and flywheels,
Roaring, grinding, thumping, humming, rattling,
Caressing my body all over with one caress of my soul.

If I could express my whole being like an engine!
If I could be complete like a machine!
If I could go triumphantly through life like the latest model car!
If at least I could inject all this into my physical being,
Rip myself wide open, and become pervious
To all the perfumes from the oils and hot coals
Of this stupendous, artificial and insatiable black flora!

Brotherhood with all dynamics!
Promiscuous fury of being a moving part
In the cosmopolitan iron rumble
Of unflagging trains,
In the freight-carrying toil of ships,
In the slow and smooth turning of cranes,
In the disciplined tumult of factories,
And in the humming, monotonic near-silence of transmission belts!

Productive European hours, wedged
Between machines and practical matters!
Big cities pausing for a moment in cafés,
In cafés, those oases of useless chatter
Where the sounds and gestures of the Useful
Crystallize and precipitate,
And with them the wheels, cogwheels and ball bearings of Progress!
New soulless Minerva of wharfs and train stations!
New enthusiasms commensurate with the Moment!
Iron-plated keels smiling on docksides,
Or raised out of the water, on harbor slipways!
International, transatlantic, Canadian Pacific activity!
Lights and feverishly wasted hours in bars, in hotels,
At Longchamps, at Derbies and at Ascots,
And Piccadillies and Avenues de l’Opéra entering straight
Into my soul!

Hey streets, hey squares, hey bustling crowd!
Everything that passes or that stops before shop windows!
Businessmen, bums, con men in dressy clothes,
Proud members of aristocratic clubs,
Squalid, dubious characters, and vaguely happy family men
Who are paternal even in the gold chains crossing their vests
From one to another pocket!
Everything that passes, passing without ever passing!
The overemphatic presence of prostitutes;
The interesting banality (and who knows what’s inside?)
Of bourgeois ladies, usually mother and daughter,
Walking down the street on some errand or other;
The falsely feminine grace of sauntering homosexuals;
And all the simply elegant people who parade down the street
And who also, after all, have a soul!

(Ah, how I’d love to be the pander of all this!)

The dazzling beauty of graft and corruption,
Delicious financial and diplomatic scandals,
Politically motivated assaults on the streets,
And every now and then the comet of a regicide
Lighting up with Awe and Fanfare the usual
Clear skies of everyday Civilization!

Fraudulent reports in the newspapers,
Insincerely sincere political articles,
Sensationalist news, crime stories--
Two columns and continued on the next page!
The fresh smell of printer’s ink!
The posters that were just put up, still wet!
Yellow books in white wrappers--vient de paraître!
How I love all of you, every last one of you!
How I love all of you, in every way possible,
With my eyes, ears, and sense of smell,
With touch (how much it means for me to touch you!)
And with my mind, like an antenna that quivers because of you!
Ah, how all my senses lust for you!

F
ertilizers, steam threshers, breakthroughs in farming!
Agricultural chemistry, and commerce a quasi-science!
O sample cases of traveling salesmen,
Those traveling salesmen who are Industry’s knights-errant,
Human extensions of the factories and quiet offices!

O fabrics in shop windows! O mannequins! O latest fashions!
O useless items that everyone wants to buy!
Hello enormous department stores!
Hello electric signs that flash on, glare, and disappear!
Hello everything used to build today, to make it different from yesterday!
Hey cement, reinforced concrete, new technologies!
The improvements in gloriously lethal weapons!
Armor, cannons, machine-guns, submarines, airplanes!

I love all of you and all things like a beast.
I love you carnivorously,
Pervertedly, wrapping my eyes
All around you, O great and banal, useful and useless things,
O absolutely modern things my contemporaries,
O present and proximate form
Of the immediate system of the Universe!
New metallic and dynamic Revelation of God!

O factories, O laboratories, O music halls, O amusement parks,
O battleships, O bridges, O floating docks--
In my restless, ardent mind
I possess you like a beautiful woman,
I completely possess you like a beautiful woman who isn’t loved
But who fascinates the man who happens to meet her.

Hey-ya façades of big stores!
Hey-ya elevators of tall buildings!
Hey-ya major cabinet reshufflings!
Policy decisions, parliaments, budget officers,
Trumped-up budgets!
(A budget is as natural as a tree
And a parliament as beautiful as a butterfly.)

Hi-ya the fascination of everything in life,
Because everything is life, from the diamonds in shop windows
To the mysterious bridge of night between the stars
And the ancient, solemn sea that laps the shores
And is mercifully the same
As when Plato was really Plato
In his real presence, in his flesh that had a soul,
And he spoke with Aristotle, who was not to be his disciple.

I could be shredded to death by an engine
And feel a woman’s sweet surrender when possessed.
Toss me into the furnaces!
Throw me under passing trains!
Thrash me aboard ships!
Masochism through machines!
Some modern sort of sadism, and I, and the hubbub!

Alley-oop jockey who won the Derby,
Oh to sink my teeth into your two-colored cap!

(To be so tall that I couldn’t pass through any door!
Ah, gazing is for me a sexual perversion!)

Hi-ya, hi-ya, hi-ya, cathedrals!
Let me bash my head against the edges of your stones,
And be picked up from the ground, a bloody mess,
Without anyone knowing who I am!

O streetcars, cable cars, subways,
Graze and scrape me until I rave in ecstasy!
Hey-ya, hey-ya, hey-ya-ho!
Laugh in my face,
O cars full of carousers and whores,
O daily swarm of pedestrians neither sad nor happy,
Motley anonymous river where I’d love to swim but can’t!
Ah, what complex lives, what things inside their homes!
Ah, to know all about them, their financial troubles,
Their domestic quarrels, their unsuspected depravities,
Their thoughts when all alone in their bedrooms,
And their gestures when no one can see them!
Not to know these things is to be ignorant of everything, O rage,
O rage that like a fever or a hunger or a mad lust
Makes my face haggard and my hands prone to shaking
With absurd contractions in the middle of the crowds
Pushing and shoving on the streets!

Ah, and the ordinary, sordid people who always look the same,
Who use swearwords like regular words,
Whose sons steal from grocers
And whose eight-year-old daughters (and I think this is sublime!)
Masturbate respectable-looking men in stairwells.
The rabble who spend all day on scaffolds and walk home
On narrow lanes of almost unreal squalor.
Wondrous human creatures who live like dogs,
Who are beneath all moral systems,
For whom no religion was invented,
No art created,
No politics formulated!
How I love all of you for being what you are,
Neither good nor evil, too humble to be immoral,
Impervious to all progress,
Wondrous fauna from the depths of the sea of life!

(The donkey goes round and round
The water wheel in my yard,
And this is the measure of the world’s mystery.
Wipe off your sweat with your arm, disgruntled worker.
The sunlight smothers the silence of the spheres
And we must all die,
O gloomy pine groves at twilight,
Pine groves where my childhood was different
From what I am today...)

Ah, but once more the incessant mechanical rage!
Once more the obsessive motion of buses.
And once more the fury of traveling in every train in the world
At the same time,
Of saying farewell from the deck of every ship
Which at this moment is weighing anchor or drawing away from a dock.
O iron, O steel, O aluminum, O corrugated sheet metal!
O wharfs, O ports, O trains, O cranes, O tugboats!

Hi-ya great train disasters!
Hi-ya caved-in mineshafts!
Hi-ya exquisite shipwrecks of great ocean liners!
Hi-ya-ho revolutions here, there and everywhere,
Constitutional changes, wars, treaties, invasions,
Outcries, injustice, violence, and perhaps very soon the end,
The great invasion of yellow barbarians across Europe,
And another Sun on the new Horizon!

But what does it matter? What does all this matter
To the glowing, red-hot racket of today,
To the delicious, cruel racket of modern civilization?
All this erases everything except the Moment,
The Moment with its bare chest as hot as a stoker’s,
The shrill and mechanical Moment,
The dynamic Moment of all the bacchantes
Of iron and bronze and the drunk ecstasy of metals.

Hey trains, hey bridges, hey hotels at dinnertime,
Hey iron tools, heavy tools, minuscule and other tools,
Precision instruments, grinding tools, digging tools,
Mills, drills, and rotary devices!
Hey! hey! hey!
Hey electricity, Matter’s aching nerves!
Hey wireless telegraphy, metallic sympathy of the Unconscious!
Hey tunnels, hey Panama, Kiel and Suez canals!
Hey all the past inside the present!
Hey all the future already inside us! Hey!
Hey! hey! hey!
Useful iron fruits of the cosmopolitan factory-tree!
Hey! hey! hey! Hey-ya-hi-ya!
I’m oblivious to my inward existence. I turn, I spin, I forge myself.
I’m coupled to every train.
I’m hoisted up on every dock.
I spin in the propellers of every ship.
Hey! hey-ya! hey!
Hey! I’m mechanical heat and electricity!
Hey! and the railways and engine rooms and Europe!
Hey and hooray for all in all and all in me, machines at work, hey!

To leap with everything over everything! Alley-oop!

Alley-oop, alley-oop, alley-oop-la, alley-oop!
Hey-ya, hi-ya! Ho-o-o-o-o!
Whir-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!

Ah if only I could be all people and all places!


June 1914

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LISBON REVISITED (1926)


Nothing holds me.
I want fifty things at the same time.
I long with meat-craving anxiety
For I don’t know what--
Definitely something indefinite...
I sleep fitfully and live in the fitful dream-state
Of a fitful sleeper, half dreaming.

All abstract and necessary doors were closed in my face.
Curtains were drawn across every hypothesis I could have seen
from the street.
I found the alley but not the number of the address I was given.

I woke up to the same life I’d fallen asleep to.
Even the armies I dreamed of were defeated.
Even my dreams felt false while I dreamed them.
Even the life I merely long for jades me--even that life...

At intermittent intervals I understand;
I write in respites from my weariness;
And a boredom bored even of itself casts me ashore.

I don’t know what destiny or future belongs to my anxiety adrift
on the waves;
I don’t know what impossible South Sea islands await me, a castaway,
Or what palm groves of literature will grant me at least a verse.

No, I don’t know this, or that, or anything else...
And in the depths of my spirit, where I dream all I’ve dreamed,
In my soul’s far-flung fields, where I remember for no reason
(And the past is a natural fog of false tears),
On the roads and pathways of distant forests
Where I supposed my being dwelled--
There my dreamed armies, defeated without having been,
And my nonexistent legions, annihilated in God,
All flee in disarray, the last remnants
Of the final illusion.

Once more I see you,
City of my horrifyingly lost childhood...
Happy and sad city, once more I dream here...
I? Is it one and the same I who lived here, and came back,
And came back again, and again,
And yet again have come back?
Or are we--all the I’s that I was here or that were here--
A series of bead-beings joined together by a string of memory,
A series of dreams about me dreamed by someone outside me?
Once more I see you,
With a heart that’s more distant, a soul that’s less mine.

Once more I see you--Lisbon, the Tagus and the rest--,
A useless onlooker of you and of myself,
A foreigner here like everywhere else,
Incidental in life as in my soul,
A ghost wandering through halls of remembrances
To the sound of rats and creaking floorboards
In the accursed castle of having to live...

Once more I see you,
A shadow moving among shadows, gleaming
For an instant in some bleak unknown light
Before passing into the night like a ship’s wake swallowed
In water whose sound fades into silence...

Once more I see you,
But, oh, I cannot see myself!
The magic mirror where I always looked the same has shattered,
And in each fateful fragment I see only a piece of me--
A piece of you and of me!


26-IV-1926

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