Didem Doğan

A name identified with the melancholy of Lisbon: Fernando Pessoa

What makes Lisbon so special? What makes its ‘sui generis’ atmosphere, its ‘distant’ mood from other European capitals? Why does it look like it belongs to some other world? What comes to your mind when you think of this small but ‘intense’ place? The slow rhythm of a tram appearing suddenly on a narrow street, the roofs that look as if they stand on top of one another, the reserved mood of the locals sitting in cafés, the bitter colour of the river or the verses of the poet who is identified with the melancholy of the city? Fernando Nobody: ‘pessoa’ means in Portuguese both someone and no-one. He wrote his poems with the signature of more than one person; Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Bernardo Soares… His masterpiece ‘the Book of Disquiet’ which was found after his death (at an early age) proves his genius. He spent almost all his life in this city (except his childhood years in Durban); he never traveled but he wrote as if he traveled to the most distant lands. When you read his long poem ‘Praise to the Sea’, telling the tales of seamen departing to unknown lands and returning home, you see how big his imagination is. You see an incredible desire to leave home and at the same time a hopeless acceptance of as long as he takes himself with him there’ll be no new place to discover. Maybe it is this dilemma that makes his writing so alive. He has a quite sharp attitude to the rational man, or let’s say to so called ‘the age of reason’. I read the following verses again and again during my days in Lisbon:

‘I believe in the world as in a daisy, because I see it. 

But I don’t think about it.Because to think is to not understand.

The World wasn’t made for us to think about it (To think is to have eyes that aren’t well)

But to look at it and to be in agreement.

I have no philosophy, I have senses…

If I speak of Nature it’s not because I know what it is

But because I love it, and for that very reason,

Because those who love never know what they love

Or why they love, or what love is.

To love is eternal innocence,

And the only innocence is not to think.’