Fernando Pessoa. TOBACCO SHOP

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I’m nothing.
I’ll always be nothing.
I can’t even wish to be something.
Aside from that, I’ve got all the world’s dreams inside me.

Windows of my room,
The room of just one of millions in the world nobody knows
(And what would they know, if they knew that?),
You open on the mystery of a street people are constantly crossing,
A street blocked off to all thought,
A street that’s real, impossibly real, and right, unconsciously right,
With the mystery of things lying under live beings and stones,
With death spreading dankness on walls and white hair on heads,
With fate driving the cart of everything down nothingness road.

Today I’m bowled over, as though hit by the truth.
Today I’m clearheaded, as though I were going to die,
Having no more brotherly feeling for things
Than to say good-bye, turning this house and this side of the street
Into a line of coaches in a long train with its whistle shrieking good-bye
From inside my head,
And a nerve-wracking, bone-cracking jerk as it moves off.

Today I’m mixed up, like someone who thought something and grasped it, then lost it.
Today I’m torn between the allegiance I owe
Something real outside me—the Tobacco Shop across the street,
And something real inside me—the feeling that it’s all a dream.

I failed in everything.
Since I was up to nothing, maybe it was all really nothing.
From learning and training for anything useful I escaped
By slipping out the back window.
I went off to the country with great plans,
But found only grass and trees there,
And when there were people, they were just like any others.
I leave the window, sit down in a chair. What should I think about?


How can I tell what I’ll be, I who don’t know what I am?
Be what I think? But I keep thinking I’m so many things!
And so many people think of being the same thing, there just can’t be that many!
Genius? At this moment
A hundred thousand heads are dreaming they’re geniuses like me,
And who knows if history will remember even one of them.
From all those dreams of glory there’ll be nothing but manure in the end.
No, I don’t believe in myself.
In every asylum there are madmen sure of so much!
I, sure of nothing, am I more sure or less sure than they? 
No, not even of myself . . .
In how many garrets and nongarrets of the world
Are there self-styled geniuses dreaming now?
How many high-minded aspirations, noble and lucid—
Yes, really high-minded, noble and lucid—,
And who knows, even practicable,
Will ever see the real light of day or get a hearing?
The world is made for those born to conquer it,
Not those who dream of conquering it, right though they may be.
I’ve dreamt of more things than Napoleon went and did.
I’ve taken to my so-called heart more humanity than Christ ever did.
I’ve secretly thought up more philosophies than Kant ever wrote down.
Yet I am, and maybe always will be, the man in the garret,
Though I don’t live in one;
I’ll always be the one who wasn’t born for it;
I’ll always simply be the one with all the promise;
I’ll always be the one waiting for the door to open at the wall without a door,
Who sang his anthem to Infinity in a chicken coop,
Who heard the voice of God in a covered well.
Believe in myself?
No, I don’t, nor in anything.
Let Nature pour down upon my burning head
Her sun, her rain, the wind ruffling my hair,
And let the rest come, if it will or must, or not at all.
Cardiac cases enslaved by the stars,
We’ve conquered the world before getting out of bed,
But we wake and the world is opaque,
We get up and the world looks strange,
We go out in the street and there’s the whole earth,
Plus Solar System, Milky Way, and the old Indefinitude.


(Eat your chocolates, little girl!
Eat your chocolates!
Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth but chocolates.
Look, all religions on earth have nothing more to teach us than a candy store does.
Eat, dirty little girl, eat them up!
If only I could gobble down those chocolates as trustily as you do!
But then I think, peeling off the silver wrapper, it’s only tinfoil,
And toss it on the floor, just as I’ve tossed away my life.)


But at least, out of my bitterness at what I’ll never be,
There’s the quick calligraphy of these lines,
The broken archway to the Impossible.
And at least I reserve for myself this dry-eyed contempt—
Noble, at least, in the grand gesture I make
Flinging out the dirty clothes I am, with no laundry list, into the drift of things,
And stay at home, shirtless.


(Oh, my comforters, who don’t exist and so may comfort,
Whether Greek goddess, conceived as a statue that springs alive,
Or Roman matron, impossibly noble and ominous,
Or Princess of the troubadours, so blushing and so gentle,
Or eighteenth-century marchioness, so décolletée and cool,
Or famous courtesan back in our parents’ time,
Or modern whatever—since I can’t imagine what—
All of it, whatever it may be, if you can inspire, do it!
My heart’s an emptied pail.
Like someone who can call up spooks calls up spooks,

I call myself up, and nothing’s there.
I go to the window and see the street in perfect clarity.
I see the shops, I see the pavement, I see the passing cars.
I see the dressed-up living passersby.
I see the dogs too, also alive,
And all of it weighs on me like a verdict of exile,
And all of it’s strange to me, like everything else.)


I lived, I studied, I loved, I even believed,
And now there’s no beggar I don’t envy simply for not being me.
In each I see the rags, the sores, the lies,
And think: maybe you never lived, studied, loved, believed
(Because people can go through the motions without doing any of it);
Maybe you barely existed, like the lizard whose tail’s been snipped
And is just a tail, apart from the lizard, and beating frantically.


I made of myself something I didn’t know,
And what I could become, I didn’t.
The fancy costume I put on was wrong.
They saw me straight for what I wasn’t; I didn’t disabuse them, so I lost myself.
When I tried taking off the mask,
It stuck to my face.
When I pulled it off and looked in the mirror,
I’d grown older.
I was drunk and couldn’t get into the fancy costume I hadn’t taken off.
So I threw away the mask and slept in the cloakroom
Like a dog they let stay in the house
Because it’s harmless,
And I’m about to write this story to prove I’m sublime.

Musical essence of my useless poems,
If only I could find you in something I’d really made,

And not forever fixed by the Tobacco Shop across the street,
Stamping my feet on the consciousness of being alive,
Like a rug some drunkard stumbles over
Or a doormat the gypsies stole not worth a dime.


But the Tobacco Shop Owner has come to his door and stands there now.
I look at him, straining my half-turned neck,
Straining my half-blind soul.
He’ll die and so will I.
He’ll leave his signboard, I’ll leave poems.
After a while his signboard will perish too, and so will my poems.
A little later the street will die where his signboard hung,
And so will the language my poems were written in.
Then the spinning planet where all this happened will die,
In other satellites in other systems something like people
Will go on making things like poems and living under things like signboards,
Always one thing against another,
Always one thing as useless as another,
Always the impossible thing as stupid as the real thing,
Always the fundamental mystery as certain as the sleeping surface mystery,
Always this thing or that, or neither one nor the other.


But now a man’s gone into the Tobacco Shop (to buy tobacco?)
And the plausible reality of it all suddenly hits me.
I’m getting up, full of energy, convinced, human,
And about to try writing these lines, which say the opposite.


I light a cigarette and think of writing them,
And in the cigarette I savor my liberation from all thoughts.
I follow the smoke like a lane of my own,
For one sensitive, dexterous moment enjoying
The freedom from all speculation
And the consciousness that metaphysics comes from feeling out of sorts.


Then I fall back in my chair 
And go on smoking.
As long as fate permits, I’ll go on smoking.


(If I married my washwoman’s daughter,
Maybe I’d be happy.)
I think of this, get up from my chair. I go to the window.
The man is leaving the Shop (putting change into his pants’ pocket?).
Ah, I know him: it’s nonmetaphysical Stevens.
(The Tobacco Shop Owner comes back to the door.)
As if by divine instinct, Stevens turns around and sees me.
He waves me a hello, I shout back, Hello Stevens! and the universe
Reorganizes itself for me, without hopes or ideals, and the Tobacco Shop Owner smiles.


Translated by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown


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