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Translator's Note: “Ah Margarida”

BY RICHARD ZENITH

 

Fernando Pessoa's most restless, extravagant, and prolific heteronym, Álvaro de Campos was supposedly born in 1890 (two years after Pessoa), attended university in Glasgow, sailed around the Far East, worked in northern England as a naval engineer, and finally settled down in Lisbon, where he frequented cafes, drank wine in abundance, and wrote in fits and starts. Campos was the prophet of Sensationism, a doctrine summed up in his motto—"To feel everything in every way possible"—and reflected not only in his international lifestyle but also in his eclectic sexual tastes, ranging from delicate young men and women to weather-beaten sailors. In a letter written in French and addressed to F.T. Marinetti (but not sent), Campos dismissed the Futurists' words-in-freedom as nonsense, stating that only sensations-in-freedom were worthwhile for making art.

True to his principles, this sensation junkie was not a fussy wordsmith in his poetry. You can see this in the manuscripts, where the poems are scribbled out fast and furious. Some of his long early poems ("Triumphal Ode," "Salutation to Walt Whitman") read like sustained rants, but he calmed down as the years went by. Virtually all his poems—long or short, early or late—are dramatic, staged, acted out. The poet is right there, in the middle of the poem, playing a role. The poems are doubly dramatic, of course, since Álvaro de Campos does not exist. Did the boy eating the cheap pastry in the second poem published here exist, glimpsed perhaps from Pessoa's apartment window? Probably. Did Pessoa-qua-Campos really envy the boy's presumed lack of intellectual doubt and disquiet? Surely not. Or rather, he did for a brief moment—the moment it took to write the poem. In poetry the poet has his cake and eats it too, though it might be hard to taste the chocolate. Could it be, in the other poem presented here, that he longed for an actual Margarida to woo, quite outside his verses? He certainly loved, in a way, the Margarida inside those verses. But who was "he"? And who was in a drunken stupor when that poem was written—the heteronym who dictated it, or the author who recorded it?—RZ

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2009

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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