Bibliotherapy

Fernando Pessoa-ULYSSES

The oil lamp pictured below is part of the collection of the Antikensammlung in Munich. A date is not indicated, but it’s probably Roman. Odysseus is shown walking in from the left. To the right we see Helios. In the background the sun god’s livestock is depicted: two horses that belong to the team that pulls the chariot with which he travels across the firmament every day, as well as a cow.

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Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a poem from Fernando Pessoa, excerpted from his famous work, ‘Message’ (MENSAGEM), here in the English translation by João Manuel Mimoso from his website dedicated to this work (www.inverso.pt/Mensagem/english.htm) and the French translation by Michel Chandeigne et Patrick Quillier, in collaboration with Maria Antonia Camara Manuel and Liberto Cruz, with the participation of Lucien Kehren and Maria Teresa Leitao. Fernando Pessoa, Poèmes ésotériques – Message – Le Marin, Christian Bourgois éditeur, 1988, pp. 104-105.

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An introduction to the poem

Ulysses, the mythic hero of the Odyssey, is said to have sailed into the Atlantic and landed where Lisbon is today. And from his name derived the name of the town he then founded (Lisbon was once called Ulixbona). So, although Ulysses never existed except as a myth, Fernando Pessoa reasons that he is one of the pillars of the Portuguese nation (one of the castles in its coat of arms) and in this poem he muses on the importance of myths.

In the opening part of the poem he refers the myths of solar gods who die at sunset only to reincarnate at dawn in the Sun itself. The poem closes with the thought that, compared to the everlasting quality of myths, life in its fragility is indeed of little value… This thought calls to memory that Pessoa once said of himself “I want to be a maker of myths”.  João Manuel Mimoso.

English translation

Myth is the nought that means all.
The very sun that opens up the sky
Is a bright and silent myth-
The dead embodiment of God
Alive and naked.

This one who called here at port,
Found existence in not being.
Without being he sufficed us.
Because he did not come, he came about
And created us.

And so does legend flow
Across the threshold of reality
And enriching it, runs forth.
Down below, life, half
Of nothing, dies away.

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French Translation

Le mythe est le rien qui est tout.
Le soleil lui-même qui ouvre les cieux
Est un mythe brillant et muet ―
La dépouille mortelle de Dieu,
Vivante, mise à nu.

Celui-là, qui trouva un havre en ces lieux,
Reçut de son absence d’être une existence.
Sans exister il nous combla.
Parce qu’il n’est pas venu, il fut celui qui vint,
Il fut celui qui nous créa.

Ainsi s’écoule d’elle-même la légende
En venant pénétrer la réalité,
Qu’en son parcours elle féconde.
Plus bas, la vie, moitié
De rien, se meurt.

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Portuguese Original

O mytho é o nada que é tudo.
O mesmo sol que abre os céus
É um mytho brilhante e mudo –
O corpo morto de Deus,
Vivo e desnudo.

Este, que aqui aportou,
Foi por não ser existindo.
Sem existir nos bastou.
Por não ter vindo foi vindo
E nos creou.

Assim a lenda se escorre
A entrar na realidade,
E a fecundal-a decorre.
Em baixo, a vida, metade
De nada, morre.

Ilustração de Carlos Alberto Santos.

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