TOBACCO SHOP by Fernando Pessoa (writing as Álvaro de Campos)- January 1928
I am nothing
I shall never be anything
I cannot wish to be anything.
Aside from that, I have within me all the dreams of the world.
Windows of my room,
The room of one of the world's millions nobody knows about
(And if they knew about me, what would they know?)
You open onto the mystery of a street continually crossed by people,
A street inaccessible to any thought,
Real, impossibly real, certain, unknowingly certain,
With the mystery of things beneath the stones and beings,
With death making the walls damp and the hair of men white,
With Destiny driving the wagon of everything down the road of nothing.
Today I am defeated, as if I knew the truth.
Today I am clear-minded, as if I were about to die
And had no greater kinship with things
Than to say goodbye, this building and this side of the street becoming
A row of train cars, departing at the sound of a whistle
Blowing from inside my head,
And a jolt to my nerves and a creak of bones as we go.
Today I am bewildered, as one who wondered and discovered and forgot.
Today I am torn between the loyalty I owe
To the outward reality of the Tobacco Shop across the street
And to the inward reality of my feeling that everything is but a dream.
I failed in everything.
Since I had no aims, maybe everything was indeed nothing.
What I was taught,
I climbed out of that, down from the window at the back of the house.
I went to the countryside with grand plans,
But all I found there was grass and trees,
And when there were people, they were just like the others.
I step back from the window and sit in a chair. What should I think about now?
(::::the mid part of the poem is not included in this excerpt::::::)
I made of myself what I did not know how,
And what I could have made of myself I failed to do.
The domino costume that I wore was all wrong
And I was immediately recognized as someone I was not and I did not deny it, and was lost.
When I tried to take off the mask,
It was stuck to my face.
When I took it off and looked myself in the mirror,
I had already grown old.
I was drunk, and I no longer knew how to put on the costume that I had not taken off.
I threw the mask away and slept in the dressing room
Like a dog tolerated by the management
Because it is harmless.
And I am going to write this story to prove that I am sublime. .
Musical essence of my useless verses,
If only I could face you as something I had made
Instead of always facing the Tobacco Shop across the street,
Treading at my feet the consciousness of existing,
Like a rug a drunkard stumbles on
Or a doormat stolen by gypsies and not worth a thing.
But the Tobacco Shop owner has come to the door and is standing there.
I look at him with the discomfort of an half-turned head
Compounded by the discomfort of an half-grasping soul.
He shall die and I shall die.
He shall leave his signboard and I shall leave my poems.
His sign will also eventually die, and so will my poems.
Eventually the street where the sign was will die,
And so will the language in which the poems were written.
Then the whirling planet where all of this happened will die.
On other satellites of other systems some semblance of people
Will go on making things like poems and living under things like signs,
Always one thing facing the other,
Always one thing as useless as the other,
Always the impossible as stupid as reality,
Always the mystery of the bottom as true as the shadow of mystery of the top.
Always this thing or always some other, or neither one nor the other.
But a man has entered the Tobacco Shop (to buy tobacco?),
And plausible reality suddenly hits me.
I half rise to my feet -energetic, sure of myself, human-
And I will try to write these verses in which I say the opposite.
I light up a cigarette as I think about writing them,
And in that cigarette I savor a freedom from all thoughts.
I follow the smoke as if it were my own trail,
And enjoy, for a sensitive and adequate moment
The liberation from all speculation
And the awareness that metaphysics is a consequence of not feeling well.
Afterwards I lean back in the chair
And keep smoking.
As long as Destiny allows, I will keep smoking.
(If I married my washwoman's daughter
I might conceivably be happy.)
Given this, I rise and go to the window.
The man has come out of the Tobacco Shop (putting change into his pocket?).
Ah, I know him: he is Esteves without methaphysics.
(The Tobacco Shop owner has come to the door.)
As if by a divine instinct, Esteves turned around and saw me.
He waved hello, I shouted back "Hello there, Esteves!" and the universe
Reconstructed itself to me, without ideals or hope, and the owner of the Tobacco Shop smiled.
João Manuel Mimoso