36. Figura: Unamuno, Pessoa e Jorge de Sena

George Monteiro
unamuno_e_cia.jpg

O Professor George Monteiro nos propõe um "diálogo" ensaístico entre Fernando Pessoa, Miguel de Unamuno e Jorge de Sena (sem esquecer menções a Teixeira de Pascoaes, que aqui foi recentemente revisitado) a propósito de uma certa descrição ginecomórfica da Europa, presente em versos famosos.

Professor George Monteiro offers us an essayistic "dialogue" between Fernando Pessoa, Miguel de Unamuno and Jorge de Sena (not forgetting the references to Teixeira de Pascoaes, who was recently revisited here), regarding a certain gynecomorphic description of Europe, present in famous verses.

 

Eis aqui se descobre a nobre Espanha,
Como cabeça ali de Europa toda,
Em cujo senhorio e glória estranha
Muitas voltas tem dado a fatal roda;

Eis aqui, quási cume da cabeça
De Europe toda, o Reino Lusitano
Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa
E onde Febo repousa no Oceano.

      
                                 Luis de Camões, Os Lusíadas, III, 17, 1-4; 20, 1-4

 

She waited for her Sebastian, till her hope grew dim. Her remaining strength,
if strength she had, has gone out into the young empire of Brazil; and she sits
with her dark and sweet-voiced children around her, a widow, clad in life-long
sables, and weeping eternal tears.

                                Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1856) [1]
 

In an unpublished note found among his papers Fernando Pessoa lists the writer-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno among the Spanish writers and intellectuals who may possess “grande talento” but are not “figura[s] de real destaque genial.” [2]

This dismissive assessment dates from 1914, suggest Pessoa’s editors, and thus precedes Pessoa’s attempt to communicate directly with Unamuno in a letter dated 26 March 1915. Sending along a copy of the first issue of Orpheu, published in January, Pessoa invites Unamuno to comment on the new venture. Obviously aware that the Spaniard was a great champion of the Portuguese and their accomplishments, Pessoa permits himself to hope that Unamuno will see fit to applaud Orpheu as the original work of the “nova geração portuguesa,” that he will see the journal as expressive of a genuine effort to reach out across borders to Spain. [3] Unamuno was not invited to contribute to future issues of Orpheu. Unamuno did not reply to Pessoa’s letter. His possible motives for not doing so have been the subject of speculation without certitude.

Estas palabras [those of Pessoa’s letter], incendiarias con respecto al pasado reciente de la literatura portuguesa y terriblemente provocativas y presuntuosas, debieron sin duda acalorar al rector salmantino quien, probablemente, pensase que la mejor solución para “castigar” a tan atrevidos jóvenes sería someterlos al más rígido silencio, a la más oscura de las marginaciones. Es bien probable que Unamuno, con la experiencia de los envios de Sá-Carneiro en su haber, tomase la carta como una ofensa premeditada contra los hombres de su generación, razón que (debería pensar Pessoa) probablemente le condujese a plasmar su opinión sobre la revista en la prensa española, fuese cual fuese esa opinión, como afirma desafiante. La carta adopta, así, formas cercanas a la actitud de la vanguardia, como sucede con la exposición de la propia conciencia de su misión poética (original y elevada, como indica Pessoa) y la adopción de um riesgo inherente a este tipo de expresiones, asumido com cierto carácter altivo e con la certeza de que la “agitación de ideas” sería uno de los rasgos más válidos ante semejante figura. [4]

Such an explanation for Unamuno’s behavior toward Pessoa, plausible though it might appear at first, seems less likely when one discovers that Unamuno left no record whatever, not even in his letters, of his reaction to the venture that was Orpheu, the contents of its first issue, or its editor’s temerity in addressing to him a promotional letter. Had Unamuno felt at all insulted or that his generation had been maligned in the matter, he would in all likelihood, one would have thought, have mentioned it to someone else. That there is nothing along these lines in his correspondence with Teixeira de Pascoaes, who had already published both Unamuno and Pessoa, is strong evidence that Unamuno was simply not interested by what Pessoa had sent him—letter or journal.

If Orpheu did not find a place among the things and ideas Portuguese that Unamuno held in high regard, the work and sentiments of Teixeira de Pascoaes did. There was an exchange of visits and some correspondence before the Portuguese poet approached Unamuno to for a contribution to the journal A Águia, an organ for the patriotic movement called “Nova Renascença.” For twenty years, beginning in 1910, this journal would promote saudosismo, celebrating the glories of Portuguese history even as it hoped to infuse the present and shape the future with a renewed spirit of accomplishment. One of its rallying cries was that a new and powerful literature would revitalize Portuguese civilization.

Unanumo had on hand “Portugal,” a sonnet he had written in Porto on June 26, 1907.

PORTUGAL

Portugal, Portugal, tierra descalza,
acurrucada junto al mar, tu madre,
llorando soledades
de trágicos amores,
mientras tus pies desnudos las espumas
saladas bañan,
tu verde cabellera suelta al viento
—cabellera de pinos rumorosos—
los codos descansando en las rodillas,
y la cara morena entre ambas palmas,
clavas tus ojos donde el sol se acuesta
solo en la mar inmensa,
y en el lento naufragio así meditas
de tus glorias de Oriente,
cantando fados quejumbrosa y lenta.
[5]

This sonnet echoes lines in a poem by the late romantic Thomaz Ribeiro: “Why by the waters dost thou mourn and brood, / Poor—mistress thou of lands beyond the sea, / Dreaming for ever, in sad, wistful mood / Of days that were?”[6] But the poem also reflects aspects of Unamuno’s mood and spirit customary during his frequent travels in Portugal. In March 1907, for example, he had written: “Hago un viaje allá por lo menos una vez al año, y cada vez vuelvo más prendado de ese pueblo sufridor y noble.” [7]

In 1911 Unamuno contributed two unpublished sonnets to A Águia, which were to be published before being collected in Rosario de sonetos líricos. One was a lyric built on a motto— “Na mão de Deus, na sua mão direita”—drawn from Antero de Quental’s famous poem. The other one was “Portugal,” a revised version of the 1907 poem bearing the same title. Significantly, Unamuno had recently published Por Tierras de Portugal y de España. Foreshadowed obliquely at several moments in that book, his new version of “Portugal” reflected closely what he had written in 1908 about the fishing community of Espinho:

Hermosa evocación! El sol muriendo en las aguas eternas y los peces en la arena, los hombres mercando su cosecha marina, el mar cantando su perdurable fado, los bueyes rumiando lentamente bajo sus ornamentados yugos, a allá, a lo lejos, las oseuras copas de los pinos empezando a diluirse en el cielo de la extrema tarde. Y junto a los pinos, en la costa, unos cuantos molinos de viento, sobrevivientes también de una especie industrial que empieza a ser fósil, moviendo lenta y tristemente sus cuatro brazos de lienzo.

Esta contemplación de la puesta del sol marino brisado por la canción oceánica es una de las más puras refrigeraciones del espíritu; pero al detenerme así a mirarle con interés, temo que saque de entre las olas un brazo de luz, extendiéndomelo, exclame quejumbroso: dez reisinhos, senhore![8]

Here is the version of the sonnet “Portugal” that Unamuno sent to the journal A Águia.

PORTUGAL

Del Atlántico mar en las orillas
desgreñada y descalza una matrona
se sienta al pié de sierra que corona
triste pinar. Apoya en las rodillas
los codos y en las manos las mejillas
y clava ansiosos ojos de leona
en la puesta del sol. El mar entona
su trágico cantar de marvillas.
Dice de luengas tierras y de azares
mientral ella sus piés en las espumas
bañando sueña en el fatal imperio
que se le hundió en los tenebrosos mares,
y mira cómo entre agoreras brumas
se alza Don Sebastián rey del misterio.
[9]

Note that that Unamuno has now melded the “mother” of the first version with her fado-singing issue into a single female figure standing for the Portugal of decadence and Sebastianism. José Rodrigues Miguéis would go further. He writes:

Unamuno deu aos hispanos, em Por tierras de Portugal y España, e num soneto célebre, de inspiração sebástica, o figurino que colheu em certa fase da vida portuguesa, penetrada do satanismo junqueriano, do pessimismo de Oliveira Martins e da tristeza de Manuel Laranjeira: e esse figurino ganhou curso livre até na América do Norte, onde Don Miguel é muito lido e admirado. Uma portuguesada é, no mundo hispânico, o mesmo que une espagnolade ou galéjade para os franceses, e para os italianos também. Não temos o exclusivo da farronca! [10]

It was not until 1912 that Fernando Pessoa made his first contribution to A Águia. He began his collaboration with a pair of related essays, the first publications of his maturity, in which he assessed the state of Portuguese poetry before predicting its future and, as he saw it, noble course. Portugal would become the Quinto Império with cultural achievements that would rival those of England in the Age of Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare, Pessoa remained fixed in this idea to the end of his days. He would perceive an implicit challenge to it in an interview with Unamuno published in the Lisbon newspaper Diário de Noticias in 1930. In the course of this interview conducted by Antonio Ferro, Pessoa’s friend since the days of Orpheu, Unamuno advocates that all Iberian countries adopt Castilian as the most expeditious way of working toward common purposes or goals. Possibly Pessoa intended to take issue with Unamuno publicly, for left a sheet on the matter among his papers. But that his intended audience was not the readership of the newspaper Diário de Noticias is clear from the fact that Pessoa had chosen to express himself on the matter in English.

Since the disintegration of Spain is a definite fact, the case is how to make up for it by a civilizational reaction. The idea is, not to form an Iberian Federation, which would be unacceptable all round, but to split up Iberia into separate nations, which would be wholly separate except in respect of (1) an offensive and defensive alliance, (2) a cultural alliance, (3) the abolition of customs frontiers between all.

Each nation would be wholly independent, with its own army, navy, diplomatic
service and the like, Spain to make what it can of the navy and of its colonies, which, fortunately, are few and may either fall to Castile or be somehow administered jointly by the nations now composing what is called Spain.

The problem of language does not matter, for if a Catalan likes to write Castilian, he will do so then as he does now, in the same manner as a Catalan can write in French and get a wider public still. Unamuno put the case: why not write in Castilian? If it comes to that, I prefer to write in English, which will give me a wider public than Castilian; and I am as much Castilian as I am English in blood and much more English than Castilian since my education is English.

Unamuno’s argument is really an argument for writing in English, since that is the most widespread language in the world. If I am to abstain from writing in Portuguese, because my public is limited thereby, I may just as well write in the most widespread language of all. Why should I write in Castilian? That U. may understand me? It is asking too much for too little. [11]

Around this time, possibly, Pessoa wrote the emblematic poem that can be read as a rejoinder to Unamuno’s “Portugal.” Whenever it was written, however, it was not published until 1934, when Pessoa chose it to lead off the collection of historical lyrics he ultimately titled Mensagem. It is significant that in 1932 Pessoa reported that the title of his still unpublished book was Portugal, describing it as “um livro pequeno de poemas (tem 41 ao todo), de que o Mar Português (Contemporânea 4) é a segunda parte.” [12] In fact, Pessoa continued to call the book Portugal well into the proof stage when, at the last moment, it gave way to Mensagem.

O DOS CASTELLOS

A Europa jaz, posta nos cotovellos:
De Oriente a Occidente jaz, fitando,
E toldam-lhe romanticos cabellos
Olhos gregos, lembrando.

O cotovello esquerdo é recuado:
O direito é em angulo disposto.
Aquelle diz Italia onde é pousado;
Este diz Inglaterra onde, afastado,
A mão sustenta, em que se appoia o rosto.

Fita, com olhar sphyngico e fatal,
O Occidente, futuro do passado.

O rosto com que fita é Portugal. [13]


In place of Unamuno’s crone looking pathetically out to sea in search of the past of her pastness (as well as Higginson’s sable-clad widow and mother) Pessoa offers an alertly staring (ungendered) face looking out for the future of that past. [14] It is actually a profile seen only on maps (one of Elizabeth Bishop’s “profiles investigat[ing] the sea, where land is”) or in our day, perhaps, from the vantage of out-of-space. Unlike Unamuno’s old, bare-footed woman, Pessoa’s Portugal is the face and head in profile of “Portugal-Europa,” as he called it in 1916 when he vaunted “Sensacionism” as the first manifestation of that “Portugal-Europa,” [15] not, of course, that “Iberia,” an idea to which, as has been seen, Unamuno attached himself, as he announced as early as 1910 to Teixeira de Pascoaes. And again, is Mensagem, in Pessoa’s mind, the poem of the “supreme poet of Europe,” who would perforce emerge from the Portuguese spirit, as he had foretold, in his essay “A Nova Poesia Portuguesa no Seu Aspecto Psicológico,” in A Águia, the voice of Pascoaes’ “Nova Renascença”? There, in 1912, he had written: “Deve estar para muito breve, portanto, o aparecimento do poeta supremo da nossa raça, e, ousando tirar a verdadeira conclusão que se nos impõe, pelos argumentos que já o leitor viu, o poeta supremo da Europa, de todos os tempos. É um arrojo dizer isto? Mas o raciocínio assim o quer.”[16] Whether he knew it or not, Pessoa in 1912 had distanced himself from the Unamuno, who in 1910 already considered himself more Iberian than European. For if Unamuno’s Portugal continued to exist in saudades for the past, Pessoa’s Portugal points to her future as “Europe-Portugal.” Their differences on matters Hispanic and European were not to be effaced. It has not come down to us what Unamuno thought of Mensagem, a work that, made famous and notorious by its having been awarded a national prize, could not have escaped the attention of this Spaniard who to the last he insisted that “cada dia me siento menos europeo y más ibérico.” [17]

Unamuno finds in the naturalistic figure of an old woman as grieving, keening crone the symbol for Portugal in the throes of its decadence. Pessoa, on the other hand, finds in the depiction of Portugal in a map of Europe, the image of its fate, its past and its present with intimations of its future. Portugal is a metonym; it is the face of Europe, facing west. It is not landscape per se that Pessoa reacts to but the cartographer’s barest one-dimensional outline of the outermost reach of the landscape.

Somewhere Jorge de Sena talks about the criticism-poem by which I take him to mean the poem that offers a literary interpretation or an artistic criticism. Metamorphoses (1963) collects criticism-poems, most of them relating to specific works of sculpture or painting. Some of the poems of his Arte de Música (1968) are criticism-poems relating to works of music and composers. What I would suggest here is that, in “Super Flumina Babylonis,” published in Sena’s second collection of stories, Novas Andanças do Demónio (1966), Sena wrote what he might have called a criticism-story. Focusing on Camões’s last days (though the poet’s name is never given), it ends with Camões’s setting down the first words of his great poem, the title of which Sena has taken for the title of his own story. Realism of the quotidian days of the sick, infirm, aged Camões. Only at this stage in his life could Camões his famous redondilha, drawing on the Psalms. Is Camões producing it for money? Or is it that the artist creates a poem out of his pain?

How Sena’s story relates to the subject of this piece—’Unamunos and Pessoa’s different figures for Portugal—lies in his depiction of the mother of Camões, his most imaginative creation. Apart from her historical being in the realistic, mimetic mode, she is a harsh figure for “Portugal,” a nation that cares for Camões just barely, hardly recognizes the worth of his accomplishment, encouraging him only to work beyond his physical and spiritual means. After his death the historical mother continued to collect her son’s pension. She is, in short, an even harsher version of Higginson’s or Unamuno’s figure of Portugal as old crone. It was indicative of the times—the story was published in 1966, it will be recalled—that the figure Sena chose for Portugal was not the more optimistic one that Camões created and Pessoa, in 1934, resurrected.

 

Notas:

1. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Portugal’s Glory and Decay,” North American Review, 173 (Oct. 1856), 476.

2. Fernando Pessoa, Páginas de Estética e de Teoria e Crítica Literárias, ed. Georg Rudolf Lind and Jacinto do Prado Coelho (Lisboa: Ática, 1966), p. 355.
3. Pessoa’s letter is included in Epistolario Portugués de Unamuno, ed. Angel Marcos de Dios (Paris: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian / Centro Cultural Português, 1978), p. 303, and in Fernando Pessoa, Correspondência, 1905-1922, ed. Manuela Parreira da Silva (Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim, 1999), pp. 158-59.
4. Antonio Sáez Delgado, Órficos y ultraístas: Portugal y España en el diálogo de las primeras vanguardias literarias (1915-1925) (Mérida [Badajoz]: Editora Regional de Extremadura, 1999), p. 90.
5. Miguel de Unanumo, Obras Completas, VI: Poesia (New York: Las Americas, 1966), p. 821.
6. Thomaz Ribeiro, “To Portugal,” trans. Aubrey F. G. Bell, in Portugal: A Monthly Review, no. 1 (Feb. 1915), p. 4.

7. Miguel de Unamuno, “La Literatura Portuguesa Contemporánea,” in Por Tierras de Portugal y de España, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Espasa-Calpe Argentina, 1944), p. 16.
8. Unamuno, “La Pesca de Espinho,” in Por Tierras, 56-57.
9. Epistolário Ibérico: Cartas de Pascoaes e Unamuno, ed. José Bento (Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim, 1986), p. 78. The variants in Unamuno, Obras Completas, VI, 362-63, are matters, mostly, of punctuation, capitalization, and diacritical marking.
10. José Rodrigues Miguéis, “Há sempre um bei em Tunes,” in É proibido apontar: Reflexões de um burguês, 2nd ed. (Lisboa: Estampa, 1984), I, 142.

11. Fernando Pessoa, Ultimatum e Páginas de Sociologia Política, ed. Maria Isabel Rocheta and Maria Paula Morão, intr. Joel Serrão (Lisboa: Ática, 1980), pp. 193-94. That Pessoa is responding directly to Unamuno’s ideas in the interview conducted by Ferro is affirmed by Delgado, Órficos y ultraístas, 90-91.
12. Cartas de Fernando Pessoa a João Gaspar Simões, ed. João Gaspar Simões (Lisboa: Europe-América, 1957), p. 117.
13. Fernando Pessoa, Mensagem – Poemas esotéricos, ed. José Augusto Seabra (Espanha: Archivos, SCIC, 1993), p. 13.
14. José Luís García Martín mentions in passing the possibility of a link between Pessoa’s and Unamuno’s poems; see “Fernando Pessoa y Miguel de Unamuno: Las Razones de un Desencuentro,” in Actas IV Congresso Internacional de Estudos Pessoanos (Secção Brasileira) (Porto: Fundação Eng. António de Almeida, 1990), 1: 436-37.
15. Fernando Pessoa, “Movimento Sensacionista,” Exílio, 1(Apr. 1916), p. 46.
16. Fernando Pessoa, Textos de Crítica e de Intervenção (Lisboa: Ática, 1980), p. 72.
17. Bento, Cartas de Pascoaes, 76.
 

 

*George Monteiro is Adjunct Professor, Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at Brown University (Providence, RI), USA

* “Portugal in Figura: Unamuno, Pessoa, and Jorge de Sena,” Revista Voz Lusíada, no.21 (2004), 226-37 (São Paulo, Academia Lusíada de Ciências, Letras e Artes)