streetlights * burning * down


[n.d.; 1929?]

The clock over there in the back, in the house deserted because everyone is asleep, slowly drops the clear, quadruple sound of four o’clock in the morning. I haven’t gone to sleep yet, nor do I expect to sleep. Unless something catches my attention, in which case I will not sleep, or if my body weighs on me, and for that reason I cannot calm down, I lie in the shadow, which the vague moonlight of the streetlamps renders even more solitary, the muffled silence of my strange body. I don’t know how to think, because I am so sleepy, nor do I know how to feel, because of the sleep I don’t manage to get.

Everything around me is the naked, abstract universe, made of nocturnal negations. I am divided between being tired and being upset, and I manage to touch, with the sensation I am touching a body, a metaphysical knowledge of the mystery of things. At times my soul softens, and then the formless details of everyday life bob along the surface of my awareness, and I am tossing around on the surface of not being able to sleep. Other times, I wake from within the half-sleep in which I stagnated, and vague images of a poetic and involuntary color let their noiseless spectacle pour through my distraction. I don’t have my eyes entirely closed. A light that comes from far off limits my weak vision; it’s the streetlights burning down below on the abandoned sides of the street.

How I wish I could stop, sleep, substitute this intermittent awareness with better, melancholy things spoken in secret to someone who doesn’t know me!… How I wish I could stop, pass fluidly along the bank, the flow and reflow of a vast sea, in the visible coasts of the night in which one might sleep!… How I wish I could stop, be incognito and external, be the movement of branches in far-off walks, the tenuous fall of leaves, known more by their sound than by their falling, the fine, high sea far off, rolling, and all the indefiniteness of parks at night, lost among continuous tangles, natural labyrinths of darkness!… How I wish I could stop, be finished finally, but with a metaphorical survival, be it the page of a book, a single tress of loose hair, the shaking of the vine growing at the bottom of the half-open window, the unimportant steps in the fine gravel at the curve, the last, high smoke of the sleeping village, the driver’s forgetting his whip at the matutinal side of the road… The absurd, the confusion, the extinguishing — everything that isn’t life…

And I sleep, in my way, without sleep of repose, this vegetative life of supposition, and under my eyelids without rest there appears, like the quiet foam on a filthy sea, the distant reflection of the silent streetlights.

I sleep and I unsleep.

From my other side, there behind where I lie, the silence of the house touches the infinite. I hear the time fall, drop by drop, and no drop that falls hears itself. My physical heart, the memory of all I or it was reduced to nothing, physically oppresses me. I feel my head materially resting on the pillow in which I have been creating a valley. The contact between the skin of the pillowcase and my skin is like that between people in the shade. My very ear, on which I am resting, mathematically engraves itself against my brain. I blink from fatigue, and my eyelashes make an infinitesimal sound, inaudible, in the palpable whiteness of the raised pillow. I breathe, sighing, and my respiration takes place — it is not mine. I suffer without feeling or thinking. The house clock, a fixed place there in the depth of things, chimes the half hour, dry and meaningless. It’s all so much, it’s all so deep, it’s all so black and so cold!

Suddenly, like a child of Mystery, a rooster crows without knowing that it’s nighttime. I can sleep because within me it’s morning. And I feel my mouth smile, slightly disordering the soft folds of the pillowcase that holds my face. I can abandon myself to life, I can sleep, I can stop knowing myself… And through the new sleep that darkens me I either remember the rooster that crowed, or it’s the same rooster, crowing a second time.

— Bernardo Soares (Fernando Pessoa), The Book of Disquiet

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