Letter to Mário de Sá-Carneiro :: Fernando Pessoa


I’m writing to you today out of sentimental necessity — I have an anguished, painful need to speak to you. It’s easy to see that I have nothing to tell you. Just this: that I find myself today at the bottom of a bottomless depression. The absurdity of the sentence speaks for me.

I’m having one of those days in which I never had a future. There is only a present, fixed and surrounded by a wall of anguish. The other bank of the river, because it is the other bank, is never the bank we are standing on: that is the intimate reason for all my suffering. There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful; nor is there any port of call where it is possible to forget. All of this happened a long time ago, but my sadness began even before then.

On days of the soul like today, I feel, with all the awareness in my body, that I am a sad child abused by life. I was abandoned in a corner where I could hear other children playing. I feel in my hands the broken toy I was given out of malicious irony. Today, March 14, at 9:10 P.M., my life knows just how much all that is worth.

In the garden I can just make out through the silent windows of my cell, someone has thrown all the swings over the branches they hang from; they’re tangled up, high and out of reach; the result is even the idea I have in my imagination of myself running away cannot have swings to play with.

And that is, more or less, but without style, the state of my soul at this time. Like the woman who waits in “The Sailor,” my eyes burn from having thought about weeping. Life pains me bit by bit, in sips, through interstices. All this is printed in very small type in a book whose binding is already coming apart.

If I weren’t writing to you, I would have to swear to you that this letter is sincere and that the hysterically linked things in it spring spontaneously from what I feel. But you must sense that this unstageable tragedy is of a rigorous reality — full of the here and now — and taking place in my soul just like the green on the leaves.

It was for that reason the Prince did not rule. This sentence is entirely absurd. But in this moment I feel it’s the absurd sentences that really make me want to cry.

If I don’t mail this letter today, it may be that when I reread it tomorrow, I’ll make a typescript of it, so I can insert sentences and expressions from it into The Book of Disquiet. But that would not deprive it of any of the sincerity with which I’m writing it, nor the dolorous inevitability with which I feel it.

This is the latest news. So is our being at war with Germany, but even before that, pain made me suffer. From the other side of Life, all this must seem like the caption for some caricature.

This is not exactly madness, but madness must bestow a relaxation on the person who suffers it, the astute pleasure of the soul’s bounces, not very different from these.

What color can feeling be?

Thousands of hugs from yours truly, always truly yours,

Fernando Pessoa


P.S. I wrote this letter in one rush. Rereading it, I see that I will definitely copy it over tomorrow before sending it to you. I have rarely written out my state of mind — with all its sentimental and intellectual attitudes, with all its essential hysterico-neurasthenia, all those interstices and corners in its self-awareness that are so characteristic of it — so completely…

You think I’m right, don’t you?


Mário de Sá-Carneiro, a major Portuguese avant-garde poet who collaborated with Fernando Pessoa on numerous occasions, committed suicide in Paris in 1916, at the age of twenty-six. [editor's note]

TELEPATHY: contact on the nonverbal level of intuition and feeling

I know from my own experience that telepathy is a fact. I have no interest in proving telepathy or anything to anybody. I do want usable knowledge of telepathy. What I look for in any relationship is contact on the nonverbal level of intuition and feeling, that is, telepathic contact.

— William Burroughs, Junky

The orgasm of a hanged man when his neck snaps

I lay on the narrow wood bench, twisting from one side to the other. My body was raw, twitching, tumescent, the junk-frozen flesh in agonizing thaw. I turned over on my stomach and one leg slipped off the bench. I pitched forward and the rounded edge of the bench, polished smooth by the friction of cloth, slid along my crotch. There was a sudden rush of blood to my genitals at the slippery contact. Sparks exploded behind my eyes; my legs twitched — the orgasm of a hanged man when the neck snaps.

— William Burroughs, Junky

I never could mix vigilance and sex . . .

In the French Quarter there are several queer bars that are so full every night the fags spill out on to the sidewalk. A room full of fags gives me the horrors. They jerk around like puppets on invisible strings, galvanized into hideous activity that is the negation of everything living and spontaneous. The live human being has moved out of these bodies long ago. But something moved in when the original tenant moved out. Fags are ventriloquists’ dummies who have moved in and taken over the ventriloquist. The dummy sits in a queer bar nursing his beer, and uncontrollably yapping out of a rigid doll face.

Occasionally, you find intact personalities in a queer bar, but fags set the tone of these joints, and it always brings me down to go into a queer bar. The bring-down piles up. After my first week in a town I have had about all I can take of these joints, so my bar business goes somewhere else, generally to a bar in or near Skid Row.

But I backslide now and then. One night, I got lobotomized drunk in Frank’s and went to a queer bar. I must have had more drinks in the queer joint, because there was a lapse of time. It was getting light outside when the bar hit one of those sudden pockets of quiet. Quiet is something that does not often happen in a queer joint. I guess most of the fags had left. I was leaning against the bar with a beer I didn’t want in front of me. The noise cleared like smoke and I saw a red-haired kid was looking straight at me and standing about three feet away.

He didn’t come on faggish, so I said, “How you making it?” or something like that.

He said: “Do you want to go to bed with me?”

I said, “O.K. Let’s go.”

As we walked out, he grabbed my bottle of beer off the bar and stuck it under his coat. Outside, it was daylight with the sun just coming up. We staggered through the French Quarter passing the beer bottle back and forth. He was leading the way in the direction of his hotel, so he said. I could feel my stomach knot up like I was about to take a shot after being off the junk a long time. I should have been more alert, of course, but I never could mix vigilance and sex. All this time he was talking in a sexy Southern voice which was not a New Orleans voice, and in the daylight he still looked good.

[From William Burroughs’ Junky]