100 Great Thought-Provoking Literary Quotes of Fernando Pessoa

  1. Everything is theater.
  2. My past is everything I failed to be.
  3. Every gesture is a revolutionary act.
  4. Life is whatever we conceive it to be.
  5. My boredom with everything has numbed me.
  6. To be understood is to prostitute oneself.
  7. In order to understand, I destroyed myself.
  8. All is worthwhile if the soul is not small.
  9. Writing is like paying myself a formal visit.
  10. Could it think, the heart would stop beating.
  11. I bear the wounds of all the battles I avoided.
  12. We are two abysses – a well staring at the sky.
  13. At first, it’s unfamiliar, then it strikes root.
  14. I feel as if I’m always on the verge of waking up.
  15. Life is full of paradoxes, as roses are of thorns.
  16. Whether or not they exist we are slaves to our gods.
  17. Blessed are those who entrust their lives to no one.
  18. Be what I think? But I think of being so many things!
  19. Wise is he who enjoys the show offered by the world.
  20. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.
  21. Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.
  22. I wasn’t meant for reality, but life came and found me.
  23. I carry my awareness of defeat like a banner of victory.
  24. The unnatural and the strange have a perfume of their own.
  25. Let us sculpt in hopeless silence all our dreams of speaking.
  26. I’m sick of everything, and of the everythingness of everything.
  27. The essence of what I desire is simply this: to sleep away life.
  28. I’d woken up early, and I took a long time getting ready to exist.
  29. To write is to forget. Literature is the pleasantest way of ignoring life.
  30. To choose ways of not acting was ever the concern and scruple of my life.
  31. There are no norms. All people are exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist.
  32. But do we really live? To live without knowing what life is – is that living?
  33. To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think.
  34. Ah, it’s my longing for whom I might have been that distracts and torments me!
  35. To love is to tire of being alone; it is therefore a cowardice, a betrayal of ourselves.
  36. I don’t know what I feel or what I want to feel. I don’t know what to think or what I am.
  37. I sometimes think that I enjoy suffering. But the truth is I would prefer something else.
  38. No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it.
  39. There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful.
  40. I’m losing my taste for everything, including even my taste for finding everything tasteless.
  41. And, like the great damned souls, I shall always feel that thinking is worth more than living.
  42. Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.
  43. I don’t mourn the loss of my childhood; I mourn because everything, including (my) childhood, is lost.
  44. To have opinions is to sell out to youself. To have no opinions is to exist. To have every opinion is to be a poet.
  45. We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our own concept—our own selves—that we love.
  46. Lord, may the pain be ours, And the weakness that it brings, But at least give us the strength, Of not showing it to anyone!
  47. If I write what I feel, it’s to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess is unimportant, because everything is unimportant.
  48. This world is for those who are born to conquer it, Not for those who dream that are able to conquer it, even if they’re right.
  49. I am nothing. I’ll never be anything. I couldn’t want to be something. Apart from that, I have in me all the dreams in the world.
  50. Having never discovered qualities in myself that might attract someone else, I could never believe that anyone felt attracted to me.
  51. I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life.
  52. We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect.
  53. What Hells and Purgatories and Heavens I have inside of me! But who sees me do anything that disagrees with life–me, so calm and peaceful?
  54. I realize that I was all error and deviation, that I never lived, that I existed only in so far as I filled time with consciousness and thought.
  55. What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only us; if to everyone, then it’s no novelty, and if only to us, then it won’t be understood.
  56. The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur. That is why there are unforgettable moments and unique people!
  57. Today I suddenly experienced an absurd but quite valid sensation. I realized, in an intimate lightning flash, that I am no one. No one, absolutely no one.
  58. There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes to where life is not painful; nor is there a port of call where it is possible to forget.
  59. Friends: not one. Just a few acquaintances who imagine they feel something for me and who might be sorry if a train ran over me and the funeral was on a rainy day.
  60. My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me.
  61. To feel today what one felt yesterday isn’t to feel – it’s to remember today what was felt yesterday, to be today’s living corpse of what yesterday was lived and lost.
  62. My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.
  63. To act—that is true wisdom. I can be what I want to be, but I have to want whatever it is. Success consists in being successful, not in having the potential for success.
  64. There’s something vile (and all the more vile because ridiculous) in the tendency of feeble men to make universal tragedies out of the sad comedies of their private woes.
  65. At first I felt dizzy – not with the kind of dizziness that makes the body reel but the kind that’s like a dead emptiness in the brain, an instinctive awareness of the void.
  66. Success consists in being successful, not in having potential for success. Any wide piece of ground is the potential site of a palace, but there’s no palace till it’s built.
  67. Again I see you, But me I don’t see!, The magical mirror in which I saw myself has been broken, And only a piece of me I see in each fatal fragment – Only a piece of you and me!
  68. If after I die, people want to write my biography, there is nothing simpler. They only need two dates: the date of my birth and the date of my death. Between one and another, every day is mine.
  69. I’ve always rejected being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I’m not, remaining humanly unknown, with naturalness and all due respect.
  70. And I have the others in me. Even when I’m far away from them, I am forced to live with them. Even when I’m all alone, crowds surround me. I have no place to flee to, unless I were to flee from myself.
  71. Inch by inch I conquered the inner terrain I was born with. Bit by bit I reclaimed the swamp in which I’d languished. I gave birth to my infinite being, but I had to wrench myself out of me with forceps.
  72. In this metallic age of barbarians, only a relentless cultivation of our ability to dream, to analyse and to captivate can prevent our personality from degenerating into nothing or else into a personality like all the rest.
  73. It’s been months since I last wrote. I’ve lived in a state of mental slumber, leading the life of someone else. I’ve felt, very often, a vicarious happiness. I haven’t existed. I’ve been someone else. I’ve lived without thinking.
  74. Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text. From what’s in the note we can extract the gist of what must have been in the text, but there’s always a doubt, and the possible meanings are many.
  75. We all have two lives: The true, the one we dreamed of in childhood And go on dreaming of as adults in a substratum of mist; the false, the one we love when we live with others, the practical, the useful, the one we end up by being put in a coffin.
  76. I’ve dreamed a lot. I’m tired now from dreaming but not tired of dreaming. No one tires of dreaming, because to dream is to forget, and forgetting does not weigh on us, it is a dreamless sleep throughout which we remain awake. In dreams I have achieved everything.
  77. Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.
  78. What can I expect from myself? My sensation in all their horrible acuity, and a profound awareness of feeling. A sharp mind that only destroys me, and an unusual capacity for dreaming to keep me entertained. A dead will and a reflection that cradles it, like a living child.
  79. I suffer from life and from other people. I can’t look at reality face to face. Even the sun discourages and depresses me. Only at night and all alone, withdrawn, forgotten and lost, with no connection to anything real or useful — only then do I find myself and feel comforted.
  80. I walk along a street and see in the faces of the passersby not the expression they really have but the expression they would have for me if they knew about my life and how I am, if I carried, transparent in my gestures and my face, the ridiculous, timid abnormality of my soul.
  81. To live is to be someone else. Feeling is impossible if we feel today as we felt yesterday: to feel today the same thing we felt yesterday is not to feel at all–it’s merely to remember today what we felt yesterday, since today we are the living cadaver of yesterday’s lost life.”
  82. My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while. […]. I’m two, and both keep their distance — Siamese twins that aren’t attached.
  83. Being tired of all illusions and of everything about illusions – the loss of illusions, the uselessness of having them, the pre-fatigue of having to have them in order to lose them, the sadness of having had them, the intellectual shame of having had them knowing that they would have to end this way.
  84. I never tried to be anything other than a dreamer. I never paid any attention to people who told me to go out and live. I belonged always to whatever was far from me and to whatever I could never be. Anything that was not mine, however base, always seemed to be full of poetry. The only thing I ever loved was pure nothingness.
  85. Everything around me is evaporating. My whole life, my memories, my imagination and its contents, my personality – it’s all evaporating. I continuously feel that I was someone else, that I felt something else, that I thought something else. What I’m attending here is a show with another set. And the show I’m attending is myself.
  86. Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is the spirit that is experienced. That is why there exist contemplative souls who have lived more intensely, more widely, more tumultuously than others who have lived their lives purely externally.
  87. In the ordinary jumble of my literary drawer, I sometimes find texts I wrote ten, fifteen, or even more years ago. And many of them seem to me written by a stranger: I simply do not recognize myself in them. There was a person who wrote them, and it was I. I experienced them, but it was in another life, from which I just woke up, as if from someone else’s dream.
  88. I had the same sensation as when we watch someone sleep. When asleep we all become children again. Perhaps because in the state of slumber we can do no wrong and are unconscious of life, the greatest criminal and most self- absorbed egotist are holy, by a natural magic, as long as they’re sleeping. For me there’s no discernible difference between killing a child and killing a sleeping man.
  89. The feelings that hurt most, the motions that sting most, are those that are absurd; the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.
  90. Man shouldn’t be able to see his own face – there’s nothing more sinister. Nature gave him the gift of not being able to see it, and of not being able to stare into his own eyes. Only in the water of rivers and ponds could he look at his face. And the very posture he had to assume was symbolic. He had to bend over, stoop down, to commit the ignominy of beholding himself. The inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart.
  91. I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing: it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. This book is my cowardice.
  92. I asked for very little from life, and even this little was denied me. A nearby field, a ray of sunlight, a little bit of calm along with a bit of bread, not to feel oppressed by the knowledge that I exist, not to demand anything from others, and not to have others demand anything from me – this was denied me, like the spare change we might deny a beggar not because we’re mean-hearted but because we don’t feel like unbuttoning our coat.
  93. I’ve always been an ironic dreamer, unfaithful to my inner promises. Like a complete outsider, a casual observer of whom I thought I was, I’ve always enjoyed watching my daydreams go down in defeat. I was never convinced of what I believed in. I filled my hands with sand, called it gold, and opened them up to let it slide through. Words were my only truth. When the right words were said, all was done; the rest was the sand that had always been.
  94. When all by myself, I can think of all kinds of clever remarks, quick comebacks to what no one said, and flashes of witty sociability with nobody. But all of this vanishes when I face someone in the flesh: I lose my intelligence, I can no longer speak, and after half an hour I just feel tired. Talking to people makes me feel like sleeping. Only my ghostly and imaginary friends, only the conversations I have in my dreams, are genuinely real and substantial.
  95. I’m always horrified whenever I finish anything. Horrified and desolate. My instinct for perfection should inhibit me from ever finishing anything; it should in fact inhibit me from ever beginning. But I become distracted and do things. My accomplishments are not the product of my applied will but a giving away of my will. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have soul enough to stop things. This book is my cowardice.
  96. Through an experience that simultaneously involved my sensibility and intelligence, I realized early on that the imaginative life, however morbid it might seem, is the one that suits temperaments like mine. The fictions of my imagination (as it later developed) may weary me, but they don’t hurt or humiliate. Impossible lovers can’t cheat on us, or smile at us falsely, or be calculating in their caresses. They never forsake us, and they don’t die or disappear.
  97. My hapless peers with their lofty dreams–how I envy and despise them! I’m with the others, the even more hapless, who have no-one but themselves to whom they can tell their dreams and show what would be verses if they wrote them. I’m with those poor slobs who have no books to show, who have no literature beside their own soul, and who are suffocating to death due to the fact that they exist without having taken that mysterious, transcendental exam that makes one eligible to live.
  98. I read and am liberated. I acquire objectivity. I cease being myself and so scattered. And what I read, instead of being like a nearly invisible suit that sometimes oppresses me, is the external world’s tremendous and remarkable clarity, the sun that sees everyone, the moon that splotches the still earth with shadows, the wide expanses that end in the sea, the blackly solid trees whose tops greenly wave, the steady peace of ponds on farms, the terraced slopes with their paths overgrown by grape-vines.
  99. There are metaphors more real than the people who walk in the street. There are images tucked away in books that live more vividly than many men and women. There are phrases from literary works that have a positively human personality. There are passages from my own writing that chill me with fright, so distinctly do I feel them as people, so sharply outlined do they appear against the walls of my room, at night, in shadows… I’ve written sentences whose sound, read out loud or silently (impossible to hide their sound), can only be of something that acquired absolute exteriority and a full-fledged soul.
  100. To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. Music soothes, the visual arts exhilarates, the performing arts (such as acting and dance) entertain. Literature, however, retreats from life by turning in into slumber. The other arts make no such retreat— some because they use visible and hence vital formulas, others because they live from human life itself. This isn’t the case with literature. Literature stimulates life. A novel is a story of what never was, a play is a novel without narration. A poem is the expression of ideas or feelings a language no one uses, because no one talks in verse.
  101. Sit still with me in the shade of these green trees, which have no weightier thought than the withering of their leaves when autumn arrives, or the stretching of their many stiff fingers into the cold sky of the passing winter. Sit still with me and meditate on how useless effort is, how alien the will, and on how our very meditation is no more useful than effort, and no more our own than the will. Meditate too on how a life that wants nothing can have no weight in the flux of things, but a life the wants everything can likewise have no weight in the flux of things, since it cannot obtain everything, and to obtain less than everything is not worthy of souls that seek the truth.

fernando-pessoaFernando Pessoa (born Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa June 13, 1888 – November 30, 1935) was a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language. He also wrote in and translated from English and French.

Pessoa was a prolific writer, and not only under his own name, for he dreamed up approximately seventy-five others. He did not call them pseudonyms because he felt that did not capture their true independent intellectual life and instead called them ‘heteronyms’. These imaginary figures sometimes held unpopular or extreme views. (from Wikipedia)

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