Conversations with Myself

Michael Wood

In 1968, when not too many people outside Portugal had heard of Fernando Pessoa, now regarded as one of the great Modernist poets, the linguist Roman Jakobson, in collaboration with Luciana Stegagno-Picchio, wrote an essay centring on Pessoa’s use of oxymorons. The piece was a complex formal study of a poem from Mensagem (1934), the single volume of verse Pessoa published in Portuguese in his lifetime. The complete poem, ‘Ulisses’, an elaboration in Pessoa’s best cryptic style of a myth that associates Ulysses with the founding of Lisbon, reads as follows (my translation, to borrow Jakobson’s expression for his own into French, is ‘literal in so far as possible’):

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[*] The translation, slightly modified, is by David Butler in Fernando Pessoa: Selected Poems (2004).