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Featured Poem: There was a moment by Fernando Pessoa

Written by The Reader, 19th November 2010

Not one, but two Featured Poems this week, aren't you getting spoiled?! Today's is brought to us by Victoria Clarke, a Get Into Reading project worker in Wirral.

"All that we truly possess are our own sensations; it is in them, rather than in what they sense, that we must base our life’s reality."

From The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

A good number of years ago, at the beginning of an ill-fated love affair, I found myself watching the sun set with a certain person on Otterspool promenade.

There was a moment when everything in the world seemed still and the Mersey was bathed in orange loveliness. The river literally glowed. I looked towards this person and thought I had felt in that instant, our souls fuse irrevocably together.

The memory of that moment stayed with me. It was a memory I used to justify continuing something that was most certainly not good for me.

The turning point came when, during ‘a long night of the soul', I recalled that moment to the person I shared it with. They took a very long time recalling the incident. And they remembered it very differently to me:

The River Mersey does not glow and if it did, it would be the result of some accidental nuclear spillage.

I can laugh at this now. But at the time the words metamorphosed into the image of a huge anvil falling down from the sky onto my fragile skull. That sentence became the slogan for why we would never work as a couple.

I suspect everyone has moments like this. Moments when they may have romanticised or fictionalised a meeting of eyes across a crowded room, or exaggerated the meaning of a stray brush of a hand. But alongside the painful, destabilising doubt that often accompanies these moments, the possibility - that what we have felt is shared and not just a figment of our imagination - is a wonderful helping of much desired joy. And a heightened sense of being alive.

The following poem by Fernando Pessoa never ceases to remind me to enjoy feeling first and not to let the ambiguity of knowing/not knowing get in the way of that joy.

There was a moment

There was a moment
When you let
Settle on my sleeve
(More a movement
Of fatigue, I believe,
Than any thought)
Your hand. And drew it
Away. Did I
Feel it, or not?

Don’t know. But remember
And still feel
A kind of memory,
Firm, corporeal,
At the place where you laid
The hand, which offered
Meaning – a kind of,
Uncomprehended –
But so softly…
All nothing, I know.
There are, though,
On a road of the kind
Life is, things – plenty –

Do I know whether,
As I felt your hand
Settle into place
Upon my sleeve
And a little, a little,
In my heart,
There was not a new
Rhythm in space?

As though you,
Without meaning to,
Had touched me
Inside, to say
A kind of mystery,
Sudden, ethereal,
And not known
That it had been.

So the breeze
In the boughs says
Without knowing
An imprecise
Joyful thing.

Fernando Pessoa from ‘Fernando Pessoa: Selected Poems’ English translation by Jonathan Griffin

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