Featured Poem: There was a moment by Fernando Pessoa

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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