The word is complete when seen and heard

I enjoy speaking. Or rather, I enjoy wording. Words for me are tangible bodies, visible sirens, incarnate sensualities. Perhaps because real sensuality doesn’t interest me in the least, not even intellectually or in my dreams, desire in me metamorphosed into my aptitude for creating verbal rhythms and for noting them in the speech of others. I tremble when someone speaks well. Certain pages from Fialho and from Chateaubriand make my whole being tingle in all of its pores, make me rave in a still shiver with impossible pleasure. Even certain pages of Vieira,* in the cold perfection of their syntactical engineering, make me quiver like a branch in the wind, with the passive delirium of something shaken. 

Like all who are impassioned, I take blissful delight in losing myself, in fully experiencing the thrill of surrender. And so I often write with no desire to think, in an externalized reverie, letting the words cuddle me like a baby in their arms. They form sentences with no meaning, flowing softly like water I can feel, a forgetful stream whose ripples mingle and undefine, becoming other, still other ripples, and still again other. Thus ideas and images, throbbing with expressiveness, pass through me in resounding processions of pale silks on which imagination shimmers like moonlight, dappled and indefinite. 

I weep over nothing that life brings or takes away, but there are pages of prose that have made me cry. I remember, as clearly as what’s before my eyes, the night when as a child I read for the first time, in an anthology, Vieira’s famous passage on King Solomon: ‘Solomon built a palace…’ And I read all the way to the end, trembling and confused. Then I broke into joyful tears – tears such as no real joy could make me cry, nor any of life’s sorrows ever make me shed. That hieratic movement of our clear majestic language, that expression of ideas in inevitable words, like water that flows because there’s a slope, that vocalic marvel in which the sounds are ideal colours – all of this instinctively seized me like an overwhelming political emotion. And I cried. Remembering it today, I still cry. Not out of nostalgia for my childhood, which I don’t miss, but because of nostalgia for the emotion of that moment, because of a heartfelt regret that I can no longer read for the first time that great symphonic certitude. 

I have no social or political sentiments, and yet there is a way in which I’m highly nationalistic. My nation is the Portuguese language. It wouldn’t trouble me at all if Portugal were invaded or occupied, as long as I was left in peace. But I hate with genuine hatred, with the only hatred I feel, not those who write bad Portuguese, not those whose syntax is faulty, not those who used phonetic rather than etymological spelling, but the badly written page itself, as if it were a person, incorrect syntax, as someone who ought to be flogged, the substitution of i for y, as the spit that directly disgusts me, independent of who spat it. 

Yes, because spelling is also a person. The word is complete when seen and heard. And the pageantry of Graeco-Roman transliteration dresses it for me in its authentic royal robe, making it a lady and queen.

Fernando Pessoa
Bernardo Soares, ''The Book of Disquiet''
(Text 259)

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