How could I resist the Tabucchi book with Fernando Pessoa right there in the title? The Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa (1994) is really a short story, only about thirty little pages in the City Lights volume, where it accompanies Dreams of Dreams. The Pessoa story is a good companion since it is really just another fictional dream (“A Delirium” is the story’s subtitle), another way for the author to play with his most beloved literary toys.
This delirium is the sanest, least delirious delirium I have encountered. Pessoa is in the hospital and receives a series of visitors, poets, mostly, all great admirers of Pessoa. The visitors are all imaginary, Pessoa’s heteronyms, the characters he created in a wild burst of creative activity circa 1914 that resulted in the ingenious and perplexing body of writing I have been reading and messing around with off and on over the past year: the pastoral poet Alberto Caeiro, the energetic Álvaro de Campos, the skeptical neo-pagan Ricardo Reis, the prosaic Bernardo Soares, and the mad philosopher António Mora, who I have not really read. I am not sure that he got much down on paper.
Each heteronym makes his farewell to his creator, poignantly, sometimes, as when Caeiro gives Pessoa a final poem, or more comically, as when Soares brings Pessoa a bowl of his favorite tripe soup, likely knowing that Pessoa had no appetite and he would be able to eat the soup himself. Reis is given permission to write more poems:
But they will be apocryphal poems, Ricardo Reis replied.
It doesn’t matter, said Pessoa, the apocryphal does no harm to poetry, and my work is so vast that it accommodates even apocryphal poems.
Is this a nod to José Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis?
Tabucchi, in each episode, is interpreting Pessoa. The story is a covert form of literary criticism. Caeiro, for example, the poet who inspired all of the others, is revealed to be Pessoa’s father who died when Pessoa was five. Or, really, a self-generated psychological substitute for his absent father:
The fact is that I needed a guide and coagulant – I don’t know if I’m making myself clear – otherwise my life would have shattered into pieces. Thanks to you I found cohesion, it’s really I who chose you to be my father and master.
Not that any of this is necessary to enjoy Pessoa’s work. It is all play.
Soares brings not just soup but a recipe for lagosta suada, sweaty lobster. How this does not by itself bring a dying man back to life is a mystery of existence:
You need butter, three onions, tomatoes, and a bit of garlic, oil, white wine, a little aged aguardente, which I know you like [a little joke about Pessoa’s alcoholism], two wine glasses of dry port, a dash of hot pepper, black pepper, and nutmeg. First, you steam the lobster, just a little. Then you add the ingredients I gave you and put it in the oven. I don’t know why it’s called “sweaty,” probably because it produces a very tasty broth.
What any of this will mean to a reader unfamiliar with Pessoa and his creations is beyond me.
Many thanks to Caroline for declaring Antonio Tabucchi week! Many more Tabucchi books should be appearing at her site and scattered around book blogdom.