Voices: Richard Zenith, Manuela Parreira da Silva, Manuela Nogueira, Marta Campos, Jorge Louraço, Pedro Teixeira da Mota, Steffen Dix, Pablo Javier Pérez López and Sofia Saldanha
Music: “Nocturne Op 9 No 3” by Podington Bear
Free Music Archive / Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0)
Fernando Pessoa & CO.: “All love letters are ridiculous”, Selected Poems: Edited and translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith. New York: Grove Press, 1998;
“Fernando and I”, Testimony of Ofélia Queiroz recorded and organized by her grandniece Maria da Graça Queiroz.
* Free translation by Eugénia Brito
Cartas de Amor de Fernando Pessoa e Ofélia Queiroz, edição de Manuela Parreira da Silva, Lisboa, Assírio & Alvim (2012) * Free translation by Eugénia Brito
The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa, Edited and translated by Richard Zenith. New York: Grove Press, 2001, pp. 137-138
8. All love letters are ridiculous
Footsteps on wooden stairs
Sofia: You should now be at Rua da Assunção. Look for number 42. On the second floor were the headquarters of Felix, Valladas & Freitas Ltd. One of the company's partners was Mário Freitas, Fernando Pessoa’s cousin and son of Aunt Anica.
Work office, voices
Richard Zenith: He worked and helped his cousin a bit at the office and Ofélia Queiroz went there to apply for a job.
Knocking on door
Manuela Parreira da Silva: Ofélia Queiroz was a young girl from a bourgeois family who worked as a typist, I suppose.
Manuela Nogueira: Because she was very advanced for her age for that time, a woman who was going to work for a company with men only, at that time it was certainly because she was a bit different from the majority of other women, wasn’t she? She was funny, she was smart and it was the timing, timing is everything, isn’t it? She went to get a job there, he saw her.
Sofia: One day they were at the office and the power went down. That was when it all began.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: According to what she said he asked her to stay a bit longer when it was time to leave the office. They would let the others out and then he knelt down beside her and began to recite a part of Shakespeare's Hamlet, that scene in which Hamlet declares this love for Ophelia. They had the same name which was a coincidence.
Footsteps walking fast down wood stairs, piano music
Ofélia Queiroz: “I was very disturbed, of course, and, not knowing what to say, I just put on my coat and hurried off. Fernando got up, with the lamp in his hand to see me out. But suddenly he laid it on the wall partition; unexpectedly, he grabbed me by the waist, hugged me and, without saying a word, he kissed me and kissed me, passionately, like crazy. (...) I went home embarrassed and confused and days went by, and as Fernando seemed to ignore what had happened between us, I decided to write him a letter, asking him for an explanation”.
Richard Zenith: And a great correspondence began. And it's interesting for several reasons. On the one hand, it is simply a complete correspondence between two sweethearts of that time. Then she left the office, after a few months, and Pessoa used to take walks with her and take the tram with her.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: They were extending their walks, taking the longer route so the could talk longer, I suppose they actually took small walks, because she refers to the fact that he occasionally pulled her into the entrance of a building to kiss her. Certainly they also had some physical contact. In fact, the letters show this, that there was a physical contact, some intimacy, as it is suggested by their use of an erotic code, the references they make to the pigeons. When he says at one point, “I wish I had laid my head on your little pigeons", it is obviously understood that the pigeons were the breasts.
Sofia: In 1920 Ofélia was 19 and Pessoa was 31. The relationship had two phases.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: In the first phase, perhaps she thought that in a short time that relationship would grow into an engagement and then a marriage. Because that was the most expected thing to do by then.
Sofia: This first phase lasted until November 1920. Then they broke up. Farewell letters were written.
Piano music, inside tram
Ofélia Queiroz: “Lisbon, November, 27, 1920, Fernando, It’s been four days since you last made an appearance or even wrote to me. As you have no reason to put an end on this, this is how you proceed. Well given the circumstances, I don't think I want to continue (...) I am not your ideal that much I understand, because if you really liked me you wouldn't behave the way you do. "
Tram bell, piano music
Ofélia Queiroz: “The temperaments counteract. The essential thing is to like someone. Well if it's your will, I wish you happiness. Ofélia Queiróz.” *
Fernando Pessoa: "Dear Ofélia: Thank you for your letter. It made me feel both sad and relieved. (…) These things cause suffering, but the suffering passes. (…) My destiny belongs to another law, whose existence you're not even aware of and it is ever more the slave of Masters who do not relent and do not forgive. You don't need to understand this. It's enough that you hold me in your memory with affection, as I will steadfastly hold you in mine. Fernando.”
Sofia: At that time when a relationship ended, usually couples would return letters and gifts to each other.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: Yet Fernando Pessoa says in one of the letters, when the relationship ended in 1920: “Let’s not behave like ordinary people, let's keep each other’s things”, and so this allowed the letters to be held by each of the families.
Pedro Teixeira da Mota: Then in 1929, there was a return to the relationship. Fernando Pessoa showed Carlos Queiroz, a valued poet who was Ofélia's nephew, a photograph in Abel’s in which Fernando Pessoa is calmly drinking and Carlos Queiroz shows our friend Ofélia this photograph. Ofélia is again infatuated by him or simply remembers him and asks him to send her a copy too, a photograph of him drinking a couple of glasses of wine and that’s when Fernando Pessoa writes the fabulous phrase "em flagrante de litro", "caught in the act of drinking”, which restores the courtship between them. But the relationship wouldn’t last, because, they then continue to talk on the phone etc, but well, in fact, the answer Fernando Pessoa gives to all of this is: “I have literary work to do.”
Manuela Nogueira: He had all that work in his head. And he thought he did not have time
Manuela Nogueira: He had all that work in his head. And he thought he didn't have time to organize his work and if he had to pay for a house or a school for the children and still pay attention to his wife, he wouldn’t have time for his work. He truly thought so.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: But anyway I think that until the end, maybe she always had some hope, especially when the relationship restarted in 1929 and so she also began to make concessions, as I said a little while ago, "If you do so' and so, I promise I won’t bother you, I'll let you do your work".
Sofia: But this is a three-way relationship: Álvaro de Campos is part of it.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: So Álvaro de Campos writes to Ofélia, and Ofélia, replies to Álvaro de Campos, and she continues to play along. And although she didn’t express much, she was not very keen on Álvaro de Campos.
Steffen Dix: And Pessoa was fascinated, because Ofélia joined the game, she played with him the game of the heteronyms. This also explains his emotional attachment to Ofélia.
Piano music, inside tram
Manuela Parreira da Silva: Because Ofélia understood everything he was talking about perfectly and the answers she gave showed that she understood deeply what he thought, what he wanted to do, etc.
Pablo Javier Pérez López: I think Ofélia recognizes in Pessoa almost a twin spirit. There is a complicity in them that has to do with the fact that they are very sensitive people, maybe finding themselves living in a difficult historical time, due to the many prejudices, because of the social, political circumstances, conservatism, etc. And so I think that Pessoa finds a way of drowning his loneliness with Ofélia.
Manuela Parreira da Silva: Fernando Pessoa died in 1935. Ofelia, if I'm not mistaken, got married in 1938. By the time she got married she wanted to destroy Fernando Pessoa's letters, which was a common thing to do at the time, but Ofélia's husband didn't allow her to discard the letters. He said no, she shouldn't burn or destroy the letters, because the letters of a poet like Fernando Pessoa were not to be destroyed.
Sofia: Fernando Pessoa's letters to Ofélia, were published in 1978, but it was only in 1996, five years after Ofélia's death, the completed correspondence was published. It was with a letter, one sent from Lisbon to England that a new and unlikely relationship began. We shall speak about that in the next episode. Rua Augusta is our next stop.