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mestre

Master, serene
All hours
We waste, if in
The wasting them,
As in a jar,
We set flowers.

The beginning of Ricardo Reis' poem 'Mestre'. Reis was one of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa's many heteronyms. More than just pseudonyms, these were imaginary poets, each with their own style and biography, who even criticized each other. Reis is one of the most famous ones, but Pessoa reportedly created over 70 in total. In a letter, Pessoa explains the origin of his alter ego's.

(Indeed, I do not know if in reality it was they who did not exist or if it is I who does not exist. In these things, as indeed in all, we cannot afford to be dogmatic.)

Ricardo Reis, a doctor born in Porto who went into exile in Brazil, wrote metrical but unrhymed odes. Decidedly pagan (or neoclassical), his poems are sad and melancholic, marked by tranquility and resignation.

Another layer of fiction has since been added by novelist José Saramago, who in 'The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis' tells of Reis returning to Lisbon after the death of Pessoa. At the end of the book, Reis calmly follows Pessoa's spirit to the cemetery.

The poem ends:

Sunflowers ever
Eyeing the sun,
From life let's go
Tranquilly, not have
Even the remorse
Of having lived.

Update: See also my review of Saramago's 'The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis'

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