Le lettere d’amore

Roberto Vecchioni (Il cielo capovolto, 1995)

Fernando Pessoa chiese gli occhiali e si addormentò
e quelli che scrivevano per lui lo lasciarono solo,
finalmente solo.
Così la pioggia obliqua di Lisbona lo abbandonò
e finalmente la finì di fingere fogli di fare male ai fogli.

E la finì di mascherarsi dietro tanti nomi,
dimenticando Ofelia per cercare un senso che non c’è
e alla fine chiederle: «Scusa se ho lasciato le tue mani,
ma io dovevo solo scrivere, scrivere e scrivere di me.

Le lettere d’amore, le lettere d’amore fanno solo ridere
le lettere d’amore non sarebbero d’amore se non facessero ridere
anch’io scrivevo un tempo lettere d’amore,
anch’io facevo ridere:
le lettere d’amore, quando c’è l’amore, per forza fanno ridere».

E costruì un delirante universo senza amore,
dove tutte le cose hanno stanchezza di esistere e spalancato dolore.
Ma gli sfuggì che il senso delle stelle non è quello di un uomo,
e si rivide nella pena di quel brillare inutile,
di quel brillare lontano.

E capì tardi che dentro quel negozio di tabaccheria
c’era più vita di quanta ce ne fosse in tutta la sua poesia;
e che invece di continuare a tormentarsi con un mondo assurdo
basterebbe toccare il corpo di una donna, rispondere a uno sguardo.

E scrivere d’amore, e scrivere d’amore, anche se si fa ridere;
anche quando la guardi, anche mentre la perdi
quello che conta è scrivere.
E non aver paura, non aver mai paura di essere ridicoli:
solo chi non ha scritto mai lettere d’amore fa veramente ridere.

Le lettere d’amore, le lettere d’amore, di un amore invisibile;
le lettere d’amore che avevo cominciato magari senza accorgermi;
le lettere d’amore che avevo immaginato, ma mi facevan ridere
magari fossi in tempo per potertele scrivere.

Love Letters

Translated by: Francesco Ciabattoni

Fernando Pessoa asked for his glasees and fell asleep
and those who wrote for him left him alone,
finally alone.
Thus the oblique rain of Lisbon abandoned him
and he finally ceased to fake papers, to hurt papers.

He ceased to hide behind so many names,
forgetful of Ophelia, seeking a meaning that does not exist
and eventually asking her «I’m sorry I left your hands
but I had to just write, write, write about me.

Love letters are just ridiculous
Love letters would not be love letters if they were not ridiculous
I too used to write love letters,
I too was ridiculous:
love letters, when there is love, are necessarily ridiculous».

And he built a delusional universe without love,
where all things are tired of living and a wide open pain
but it escaped his mind that the meaning of the stars is not the same as a man’s
and he saw himself in the pain of that useless shine, that far-away shine.

And too late did he realize that in that tobacco shop
there was more life than in all of his poetry;
and that instead of tormenting himself with an absurd world
it would be enough to touch a woman’s body, reciprocate a look.

And write about love, write about love, even if it’s ridiculous;
even as you look at her, even as you’re loosing her, what matters is writing.
And not be afraid, never be afraid of being ridiculous:
only those who never wrote love letters are truly ridiculous.

Love letters, love letters of an invisible love;
love letters I had begun, perhaps without realizing;
love letters I had imagined made me laugh
I wish I was still in time to write you some.

A Life in Love or a Life in Letters (by Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)

With a shade of bitterness and self-effacement, Vecchioni rewrites Fernando Pessoa’s poem with the same title.  “All love letters are ridiculous, but only those who never wrote love letters are truly ridiculous.” A paradox, just like the mysterious essence of love, is the rhetorical fulcrum of both Pessoa’s and Vecchioni’s lyrics. The songwriter, however, takes some distance from the direct experience of the poet lover. By building a narrative frame around Pessoa’s original text, he describes the Portuguese poet as he falls asleep surrounded by his literary personalities (“those who wrote for him”, the heteronyms that Pessoa created to respond to the many intrusions of society) and re-proposes alienating points of view. Ofelia Queiroz was, however, the true unrequited love of Fernando Pessoa.

Vecchioni portrays the poet in his latest hour, when he is about to die yet still wants to write and, therefore, needs his glasses. The Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi, on the wake of João Gaspar Simões, wrote that Pessoa’s last words were “give me my glasses“. The poet thus abandons the heteronymous masks (Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares) that had accompanied him in his life and literary activity. Unlike the historical Pessoa, Vecchioni’s Pessoa lets go of Ofelia by relinquishing his love for her in order to write about it, thus making a radical choice between living life and writing about it. The figure of the poet in the song renounces the body of a woman, although he realizes that living instead of writing would alleviate the suffering: “instead of tormenting himself with an absurd world it would be enough to touch a woman’s body, reciprocate a look.” Perhaps the world of fictional literature offers other consolations to a writer (or a reader), such that might justify the choice.

The singer (should we say the lyrical I) has a distinctly different identity from that of the poet, and has made different choices. For example, he begins by recounting the death of Pessoa and ends up saying “love letters I had begun, perhaps without realizing […] I wish I was still in time to write you some”; the singer is the opposite of the poet because, unlike the fictional Pessoa, he has chosen to live in real life and is in fact now unable to finish the love letters that he had begun.