Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

A black-and-white portrait photograph of a light-skinned man from the shoulders up. He has a moustache and a flat expression, and wears glasses and a hat.

Jonardon Ganeri on the Poetry of Fernando Pessoa


Countless lives inhabit us.
I don’t know, when I think or feel,
Who it is that thinks and feels.
I am merely the place
Where things are thought and felt.

I have more than just one soul.
There are more I-s than I myself.
I exist, nevertheless,
Indifferent to them all.
I silence them: I speak.

The crossing urges of what
I feel or do not feel
Struggle in who I am, but I
Ignore them. They dictate nothing
To the I I know: I write.

This is entry #92 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

Philosopher: Jonardon Ganeri (University of Toronto)

Artwork: “Countless Lives Inhabit Us,” 1935 poem by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Richard Zenith

Words: Written two weeks before his death, Pessoa’s poem sublimely encapsulates his heteronymic philosophy of self. The disconcerting air of paradox is deliberate, a play on three distinct uses of the first person. Qua subject of feeling I am any one of the many selves I simulate myself as being. These selves all, in another sense of “I”, happen within me: I am their meeting-place. There is a third use too, almost too pedestrian for Pessoa, the everyday use of “I” to refer indexically to whomsoever it is that uses it: the “I” who says “I speak” and “I write”.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.