The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro Fernando Pessoa translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Patricio Ferrari

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“To Love Is the First Innocence”

“You just don’t think!”

As a child, I often heard these words, usually from one of my parents, sometimes from a teacher, but always as a reprimand. Nowadays, however, I see some merit in not thinking — at least in certain situations.

Thinking too much can get you in trouble. Some people fail to keep matters simple because they overthink. Other people inadvertently open the door to depression because they think too much. Reading the news? Following politics? Worrying, worrying, worrying? All symptoms of thinking too much.

Which brings us to the translation of Fernando Pessoa’s poetry newly translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Patricio Ferrari, The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro. If you know Pessoa, you know that he had numerous heteronyms and that the bucolic Alberto Caeiro was one of them. This was a poet Pan could enjoy, a simple man who took simple pleasures by way of his senses only. As the operative words are not to think but just to be, you’d think Caeiro would make a good Buddhist, but he professed no philosophy whatsoever. Even that would be overthinking matters.

Poem #2 of the 114 in this edition lays it out. Caeiro is going to make like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and just absorb the sun and the rain. Of course, reading on, you realize it’s a deception. A lot of thought indeed goes into what follows. By way of Caeiro, Pessoa was a notorious revisionist, and although he won’t say “writing is thinking,” it is and he is first and foremost a practitioner.

Still, as he states in Poem #1, Caeiro wants only “to be a little lamb / (Or to be the whole flock / And wander over the entire hillside / And be many happy things at the same time).”


Poem #2 of The Keeper of Sheep by Alberto Caeiro
(heteronym of Fernando Pessoa)

In my gaze, everything is clear as a sunflower.
I’m in the habit of going for walks along the roads,
Looking to the right and to the left,
And now and then looking back…
And what I see at each moment
Is something I’ve never seen before,
And I’m very good at that…
I know how to feel the profound astonishment
A child would feel if, on being born,
He realized that he truly had been born…
I feel newborn with every moment
To the complete newness of the world…

I believe in the world as in a daisy
Because I see it. But I don’t think about it
Because to think is to not understand…
The world wasn’t made for us to think about it
(Thinking is a sickness of the eyes)
But for us to look at it and to be at one…

I have no philosophy: I have senses…
If I talk about Nature, that isn’t because I know what it is,
But because I love it, and that’s why I love it,
Because whoever loves never knows what he loves
Nor why he loves, not what it means to love…
To love is the first innocence,
And the only true innocence is not to think…