I’m still reading Pessoa, especially his Alberto Caeiro persona, my favorite, who has a seemingly clear and simple view of the world and our experience of it. According to Wikipedia: “Central to his world-view is the idea that in the world around us, all is surface: things are precisely what they seem, there is no hidden meaning anywhere.” Suppose we accept this for encounters with the natural world; how can or should we apply it to looking at art? Can a river, a tree, a rock in an artwork be as innocent of meaning as in nature?
In the spirit of June Underwood’s idea of gathering of A&P contributor artworks to let them “chat” with each other, I’ve gathered a few here to let them also converse with Caeiro/Pessoa. I’ll start with poem 39 from “The Keeper of Sheep,” translated this time by Peter Rickard (original on this page).
Where is it, this mystery of things?
Where is it, and why doesn’t it at least
Appear, and prove that it’s a mystery?
What does a river know of this, what does a tree know,
And what do I know, who am no more than they?
Whenever I look at things and think of men’s thoughts about them
I laugh like a brook coolly babbling over stones.
For the only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning at all.
It’s stranger than strangeness itself,
Stranger than the dreams of all poets
And the thoughts of all philosophers,
That things really are what they seem,
So that there’s nothing to understand.
There! That’s what my senses learned unaided:—
Things have no meaning: they have being.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things.
reflections on the south fork of the sacramento by Rex Crockett
Mother by June Underwood (updated -SD)
mother and child by Karl Zipser
Mother Water 2 by Angela Ferreira
The natural elements in these works seem to serve different purposes and to lie in different places on a literal to symbolic spectrum. Is it possible to view them in a way consistent with Caeiro’s “no hidden meaning” philosophy? Is it possible for an artist to view even the natural world in that way? What changes from the rock you see to the rock you draw or paint or photograph?