Homage to Pessoa

by Frederick Seidel

I once loved.
I thought I would be loved.
But I wasn’t loved.
I wasn’t loved for the only reason that matters-
It was not to be.
I unbuttoned my white gloves and stripped each off.
I set aside my gold-knobbed cane.
I picked up this pen…
And thought how many other men
Had smelled the rose in the bud vase
And lifted a fountain pen,
And lifted a mountain…
And put the shotgun in their mouth,
And noticed that their hunting dog was pointing.

Notes on the Poem

When humour enters the conversation in a poem, it can produce some fascinating effects, as we've examined in several past Poems of the Week. Of course, the wit that emerges - overtly or covertly and between the lines - and its influence on a poem's impact is heavily predicated on that humour appealing to the reader. How does that work in the sly "Homage to Pessoa", from Frederick Seidel's 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Ooga-Booga? Knowledge of the life and work of poet Fernando Pessoa might or might not enhance one's experience of this poem. But vaulting into the poem on a sweep of emotion ... "I once loved. I thought I would be loved. But I wasn't loved." one's first concern might determining if this is genuine despair ... or possibly melodrama? Knowing that Pessoa was noted for creating different writerly personas or what he termed heteronyms, is it possible Seidel has created a rather perfervid identity with which to mock himself or others who turn feverishly to their pens to express their displeasure with the world, and then get even more dramatic after they've "lifted a mountain ..." and all is still not well? Is Seidel's conclusion meant to mock such intense earnestness? Is his humour sly or off-putting? However you react to the poem's perverse punchline, you can't deny Seidel gets your attention and delivers a message.

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