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.