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March 27, 2009



Stations of the Cross #3 is probably Fernando Pessoa's most quoted poem by those who

read him in English translation. I have issues with the English rendering of the poem by

Peter Rickard, as I think, he clung to close to the original syntax of the Portuguese in the

final two lines. It's a 14 line poem and if it suggests a sonnet, it's more akin to Petrarch's

eight and six; than to Shakespeare's quatrain's & couplet.


It's the changing nature of the persona in the poem that I find so interesting. As a Station

of the Cross, Jesus is speaking at the same time, as Boabdil, the last Moorish King of

Granada and Pessoa himself. The reader moves through all of these figures who are being

exposed to the same emotional torrents at entirely different times. The opening stanza

suggests that Christ is "remembering" the exile of Boabdil which actually took place

1,400 years later. If the reader chooses to locate the voice in Pessoa than it's

chronological, but if they prefer, as I do, to locate the voice in Christ it cuts a much more

interesting sensibility. I believe both readings are intentionally juxtaposed as part of

Pessoa's struggle.


Since I first saw this poem in the 1980s, I often considered Christ "remembering" all the

subsequent history that moved forward from his death. He remembered from Golgotha,

the death camps of World War II, the slaughters of the Crusades, the Black Plague and

the whole march of Western history. In the second stanza he says,


Perhaps in former time I was, not Boabdil,

But merely his last look from the road

At the face of the Granada he was leaving, history

A cold silhouette beneath the unbroken blue...


Boabdil's exodus is one of the most operatic moments in history and the heart break of

the Moor fires the legends of Granada; that most tragic and beautiful of Spanish cities.

It's said that as Boabdil cried on the road from Granada, his mother delivered the hammer

with, "Go on cry like a woman for what you couldn't defend as a man." Ouch.


If you've been divorced; evicted from your home and family, you may be able to channel

the feelings of Boabdil as he watched Isabella and Ferdinand move into his quarters in

the Alhambra.


Pessoa, who was a man of many names and many personae, ends his poem with those

great six last lines.


What I am now is that imperial longing

For what I once saw of myself in the distance...

I am myself the loss I suffered...


And on this road which leads to Otherness 

Bloom in slender wayside glory

The sunflowers of the empire dead in me...


These tragic images flow through Christ, Boabdil and Pessoa simultaneously; a fusion of

religion, history and poetry.



[Reprinted from Unacknowledged Legislations, unacknowledgedlegislations.blogsopt.com, by permission of the author. Originally published in NHS 2009, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs09/James_Ruggia.htm.]