The Dream that Promises the Impossible


I pity those who dream the probable, the reasonable and the accessible more than those who fantasize about the extraordinary and remote. Those who have grandiose dreams are either lunatics who believe in what they dream and are happy, or they’re mere daydreamers whose reveries are like the soul’s music, lulling them and meaning nothing. But those who dream the possible will, very possibly, suffer real disillusion. I can’t be too disappointed over not having become a Roman emperor, but I can sorely regret never once having spoken to the seamstress who at the street corner turns right at about nine o’clock every morning. The dream that promises us the impossible denies us access to it from the start, but the dream that promises the possible interferes with our normal life, relying on it for its fulfilment. The one kind of dream lives by itself, independently, while the other is contingent on what may or may not happen.

That’s why I love impossible landscapes and the vast empty stretches of plains I’ll never see. The historical ages of the past are sheer wonder, because I know from the outset that I can’t be part of them. I sleep when I dream of what doesn’t exist; dreaming of what might exist wakes me up.

It’s midday in the deserted office, and I lean out one of the balcony windows overlooking the street down below. My distraction, aware of the movement of people in my eyes, is too steeped in its meditation to see them. I sleep on my elbows propped painfully on the railing and feel a great promise in knowing nothing. With mental detachment I look at the arrested street full of hurrying people, and I make out the details: the crates piled up on a cart, the sacks at the door of the other warehouse, and, in the farthest window of the grocery on the corner, the glint of those bottles of Port wine that I imagine no one can afford to buy. My spirit abandons the material dimension. I investigate with my imagination. The people passing by on the street are always the same ones who passed by a while ago, always a group of floating figures, patches of motion, uncertain voices, things that pass by and never quite happen.

To take note, not with my senses, but with the awareness of my senses. . . The possibility of other things. . . And suddenly, from behind me, I hear the metaphysically abrupt arrival of the office boy. I feel like I could kill him for barging in on what I wasn’t thinking. I turn around and look at him with a silence full of hatred, tense with latent homicide, my mind already hearing the voice he’ll use to tell me something or other. He smiles from the other side of the room and says ‘Good afternoon’ in a loud voice. I hate him like the universe. My eyes are sore from imagining.

-Fernando Pessoa, A Factless Autobiography


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