Mensagem (1934; by Fernando Pessoa) in Portuguese is a very unusual twentieth century book: it is a symbolist epic made up of 44 short poems organized in three parts or Cycles.
The first, called “Brasão” (Coat-of-Arms), relates Portuguese historical protagonists to each of the fields and charges in the Portuguese coat of arms. The first two poems draw inspiration from the material and spiritual natures of Portugal. Ultimately everything leads to the Golden Age of Discovery.
The second Part, called “Mar Português” (Portuguese Sea), references the country’s Age of Portuguese Exploration and to its seaborne Empire that ended with the death of King Sebastian at El-Ksar el Kebir in 1578. Pessoa brings the reader to the present as if he had woken up from a dream of the past, to fall in a dream of the future: he sees King Sebastian returning, who is still determined to accomplish a Universal Empire.
The third Cycle, called “O Encoberto” (“The Hidden One”), is the most “disturbing”. It refers to Pessoa’s vision of a future world of peace and the Fifth Empire (which, according to Pessoa, is spiritual and not material, because if it were material England would already have achieved it). After the Age of Force, (Vis), and Taedium (Otium) will come Science (understanding) through a reawakening of “The Hidden One”, or “King Sebastian”. The Hidden One represents the fulfillment of the destiny of mankind, designed by God since before Time, and the accomplishment of Portugal.
King Sebastian is very important as he appears in all three parts of Mensagem. He represents the capacity of dreaming, and believing that it’s possible to achieve dreams.
One of the most famous quotes from Mensagem is the first line from O Infante (belonging to the second Part), which is Deus quer, o homem sonha, a obra nasce (which translates roughly to “God wishes, man dreams, the work is born”). That means ‘Only by God’s will man does’.
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