Fernando Pessoa’s niece on her uncle: “He complained of having sleepless nights in which he would write”

Ninety-years old Manuela Nogueira, niece of Fernando Pessoa, who died 80 years ago (November 30, 1935), lived several years with her mother and uncle in Campo de Ourique, on Coelho da Rocha Street in Lisbon, in the same apartment which nowadays is Casa Fernando Pessoa, the poet’s house museum. She tells iSleep that the poet’s sleep was difficult: “I remember my mother saying, since we lived long periods together on Coelho da Rocha Street, that he complained of having sleepless nights in which he would write”. Manuela Nogueira is also a writer, author of children’s books and novels and works on Fernando Pessoa, including the recently released book O Meu Tio Fernando Pessoa (My Uncle Fernando Pessoa).

“Songs to wake up children” (Canções para acordar Crianças)
In O Meu Tio Fernando Pessoa, Manuela Nogueira publishes several poems written by Fernando Pessoa for his nephews, to which he called “Songs to wake up children”. Among other stories, Manuela Nogueira tells the games she played with her uncle. They pretended they were in Mr. Manacés barbershop, the poet’s barber. Manuela Nogueira, who had the diminutive of Mimi, “would hold a little bakelite knife pretending it was a razor and shave the foam, while holding a real barber conversation with that very demanding customer”. While that, Fernando Pessoa would say “Look Mimi, be careful not to cut my ears or nose.”

Ofélia Queiroz, who was to be Pessoa’s girlfriend, also said that the poet slept little. In 1978 she told Maria da Graça Qeiroz what the poet said to her one day: “I sleep just a little and with a paper and a pen next to the bed. I wake up in the night and I write, I have to, and it’s a nuisance because then my Baby cannot sleep peacefully”.
“Baby” was the petit nom Pessoa used for Ofélia in their love letters. The poet pointed out the “nuisance” he would cause to her by waking her up as a reason why their relationship would have no future, but it hid the real reason: the poet could not engage emotionally to anyone, so that he could devote himself entirely to his work. Pessoa wrote several poems about sleep and insomnia. Insomnia, by his youth heteronym Alexander Search (already published in Sleep & Arts section), is one of them:



Last night I had not the blessing

Of a deep or a quiet slumber,

For thoughts most wild and distressing

Every woe and fear expressing

My drowsy sense did encumber.

And the clock, with its curst possession

Of night with its monotone,

Is a madman mad with a word-obsession,

Sorrowfully lone.

A thousand times a reeling

Of reason around my world,

And around reason feeling

The very darkness wheeling

In a blacker darkness hurled.

And the clock! Ah, its curst possession

Of night with its monotone!

How it treasured well its word-obsession

Dolorously lone!

If I slept awhile, without number

Came the dreams, and I had not the grace

Of the shade of a shadow of slumber.

I fell in descent from reason steep,

In consciousness pale disgrace;

There was a fall half-senseless and deep

And I woke with a start from sleep

For I struck the bottom of space.

And I woke to the clocks’s possession

Of night with its monotone,

Chuckling a meaning past its obsession,

Maniacally lone.


Alexander Search