A passage by Fernando Pessoa from The Book of Disquiet, translated by Richard Zenith (2001):

It sometimes occurs to me, with sad delight, that if one day (in a future to which I won’t belong) the sentences I write are read and admired, then at last I’ll have my own kin, people who ‘understand’ me, my true family in which to be born and loved. But far from being born into it, I'll have already died long ago. I’ll be understood only in effigy, when affection can no longer compensate for the indifference that was the dead man’s lot in life.

I understand the effigy section of the quote, but the meaning of the "dead man's lot in life" seems to evade me. Can anybody offer help?


1 Answer 1


Pessoa switches between the first and the third person in referring to himself. Substituting my for the dead man's yields a clearer reading:

I'll have already died long ago. I'll be understood only in effigy, when affection can no longer compensate for the indifference that was my lot in life.

Pessoa's father died when the poet was only five years old. His mother remarried. Pessoa's stepfather was the Portuguese consul in South Africa, where Pessoa spent the rest of his childhood. He returned to Portugal by himself at the age of seventeen. Before his death in 1935 at age 47, Pessoa had published three volumes of poems in English and a fourth in Portuguese. However, these were not particularly successful. The quoted passage connects Pessoa's alienation from his family and his lack of poetic renown, casting the latter as an emblem of the former. He says that if later readers admire his writing, then he will at last have found his "true family," one that would love him. He will receive from that future family the affection and esteem that was denied him during his lifetime. However, by that time, he will be dead. So this affection will come too late to make up for the "indifference" with which he was treated by his family and the reading public while he was alive.

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