Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text.

From what's in the note we can extract the gist of what must have been in the text, but there's always a doubt, and the possible meanings are many.

  All that a man explains or expresses comprises a note in the margin of a totally erased text.

To a greater or lesser extent, given the meaning of the note, we can deduce what should have been the sense of the text; but a doubt is always present and the possible senses multiple.

  Everything man expounds or expresses is a marginal note to a text that is completely expunged.

From the sense of the note, more or less, we derive the sense the text should have had; but there is always a doubt, and the possible meanings myriad.

Translated by Richard Zenith   Translated by Iain Watson   Translated by Alfred Mac Adam

Much as data analysts survey fields for patterns of disruption, the color-coding here exposes various ways that the translations differ from one another. One could further refine the coding — "completely" and "totally" one hue, and "erased" and "expunged" another — but this pass does its job. Note, for example, how Zenith and Watson split Pessoa's phrases in the first paragraph, leaving the word "text" separate from the reference to the "margin"; in Pessoa's original the sentence ends "apagado de todo," a finality that only the Mac Adam retains.

The Zenith is also interesting because of the variety of ways it differs from the original. For example, Pessoa writes "Mais ou menos," which Watson translates as "To a greater or lesser extent" and Mac Adam as, quite literally, "more or less." The only sense of "Mais ou menos" retained in the Zenith is the word "gist" — a choice so distinct in its timbre and placement that it potentially deserves a color all its own.

Later, Zenith does away with Pessoa's semicolon in favor of a comma. One could argue, as Zenith might, that the absence of the semicolon increases the sense of ambiguity central to Pessoa's sentence — that whereas the semicolon clearly divides the sentence in half, giving the "but" (or "mas") a heavy authority, the non-bisected version leaves greater room for interpretation — for the multitude of meanings that is the subject of the passage.

OK, maybe this is getting a little silly. Disquiet is a sizable book, and the switch from semicolon to comma could just as well have been an oversight. But which is less respectful: interrogating an interpretation, or writing it off as anything less than a fully considered decision?

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