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|Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) - pseudonyms Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis|
The most celebrated Portuguese poet, who had a major role in the development of modernism in his country. Fernando Pessoa was a member of the Modernist group Orpheu; he was its greatest representative. Pessoa's use of "heteronyms," literary alter egos, who support and criticize each other's works was also unconventional. During his career Pessoa was virtually unknown and he published little of his vast body of work. Most of his life Pessoa lived in a furnished room in Lisbon, where he died in obscurity.
I never kept sheep,
Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon. His
father, Joaquim de Seabra Pessoa, died of tuberculosis when Pessoa was
young. At the age of five or six Pessoa began to address letters to an
imaginary companion, named Le Chevalier de Pas, the precursor of hís
other imaginary figures. Maria Madalena Nogueira Pessoa, his mother,
married João Miguel Rosa, the Portuguese consul in Durban in South Africa, where the
family lived from 1896. The marriage was happy; they had six children.
During these years Pessoa became fluent in
English and developed an early love for such authors as William
Shakespeare and John Milton. He also composed his early poems in
English. In a letter to the editor of the British Journal of Astrology,
Pessoa confessed that English education had been a factor of supreme
importance in his life. However, his best poems he wrote in Portuguese.
was educated in Durban. He was the best student in his class at the
Durban High School. By
the time he was fourteen he was sending riddles to a newspaper under
the pseudonym 'Dr Pancrácio' (Dr Simpleton). At the age of seventeen he
returned to Lisbon to study literature at the university. When a
student strike interrupted classes, he dropped out of the university,
and took a job as a business correspondent. For some years, he lived
his Aunt Anica. She was an enthusiast of occultism, and sparked
Pessoa's interest in spiritual matters. Pessoa had a strong
anticlerical bent. Organized religion did not appeal to him. In 1916
Pessoa began to
experiment with automatic writing. Moreover, he acted as a medium, but
admitted later that he had pretended to be able to speak with the
spirits. Curiously, Pessoa believed in astrology and he studied
Rosicrucianism but he thought that "spiritism should be prohibited by
In 1919 Pessoa met Ophélia Queiroz, a nineteen years old secretary; they exchanged letters but in November 1920 Pessoa broke off with her. Unlike a number of romantically inclined poets, he never produced a body of love poetry addressed to her.
With his mother, and his half sister Henriquetta, Pessoa rented an apartment on the Rua Coelho de Rocha, 16, where he lived until his death. Pessoa never married. In a letter in the 1930s, he stated that sexual desires are "a hindrance to superior mental processes." However, his own sexual orientation obsessed him.
set up a small printing company called 'Ibis' with the money he
inherited from his grandmother, but the business failed. He used to
embrass his family by standing on one leg and shooring out "I am an
ibis". Outside his familily he had no close friendships; the heteronyms
replaced the contacts with real people.
Pessoa earned a modest living as a commercial translator, and wrote avant-garde reviews, especially for Orpheu, which was a forum for new aesthetic views. His articles in praise of the saudosismo (nostalgia) movement provoked polemics because of their extravagant language. Pessoa's first book, Antinous, came out in 1918, and was followed by two other collection of poems, all written in English. It was not until 1933 that he published his first book, the slim, prize-winning Mensagem, in Portuguese. It did not attract much attention.
The bulk of Pessoa's oeuvre appeared in literary magazines,
especially in his own Athena. In John Murry's Athenaeum his work appeared only
once; the magazine ceased publication in 1921. 'Spell,' published in
May 1923 in Contemporanea,
was the last of his English poems to achieve print in his lifetime.
Before creating his literary personalities from his inner
discordant voices, Pessoa had long had doubts about his own sanity.
Under his own name Pessoa wrote poems that are marked by their
innovative language, although he used traditional stanza and metric
patterns. The poetical technique for which Pessoa has become especially
noted is the use of heteronyms, or alternative literary personae,
resembling the verse personae of Ezra Pound.
or Søren Kierkegaard's "characters" who actually "authored" some of his
Pessoa's own family name means both person and persona. He
considered that a "heteronymic work is by an author writing outside his
own personality: it is the work of complete individuality made up
by him, or just as the uttersances of some character in a drama would
be." It must be said, that Pessoa did not suffer from schizophrenia or
multiple personality disorder.
Much of his best work Pessoa attributed later to his heteronyms, de Campos, Reis, and Caeiro, who were partly born as a prank on Mário Sá-Carneiro (1890-1916), an avant-garde poet from Orpheu. Álvaro de Campos, an engineer, represents in the spirit of Walt Whitman the ecstasy of experience; he writes in free verse. Ricardo Reis is an epicurean doctor with a classical education; he writes in meters and stanzas that recall Horace. (See also Jose Saramago's novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, 1984.) Some of the minor heteronyms were exotic, like the Baron of Tieve, a suicidal aristocrat, or Jean Seul de Méluret, and essyist with an interest in dancing girls. One is a woman – Maria José, a tubercular hunchback with a crippled leg. When analyzing his heteronyms he came to the conclusion that they "have their origin in a deep-seated form of hysteria. I don't know if I'm afflicted by simple hysteria or, more specifically, by hysterical neurasthenia." (Character and Person by John Frow, 2014, p. 218)
Alberto Caeiro, who called himself a shepherd, is against all
sentimentality, and writes in colloquial free verse. By the birth of
this heteronym, Pessoa had published two books of poetry, 35 Sonnets, and Antinous. Caeiro appeared in him
suddenly: "I found myself before a tall chest of drawers, took up a
piece of paper, began to write, remaining upright all the while since I
always stand when I can." Beginning with a title, The Keeper of Sheep, Pessoa
produced over 30 poems in a single go. He then wrote the six poems that
make up 'Oblique Rain.'
Caeiro had two disciples, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos, who says melancholically in 'The Tobacconist's' (1928): "I am nothing. / I shall always be nothing." According to Reis, "The life of Caeiro cannot be told for there is nothing in it to tell." Pessoa once informed that Caeiro died from tuberculosis in 1915. After meeting him on March 8, 1914, Pessoa began to write poetry. In 'I never kept sheep' Caeiro said: "I've no ambitions or desires. / My being a poet isn't an ambition. / It's my way of being alone." Each persona has a distinct philosophy of life. Pessoa even created literary discussions among them.
In 'Toward Explaining Heteronomity' Pessoa criticized the distinction made between three generic types or classes of poetry – epic or narrative, in which the narrator speaks in the first person, drama, in which the characters do all the talking, and lyric, uttered through the first person. "Like all well conceived classifications, this one is useful and clear; like all classifications, it is false. The genres do not separate out with essential facility, and, if we closely analyze what they are made of, we shall find that from lyric poetry to dramatic there is one continuous gradation. In effect, and going right to the origins of dramatic poetry – Aeschylus, for instance – it will be nearer the truth to say that what we encounter is lyric poetry put into the mouths of different characters."
died of hepatitis, brought on by heavy drinking, on
November 30, 1935, in Lisbon. The previous day he wrote as his last
words: "I know not what tomorrow will bring." Pressoa was buried at the
Cemitério dos Prazeres– it was not his final resting place. His remains
were removed in 1985 to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon.
Throughout his life, Pessoa kept himself aloof from the literary world, but he followed keenly foreign literary movements. "There are many cultured persons in Portugal, but there are no cultural milieu," he once said. One of Pessoa's pen friends was the English writer and occult figure Aleister Crowley, known as "the Great Beast" – their correspondence began in 1930. Crowley signed his letters "666". In the 1910s Pessoa had practiced mediumistic writing, claiming once that his uncle, Manuel Gualdino da Cunha, had used his hand to make a signature. Many of Pessoa's questions to the spirits dealt with his own sex life. One of them mocked him, "You masturbator! You masochist! You man without manhood!" In his library Pessoa had E.G. Stanley's book Amativeness: The Master Passion of Life, which warned about the effects of masturbation. Although Pessoa later came into the conclusion, that his method of communication with spirits was self-deceptive, he continued to experiment with automatic writing, which was in France an important part of the Surrealist techniques.
left behind some 25,000 unpublished text and fragments, both poetry and
prose, everything from horoscopes to detective stories.
From the 1940s, his poetry started to gain a wider audience in Portugal
and later Brazil. Several of his collections have been published
posthumously and translated in Spanish, French, English, German,
Swedish, Finnish, and other languages. Among the most important works
are Poesias de Fernando Pessoa (1942), Poesias de
Álvaro de Campos (1944), Poemas de Alberto Caeiro
(1946), and Odes de Ricardo Reis (1946). Pessoa's work
has inspired writers such as the South-African poet Roy Campbell
(1901-1957), the Nobel laureate José Saramago (1922-2010), and the
Italian novelist and short story writer Antonio
"Quando vim a ter espenranças, já não sabia ter esperanças.
Known above all as a poet, Pessoa also wrote short essays,
several of which were briefly sketched or unfinished. His most
significant work Livro do Desassossego (The Book of
Disquiet), the "factless autobiography," was found in an envelope.
Written under the name Bernardo Soares, which was on the title page, it
appeared for the first time in 1982, almost 50 years after the author's
The Book of Disquiet is a collection of prose
manuscripts, written in the style of an intimate diary. Bernardo Soares
is troubled by alienation and experiences of drowning: "And I, truly, I
am the center that doesn't exist except as a convention in the geometry
of the abyss; I am the nothingness around which this movement spins..."
Soares praises the literary magazine to which Pessoa contributes, he
loves and hates his city, but cannot break out of his monotonous life. O banquiero anarquista
(The Anarchist Banker), published in 1922, was Pessoa's longest story.
This dialogue novella asks the question, "What is an anarchist?" The
unnamed protagonist, a banker, sees himself to be a true anarchist, in
idea and practice. He defines the concept of anarchism in the context
of personal freedom. By getting rich, he has gained liberty for
himself. "I have achieved my limited dream as a practical,
clear-thinking anarchist. I'm free. I do what I want – to the extent,
of course, that what I want is possible." Prophetically, the banker
sees that the Russian Revolution will set back the goal of a free
sociaty by decades. "But what more could we expect from a nation of
mystics and illiterates?"
Pessoa's own political views were controversial. He defended the military coup d'etat of 1926, which turned the country into a dictatorship, but he wrote a few satirical poems of António de Oliveira Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968. Pessoa once described himself as a "mystical nationalist"– he had occult interests, believed in astrology, and had a wide knowledge of Rosicrucianism and Masonic rites. However, in 1935 he stated in a newspaper article, that he was not a Freemason, and did not belong to any Order of a similar or different nature.
For further reading: Vida e obra de Fernando Pessoa by Gaspar Simõnes (1950, 2 vols.); Estudos sobre Fernando Pessoa by A. Casais Monteiro (1958); O poeta é um fingidor by J. de Sena (1961); Diversidade e unidade em Fernando Pessoa by J. do Prado Coelho (1973); Pessoa revisitado by E. Lourenço (1973); Man Who Never Was by George Monteiro (1982); Poesia e matafísica by Eduardo Lourenço (1983); The Presence of Pessoa by George Monteiro (1998); Modern Art in Portugal 1910-1940, ed by Joao B. Serra (1998); Fernando Pessoa: Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems, ed. by George Monteiro (1989); Fernando Pessoa: Voices of Nomadic Soul by Zbigniew Kotowich (1996); An Introduction to Fernando Pessoa by Darlene J. Sadlier (1998); The Presence of Pessoa: English, American, and Southern African Literary Responses by George Monteiro (1998); Fernando Pessoa and 19th Century Anglo-American Literature by George Monteiro (2000); Embodying Pessoa: Corporeality, Gender, Sexuality by Anna Klobucka and Mark Sabine (2007); Fernando Pessoa's Modernity Without Frontiers: Influences, Dialogues and Responses, ed. by Mariana Gray de Castro (2013); Fernando Pessoa - The Poet With Many Faces by Hubert Dudley Jennings (2019) - Note: Pessoa's statue is in front of the café Brasileira in Lisbon. In Finnish: Suomeksi julkaistu myös valikoima Hetkien valellus (1974), suom. Pentti Saaritsa, En minä aina ole sama: runoutta, suom Pentti Saaritsa (2001) ja Minä, aina vieras, suom. Janne Löppönen & Harry Salmenniemi (2016), Minä se olen, suom. Leo Saukkoriipi (bilingual edition; 2020); Virtual Subjects, Fugitive Selves: Fernando Pessoa and His Philosophy by Jonardon Ganeri (2020). Antologiassa Salaperäinen seurue (1997) oli mukana Pessoan runoja.