literature meme — five poets [1/5]

Fernando Pessoa (1888 - 1935)

Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language. He also wrote in and translated from English and French.

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 his other imaginary figures. Maria Madalena Nogueira Pessoa, his mother, married the Portuguese consul in Durban in South Africa, where the family lived from 1896. 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. Pessoa was educated in Cape Town.

He studied briefly at the University of Lisbon, and began to publish criticism, prose, and poetry soon thereafter while working as a commercial translator.

During his life, most of Pessoa’s considerable creative output appeared only in journals, and he published just three collections of poetry in English—Antinous (1918), Sonnets (1918), and English Poems (1921)—and one collection in Portuguese, Mensagem (1933).

In 1914, the year his first poem was published, Pessoa found the three main literary personas, or heteronyms, as he called them, which he would return to throughout his career: Alberto Caeiro, a rural, uneducated poet of great ideas who wrote in free verse; Ricardo Reis, a physician who composed formal odes influenced by Horace; and Álvaro de Campos, an adventurous London-based naval engineer influenced by poet Walt Whitman and the Italian Futurists. Pessoa published under his own name as well, but considered that work the product of an “orthonym,” another literary persona. While other notable writers of his generation used literary personas, such as Pound’s Mauberley and Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge, Pessoa alone gave his heteronyms a full life separate from his own, assigning and adopting in turn each persona’s psychology, aesthetics, and politics. Pessoa’s insistence on identity as a flexible, dynamic construction, and his consequent rejection of traditional notions of authorship and individuality, anticipated the concerns of the post-Modernist movement.

Later in life, Pessoa created the “semi-heteronym” Bernardo Soares, whose expansive, unbound fictional journal written over a period of 20 years (and assembled with little guidance after Pessoa’s death) became The Book of Disquiet, as well as philosopher and sociologist António Mora, essayist Baron of Teive, critic and Caeiro scholar Thomas Crosse and his brother/collaborator I.I. Crosse, poet Coelho Pacheco, astrologer Raphael Baldaya, and many others, for a total of at least 72 heteronyms.

Pessoa died in Lisbon in 1935 of cirrhosis of the liver [although that is being disputed nowadays], and only after his death did his work gain widespread publication and acclaim. In The Western Canon, critic Harold Bloom included Pessoa as one of just 26 writers responsible for establishing the parameters of western literature.

His last words were written in English, one day before his death: "I know not what tomorrow will bring."

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#Fernando Pessoa #words

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