Fernando Pessoa

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.

He is considered one of the most important Portuguese poets of all time, his value being compared to that of Camões. American critic Harold Bloom wrote in his book, “The Western Canon”, that Pessoa, along with Pablo Neruda, are the most representative poets of the 20th century. As Octavio Paz said, the poet has no biography. His biography is his work. His secret, moreover, is written even in the name he bears: Pessoa means “person” in Portuguese and the name comes from “persona”, the mask of the Roman poets. His story can be reduced to the unreality of daily life and the reality of his fictions. These fictions are personified by poets Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and especially, Fernando Pessoa himself.

Pessoa remained fatherless since he was just a little kid. His mother remarried and in 1896, she moved with her children to Durban in South Africa, where her second husband was appointed as consul of Portugal. The young Fernando received an English education and the Saxon influence will be constant in his thoughts and his works. In 1905, he returned to Lisbon and two years later, in 1907, he abandoned the Faculty of Letters of Lisbon in order to open a printing, “Empreza Ibis”. This business would prove to be a failure in 1910, a word that will often be repeated in his life. Then he started working as a foreign correspondent, a modest job what will almost ensure his basic needs for life. The young Portuguese rejected with a shy pride the proposal to enter through the doors of a university career. In 1912, he aspired to the position of archivist in a library, but was rejected. But in his life there wasn’t any rebellion, just a modesty similar to contempt.

Fernando Pessoa will never leave Lisbon from that moment on. About the Anglomaniac, shortsighted, polite, shy, dressed in black, reticent and familiar, cosmopolitan preaching nationalism, humorist that never laughs Portuguese, Pierre Hourcade, who knew him towards the end of his life, wrote: “When I broke up with him I never dared to turn my head. I was afraid not to see it spreading, melting into air”. Fernando Pessoa died in Lisbon in 1935, following a cirrhosis crisis. He left nehind two “plaquettes” of poems in English, a slim book of Portuguese poetry and a trunk full of manuscripts. “The Book of Disquiet”, written around 1931, is one of his most valuable manuscripts.

His real character is a vague one, resigned in an insignificant external existence whose escape would be purely imaginative. Fernando Pessoa started writing in English in 1901. Between 1903 and 1906, he wrote only in English, under the name of “Search”, in an adventure to find the shadows of the great Victorian lyrical. After 1906, he will alternate from English to Portuguese, cantoning his fundamental writings within the limits of his own language. However, he continued to write and publish rather more in English while in Lisbon. Combined, these texts make up the volume XI, “Poemas Ingleses”, from “Obras Completas de Fernando Pessoa”, Publisher Attica, Lisbon, 1974.

Fernado Pessoa had ties to occultism and mysticism, with the Masons and with the Rosicrucians (although he wasn’t known as a concrete member of any lodge or fraternity of these organizations), and publicly defended the initiatory organizations in the newspaper “Diary of Lisbon” of 4 February 1935 against the attacks of Salazar’s “Estado Novo” dictatorship. One of his best known hermetic poems and appreciated in esoteric circles is named “No Túmulo de Christian Rosenkreutz”. He used to request and produced himself astrological consultations, including his certainty about his date and time of birth.

Pessoa’s work has passed through different phases, but it is basically a search for a certain lost type of patriotism, with an eye headed towards esotericism: the homeland had an existential and spiritual value, it was an inner dimension from which the man went into exile. The Portuguese writer was deeply influenced, in different moments, by religious doctrines such as “Theosophy” and by secret societies such as the Freemasons. His poetry has a certain mythical, heroic air, almost like an epic poem, but of course not in the original acception of the term, and sometimes tragic.

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