Photo shows the author in 1914.
Poems of Álvaro
de Campos I
About the author
Fernando Pessoa is one of the great poets of the 20th Century, and is still
something of a mystery to readers outside Portugal and Brazil, where his work
has been elevated to classic status. Most puzzling for his readers, perhaps,
is the fact that Pessoa wrote under a series of of other names—heteronyms,
as he called them—and confusingly also under the 'orthonym' Fernando
Pessoa, who is not the same person as the man born with that name. The major
poetic heteronyms are Caeiro, Campos and Ricardo Reis, but Pessoa had a whole
range of others: journalists, prose-writers, essayists, as well as two English
poets in the form of Charles Robert Anon and Alexander Search, heteronyms used
by Pessoa before the break-through year of 1914, when Reis, Caeiro and Campos
all came into existence. Little of his work was published in book form during
his lifetime: two slim volumes of English verse and the mature collection Mensagem (Message),
but he left a trunk full of manuscripts and fragments—some
25,000 all told—and these have been mined by scholars ever since.
Fernando António Nogueira Pêssoa was born
in Lisbon, Portugal, on 13 June, 1888. Just five years later his father Joaquim
de Seabra Pessoa—a
civil servant, who wrote music reviews in his spare time—died of tuberculosis.
His mother, Maria Madalena Nogueira Pessoa, remarried a year and a half later
to Commander João Miguel Rosa, the Portuguese consul in Durban, South
Africa. Pessoa attended an English school in Durban, where he lived with his
family until the age of seventeen, returning only once to Portugal, when he
was thirteen. He was to return to Lisbon for good in 1905. He began studying
at the University of Lisbon in 1906 but dropped out after only eight months,
after a student strike had interrupted his studies. In the years that followed
he stayed with relatives or in rented rooms, making his living by translating,
writing in literary journals, and drafting business letters in English and
French. He began publishing criticism in 1912, creative prose in 1913, and
poetry in 1914. 1914 was also the year when the alter egos he called heteronyms—Alberto
Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos—came into existence.
In 1915 he changed the spelling of his surname, dropping the accent.
of Pessoa's poems, whether heteronymic or orthonymic (i.e. written under his
own name), appeared in literary magazines. He published his first book of English
poems, Antinoüs in 1918, followed by Sonnets (1918)
but released only a single book of Portuguese poems, Mensagem (Message),
in 1933. He died on 30 November, 1935, in Lisbon—apparently
from cirrhosis of the liver. Pessoa avoided the literary world and most social
contact and his work was only to gain a wide readership after his death.
Pessoa's assumption of different personae
has parallels with other writers, but no other writer was to have as many
heteronyms. Pessoa went so far as to develop detailed biographies and personalities
for these other aspects of himself, and it is tempting to assume that this
quiet, bookish man lived out his life in the imagination, the alter egos
giving him a chance to be what he was not, or what he wished he could be.
Alberto Caeiro was an unsophisticated, unemployed man from the provinces.
Ricardo Reis was a doctor and classicist who wrote Horatian odes. Álvaro
de Campos, a naval engineer, was a bisexual dandy who studied in Glasgow,
travelled to the Far East, and lived in London. Pessoa wrote (in English), "Caeiro
has one discipline: things must be felt as they are. Ricardo Reis has another
kind of discipline: things must be felt, not only as they are, but also so
as to fall in with a certain ideal of classic measure and rule. In Álvaro
de Campos things must simply be felt." By
creating separate personae like this, Pessoa was able to free himself from
the bounds of tradition and even from those traits of his own personality which
may have prevented him from achieving what he wished to achieve.
In later years, Pessoa also created the assistant
book-keeper Bernardo Soares, a so-called "semi-heteronym" who authored
the enormous journal-style volume The Book of Disquiet—now
widely regarded as his masterpiece; António Mora, a philosopher and
sociologist; the Baron of Teive, an essayist and author of The Education
of the Stoic—a
book about why he is unable to write; Thomas Crosse, whose critical writings
in English promoted Portuguese literature and especially the work of Alberto
Caeiro; I. I. Crosse, Thomas's brother and collaborator; Coelho Pacheco,
this attribution remains uncertain; Raphael Baldaya, an astrologer; Maria José,
a nineteen-year-old hunchback consumptive who wrote a desperate, unmailed love
letter to a handsome metalworker who passed under her window on his way to
work each day; and so on.
At least seventy-two names besides Fernando
Pessoa were said to be the authors of the thousands of texts that were actually
written and the many more that were only planned. Although Pessoa did actually
publish some works under pseudonyms, he distinguished this from his "heteronymic" project: "A
pseudonymic work is, except for the name with which it is signed, the work
of an author writing as himself; a heteronymic work is by an author writing
outside his own personality: it is the work of a complete individuality made
up by him, just as the utterances of some character in a drama would be."
For most of his adult life Pessoa lived in
furnished rooms in Lisbon. He seems to have had a number of plans to collect
and publish his work—notes
survive indicating the contents of various volumes by Reis, Caeiro and others—but
he never managed to achieve this, with the sole exception of Mensagem, ascribed
to his own name. He ran his own little publishing house in the 1920s, which
was to fail after the publication of six volumes—two of them his consisting
of his own early poems in English—and he also founded the pioneering
avant-garde journal Orpheu, where he published a large number of his
poems, but which was to collapse before publication of the third issue, owing
to a lack of funds and the impounding of the third issue by the authorities.