Fernando Pessoa Biography


Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon, Portugal, on June 13, 1888. After the early death of his father, Joaoquim de Seabra Pessoa, in 1893, and the subsequent remarriage of his mother, Maria Madalena Pinheiro Nogueira, to Commandante João Miguel Rosa, the newly appointed Portuguese consul to Durban, South Africa, Pessoa and his mother left Portugal for South Africa in December of 1894. Here, Pessoa received his education in English. From 1894 until August of 1905, when he returned to Lisbon to attend the university there, Pessoa was developing the skills which were later to have such an important effect upon his career: his bilingual abilities in Portuguese and English and his interest in business and international commerce, which led to a lifelong career as a commercial translator in Lisbon. This position gave Pessoa the flexibility of movement and the leisure necessary to participate in his literary activities, which consisted of the founding and editing of numerous literary journals whose purpose, it became increasingly clear, was to further the development of an indigenous, innovative, modern Portuguese literature.

This developing literary nationalism is evident in the change from Pessoa’s early poetry, written in English between 1905 and 1909, to the appearance in that year of his first verse in Portuguese. That early work in Portuguese is clearly reflected in Mensagem, much of which was written long before its publication...

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Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa (PEHS-wah) was born on June 13, 1888, at the home of his parents in Lisbon, Portugal. His mother was Maria Magdalena Pinheiro Nogueira and his father was Joaquim de Seabra Pessoa. In addition to being employed in the Ministry of Justice, Pessoa’s father was also a part-time music critic. Pessoa’s father died in 1893 and his mother remarried two years later. In 1895, the six-year-old poet wrote his first verse, “À minha querida mãe” (to my beloved mother). His mother had two sons from her first marriage, but Fernando’s younger brother died in infancy. With her second husband she had five children, two dying in infancy. Her second husband was the Portuguese consul in Durban, South Africa, where the family moved in 1896.

Living in Durban until 1905, Pessoa studied in British-modeled primary and secondary schools. He attended a grade school run by Irish nuns, completing its five-year course in three. He graduated with honors from Durban High School, its teachers nurturing his interest in the classic English poets. English became his second language. He won the Queen Victoria Memorial Prize in 1903 for the quality of his English prose; however, he failed to be admitted to the University of the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1905, he returned to Lisbon in order to study literature at the University of Lisbon. However, he almost immediately abandoned his classes. He took business courses and became a freelance writer and correspondence secretary, in English and French, for foreign companies. Such work allowed him free time for his own writing but economically only modestly sustained him. Until his widowed mother returned to Lisbon in 1920, he lived with relatives or in rooming houses, moving frequently. No longer in school, he read extensively in...

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The most recognized modern Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa was notable but little distinguished in his own time. His reputation advanced as his archived writings were posthumously published. Composed under multiple identities, his work represents the varied nature and production of poetry over time, examines the character and dilemmas of poetry’s creation in modern times, and reflects on the existential inconsistencies and contradictions of life and self-identification. Esoteric strains thread through both his poetry and prose.