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Fernando (António Nogueira) Pessoa 1888–1935

(Also wrote under the heteronyms of Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos, Alexander Search, Bernardo Soares, Baron de Teive and others) Portuguese poet, essayist, and critic.

Pessoa, considered to be the greatest Portuguese poet of the twentieth century and, indeed, the greatest since Vas...

(The entire section contains 23164 words.)

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Fernando (António Nogueira) Pessoa 1888–1935

(Also wrote under the heteronyms of Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos, Alexander Search, Bernardo Soares, Baron de Teive and others) Portuguese poet, essayist, and critic.

Pessoa, considered to be the greatest Portuguese poet of the twentieth century and, indeed, the greatest since Vas de Camões in the sixteenth-century, holds a prominent position in twentieth-century literature. His works are felt to epitomize the themes and techniques of modernism, and his experimental approach to poetic composition explores the questions—psychological, philosophical and spiritual—that define the modern age. Pessoa created a set of literary alter egos called "heteronyms," which allowed him to explore many disparate aspects of human nature without the limitations of a single literary persona.

Biographical Information

Pessoa was born into an artistic, cultured family in Lisbon, Portugal on June 13, 1888. His father, a music critic, died when Pessoa was five years old. In the following year, his mother married the Portuguese consul to South Africa and moved the family to Durban, where Pessoa spent the remainder of his youth. In South Africa, Pessoa attended an English secondary school where he excelled in languages, and became proficient in English. Young Pessoa was an admirer of Shakespeare, and, by the age of fifteen, was composing sonnets in English. These sonnets were later collected and published as 35 Sonnets (1918). Pessoa returned to Portugal in 1905 and enrolled at the University of Lisbon only to leave the school after just one year. His fluent English was a desirable skill and he soon found himself a position as a business correspondent for Portuguese commercial firms, an occupation that was to last his entire life. Although he continued to write poetry, it was not until 1912 that he began to compose poems in Portuguese. Around that time he also became associated with poets of the nationalistic saudosismo movement, which celebrated a romanticized Portuguese past. By 1915 Pessoa was well known in the cultural circles of Lisbon, having established himself as a poet and critic well in tune with the modernist movements that flourished in Europe during the first decades of the twentieth century. He was also one of the founders of Orpheu and Presença, the most influential journals of modern Portuguese literature. For a brief time he also edited his own journal, Athena, where many of his poems and essays were first published. He died in November 1935 in Lisbon, Portugal after long suffering from alcoholism. At the time of his death, his work was not widely known outside of Portugal, as it was not collected or published in books until after his death. His reputation has grown posthumously through the publication of many collections of poetry and by a number of English translations which made his work available to a much wider audience than during his lifetime.

Major Works

As Pessoa was not known in literary circles outside of Portugal until after his death, there was no critical or scholarly attention given to his work prior to the posthumous publication of collections and translations. In the early part of his career, after his return to Portugal from South Africa in 1905, Pessoa wrote English sonnets, using the pseudonym Alexander Search. It was not until around 1912 that he began writing in Portuguese; he became politically active and involved with the saudosismo movement and, by 1915 had produced a considerable body of work in Portuguese. During his lifetime, he published several volumes of his English poems: 35 Sonnets (1918), Antinous (1918), English Poems (I, II and III) (1921). He also published one volume of Portuguese poems, Mensagem (1934), which is considered his greatest work. Mensagem is composed of a sequence of poems on the history of Portugal, and created controversy in that it is possible to interpret it as a "nationalist" work in which Pessoa apologizes for the authoritarian regime that had come to power in 1926. Since his death, numerous volumes of his poetry have been published, and his poetry has been translated into several languages. Among these posthumous editions are Poemas de F. P. (1942), Fernando Pessoa: Selected Poems (1974), and Poems of Fernando Pessoa (1987). The poems themselves are not his only successful poetic creations. Among the most remarkable of Pessoa's poetic achievements are those alter-egos, or "heteronyms," that he created to be the authors of much of his poetry. Distinct from pen-names, or "pseudonyms," these do not simply disguise the author, Pessoa argued, but replace the author, allowing the author to affect a completely different persona.

Critical Reception

The history of twentieth-century literature, and modernist poetry in particular, would not be complete without Fernando Pessoa. Critics often speak of Pessoa in the same breath as such modernist legends as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Rainer Maria Rilke. Because of his invention and frequent use of "heteronyms" in his poetry however, Pessoa stands out as an idiosyncratic figure in twentieth-century letters. Critics have analyzed Pessoa's three most frequently used heteronyms and agree that each has a distinctive personality and distinguishing literary characteristics. The first heteronym, Alberto Caeiro, wrote in free verse and expressed the philosophic views of a pagan materialist. This author-persona disavowed any sense of the supernatural, and in "Guardador de Rebanhos" ("The Shepherd") maintains that the senses are the only certain sources of knowledge. Another heteronym, Ricardo Reis, acknowledges Caeiro as a mentor and expands upon the view that sensory experience is the only true knowledge. Reis writes in a fatalistic, world-weary manner and employs fixed forms. A third philosophical stance is explored by the Alvaro de Campos heteronym, which, of all of Pessoa's heteronyms, most embodies the modernist philosophy. Campos' poems display the opposing desires to have both everything and nothing, and comment on the elusive nature of identity.

Pessoa's canonical status, however, is not surprising when one considers the implications of this ostensibly bizarre poetic accomplishment. His use of heteronyms constitutes an intense examination of identity and how individuals come to develop identities, a concern not only of Pessoa's contemporaries but of modern critics, as well. The poet whose conventional English sonnets critics have hailed as expert imitations of Shakespeare went on to become a poet who sought to undermine conventional notions of authorship. By creating so many personae of authorship, Pessoa forced his contemporaries, and forces his readers today, to question the stability of identity, not only of the author, but of all individuals. Many critics have remarked on the irony of the fact that Pessoa's name means "person" in Portuguese and is derived from the Latin "persona," appropriate for a poet who had so many personae.

Principal Works

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Antinous 1918

35 Sonnets 1918

English Poems. 3 vols. 1921

Mensagem 1934

Poemas de F. P. 1942

Poemas de Álvaro de Campos 1944

Poemas de Alberto Caeiro 1946

Poemas de Ricardo Reis 1946

Poemas dramáticos I 1952

Poesias inéditas: 1930-35 1955

Poesias inéditas: 1919-30 1956

F.P.: Antologia (edited by Octavio Paz) 1962

Selected Poems 1971

Sixty Portuguese Poems 1971

Fernando Pessoa: Selected Poems 1974

Poems of Fernando Pessoa (translated by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown) 1987

Other Major Works

Faust (unfinished drama) 1906-1935

The Mariner (drama) 1914

Obras completas de Fernando Pessoa 11 Vols, (criticism, poetry and essays) [still in progress] 1942

Páginas de doutrina estética [Pages on Aesthetic Doctrine; edited by J. de Sena] (criticism and essays) 1946

Always Astonished: Selected Prose (prose) 1988

Jane M. Sheets (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: "Fernando Pessoa as Anti-Poet: Alberto Caeiro," in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. XLVI, No. 1, January 1969, pp. 39-47.

[In this excerpt, Sheets discusses Pessoa's Alberto Caeiro heteronym, and relates his poetic aesthetic to Zen Buddhism, existentialism, and that of French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet.]

If one accepts poetry in the traditional sense, as a way of looking at things, not directly, but following the poet's eye, if one thus accepts the poet as a perceptive interpreter of his surroundings, then the intention of Alberto Caeiro, Fernando Pessoa's first heteronym, is distinctly antipoetical….

In the 1935 letter to Casais Monteiro in which he discusses the genesis of the heteronyms, Pessoa describes his conscious attempts, early in March, 1914, to create a pastoral poet; when at last he gave up, lacking inspiration, he was suddenly compelled to go to his desk, where he took out paper and began to write. Without stopping, he produced, on the 8th of March, more than thirty poems, all assigned to Alberto Caeiro. The poems were written in a kind of 'indefinable ecstasy…'—…. From the very beginning, Pessoa was certain not only that the moment itself was supreme and sublime, but also that the poems were superior to any of his own to that time and would perhaps even surpass any subsequent work….

Immediately after this burst of inspiration, Pessoa took another paper and wrote six poems, "Chuva Oblíqua", signed with his own name. These are 'poemas interseccionistas', characteristic in mood and content of what had been up to then a main stream in Pessoa's work: they are vague, subtle, complex, with intersecting images within a static framework. Their appearance marked a return from Fernando Pessoa Alberto Caeiro to, simply, Fernando Pessoa….

The three parts of Caeiro's work vary slightly in their point of view. In the first group of poems, "O Guardador de Rebanhos," Caeiro's gentle, but increasingly persistent, message about Nature is that it has no interior, that it is parts without a whole, that there is, in fact, no Nature: there are only mountains, flowers, rivers and stones, and Caeiro's self-appointed task is to bring these objects to the reader's attention, as directly and simply as possible, without the use of metaphor or other poetic devices….

The six poems of "O Pastor Amoroso" represent a second, but very brief, phase in Caeiro's thought. The oncesolitary shepherd is still in touch with Nature, but he is also in love. The sense of sight, once so essential, gives way to feelings. There is no longer a looking outward, but 'Toda a realidade olha para mim como um girassol com a cara dela no meio'. The most obvious change in attitude is the willing reversion to thought. In "Keeper of the Flocks" thinking was scorned, but now, very simply: 'Amar é pensar' and 'Quero só / Pensar nela'.

In the third and last section, 'Poemas Inconjuntos', the theme, once again, is seeing, a direct experience of objects, but there are now other concerns: disappointment in love ('Sentir é estar distraido'), the acknowledgment and acceptance of all things in the world, including injustices, an absolute focus on the present, on one's being and, as he contemplates death, a self-portrayal: 'Sou fácil de definir / Vi como um danado'. Although Caeiro's perspective shifts slightly, his original purpose remains: to confront objects as they are, without thought or analysis, to acknowledge Dinge-an-sich without attempting to generalize or to compare and, above all, to make no attempt to create or to invent reciprocal relationships between man and nature. Feelings are acknowledged, but are unexplored: 'Eu não tenho filosofia, tenho sentidos'.

Caeiro's point of view is frequently labelled 'anti': he has been called 'anti-intellectual' [Moisés Massaud, 1962], 'anti-Romantic' [Adolpho Casais Monteiro, 1958], 'Antisubjektivist' [Bruno Linnartz, 1966], 'anti-metaphysical' [Jacinto do Prado Coelho, 1963], even an 'anti-metaphysical philosopher' [Dizionario Letterario Bompiani, III, 1957]. Other critics suggest that Caeiro's claim to objectivity is cancelled by the very formulation of his impressions. Still another common thread in the criticism is that the poet and his works, because of their surfeit of clarity, seem to belong to other periods in literary time: Pessoa is 'half-Greek, half-Bedouin', a 'modern classicist', his poems 'lack Atlantic softness'. Two suggestions of this kind will be taken up here: Adolpho Casais Monteiro's belief that Caeiro's technique is related to that of Robbe-Grillet, and Thomas Merton's observation on the Zen-like quality of certain of Caeiro's experiences. Both approaches reveal much more of Pessoa-Caeiro's literary precocity and, more important, his spontaneous assumption of a universal way of seeing, than do evaluations based solely on Western and often conceptual terms. By looking in detail at Caeiro's works in these seemingly disparate and remote contexts, accepting Pessoa's assertion that Caeiro is the most sincere, the master of the other heteronyms and himself ('… se há parte da minha obra que tenha um cunho de sinceridade essa parte é… a obra de Caeiro') [Cartas a Armando Côrtes-Rodrigues, 1945], the idea of Fernando Pessoa Alberto Caeiro as anti-poet, but as purposive anti-poet, as a strengthening opposition and a necessary part of a foundation for subsequent poems, is reinforced.

Casais Monteiro, in two short articles, compares Caeiro's attitudes to those found in Robbe-Grillet's essay, 'Nature, humanisme, tragédie', published in 1958. Both writers, he explains, believe the sense of sight is pre-eminent and they share the conviction that things have no interior, so that there is no need for the eye to explore beneath the surface of objects. They reject metaphor as false and artificial complicity and share a direct acknowledgement of the independence of Nature and its obliviousness of man.

Rejection of the interiority of things, denial of metaphysics and of an anthropocentric world—all are explicit attitudes of Caeiro….

Casais Monteiro, like other critics, believes that Caeiro's poems are a reaction to the sentimentality and preciosity of the poetry of his time, but he proposes no answer to why they appear at first glance to be so closely related to an aesthetics which was elaborated half a century after his poems were written. He suggests a study of the coincidence from the point of view of phenomenology and existentialism, but offers only one collective and unsatisfactory term: Robbe-Grillet and Caeiro are materialists, or at least anti-spiritualists.

In Robbe-Grillet's other essays, in 'Une voie pour le roman futur', 'Temps et description dans le récit d'aujourd'hui', and in 'Du réalisme à la réalité' [Pour un nouveau roman, 1963] one finds further correlations, particularly concerning the kind of language which characterizes a literature consisting of presences, of objects; that is, words of a visceral, analogical or incantatory character, 'vertical' or 'deep' words, are replaced by visual or descriptive adjectives, words which measure, locate, limit, define. Caeiro's poems, written with simple vocabulary and syntax, consist of this kind of language, and take the same matter-of-fact approach to objects….

Movement becomes crucial for both writers in this environment of objects. Yet by shifting merely from one object to another, from one isolated part of a scene to another, time itself assumes a new role: it can no longer complete anything, reveal any destinies, or lead to any conclusions. One is aware not so much of time passing as of change which occurs within the present. No past is created, no headway made, there is no evolution, only 'travelling'.

The fifth poem of 'Poemas Inconjuntos' illustrates the dilemma: as Caeiro begins to consider the meaning of the terms 'Truth, lie, certainty, uncertainty', flirting, one might say, with signification, a blind man appears in the street. The poet crosses his legs. He folds his hands over his upper knee. The consideration begins again…. The blind man stops, the poet unfolds his hands and repeats the words once more. A new awareness intervenes: some part of reality is changing, he says….

Even though Caeiro makes a conscious effort to focus on words which evoke comparisons and trains of thought, on concepts, what he sees and what he does, simple actions and gestures, alone fill his consciousness. For him, existence and reality consist here of a limited scene, slight changes of the scene and an awareness of this change. If there are to be any configurations or patterns, they must be established by the reader himself, in his own mind. He, the reader, is presented only with a description, with the sight, not a vision, of limited surroundings; any profound or transcendent signification occurs not within the work, but outside it.

When Robbe-Grillet insists on equating surfaces with the whole, he is attempting to resolve, to 'melt down', as he says, pairs of contraries—to rid his work specifically of the dualism which opposes interior to exterior. Robbe-Grillet's experiments with form have therefore a supporting philosophical context; he works within a developing framework of ideas, and he writes, moreover, on a conscious, intellectual, nearly clinical level. But how can one account for Caeiro's similar approach, developed fifty years earlier, especially recalling the way in which his poems were written, spontaneously, unconsciously and with almost frightening suddenness?

The existential awareness shared by Robbe-Grillet and Pessoa as Caeiro can be attributed in part to Angst, a condition associated with the world of Robbe-Grillet's era, while Pessoa's personal version is explained in his essays. And although this condition causes them to share certain qualities—both are anti-metaphysical, anti-poetic, and both focus at least initially on particular objects in their environment, naming and describing—their continuing stance in relation to the objects they confront is unlike.

From the beginning, Robbe-Grillet is reserved and aloof, and remains so, while Caeiro's glance is more receptive, his descriptions generic rather than exact. The issue is one of personal mobility, even daring, and Caeiro, who surprises and momentarily outreaches his author, who assumes a mood and posture which is awesome to Pessoa even without being identified, and from which he withdraws almost immediately, fits only briefly into Robbe-Grillet's delimited atmosphere of theory and measured clarity, and then moves on. Especially in his late poems, Caeiro still sees clearly, but also savours things, moves irresistibly towards them, imbibes them. Poetic tools and concepts such as beauty and Nature are still rejected, but his apprehension by means of sight deepens and intensifies.

Contemporary theory, then, relates only to part of Caeiro's production; Octavio Paz suggests in fact that Caeiro's reality goes back in time, to the epoch before language begins, when innocent poets were first applying names to things, before words and things were made separate: 'Caeiro es una afirmación absoluta del existir y de ahi que sus palabras nos parezcan verdades de otro tiempo, ese tiempo en el que todo era uno y lo mismo' [Antologia, 1962]. This general assignement of an ancientcontext is made specific by Thomas Merton, who suggests that Caeiro's 'way of seeing', his mode of apprehension, is akin to that of Zen Buddhists [Thomas Merton, introduction to "Twelve Poems," 1966]. The denial of metaphysics or any intellectual or poetic role, the insistence on resolving contraries, but especially his 'knack of full awareness', which takes Caeiro a step beyond description and movement among objects, and which finally distinguishes his work from Robbe-Grillet's theory—these also are Zen attitudes.

To move with Caeiro from Robbe-Grillet's essays to Zen Buddhism is not as unsettling or incongruous as it might seem, especially if one accepts Merton's definition of Zen as 'an Asian form of religious existentialism', [Thomas Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters, 1967] as 'philosophic monism', and if one considers the Zenists' aim: 'ultimate emancipation from duality', by means of 'direct and immediate contact with light and reality in their existential source'. The Zen insight is a direct grasp of being in itself, not an intuition of the nature of being.

Caeiro's gaze, 'clear as a sunflower's', is the initial step in the real, spiritual instruction in Zen: purification of the powers of vision. The viewer is required to perceive objects in all their sensuous fullness; one is immersed in the contents of perception, for Caeiro objects in Nature, until they are known by heart and can be called to mind in their maximum clarity [Eugen Herrigel, "The Method of Zen," 1964]….

Then, when that is fully mastered, one aims at intensification.

And when he drops in the grass and closes his eyes, Caeiro's physical contact with Nature is complete; he experiences reality and truth….

Caeiro thus apprehends with a kind of primal vision, with heightened awareness; he achieves o pasmo essencial … que tern uma criança … ao nascer' which Thomas Merton translates as 'the knack of full awareness', a stage along the Zen way of seeing.

But although Caeiro is persistent in presenting objects as they are, in striving for an unmediated relation to reality, at the point at which Zen goes beyond reason, becomes superconscious, Caeiro is still conscious in a worldly way, and insists on remaining so; he is reluctant, it seems, to yield completely to his senses and seeks distractions, drawing comparisons between artifacts and Nature, falling in love in the few poems of ' O Pastor Amoroso', and experimenting with yet another way of seeing. Almost immediately, in fact, Pessoa-Caeiro is pulled back to the immediate world of Fernando Pessoa, who shared at that time the more rational ambiance and inclinations of his literary colleagues.

This 'note of self-conscious and programmatic insistence', as Merton calls it, was dramatically displaced by a poem written in 1917, in which one senses, as in no other experience Caeiro relates, a complete identification and oneness with life. There had been, in the poems of 1914, lines in which Caeiro moved beyond description and seemed to stand on the threshold of pure realization, describing 'days of perfect and exact light, days in which objects were saturated with reality', but in the later work the theme of reality is explored in fifty-three lines, a long poem for Caeiro.

Not the reality of the world, but that of the self is questioned: 'Ser real quer dizer não estar dentro de mim'. My body and the world are more typical of reality than my soul, and 'item for item', 'coisa por coisa, o Mundo é mais certo'….

However cautious one must be in interpreting extrasensory or supersensory states of mind, depending always on written description, which is again nearly always prefaced by an apology for its inadequacy, nevertheless the experience does coincide with descriptions of Zen enlightenment: not self-realization, not possession by the ego, but realization pure and simple; no movement from lower to higher worlds, as often occurs in Western mysticism; not, in fact, a mystical experience nor a withdrawal from the world, but a unity with it, in which the subject-object relationship is abolished and material realities become simply irrelevant; not a looking inward but a direct grasp of being in itself.

The range of this poem—the world, the universe—surpasses by far Caeiro's usual terrain, and each adjective contributes to the idea of selflessness and affirmation … Caeiro's apprehension of the universe is complete and 'sublime', but he is also fully alert, superconscious rather than unconscious; Caeiro 'sees' with 'perfect natural lucidity' because he is suffused with an awareness of being.

Like Robbe-Grillet, Caeiro insists on the monism of phenomena and creates literature which consists of what he sees, describing with exactness and great clarity; but he also participated, if only briefly, with his own being in the harmony of a universe consisting of material realities, a position which Robbe-Grillet would find untenable, unnecessary, perhaps absurd, even frightening.

Caeiro emerged out of Pessoa's semi-conscious compulsion to experiment and to escape the currents of contemporary literary movements. By creating Caeiro, a forceful, if somewhat over-insistent, representative of yet another programme, anti-interpretation, Pessoa succeeded in renewing and expanding his awarenesses far beyond his expectations; his original intention, after all, was simply to create a pastoral poet.

Pessoa had studied Rosicrucianism, theosophy and other forms of the occult, yet when authentic inspiration came, it was not due to, or like, those esoteric rites, but resembled instead the form of Buddhism which is both positive and practical. This spontaneous shedding of mystical philosophies and simultaneous release on two levels from the ego (the pseudonym eventually suppresses his own fictitious ego) revealed a new and pure plane of Pessoa's personality….

By means of this artless yet affirmative anti-poet, Caeiro, a short-lived but vital member of his coterie, Pessoa acquired the base of an experienced and universal poetic vision. After Caeiro's tenets had been established, the avowedly poetic voices of Campos, Reis and Pessoa himself spoke with greater assurance.

Geoffrey R. Barrow (essay date 1976)

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SOURCE: "The Personal Lyric Disguised: Fernando Pessoa's Mensagem," in Luso-Brasilian Review, Summer, 1976, pp. 90-9.

[In the following excerpt, Barrow examines the dramatic and lyric elements of Mensagem, considered to be Pessoa's most significant work.]

The author of Mensagem was preoccupied with the future of Portugal and conscious of her spiritual and historical past. In a spirit of messianism he associated himself in 1912 with the movement Renascença Portuguesa and wrote an essay concerning "A Nova Poesia Portuguesa Sociològicamente Considerada" for A Águia, the principal organ of this movement. Eight years later, the assassination of Sidonio Paes, the President of Portugal, was the subject of a long ode by the poet, "À Memória do President Rei Sidónio Paes." In this poem the late President is identified with King Sebastian and his return is expected at some future date. It is not, however, the political present which attracts the attention of the poet….

There can be no illusions about the political capacity of Pessoa: he was a poet, and it was as a poet that he expressed himself when he approached even the most concrete subjects.

More perceptive critics of Pessoa do not consider Mensagem to be public poetry, that is, poetry directed at the world of practical politics or poetry in which the poet consciously makes his voice that of his age … [Octavio Paz] implies that the individual poems are linked by a certain principle of presentation yet are not inherently related to one another, and because [he] insists that Mensagem treats history creatively in the manner of the poet. The first observation, however, poses the question of how we should classify Mensagem, for while it is true that the work is a combination of lyric and epic elements, it is no less true that certain parts of the poem are akin to drama.

As those critics who would call Mensagem an epic themselves point out, the subject matter of the poem forms the basis of their generic distinction. The work concerns itself with the history of Portugal, a history with an epic potentiality. Yet Mensagem lacks the continuous narrative usually associated with the epic, maintains a peculiarly personal view of Portuguese history and is as much concerned with what is to come as with the past. Considered in its entirety Mensagem is not an epic poem, although it must be admitted that in certain individual poems there is some attempt to preserve that convention of recitation which is perhaps the distinguishing feature of epic poetry.

In a note upon the poetic technique of the heteronyms, Pessoa examines the distinction between what for him are the two most important generic terms, the lyric and the dramatic. He establishes a gradual progression from the one to the other based upon the increasing distance placed between the poet and his persona. According to Pessoa, the salient feature of dramatic poetry is the objectivity afforded the poet. He fails to make his case clearly, however, because he does not emphasize adequately the distinction between dramatic poetry and drama…..

In this respect the technique of Mensagem is somewhat similar to that of the heteronyms. Both in Mensagem and in the poetry of Caeiro, Reis and Campos, the poet attempts to lend his literary production a certain degree of objectivity. Admittedly, there is hardly any attempt to conceal himself in such poems as "'Screvo meu livro à beira-mâgoa…" but certainly in Part I of Mensagem, and even in the majority of the poems in Part II, Pessoa places a good distance between himself and the persona, or speaker of the poem. If we pursue the comparison between Mensagem and the heteronyms a little further we discover that in certain poems of Mensagem, especially those in As Quinas, the third section of Part I, there is an effort on the part of the poet both to achieve the highest degree of distantiation between himself and his personae and at the same time to express himself with the highest degree of lyrical freedom. Here, as in the poetry of the heteronyms, the poem becomes a mask behind which Pessoa can conceal himself yet through which he can express himself freely.

While it is arguable that with regard to the heteronyms Pessoa completely disassociates himself from the persona of his lyric poems, the persona becomes increasingly identifiable with the poet himself as Mensagem progresses. There is, in effect, a distinctive tone in each part of the work, suggesting that the closer we are to the awaited, prophesied moment, the more intimately lyric Pessoa becomes. The poems based upon the heraldic symbols of the Portuguese shield in Part I, for example, are predominantly explanatory, signpost poems which guide the reader along the prophetic road. The poems in Part II are more descriptive and show the incomplete nature of the maritime conquests of Portugal. The lyric tone of "Prece," however, does anticipate the more emphatically vatic and strongly lyric tone of the poems in Part III. In fact, if we distinguish between explanatory-historic and lyric-prophetic poems in Mensagem we discover that the rather depersonalized, explanatory-historic poem becomes less frequent while the more personal lyric-prophetic poem becomes more so as we approach the end of the work.

In Part I, Pessoa establishes firmly and immediately his criteria for progress. Were he not to do this it is quite possible that the reader would confuse history and poetry, not perceive exactly the message of the work, and not fully appreciate its fictional validity. The explanatory-signpost poem aids the poet although it must be stressed that he avoids sounding didactic and programmatic.

The opening poem of Mensagem, "O dos Castelos," though informing us that the West is where the future lies, is for the most part descriptive, whereas the following poem "O das Quinas" broaches the central preoccupation of Pessoa, progress and its human cost, in a rather sententious tone…..

In Os Castelos, the importance of myth, the need for man to be conscious of his mythic heritage and the need for intervention of an external authority if myth and reality are to be united is explained poetically. Pessoa addresses or discusses historical characters and the tone is aphoristic….

There is, of course, a potential lyricism in the imprecations of several of the poems of Os Castelos and in the five brief autobiographical accounts of As Quinas. Nevertheless, the poem which explains and presents Pessoa's vision of history to his reader predominates in Part I. The poet is declaring the rudimentary assumption upon which his vision is based: progress depends upon a significant amalgam of myth and life.

In Part II Pessoa does not attempt to explain his vision of history but describes a particular set of events: Portuguese expansion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Rather than interpreting these events for his audience, Pessoa assumes they will be assimilated and interpreted according to the principal formulated in Part I. Some indication of how this is carried out emerges when "Epitàfiode B. Dias," "Fernão de Magalães" and "Ascensão de Vasco da Gama" are examined. The death of an important character in the maritime expansion of Portugal is the subject of each of the three poems, but in each it is dealt with in a different manner. The first poem is a brief epitaph which opens with the traditional "Here lies," then identifies the occupant of the grave symbolically as Atlas and concisely extols his maritime achievements. "Fernão de Magalhães" is longer and describes the demonic dance which occurs after the mariner's death. Myth and reality fuse momentarily when he dies and the Titans celebrate the event by dancing. A visual account of a similar fusion which occurs on the death of Vasco da Gama is given in "Ascensão de Vasco da Gama." Here the "Deuses da tormenta e os gigantes da terra" suspend their hostility while the soul of the Argonaut ascends to heaven.

Each of the three poems gives an example of that brief moment of union between myth and reality which signifies progress. Atlas, the Titans and the "Deuses da tormenta e os gigantes da terra" represent myth, whereas Dias, Magalhães and Gama represent reality. The Poems corroborate the conception of progress which was suggested in Part I and, in particular, in "Ulisses," which recalls the legend of the foundation of Lisbon to emphasize the importance of a fruitful union of myth with life.

Of the twelve poems which form Part II, the first nine present and describe Pessoa's vision of the maritime conquests of Portugal. They chronicle events as in "O Infante"… describe the voyages of discovery symbolically as a struggle between opposing forces in "O Mostrengo"; and reveal the paradise given to the mariners in "Horizonte." The tone of these first nine poems is, on occasion, sententious… but Pessoa is far less explanatory or prescriptive, as it were, in Part II than in Part I. Moreover, not only does a more recognizably lyric-prophetic strain appear in the last three poems of Part II but "Prece" anticipates the dominant prophetic tone of the final part. If what we have called the explanatory-historic poem is less apparent in Part II, by Part III it has disappeared. Instead we find a note of urging which through incantation seeks to hasten the promised fulfillment. This part is the prophetic experience toward which the whole work has tended, and Pessoa expresses himself with very little aspiration to despersonalização in such poems as "Screvo meu livro a beira-mágoa.…"

Comparisons between the lyric personae of Mensagem often become identifications, since distinctions between them whether they are historical or contemporary, are not important. The vacuity of this world in comparison with the plenitude which is to come is as tedious for Pessoa as it was for his historical predecessors in similar circumstances. Both bewail their present existence and implore aid. When the poet probes the human core within historical events, chronological differences become unimportant. As Dr. Rickard has recently observed, "Pessoa's heroes personify the spirit of sacrifice and the sense of a spiritual mission to be fulfilled. Though dissatisfaction, not triumph, is their fate, the poet implies that their restless, questing spirit is as necessary in the twentieth century as it ever was" [Selected Poems, 1971]. The tentative nature of human experience will remain unchanged, except for some initiated Portuguese Mariners, until the eventuation of Pessoa's message.

The five historical characters who appear in As Quinas exemplify a blind, meaningless existence. Duty is but an end in itself … in a world in which man is not assured a just reward for his efforts. He can desire only in order to be given, at the caprice of fate, either… In Part II, the grief as well as the grandeur of the Portuguese maritime empire is revealed… While even the hopeful, visionary Part III briefly points to the frustration of the present… This sentiment of the tedious and tentative nature of existence diminishes as Mensagem progresses, while more intense lyric expression is given to appeals for relief and support. In Part I the persona adopts the tone of a suppliant appealing to an intercessor for succour… In Part II these demands attain a more passionate note in "Prece," where the persona beseeches his Lord… This liturgical entreaty, so to speak, achieves its highest lyric expression in Part III. The messianic language of "O Desejado"… echoes the poet's own sacerdotal voice in "Screvo meu libro a beira-mágoa…."

The development of these two strains of lyricism in Mensagem, one displaying impatience and anxiety, the other imploring aid, underlines the prophetic structure of the work. As the envisioned moment approaches, tedium diminishes while imprecation increases. When the ultimate fulfillment is at hand the personae do not lament; they pray that it will come about.

In Part I and Part II Pessoa formulates the premises upon which his prophecy is based and assures us that his message has foundation in historical fact. The explanatory-historic poem predominates here. In Part III the poet foresees an event which because of its visionary, future nature is not, of course, historical. The lyric-prophetic poem predominates. A ratio or progression could therefore be formulated which would indicate that the later the poem, the more likely it is to be lyric and prophetic….

There is little real drama, rather, a chorus and the sketch of an exposition, heroic, struggle, and a postponed dénouement. Pessoa offers no solution to the paradox of immanence, its tedium and absurdity, beyond that of the willed fiction of a purposeful existence revealed, after all, through heraldry, a branch of alchemy. Mensagem captures poignantly the agony of the poet's essential obsession with the mystery of existence.

Alex Severino (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: "Fernando Pessoa's Legacy: The Presença and After," in World Literature Today, Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter, 1979, pp. 5-9.

[Severino examines the effect of the Presença movement in Portugal on Pessoa's enduring reputation, and his contribution to the nationalistic movement.]

To study the extent and character of Fernando Pessoa's legacy, it is necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the publication of his work. Practically unknown at the time of his death, Pessoa (1888-1935) possessed a reputation based solely on Mensagem (Message; 1934), a book of nationalistic verse imbedded in the occult—a little-known facet of this multifaceted poet—as well as on several dozen poems scattered throughout short-lived, inaccessible journals such as Orpheu (1915), Athena (1924-25), Contemporânea (1922-26) and Presença (1927-40).

Nor did Pessoa's known work give the true measure of his legacy. Mensagem was not well received, not even by some of the poet's small band of admirers. They would have preferred that Pessoa introduce himself to the public with a work of a less patriotic nature. The steady collaboration he maintained in these other journals, on the other hand, could not overcome the scandalous behavior of years past, when those "lunatics" from Orpheu with whom he was associated stirred sleepy Lisbon into literary awareness. For years he was known as the poet of Orpheu, dismissed by some for the scandal he and others had caused, hailed by others as the poet most responsible for introducing Modernism into Portugal.

Until the late forties, when the bulk of his work began to be available to the public and to the critics not directly involved with Modernism, Fernando Pessoa was admired and imitated mostly because of the boldness of the technical innovations evident from the poems in Orpheu. We know now that formal experimentation was only one of his many facets, the one he had assigned to "Álvaro de Campos." Among the several other selves Pessoa invented to express his many moods—the heteronyms—Campos represented the Modernist outlook and style. It was left to later generations to discover that there were other important traits in Pessoa's poetry. To the free verse and structural audacity of the Modernist Campos were added the epigrams from the Latinist "Ricardo Reis," well-wrought poems carving contemporary themes in Horatian odes. Juxtaposed to these two poets was the matter-of-fact, almost careless free verse of "Alberto Caeiro," the antipoet, for whom only the exterior world was real. And from this symphony of poets Pessoa himself emerged as conductor, striving toward what none of the others had dared to seek—to apprehend the ineffable world beyond words, the irrational made rational through language, the intensely musical verse akin to song. It is this legacy, the attempt to express the inexpressible through the power and mystery of language, that characterizes Fernando Pessoa's influence on Portuguese poetry today.

In such a broad topic as the study of sixty-three years of Fernando Pessoa's legacy, it would be impossible, within restricted space, to present more than a summarized account of the movements and poets involved. Rather than try to be superficially comprehensive, it seems advisable to concentrate on one particular movement, the Presença, and to study its pioneering role in making known the novelty and excellence of Pessoa's poetry. Moving beyond esthetic affinities, I shall examine those poets from Presença in whose work the Pessoa legacy is most evident.


The first literary movement in Portugal to recognize the importance of Fernando Pessoa was Presença. The name was derived from a journal which in the late twenties congregated a group of young students from the University of Coimbra who wanted to transform the quality of Portuguese literature, bringing it closer to echoing European trends. The journal lasted thirteen years (1927-40). Fifty-six numbers were issued in two different series: fifty-four in the first and two in the second. During those thirteen years Presença defended the literary artifact with unswerving devotion, rescuing Portuguese literature from the clutches of an autocratic government bent on using folksy, easily accessible art as a means of propaganda. A steady struggle was maintained in the pages of the journal to keep literature pure, that is, to make literature an earnest and sincere spiritual activity between the writer and his craft. Furthermore, Presença wanted to keep literature autonomous, free from any correlative purpose, such as being used as a vehicle for exposing sociopolitical ills. In time Presença would be accused of promoting art for art's sake by the proponents of committed literature beginning to be heard in Portugal after 1940.

As they looked for literary vocations as genuine as their own, the Presença group became interested in the poets from Orpheu. Theirs had been an authentic and sincere poetry, and as such it needed to be revived and their authors brought back from semi-oblivion into the Modernist fold. Therefore the group that called itself "the second Modernism" set out to promote the poets from the first Modernism. In one of the journal's first issue José Régio wrote in reference to Pessoa: "For all these advantages, Fernando Pessoa has the makings of a Master and is the richest in outlets of the so-called Modernists" [Presença, 1927]. Spurred by such acclaim, Fernando Pessoa went on to publish some of his best work in Presença.

Presença was founded, edited and directed at first by José Régio, a pseudonym for José Maria dos Reis Pereira (1901-1969), the most gifted writer to have emerged from the group and its principal animator; João Gaspar Simões (b.1903), novelist and foremost critic whose weekly columns appearing in leading newspapers have helped shape Portuguese letters for the past fifty years; and Branquinho da Fonseca (1905-1974), poet and novelist, author of an excellent novel, O barão (The Baron, 1942). An important event occurred in the early stages of Presença's history. Alleging that the journal's prevailing philosophy, as determined by Régio, smothered individual expression, Branquinho da Fonseca broke away from the group, taking with him Adolfo Rocha (better known as Miguel Torga, b. 1907) and Edmundo Bettancourt (1899-1973), leaving Régio and Simões to answer for the journal.

Fernando Pessoa became indirectly involved in the controversy. He was one of the "Masters" who were supposedly guiding Presença toward esthetic absolutism. Miguel Torga told him so in an angry letter written in reference to Pessoa's unfavorable opinion of his book Rampa (1930): "The era of the Masters has already passed," he wrote [Cartas de Fernando Pessoa a João Gaspar Simões, 1957]. As a gesture of allegiance to Régio and Simões—they were later joined by Adolfo Casais Monteiro (1908-1972)—Fernando Pessoa maintained from then on a steady presence in the journal. The presencistas in turn did all they could to make Pessoa's poetic genius known while he was alive and continued to do so even after his death. First they sought his active collaboration. Later, when Presença prospered enough to launch its own book series, the directors offered to publish his work. He declined, suggesting the publication of Mario de Sá-Carneiro's unpublished poems instead, which were in his keeping. Gaspar Simões wrote the first two critical essays on Pessoa to appear in book form—Temas (1929) and O mistério da poesia (1931).

After Fernando Pessoa died, Simões and Luis de Montalvor—the latter had been with him in Orpheu—went through his manuscripts and selected the poems which today make up the first four volumes of the "Complete Works," put out by Ática. Along with Mensagem, already published, these four volumes are the nucleus of Pessoa's poetry. Other volumes of unpublished works have since appeared. Their contents, however, have not revealed any better poems than the ones originally selected by Simões and Montalvor. Unfortunately, Simões's crowning effort on behalf of Pessoa, the monumental and controversial Vida e obra de Fernando Pessoa (1951), fell short of expectations. Some of the conclusions reached are based on psychological probings into the human soul, difficult to assess. Nevertheless, in spite of the impressionistic methods used, Simões's biography is still the-fundamental, most complete study of Fernando Pessoa's life and work available.

Simões looked at Pessoa from the point of view of a critic. Others in the Presença group saw him principally as a poet whose work offered rich possibilities for their own poetic growth. Such was José Régio, at least in the early stages of his poetic career, for after the praise he bestowed on Pessoa in the first three numbers of the journal, he never again wrote a line about him. After that, Régio would always consider Sá-Carneiro the better poet. According to Simões, the reason for the sudden reversal had to do with a meeting, the first between the two poets, or rather between Régio and Campos—elusive, impersonal Campos—who had on that occasion impersonated Pessoa. Hiding behind the mask of Álvaro de Campos, Pessoa answered the young poet's questions evasively, stating during the course of the conversation that he knew little about English literature, having read only two or three English novels. Régio took Pessoa-Campos's strange behavior to be a sign of insincerity and assumed he had been wrong in identifying Pessoa's poetry with his own. The two poets' views on art had collided. For Régio, art was a means of exploring the psyche, of revealing personality, the "I," conscious and subconscious. For Pessoa, art was a means of concealing personality. Art was for him the expression of many masks, of imagined personalities differing from his own, each paradoxically interpreting truth from many points of view.

Pessoa's influence on José Régio's poetry can be traced only to his early work and is evident in "Cântico negro" (Black Canticle), a poem inserted in his first book of poetry, Poemas de deus e do diabo (Poems from God and the Devil, 1925). This celebrated poem, written at a time when Régio was an ardent admirer of what little portion of Pessoa's poetry had appeared in print, reveals certain affinities with "Lisbon Revisited, 1923," published for the first time in Contemporánea in 1923. Joaquim Montezuma de Carvalho points this out in an article entitled '"Cântico negro,' um poema de José Régio," published in the literary supplement of O Estado de São Paulo. In spite of the similarities between the two poems, they differ in tone and style. Pessoa and Régio are, after all, quite different, as are the two movements they superiorly represented—Orpheu and Presença.

Régio's echoing of Pessoa-Campos—for it is the raving, defiant Campos who in the heteronymic family subscribes to "Lisbon Revisited, 1923"—may be detected in the use of free verse and irregular stanzaic form as well as, thematically speaking, in the tone of social defiance and individual affirmation, the assertion of self-reliance common to both poems. In the Campos poem, however, there is the underlying suggestion of a painful existential awareness which points to the futility of all protest. Protest is useless, according to Campos, in the face of the world's opacity. Where the poetic voice in Régio's poem is resolute, in Pessoa's it is, above all, metaphysically weary.

"Come this way!" some tell me with gentle eyes,
holding out their arms, so sure
that it would be good for me to hear them
when they say, "Come this way!"
I eye them with weary eyes
(fatigue and irony are in my eyes)
and fold my arms
and never go that way.

And in Álvaro de Campos:

Don't take my arm!
I don't like you to take my arm. I want to be alone.
I said I am alone!
Oh what a bore, your wanting me to be with people!

Régio is confident of the course to be followed. He goes forth with "songs in his lips." The madness of which he speaks is the madness of the seer, the possessed, ready to pursue a vision with obstinate idealism: "I have my own madness." Although madness is never mentioned in the Campos poem, its imminence is implicit in the widely disparate irregularity of the stanzas—some of one or two lines—and the asymmetry of the verse line, abruptly long and short. Often an exclamation mark ends the incomplete thought, as if to sustain and even repress the catapult of feeling ready to burst forth. In the Campos poem the impending madness is the madness of the despondent, the defeated—a final refuge. Moreover, the poem's overall structure contrasts sharply with Régio's relative uniformity of line and stanza in spite of the free verse. In the Régio poem the subjective voice, the "I," never loses control; it imposes itself on the extrinsic reality, while in Campos the "I" is diminished and almost smothered by the overwhelming presence of the universe.

Pessoa and Régio are similar in their devotion to the prerogatives of art, though different in their way of expressing it. Pessoa explores many aspects of truth through the several personalities he has created, far removed from the empirical self. His aim is, as he has said, relating his method to Shakespeare's, to arrive at sincerity through multiple insincerity. By disappearing as an artistic entity, a self, he introduces conflicting realities created by many selves, each an infinitesimal segment of a universal truth. Rooted in emotions Pessoa himself has felt—he too once returned to Lisbon from South Africa after a long absence—"Lisbon Revisited, 1923," for example, interprets reality from the point of view of Campos. Circumscribed within the thematic and structural confines of the Campos poem, the resulting poetic reality has acquired a new dimension which is only faintly related to whatever sensations Pessoa might have felt. All the poetry written by Fernando Pessoa is characterized by this very same dramatic quality. It is the poetry of the other self; "I fly into another," Pessoa tells Simões in a letter regarding the dramatic quality of his verse (Cartas a João Gaspar Simões)….

Régio, on the other hand, is the poet of the empirical self. His poems are poetic "translations" of what he already carried inside himself when he was born, to evoke Régio's own statement in a famous essay included as a postscript to Poemas de deus e do diabo, beginning with the second edition. Although his declared intention is to refer his personal anguish and anxiety to that of all mankind, José Régio, like Walt Whitman, never quite succeeds in substituting the egotistical "I" for an egoism that would represent the overall human predicament. His most common theme, the myth of the "fallen angel," depicting the man who fell from grace to find the Devil, is pursued with considerable involvement of the self in spite of the intentions to relate to all mankind.

God and the Devil guide me, no one else!
Everyone has a father, everyone has a mother!
But I who have no beginning nor end
Was born of the love between God and the Devil.

Orpheu and Presença are two closely associated literary movements. The latter sprang from the former and identified with it in the full commitment to literature and in the innovative poetic techniques meant to bring to the surface the formerly untapped human subconscious. At the same time they are two very different movements. On one hand is Orpheu, never quite falling into a group pattern, led by three highly individualistic poetic personalities: the enraging, vituperative Almada Negreiros, venting his fury against the Lisbon middle class; or the intellectual, multifaceted Pessoa, hiding behind the many masks; or Sá-Carneiro, himself a sheaf of metaphors, until he becomes one grandiose metaphor, killing himself. On the other hand is Presença, more cohesive, led by Régio and Torga, who reaffirm the hegemony of the indivisible self as they grope torturously with Christ's presence on earth: Régio, in anguish, seeking Christ and finding the Devil; Torga immersing himself in the midst of human suffering. His is a telluric mysticism rooted in the harsh, inhospitable region of his birth, the crags and arid valleys of northern Portugal.

It is regrettable that neither Régio nor Torga perceived the religious elements in Pessoa's poetry—regrettable but not surprising. Pessoan appreciation in those days was confined mostly to the question of the simulated selves, the heteronyms. It did not allow for the serious consideration of the poems written under Pessoa's own name, more specifically, the occult poems reflecting an earnest quest for an Ente Supremo (Superior Being) or for the intermediate superior beings Pessoa alludes to in a famous letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro of 13 January 1935, transcribed in Simões's Vida e obra. Although quite different from Régio's theocentricity, focused on Christ and on Catholicism, Pessoa's religiousness, as portrayed in his poems, is no less sincere than Régio's and its ultimate failure in offering an explanation just as poignant.

"I am basically a religious spirit," he confides to Armando Cortes-Rodrigues in a letter of 19 January 1915, included in Cartas a Armando Cortes-Rodrigues. The abiding quest for religious knowledge led him to the study of esoteric doctrines as expounded by such theosophical organizations as the Rosicrucians, the Knights Templars and the Theosophical Society, founded in 1888 by Madame Blavatsky, whose writings he translated into Portuguese. According to Pessoa, these writings were responsible for the reawakened spirituality he felt around 1915. Like Yeats, another convert to Madame Blavatsky's teachings, Pessoa sought solace for an avidly religious spirit in the principles and teachings of the non-Christian theosophical societies with their promise of semi-mystical thought….

Presença ceased publication in 1940. World events such as the Spanish Civil War and World War II brought about a shift in literary taste which went from the esthetic and confessional to the militant. For almost forty years Pessoa's reputation as a poet became involved in the contention between the militant poets who saw literature, and poetry in particular, as a vehicle for social reform and the craftsmen who believed that the demands of form and structure were to be met in the creation of a poem.

Challenged by the so-called "new realists," who were further alienated by nationalistic Mensagem and its use by the government's propaganda machine, Fernando Pessoa lost favor with the general public and the young. On the other hand, his following increased among the estheticists, who had begun to discover artistic qualities in Pessoa which had been obscured by the Modernist breakthrough he had initiated. Neglected at home by the militant poets, Pessoa's poetry traveled to other lands. Brazil adopted him as its very own, his acclaim there reaching apotheosis. The foreign recognition has helped to solidify Pessoa's reputation at home, which today knows no bounds.

For this, Presença was greatly responsible. The critical excellence and the artistic integrity of such writers as José Régio, João Gaspar Simões, Adolfo Casais Monteiro, Carlos Queiroz and others helped to rescue Pessoa from oblivion while contributing in no small measure to the importance of his legacy in contemporary Portuguese poetry.

Ronald W. Sousa (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: "The Structure of Pessoa's Mensagem," in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. LIX, No. 1, January 1982, pp. 58-66.

[Sousa analyzes the structure of Mensagem, and explores its relation to the occult.]

Over the past thirty-or-so years, criticism has raised a genre problematic about Mensagem, the one book of Portuguese poetry that Fernando Pessoa published in his lifetime. The basic question is: 'Is it historical, narrative, more-or-less "epic" poetry, or personal, "lyric" poetry?' The lines of the debate—recognized as such or not by the various participating critics—can be expressed in the following formulations: 'Is the book a recounting of the Portuguese past in more-or-less discrete, objectively-presented units that play a rôle akin to that of narrative episodes, or does the book's structure revolve about a subjective principle, as in "lyric"?' Allied to that question is one of readership: 'Should the reader—the general reader of poetry, not the academic critic—properly approach Mensagem seeking to reconstruct a narratively-presented objective world or attempting the 'sympathetic', one-to-one reading of a "lyric" fabric?' It should be pointed out that the taking-up of either basic position in the controversy involves a major presupposition: that the book—comprising as it does forty-four short poems written and revised over a twenty-one-year span—constitutes a coherent poetic utterance, for practical purposes a single, though composite, poem rather than an organized collection of independent poems.

It is not my present purpose to enter the controversy. I intend instead to show first that the book (which I too take to constitute a unitary poetic movement) embodies a much more precise structure and that the individual poems within it are susceptible of much more specific readings than allowed in the concepts of reading in which the various genre arguments are grounded and, secondly, that such specificity in reading leads to comprehension of the fact that Mensagem is generically anomalous, a situation rendering generic categorization futile.

Since a detailed reading of the poems is easier once the structure in which they are set is clear, and since thorough-going reading will call into question further issues—such as the establishing of a completely reliable text—I shall concentrate my argument here on substantiation of the view that the book has a very precise structure, adducing passages only to support and illustrate that argument.

One additional observation constitutes a necessary preliminary to this study. My approach is grounded in a familiarity with many works that Pessoa himself had read—especially the many works dealing with occultism—and it is grounded as well in the conviction that the material contained in those works influenced in very specific ways the conception of Mensagem. The notion of influence from occultist sources is universally accepted—but it is viewed in general terms only; no one has dealt with what the origins of the occultist material are, what is revealed by examination of the context in which such material originally occurs, or what those revelations may have to say about overall meaning-making in Mensagem. And the fact that some of the language of Mensagem derives verbatim from occultist sources has not been pointed out.

The first utterance of the work—after the title, the implications of which will be touched on at the end of this examination—is the Latin epigraph Benedictus Dominus Deus noster qui dedit nobis signum. The source is a book Pessoa had read entitled The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, by Arthur Edward Waite. The significant passage from that title reads as follows:

Benedictus Dominus Deus noster qui dedit nobis signum. For those who know or can discover the authorized battery of the Rite, it may happen that the door will open and that he by whom they are admitted will be Christian Rosy Cross, who after witnessing the Hermetic marriage left the Palace of the King, expecting that next day he should be Door Keeper. Introitus Apertus est ad Occlusum Regis Palatium. The ways indeed are many but the Gate is one. Valete, Fratres. [The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, London, 1925]

Recourse to this passage makes it quite clear that Pessoa begins his book with Rosicrucian language. And he ends it in a similar manner, for in fact the last words of Mensagem are precisely Valete, Fratres. It seems, in fact, that he takes the two formulae as respectively a Rosicrucian salutation and valediction, the former pointing to an established revelatory authority and the latter indicating that an explanation of the nature of that authority has been set forth in the symbols following the salutation—in this case, in Wake's own parabolic linguistic symbolism. One should not, in my view, read the specific original implications of language such as this into Pessoa's poetry. Indeed, the incorporation of such language into Mensagem provides an exemplary case of the need for caution in reading. Pessoa's beginning and ending of the work with Rosicrucian formulae has the primary function of suggesting that there is a ritual aspect to the entire book, that the intervening poems comprise a series of signs that suggest revelation and/or initiation in one of many possible ways. We may not, just because of the presence of that beginning and end, read Rosicrucian tenets en bloc into the poem.

The poems that come between the salutation and the valediction are divided into three sections, the first entitled "Brasão", the second "Mar Portuguez", the third "O Encoberto". Each section has its own Latin epigraph. The approximate significance of the tripartite division can be deduced by recourse to analysis of a similar division in several of the systems with which Pessoa came into contact in his readings in esoterica.

The Freemasonic initiatory scale is composed of three steps, beginning with "Apprentice" and ending with "Master". The individual who reaches the third step continues upward in a personal progress through various symbolic levels. A similar structure is to be found in Theosophy, another area intowhich Pessoa delved in some depth. In Madame Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence, [Peking 1927] which Pessoa translated into Portuguese, three-staged initiatory progress is a recurring theme. In one fragment of that work, each step is called a "Hall", and three "Halls" the first being terrestrial existence characterized by ignorance, the second apprenticeship or learning, and the third spiritual consciousness characterized by wisdom—lead to open-ended ascent into ever-greater degrees of self-control and awareness.

Those systems, seen in general terms, involve the following progression: first, the initiate's surrender to the master to learn his secrets, secondly, his battle for control of himself, thirdly, incipient success in that battle. The third step also includes continuous individual (sometimes called "hidden") progress in the psychic-spiritual realm.

Another tripartite scheme that appears in the readings is the cycle of life-death-rebirth. A number of Freemasonic works treat that pattern. The basic movement of this tripartite scheme involves loss of the secret of life and resulting state of spiritual benightedness, in which, according to some conceptions, glimpses of the lost truth are occasionally perceived. After a time, spiritual rebirth is achieved—through one of a number of routes. In many exegeses death is conceived as necessary to the reaching of the higher spiritual state betokened in rebirth. The entire process may represent a ritual necessarily—and sometimes (as, for example, in some conceptualizations of the process of debasement in alchemy) intentionally—embarked upon in order to achieve spiritual progress.

The three-level initiatory hierarchy and the death-rebirth cycle are conceptually dissimilar in several areas. Especially problematic is the correlation between the second level of initiatory progress and the state of spiritual death. It should be observed, however, that a hidden postulate of many practitioners of the occult in the era was the reconcilability of all such differences into one universally-true system; indeed, such unification is the precise aim of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Theosophy. For such reasons, many of the exegetes that Pessoa read saw no major inconsistencies between systems. That fact is important to an appreciation of the amalgam of disparate references that Pessoa includes in Mensagem.

A third similar, but not conceptually identical, pattern taken from esoterica makes a simple, unified interpretation of the implications of Mensagem's structure even more difficult. It is the concept of threefold interpretation, as set forth by Franz Hartmann in Magic, White and Black, another title in Pessoa's collection. Briefly stated, the concept involved is that every phenomenon can be understood on three levels, the specific one at a given moment depending upon the degree of insight of the perceiver. The three levels on which reality exists are, in Hartmann's terms, the exoteric, seen by those concentrating on the material world, the esoteric, seen by those concentrating on the soul or the emotions, and the spiritual, which involves perceptual union of the types of interpretation characteristic of the first two levels….

Before I apply these concepts to Mensagem, there is one further preliminary matter to be dealt with: the question of the status of such notions in Pessoa's work. The problem is a multifaceted one that extends well beyond just the matter of incorporation of material from occultist systems into literary texts. Limited to that sphere, however, it can be approached as follows: there is in Pessoa a tension between a wish to believe in the truth of such systems and a sense that he is drawing upon them merely as structuring elements for his work. Citations can be adduced from Pessoa to illustrate either alternative and, as well—as is usual with this complex intellect—an awareness precisely of the tension between the two. That awareness is often conceptualized in the notion that truth is by nature an aesthetically-created category, or myth, that has the merely functional value of mobilizing human action. (When such 'aesthetic' myth-making is literary, an additional postulate involving the conviction that language has, in one of several ways, great direct effects on reality must also be assumed.) Thus occultist tenets, while untrue in themselves, can become functionally true in the myth-making action that they exert on the world through such literature as Pessoa's poetry. Mensagem is in many respects his most extensive and complex realization of such myth-making.

Much as does the passage reproduced from Quinto Império, Mensagem involves the fusion of various tripartite systems and the application of the series so produced to interpretation of Portuguese history. The Latin epigraphs indicate the nature of each section. The epigraph to "Brasão" is Bellum Sine Bello. The nineteen "Brasão" poems constitute an emblematic fabric that reconstructs the Portuguese coat of arms by ascribing to poetic profiles of prominent figures from the era of Portuguese glory—King John I, Nun'Álvares Pereira, Prince Henry, etc.—status as corresponding devices in that coat of arms (King John corresponds to the seventh castle of the coat of arms, Pereira to the crown atop it, etc.). Thus physical existence is focussed upon in "Brasão"—the presence of historical figures and of the visualizable emblem they figuratively incarnate. Those two "physical existences" combine to suggest the Portuguese past also made "physical". The emphasis on the physical corresponds to the first level of the various initiatory hierarchies: to life before death, to concentration on the material world in interpreting phenomena, to the first realization of a prophecy, etc. And Bellum Sine Bello denotes struggle on a personal-psychological level within the historical figures referred to in the poems. To be sure, there are hints of another, less tangible ethical or spiritual force at work in their lives that they do not fully comprehend. There are as well treatments in the first two poems—which, significantly, correspond to the heraldic fields upon which the other poems/devices "rest"—of the themes of national destiny (poem 1) and of the necessary relevance to the Portuguese experience of the life-death-rebirth cycle (poem 2). And there is treatment in the third poem, which corresponds to Ulysses—a mythical figure in relation to Portuguese history—, of the theme of the animating power of myth. All three of these themes will be taken up in less "tangible" ways in the second and third sections of the book.

The epigraph to "Mar Portuguez", Possessio maris, has with respect to both the three-step structure and the themes of the poems that it contains a relationship similar to that manifested in "Brasão". "Maris" is the key word; as is amply demonstrated in the poems of this section, the 'sea' is both an external and, simultaneously, an internal realm to be conquered, and conquest involves simultaneous overcoming of both. Further, the sea is difficult to "possess". The vicissitudes of Portugal's historical effort towards permanent maritime empire are constantly shown in reflection upon both the external and the internal realms. Finally, that effort toward empire ends in failure. The emphasis in these poems falls on mental qualities and processes and on attitudes toward the historical undertaking rather than on the biographical entities involved. "Mar Portuguez" thus corresponds to the second stage of the initiatory hierarchy, in which the initiate separates from the master and struggles toward self-control that will lead him upward (a stage, incidentally, often symbolized in occultist writings by the attempted crossing of a river or other body of water). It also corresponds to the death before, and perhaps necessary to, rebirth (indeed such is hinted thematically in the last two poems of thesection). It corresponds too to interpretive concentration on matters of the emotions, of the soul. It suggests the second realization of a prophecy.

The epigraph of "O Encoberto" is Pax in Excelsis. The section is divided into three subsections, which perhaps betoken continually higher levels (excelsi?) of initiatory progress. "O Encoberto", translatable as "The Hidden One", obviously has reference not only to King Sebastian lost but also to the third, "hidden" initiatory level. The poems of the section deal with patterns in Portuguese history, with prophecy, and with Sebastianism, making of national history a series of symbols that suggest a psychic realm and ritual framework in which Portugal can be reborn. That orientation can be glimpsed, through contrast of the Sebastian poem of "Brasão" (poem No. 15) with that of "O Encoberto" (poem No. 32). In the former the biographical Sebastian proclaims that his reckless, potentially creative daring will remain after his physical death, for it in fact is what characterizes mankind. In the later poem, he speaks of his sense that his life has a place in destiny, that it is as a symbol—of a creativity that is not merely human but, because of the degree to which he and his nation epitomize it, typically Portuguese—that he will return to his country….

The section also includes a series of three poems entitled "Avisos", or prophets of Portuguese rebirth, each presumably, according to the notions of threefold interpretation and three realizations of a prophecy, seeing the nature of rebirth more nearly completely than his predecessor. In short, the poems of "O Encoberto" express, in several ways, the attainment of wisdom, the reaching of the totalizing symbolic level of interpretation of existence—and specifically of national history—the rebirth of a nation, the third realization of a prophecy.

That body of poetry, then, placed as it is between the Rosicrucian salutation and valediction, is presented as at the very least the appropriation of occultist elements toward the forging of a highly intricate poetic utterance and, more likely, as the serio-fanciful symbolic exposition—or perhaps inculcation—of a myth (that is, a functional truth) of some validity. There is, then, about Mensagem the air of a document that proposes action in the world. In fact, in the final poem of the book, after the poetic voice has gone through a process of analysing the state of the Portuguese national psyche, the last words (immediately before "Valete, Fratres"), "O Portugal, hoje és nevoeiro … / É a Hora!", constitute a final admonition emphasizing a sense that the book has shown or taught something new to be put into effect.

What, exactly? Through what agency? Not all such questions can be fully explored here. Some provisional answers can be indicated, however, through further analysis—now of the referential system embodied in the Mensagem poems. That there is a foreground figure in some of the poems of Mensagem is undeniable. Some of the poems—Numbers 3-10, 16-20, 24, 27-28, 34, 37-38—include a foreground speaker, or persona, who addresses or describes the subjects of the poems, occasionally referring to the Portuguese nationality that he has in common with them. It is clearly indicated in the poems that he is looking back through the Portuguese past. The speaker is, in fact, a kind of epic voyager—one who journeys through the various ages of Portuguese history, seeking by means of his journey to learn about forces at work in his nation. These poems thus involve the present in confrontation with the past and set forth a comparison of the two eras. Most of the rest of the poems of the book—Numbers 1-2, 21, 23, 25-26, 29-31, 33, 35-36, 40-44—should probably be read as the speaker's meditations on the nature of the world and of Portugal's place in it, or his mythologizing of aspects either of his world view or of Portuguese history. The key differences between this group of poems and the previous group are differences of subject-matter and of approach; the speaker's position remains the same in all thirty-six poems.

When, in those poems, the speaker refers to himself—as he often does—it is, except in the one instance of poem 30, always as nós, Nós in the context of these poems obviously means "we, the present-day Portuguese". Is the speaker then to be regarded as present-day Portugal in the act of introspection? The content of poem 30, however, supported by evidence from a thirty-seventh poem, refutes any theory that nós has only that collective antecedent. In poem 30, "A Ultima Nau", and in that thirty-seventh poem, the untitled eighth poem of "O Encoberto" (poem 39), the speaker is singular and clearly Fernando Pessoa. (Poem 39 is the third of the three poems dealing with prophets of Portuguese rebirth. Pessoa has, then, thematized himself as the third, and presumably definitive, recurrence in a prophetic line. And the book that, in the poem, he says he is writing is surely Mensagem, the very work we read.) There is, then, a specific 'I' somewhere amid the nós. In the light of that factor, nós may be seen as 'I and the other present-day Portuguese', the epic voyager would then presumably be Fernando Pessoa acting as a surrogate for all his countrymen in his examination of the national past. The nature of the framework in which the Mensagem poems are set, however, suggests that even that interpretation is incompletely descriptive of the full meaning of nós, that that interpretation commingles in nós with another, more exact antecedent: "you, my presentday Portuguese reader(s) and I".

We must, then, relocate our notion of the focus of perception in the book. It is not merely each historical figure profiled in "Brasão" who concentrates primarily on worldly matters but also the personified poet/reader(s) who are examining these figures. The personified poet/reader(s) then proceed, in their journey, to higher, more complex perceptual outlooks upon experience and history in the second and third sections, as though in each section the same material were being seen at a different perceptual level. Awareness of that process of step-by-step relocation of the focus of perception permits a consistent reading of the whole book, since many of the poems of "O Encoberto" are in fact highly abstract.

The nature of the relationship between the two elements within nós is hinted at in the title Mensagem, for the title too has its occultist antecedents—in Theosophy. There it refers to the concept of a divine messenger—a teacher or prophet—and his/her giving of a message to the world and thus changing of the course of civilization. The Theosophical exposition of that notion evidences the usual Theosophical tendency toward syncretism, for it sees commonality in the Master-Initiate and Guru-Neophyte relationships found in other occult systems. Such an amalgamation seems to characterize as well Pessoa's use of the concept in the structuring of Mensagem. In the book, he is the Master, or Guru, his reader(s) the Initiate(s), or Neophyte(s). At the same time, a large scope—in this case national rather than worldwide—is hinted at, as in Theosophy. (João Gaspar Simões's claim that Pessoa felt that Mensagem would exercise a formative influence on the Portuguese psyche at a time when that psyche was undergoing a crucial remodelling [Vida e Obra,], if true, would confirm that interpretation.)

Understanding of the nature of the initiation presumably undergone by the reader(s) involves examination of the relationship between such structural features as I analyse here and the actual themes of the poems, taken in order. Suffice it for present purposes to say that, in theory, the reader is given the material necessary to proper understanding of the mysteries of his nation and himself; he has, then, been taken by the Master Fernando Pessoa from rank neophyte to potential frater—through the language and structure of the book that he is reading. The final words of the last poem, "E a Hora", then, tell him that he is now made able to understand the deepest meaning of, and to act in concert with, national historical forces. In fact, those words conclude a summarizing process that draws primarily on the concept of death and rebirth found in magic, alchemy, and other esoteric systems that Pessoa knew….

The lines draw on the fog imagery developed through the book as a symbol of loss and confusion—in concert with the stock image of the fog that, in traditional Sebastianism, is supposed to part to reveal the returned King. The last two lines, then, imply rebirth. This seemingly inconsistent situation is explained if one takes into account that Pessoa is drawing on the concept that when the low point of degradation or debasement is reached, rebirth is reached as well. What he is saying to his reader is in fact that the proper depths of national disarray, or 'fog'—the social confusion of late-1920s and early-1930s Portugal—have been reached, and that the reader(s) must comprehend that fact in the manner in which Pessoa explains it through Mensagem and see it within the dynamics of Portuguese history set forth according to the logic of the book. The reader(s), having been so initiated, will then know how to react—and Portugal will have been reborn. (The degree of reality that Pessoa ascribed to that literarily-proclaimed 'rebirth' is questionable. Like many of his other pronouncements, it treads the line between actual belief and appropriation for use in the process of making poetry.)

What, then, of the genre problematic? There is, to be sure, a sort of 'narrative' (and, in 'Brasão', loosely chronological) arrangement of 'events'. The relationship between those 'events' is, however, provided primarily by the trajectory of the Master/Initiate(s) through them rather than by relationships between the 'events' themselves. Indeed, the structuring principle of the book presupposes that trajectory. Is this narrative, 'epic' poetry? Conversely, while something akin to the stereotyped subjective, 'lyric' reception is expected of the reader—i.e., he/she is expected to penetrate into, and understand, an intensive view of experience—, that understanding is to be derived from the coordination of a series of 'events', or units, rather than from a merely thematic interpretation of poetic content.

In sum, this short book, because of the nature of its structure as outlined above, partakes in different ways of each genre, while thoroughly avoiding facile categorization into either.

Leland Guyer (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3383

SOURCE: "Fernando Pessoa and the Cubist Perspective," in Hispania, Vol. 70, No. 1, March 1987, pp. 73-8.

[In this excerpt, Guyer relates Pessoa's work and poetic priorities to those of the Cubist aesthetic movement]

The nineteenth century in the mainstream of Western civilization was unquestionably one of those periods marked to a great degree by an enthusiastic dedication to a vision. The vision was one of order, of progress, and of the subjugation of nature to humanity's technical genius. This self-assured interpretation of one's ability to know and dominate the environment is reflected in that century's artistic interpretation of the world.

Followers of this Positivistic thought reacted with some conviction. Their reaction was a rejection of the pre-eminence of reason, order and measure. In its place, artists often allied themselves with reason's negative image. Some saw this anti-Positivistic reaction, this revaluation of the mysterious and the unknown, as an unwisely retrogressive leap to a so-called "escapism" identified with an earlier time. Perspective, form, color, sound and reason had seemed well defined and in no particular need of revision.

Others viewed the reaction not as retrogressive but as profoundly progressive. The techniques of the artist, the writer, the scientist and the social scientist were placed on trial and found lacking in their vision. They seemed to ignore what was below the surface. Among numerous responses, a renewed interest in the occult developed. Rosicrucianism flourished. Theosophy was invented. And probably most important, modern psychiatry appeared with its investigations of that slippery substance, the unconscious.

The artistic products of this anti-Positivistic reaction are well-known. Impressionism, Symbolism, Expressionism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Cubism and any number of other revolutionary "isms" have flourished in the last hundred years or so. Of these, one of the more perplexing and vexatious tendencies in twentieth-century art history has been Cubism. Similarly perplexing and vexatious has been the unusual work of a modern Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa. Both Cubism and the poetry of Pessoa have been criticized as insincerely conceived creations intended primarily to shock the bourgeoisie, but these arguments have faded in the wake of decades of overwhelming acceptance. It is not my intent to offer yet another value judgment of these pivotal creations but to examine the relationship of the Cubist notion of perspective and the literary creation of Fernando Pessoa.

The term Cubism has been meticulously defined and applied. The term has also been loosely defined so that it may apply to a wide range of work that, by general consensus, has been regarded as Cubist. Gerald Kamber has provided a concise and generally applicable definition of Cubism as it may relate to art and literature. In the primary phase of Cubist technique he discerns "(1) a pulling to pieces of the object; (2) a rebuilding of the pieces into an independent composition; (3) a placing together of objects (or parts of objects) from an unrestricted range of observations; (4) a shifting of emphasis from the 'reality' of the objects to the 'reality' of the aesthetic surface".

In rejecting traditional perspective (among other sacred legacies) the Cubists found they could rearrange the object of their attention in such a way that two eyes might appear on one side of the head, or in such a way that the head might appear square-shaped, as if opened up and seen from multiple perspectives simultaneously. The image might be seen in much the same way that we see a radically deforming Mercator projection of the Earth in which the polar regions are represented far out of proportion to the equatorial regions. A viewer of any known object is aware that there is "more than meets the eye." To try to express what we know exists, free from the limited perspective and scope of the static camera eye, is to attempt to gain a fuller view of reality, deformed as it may appear to one who is accustomed to a limited perspective. In time this fundamental ideal of Cubism often either became somewhat hidden or entirely lost in much of what we now call Cubist works, but the shift of emphasis on the object to emphasis on the idea of the object persisted.

Where the Cubist painters rearranged the appearance of their objects and ignored traditional rules of imitative art, the Cubist poets did so also. With the literary Cubists, images became disjointed, syntax became fragmented and reorganized, perspective became radically altered, and atmosphere generally became that of a vague and uncertain mindscape, indulging itself in the apparently random trajectories of the unconscious.

Fernando Pessoa, although relegated to what often is considered the intellectual and artistic hinterland of Europe, was very much a product of the same times that spawned such better-known Cubist poets as Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob. He never made the artist's nearly obligatory pilgrimage to Paris, but several of his closest friends did reside in Paris and elsewhere abroad. Through this extremely wide range of acquaintances and readings Pessoa became thoroughly familiar with all the major literary movements of ancient and modern Western tradition. His correspondence with other Portuguese writers and his literary criticism and theorizing make it abundantly clear that Pessoa was well aware of contemporary thought and literary fashion.

In his works Pessoa left us one of the major (and generally unrecognized) statements on Cubist poetics. It is so Cubist in its effect that one wonders why it has not been classified as such before. This oversight is probably due to the restricted focus we have had in the examination of Cubism and of Pessoa's work as a whole….

Many modern poets from Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rilke, Yeats, Eliot, Antonio Machado and others assume multiple poetic personae to varying degrees….

It is probably Fernando Pessoa who exploited this fragmentation of the empirical self into multiple poetic personae more than anyone else. The major lyric poetry and prose of Pessoa are attributed to four names: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos and his own given name, Fernando Pessoa. Writing under a different name, an author is normally said to be using a pseudonym. In contrast to the rather common convention of using pseudonyms is the less common phenomenon of using what Pessoa called heteronyms. These names that he signed to his works are not just names: they represent distinct identities who created poetry and prose from differing points of view. The poetry that the author signed as Fernando Pessoa normally is referred to as his orthonymic poetry.

Although it seems that Pessoa has a neverendingly expanding universe of poetic personae, complete with detailed biographies, one may approach his poetry with an eye toward economy and relative completeness if one focuses just on the above named personae. Briefly, one may characterize these voices in the following way: the poetry of the orthonymic Fernando Pessoa normally possesses a measured, regular form and appreciation of the musicality of verse. It takes on intellectual issues, and it is marked by concern with dreams, the imagination and mystery. Campos's poetry generally reflects a freer form and places greater emphasis on the physical sensations of the surrounding world. Caeiro's poetry also reveals an emphasis on the sensations. It reflects the belief that the only reality that something may possess is that which is patently visible. His attitude of contentment contrasts with Pessoa and Campos's pervasive sense of anguish. Also contrasting in this respect, to a certain extent, is the poetry of Ricardo Reis. A persona writing with classical forms, themes and imagery, Reis finds his greatest burden to be the recognition of human mortality but finds solace applying the carpe diem principle to his life.

Some of the most complex personae one may find in poetry are of the orthonymic Pessoa himself. This persona's poetry actually represents a wide spectrum of individual personae whose multi-faceted natures can be discerned with relative ease. Principally a poet, the orthonymic persona of Fernando Pessoa was also a literary theorist who described and analyzed periods and styles of artistic activity. He even invented and wrote extensively on several styles of poetry he believed would revolutionize Portuguese, if not all of European, poetry. Among the "isms" he launched and promoted were Paulismo, Sensacionismo and Interseccionismo. And it is Interseccionismo that will serve to demonstrate Pessoa's most evident, but not entirely complete, link with literary Cubism.

An approach to a new vision of reality, whose inception interestingly coincided with the appearance of Pessoa's heteronyms in 1914, his Interseccionismo is best represented by Pessoa's poem "Chuva Oblíqua." Here the reader finds an accretion of shifting, intersecting, fluid planes of time and space. Here time is present and past, and mindscapes metamorphose according to the whims of the unfettered flow of apparently unconscious forces…. The whole poem is marked by a similar fragmentation of "traditional" linear description. The reader is transported to a dizzying world of temporal, spatial, sensorial, intellectual and oneiric sequences dovetailing into one another, providing a constantly shifting perspective and scene.

One might argue that this poem is truly representative of Pessoa's invented Interseccionismo and not in the Cubist mode at all, but as we know, Cubism is more of an approach to reality than a fixed set of guidelines designed to generate clones of an original. "Chuva Oblíqua" does conform to the general thrust of Cubism as do the works of such diverse artists as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. This approach to poetry provided Pessoa only a temporary source of fascination. He never lost interest in the concept expressed by "Chuva Oblíqua," but he found another approach to its further realization.

A wider vision of his multi-perspective work can be found in his orthonymic poetry alone. As just demonstrated, Pessoa conducted an experiment with a traditional approach to literary Cubism. And if we accept the assertion that a principal feature of Cubism is the reorganization of perspective, we can see that Pessoa found other ways less traditional to articulate the concerns that gave rise to the Cubist idea.

Fernando Pessoa writing in his own name reflects a complex of world views that rarely, if ever, finds a host in one author. Besides the "isms" that Pessoa invented and briefly developed, which represent the kind of experimentation one might be inclined to ascribe to any young poet's evolving tastes, Pessoa signed his own name to poems reflecting radically different and concurrent perspectives on his surroundings. Pessoa, as many others before and after him, looked to the occult for inspirationand illumination. Alchemy, astrology and magic find a persistent articulation in Pessoa's work. He also wrote from the more socially acceptable point of view of the Rosicrucians and Theosophists. There was a side of Pessoa that conceived simple, popular verse. And there was another that wrote verse in French. The only full-length book of poetry in Portuguese that he published in his lifetime was an unabashedly and messianically nationalistic tribute to Portugal and the Portuguese—Mensagem. On the other hand, Pessoa was well aware of the precarious existence of Europe and the rest of the world in view of the awesome specter of a second World War and wrote some of the most profoundly felt anti-war poems ever to be written in Portuguese. But there is another, very different persona (or personae, one might argue) to whom one must pay some attention in order to learn of the complexity of the orthonymic Pessoa's amazingly faceted work. This is the poetry that Pessoa wrote in English.

Although he was born in Lisbon, he spent much of his youth in South Africa where he attended high school and excelled in a number of subjects, most notably English. The influence of this experience remained with the poet. Indeed, some believe that English remained Pessoa's first language until he died, but this is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. What is clear, however, is that he continued to read, write and speak in English until his death.

In 1918 he published a short book of English poetry entitled 35 Sonnets. This series of poems reflects many of the concerns that can be discerned in his other verse. It was written in a style that London and Glasgow book reviewers found notable more for its faithful reproduction of Elizabethan English than for its poetic qualities. Not totally devoid of such anachronistic language is a pair of long English poems by Pessoa which give clear evidence of warring personae within the orthonymic Pessoa. I refer specifically to his tribute to human sexuality in his poems "Epithalamium" and "Antinous." Though Pessoa's biography gives no evidence that he had any practical knowledge of the subject, the urge to write of human sexuality was certainly there. What resulted are two modern classics of Portuguese soft-core pornography—"Epithalamium," a celebration of heterosexual love and "Antinous," a celebration of homosexual love. One poem certainly seems to be a response to the other—two views of love from radically different perspectives.

If one considers the orthonymic Pessoa as one persona, he is a very round character. In the end, though, one is likely to find more satisfaction by considering his poetry to be a collection of rather flat personae, much like the representation of structural planes in some Cubist paintings and sculptures.

Earlier I referred to the heteronymic side of Pessoa's poetry, represented by the personae Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Alvaro de Campos. With the exception of the last heteronym, these personae are also flat articulations of ideas, although they too possess unquestionably high poetic value.

Alberto Caeiro is the seminal heteronym, the one from whom all the other major heteronyms were said to have found inspiration. He is also one of the least durable personae. (Pessoa allowed him to die of natural causes at a very early age.) He is said to have been the impetus for Campos's Sensacionista poems in that for Caeiro only that which could be sensed had any truth. Of Caeiro, Pessoa wrote:

He sees things with the eyes only, not with the mind. He does not let any thoughts arise when he looks at a flower. Far from seeing sermons in stone, he never even lets himself conceive a stone as beginning a sermon. The only sermon a stone contains for him is that it has nothing at all to tell him [Páginas Intimas e de Auto-lnterpretaçáo].

For Caeiro metaphysics is the antithesis of his approach to life…. Existence, in other words, precedes essence.

Another two-dimensional character is Ricardo Reis. Although possessing a rather interesting biography, his interpretation of the world is surprisingly limited. His response to his supposed seminal master, Caeiro, is deceiving. Reis is a modern pagan who urges one to seize the day and accept fate with tranquility. Where Caeiro's total disregard for the intellect stands opposed to the orthonymic Pessoa's persistent conflict between the intellect and the senses, Ricardo Reis, a "disciple" of Caeiro, reflects Caeiro's suspicion of the intellect but does so from a different perspective….

This persona pleads that he and Lídia abandon the daily toil and, as the flowers whose short life should serve as an example to them, take what advantage their own short life offers. The natural backdrop suggests Caeiro, but the gardens and the sun are of Adonis and Apollo. The rigid order of his pagan cosmos is as present as the order of his poetry. His appeals are for the future. He has studied Caeiro, but he lacks Caeiro's sense of being present in the world. Although he suggests that he and Lídia seek another life inscientes, unthinkingly, the tight syllabification and extremely wrought hyperbaton do anything but suggest the natural ease and flow of Caeiro's poems. Despite what Reis would wish, his intellect, and not Caeiro, is his master.

Said to be another disciple of Alberto Caeiro, Pessoa's third major heteronym, Alvaro de Campos, presents a fuller, rounder, less static character. He is a persona subject to the oscillations of a manic-depressive evolution. His character is perhaps the most believable of the personae already described, but his work is not less a part of the pattern. Explaining these heteronyms' links to one another in the face of Campos's ideal of Sensationism, Pessoa signals a fundamental word:

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 Alvaro de Campos things must simply be felt (Páginas Intimas e de Auto-lnterpretaçáo).

But, as already mentioned, Campos exhibits a clear evolution ranging between the depressive and the manic. In his earliest poem, "Opiário" (said to be expressive of Campos's style before he fell under the influence of Caeiro), his opiated state accompanies him to the brink of despair and launches him on a path of intellectual speculation that would have shocked his "master" Caeiro.

After Campos found his spiritual guru he embarked wholeheartedly on the development of what he called his Sensationist phase. He made some effort to be original, but his links with Italian Futurism, often considered a derivative of Cubism in literature, painting and sculpture, are obvious. In this Futurist/Sensationist phase, with a fury of alternately passionate invective and fervent glorification, he sings exultant praise of the present age. As a representative work of this phase, "Ode Marítima" opens with the persona before a peaceful harbor scene. But in the scores of pages which follow, in characteristic Futurist/Sensationist fervor, he slips in and out of the present time and space, relives other incarnations, wails alternately in English and Portuguese, and generally finds himself to be helpless before the avalanche of vision rising in his mind. As the long poem ends, a sense of order is regained, but the effect of fragmentation and disjointedness lingers in the reader's memory.

Depression sets into Campos's persona as his poetic work unfolds, however, and his major later poems reflect an existentially anguished search for meaning behind appearances, such as in his "Tabacaria." This kind of mystery, of course, has no place in Caeiro's universe.

Apollinaire, in his The Cubist Painters (1913), noted the limitations of Euclidean geometry in the twentieth century. Beyond the three dimensions that such geometry recognized, he sensed that there was a fourth, the "dimension of the infinite, … which endows objects with plasticity". Alvaro de Campos also recognized the pervasive influence of non-Euclidean geometry in his "Apontamentos para uma Estética Náo-Aristotélica" (1924-25). Although he is at least as vague as Apollinaire on this matter, it is clear that the two Cubist poet/theoreticians were aware of similar ideas and forces in the air and of the need to find new ways to perceive reality.

Pessoa did write what we normally call Cubist poetry in the Intersectionist phase of his orthonymic poetry. Cubist poetics are also clearly to be seen in the Futurist/Sensationist phase in the poetry of the heteronymic Alvaro de Campos. But where we find the enduring commitment to the notion of the Cubist perspective is in the work of Fernando Pessoa considered as a whole.

Wylie Sypher also could have been referring to Pessoa's personae when he described the Cubist technique in which

things exist in multiple relations to each other and change their appearance according to the point of view from which we see them—and we now realize that we can see them from innumerable points of view [From Rococo to Cubism in Art and Literature, 1960].

Pessoa's intersecting, fragmented, kaleidoscopic, oneiric, multi-faceted images of his early Cubist attempts were dwarfed by the scope of his montage of poetic personae. As the Cubist planes on a canvas, these personae are relatively flat, and where it seems they are not, they are actually the sum of another montage of individual flat poetic personae. The early attempts at Cubist poems merely provided a few tentative models for the macrostructure of the author's whole work.

One doesn't know which persona really speaks for Pessoa, nor does it matter. Most probably he is nowhere wholly present in any one of the personae he created. He is represented, rather, in his collection of apparent contradictions. Fernando Pessoa, the poet, is the point of intersection of many avenues which ultimately cross one another. The overall effect clearly coincides with the brand of realism that the Cubist perspective seeks to convey.

John Hollander (review date 1987)

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SOURCE: "Quadrophenia," in The New Republic, Vol. 197, No. 3, 790, September 7, 1987, pp. 33-36.

[Renowned American poet John Hollander reviews two editions of English translations of Pessoa's work: The Keeper of the Sheep and Poems of Fernando Pessoa, both translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown. Hollander praises the translations and comments on Pessoa's significant position within the whole of modernism.]

If Fernando Pessoa had never existed, Jorge Luis Borges might have had to invent him. This remarkable modern poet started writing in English, in which he was educated; and then, in his native Portuguese, he produced four major poetic oeuvres, one under his own name and three completely different ones by fictional poets—no mere pseudonyms—called Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, and Ricardo Reis. This was not a matter of tragic, literal psychiatric disorder; it was a figurative revision of a multiple poetic personality that, with its complex relations among the "heteronyms" (as they are usually called to distinguish them from mere pseudonyms without full fictional identities for their bearers), betokened a strong, original, and stable poetic imagination confronting some of the major problems of modernism.

A consideration of Pessoa's poetry entails knowledge of the work of all four poets. Professional scholars will also be concerned with a number of Pessoa's other, more shadowy heteronymous figures: the authors of some of the early poems in English, Alexander Search and Charles Robert Anon; and, in Portuguese, C. Pacheco and a critic named Bernard Soares who wrote no verse, and a number of others to a projected total of 19. But it is ultimately the trilogy of poets Caeiro, Campos, and Reis—along with the orthonymic poetry, written fully in propria persona, of Pessoa himself—that is of primary importance.

Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888, the descendant, on his father's side, of a Jewish convert to Christianity (hence, perhaps, the Jewish element in Campos's character). Pessoa's father was a music critic who died when the boy was five. His mother then married the Portuguese consul in Durban, and Pessoa was educated in South Africa, leaving it permanently in 1905 after having written a prize essay for admission to university there. He chose to attend the University of Lisbon, and in that city he remained, from 1908 until his death in 1935. He worked at commercial foreign correspondence for a number of firms in Lisbon, led a literary life that touched avant-garde circles, and published poems, translations, and essays. He never married, but lived both alone and with members of his family.

Until 1909 Pessoa wrote in English; there are over 100 English poems. (A responsible edition of all of Pessoa's English writings should be done.) Three years later he began to write in his native language and to read widely in French Symbolist poetry. By 1915 he was writing poems under all three heteronyms, at first publishing only some under the name of Campos.

In a letter dated ten months before his death, Pessoa told a disciple his story of the genesis of the heteronyms: suddenly, on March 8, 1914, he started writing a large number of poems under the covering title O Guardador de Rebanhos (The Keeper of Sheep)—perhaps, it has been suggested, transforming an earlier abandoned project of inventing, as a hoax, a strange sort of pastoral poet. But Alberto Caeiro is a very belated pastoralist. "I never kept sheep," begins the first of the 49 poems that make up his collected works, "But it's as if I'd done so." Here is the rest of the first strophe of his proem, in Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown's excellent new translation:

My soul is like a shepherd.
It knows wind and sun
Walking hand in hand with the Seasons
Observing, and following along.
All of Nature's unpeopled peacefulness
Comes to sit alongside me.
Still I'm sad, as a sunset is
To the imagination,
When it grows cold at the end of the plain
And you feel the night come in
Like a butterfly through the window.

The plain but quizzical style, the limpid vers libre, the systematic dramaturgy—all give Caeiro's work a power that is never simplistic.

The other heteronyms emerged around Caeiro. According to Pessoa's letter, Caeiro was born in 1889, lived with an old aunt in the country, was only minimally educated, had no profession, and died at 26; he represents, for Pessoa, what Shelley called "unpremeditated art." Ricardo Reis, a Horatian neoclassicist in whose tight, strophic odes meditation seems to crystallize, was born in 1887, says Pessoa, and was educated by the Jesuits; a doctor, he resided in Brazil because of his monarchist views. Alvaro de Campos, a naval engineer not presently employed, lives in Libson; he is well traveled, the author (like Reis and Pessoa) of critical writings, as well as of Whitmanesque longish rhapsodic poems in a mode of free verse very different from Caeiro's.

And finally, of course, there is the orthonymic Fernando Pessoa. The rhymed lyrics of his Cancioneiro, and of the wonderful long sequence, published in 1934, called Mensagem ("message," "dispatch"—the word can also be used to mean "errand" or "summons"), seem to connect the different virtues of Campos and Reis. Mensagem is a sort of post-Symbolist revision of Vaz de Camões's Os Lusiadas, the great Portuguese Renaissance epic, a series of internalized, meditative lyrics on moments and figures in Portuguese history, perhaps in some ways analogous to Hart Crane's The Bridge….

What is most Borgesian—or possibly Nabokovian—about this group of poets is the way in which Pessoa himself acknowledges how deep an influence Caeiro was upon his own work: "Alberto Caeiro is my master." Octavio Paz has commented that "Caeiro is the sun in whose orbit Reis, Campos, and Pessoa himself rotate. In each are particles of negation or unreality. Reis believes in form, Campos in sensation, Pessoa in symbols. Caeiro doesn't believe in anything. He exists." And Pessoa remarked of Caeiro's influential force:

Caeiro had that force. What does it matter to me that Caeiro be of me if Caeiro is like that? So, operating on Reis, who had not as yet written anything, he made come to birth in him a form of his own and an aesthetic persona. So operating on myself, he has delivered me from shadows and letters…. After this, so prodigiously achieved, who will ask whether Caeiro exists or not?

There are other ways of regarding this relation among the four poets, three of whom have been invented by a fourth who nonetheless claims to derive from one of them. Pessoa invoked at various times the analogy of fully formed Shakespearean characters, and at others the context of modernist poetic impersonality. As Álvaro de Campos put it, in a manifesto called Ultimatum, the greatest artist will reveal himself the least (this from a true, not a trivial, Whitmanian). He will "write in the greatest number of literary genres, making use of paradoxes and dissimilarities. No artist should have only one personality."

A poet like Auden, who wrote in a variety of modes, could approximate this achievement, although his voice never changes. So can a dramatic monologuist, of which Pessoa might seem to be an extreme case. But there is another aspect to his Trilogy: it is as if the historical phases of the life of poetry itself, not merely of one artist's work, were being personified synchronically and allowed to coexist. What Renaissance scholars refer to as the Virgilian progression—from pastoral to georgic to epic—was affirmed in the canceled opening lines of the Aeneid, which outlined, for Renaissance poets, the model of a poetic career: "I am he who once played my song on a slender reed, then, leaving the woods, made the neighboring fields serve the farmer, however grasping—a book farmers prize; but now of Mars' bristling [arms and the man I sing…]." Similarly, Caeiro's modern pastoral, the Parnassian withdrawals of Reis, Campos's great odes of imagined voyaging, are all gathered up in various ways in Pessoa's own poems. Certainly the Mensagem would not be possible without Caeiro's unmediated vision, or Reis's forethought, or Campos's unending quest for a hero, a subject, at once within and beyond himself. The various heteronyms can thus be heard as giving voice to drifts, strains, and impulses within one imagination, each providing a reductive version of what the revisionary New Poetry should be.

There have been several books introducing Pessoa to speakers of English, but they are all out of print. Aside from Edouard Roditi's brief essay and fine, pioneering translations of five poems in 1955, we have had a Penguin volume by Jonathan Griffin and two very useful books, both published in 1971 and both with detailed introductions and notes—one of 60 poems, translated by F. E. G. Quintanilha, and the other by Peter Rickard of Cambridge, an exemplary volume of 70 poems with excellent apparatus and free-verse translations of unusual tautness and limpidity. Both of these include the Portuguese texts, and for readers without that language but with, say, French and Spanish, the originals can be a revelation: with a dictionary, an elementary grammar, and a good knowledge of poetry, one can find out a great deal about what has been traded for what in the complex economy of verse translation.

Now Edwin Honig, who produced a smaller selection of Pessoa translations in 1971, has collaborated with Susan M. Brown on two volumes. One is a broader selection of the work of all the heteronyms, as well as of Pessoa's own English verse. The other is the complete version of Caeiro's The Keeper of Sheep Honig and Brown are at their best with Caeiro, and the complete oeuvre is atreasure to have. I regret strongly that there is no facing Portuguese text, particularly in the more comprehensive selection, Poems of Ferdinand Pessoa. Without the Portuguese, and without the kind of biographical material and annotation that Rickard gives, the poems of Reis and of Pessoa himself lose the most. Explaining some of the problems faced by the translations in Honig and Brown's larger volume involves taking a closer look at all the poets and their work. (When quoting from poems that Honig and Brown do not translate, I use my own, provisional versions.)

We might start with Pessoa's poems in English. They are worth more than a glance, not least because some of their peculiar energies and successes carry over into the later work and are immediately accessible to English readers. The series of "Inscriptions," resonant of the sepulchral epigrams of the Greek Anthology, seems related to the mode of Ricardo Reis. They are terse, elegant, graceful, and yet capable of startling:

Me, Chloe, a maid, the mighty fates have given,
Who was nought to them, to the peopled shades.
Thus the gods will. My years were but twice seven.

I am forgotten now in my distant glades.


There was a silence where the town was old.
Grass grows where not a memory lies below.
We that dined loud are sand. The tale is told.
The far hoofs hush. The inn's last light doth go.


I put by pleasure like an alien bowl.
Stern, separate, mine, I looked towards where gods seem.
From behind me the common shadow stole.
Dreaming that I slept not, I slept my dream.

"My hand/Put these inscriptions here, half knowing why;/Last, and hence seeing all, of the passing band," concludes the fictional author in the last of these, as if Pessoa were bidding farewell, in 1920, to neoclassicism, summing up and transcending a tradition in a way analogous to that by which Alberto Caeiro would perform a final revision of pastoral.

Honig and Brown reprint ten of Pessoa's strange, somewhat crabbed English sonnets and some earlier poems, including a few by Alexander Search. One misses a bit of the long, homosexually-oriented "Antinous" (1915) that begins (with an echo of Verlaine, I think), "The rain outside was cold in Hadrian's soul," and whose high diction moves through fine passages like this one about Hadrian's eponymous lover:

That love they lived as a religion
Offered to gods that come themselves to men.
Sometimes he was adorned or made to don
Half-vestured, then in statued nudity
Did imitate some god that seems to be
By marble's accurate virtue men's again.

And the remarkable heterosexual counterpart of the Antinous poem, Pessoa's "Epithalamium" of the previous year (a weird version of Spenser, deriving from his diction and verse-form but without the famous refrain), concentrates on the fears and joys of the bride's sexual initiation. Thus the 12th strophe's invocation of a phallic "belfry's height" that "Does in the blue wide heaven a message prove,/Somewhat calm, of delight," and of the sun pouring light on the "ordered rout" of guests; "And all their following eyes clasp round the bride":

They feel like hands her bosom and her side;
Like the inside of her vestment next her skin,
They round her round and fold each crevice in;
They lift her skirts up, as to tease or woo
The cleft thing hid below….

The verbal texture and formal control of the English poems operate with greater density and plangency in Pessoa's own poems, and, differently, in those of Reis. What marks Caeiro, though, is that he is always telling you what he is not doing: "Rhymes don't matter to me," he says. "You seldom see / Two identical trees, standing side by side." Still, he can be allusive in his negations of allusiveness and tradition, as in his rejection of the mainstream of poetic history in favor of the river flowing through his own village. (One's local stream was the emblem of one's own poetic turf throughout the Renaissance, like the Thames, the Avon, Du Bellay's Loire, and so on.) But he ends poem 20 by saying that his village river reminds one of nothing, that if one is beside it one is merely beside it. The passing wind, in another poem, talks only about the wind; the Virgilian shepherds, in yet another, played on reeds and sang in a literary way about love, "But the shepherds in Virgil poor things / are Virgil, / And nature is ancient and beautiful." He keeps protesting his conceptual innocence, and performing, like Wallace Stevens's snow man, a reduction of false imaginings.

Álvaro de Campos is a visionary wanderer, most obviously indebted for his ode forms and long rhapsodic lines to Whitman; but he is also a Shelleyan. His early "Triumphal Ode" (1914), tinged with Futurist rhetoric, starts out

In the aching light of the factory's large electric bulbs,
Fevered, I write.
I write gnashing my teeth, brutal before the beauty of this.
Before the beauty of this, wholly unknown to the ancients….
Fevered and staring at the engines as if at a tropical Nature
Great human tropics of iron and fire and power—
I sing, and sing the present, and also the past and future.
Because the present is all of the present and all of the future
And Plato and Virgil within the machinesand electric lights.

But, after much Whitmanesque incantation, this poem ends with a longing for transcendence, and a revision of Whitman's favored trope: "Ah nõ ser en toda a gente e toda a parte!" ("Ah not to be all people and all places!").

Campos's long, splendid "Maritime Ode," with its sexual fantasies and Mallarméan withdrawals and fears of erotic shipwreck, his "Tobacco-shop," his poems on "Lisbon Revisited," move into realms of terror, despair, and selfquestioning of a sort Caeiro's pure assurance never explores. His diction, too, wanders from high to low. It seems to me, with my limited knowledge of Portuguese, that Honig and Brown do very well with his language and with the cadence of his lines.

Ricardo Reis is another story. He invokes Horace's Lydias, Naearas, and Chloes, without any of Caeiro's desire to avoid singing literarily of love:

In highly crafted, syllabically counted lines, and with archaized diction and Latinate syntax, Reis promotes a guarded, intellectual, far-from-ecstatic mood of carpe diem and memento mori intertwined, asking nothing of the gods, the answer to life's questions lying beyond them: "Os deus sõ deuses / Porque nõ se pensam" ("The gods are gods / Because they don't think themselves up"). Literally echoing Horace, Reis proclaims that "Happy he whom gracious life / Allowed to keep the gods in mind / To see like them / These earthly things where dwells / A reflection, mortal, of immortal life." Where Caeiro rejects previous allegorizations of nature, Reis rejects moral homilies on our condition, except that he propounds the virtue of such rejections:

To preserve in English something of the tone of Reis's syntax and diction (he will use Latin words that are neologisms for modern Portuguese) and his meter (it substitutes for the classical quantitative prosody a pure syllabism) is not too difficult, and syllabic versions of Reis would give one a better sense of the almost classically modernist (in the Anglo-American, rather than the Continental mode) use of strict form as a stay against confusion. In a central, aristocratic figure, Reis rises above the storms of sensibility through which Campos perilously and ecstatically navigates: "Be whole in everything. Put all you are/Into the smallest thing you do. / The whole moon gleams in every pool, / It rides so high."

Reis has not yet had his optimum translator. Perhaps, as is frequently the case with poetic translation, a poem in Language A must pass into Language through the enabling filter of some particular body of poetry already in B. (Recall, for example, the Tennyson that makes the blank verse of Robert Fitzgerald's wonderful English Aeneid so noble and powerful, as opposed to the tincture of Pound that made the same translator's Odyssey so strong for the modernist ear.) Perhaps the youthful Milton's unrhymed, stressed translation of Horace, "What slender youth…," might provide something of such a filter. Or so might some of the diction of Landor.

The so-called orthonymic poetry of Pessoa himself requires even more in the way of adaptive resources. Pessoa has all of the control of Reis with none of his archaisms; and he has also a good deal of Campos's vigor. His negations and withdrawals are almost gnostic in their complexity, and go beyond Caeiro in wiping the slate clean. Thus in a Christmas poem of 1922 (the original rhymes, as in this version, are the words culto and occulta):

A god is born. Others die. What never came
Nor went was Truth. Error changed all the more.
Our new Eternity is not the same.
The best is always what has gone before.

Blind, Knowledge labors at the barren ground.
Crazy, Faith lives the dream of its own cult.
A newborn god is just a new word's sound.
Seek not then, nor believe. All is occult.

Pessoa's own verse makes rich and powerful use of rhyme, not merely for generating a melody or for pacing, but (as with all important poets) for its semantic work and play, for what it reveals of relations among words and among their referents—relations that ordinary usage keeps hidden. A poem of 1913 about a village church bell, for example, concludes:

At each one of your strokes
Resounding in open sky
I feel the past more distant
I feel longing more nigh

—except that in the original, the rhymes are on aberto ("open") and mais perto ("nearer"): the widening of possibility becomes another kind of enclosure at the incursion of saudade ("longing," "yearning").

In another quatrain of the same poem, Pessoa plays with the notion of repetition, saying of his village bell, sad in the evening calm, "Each stroke of your / Sounds within my soul"—bland enough in English, except that the third line about each stroke of the bell, "Cada sua badalada," plays on the internal rhyme of cada ("every") and the word for the tolling of a bell, as if thereby to augment the number of strokes of the clapper.

One more example—they blossom everywhere in these poems—of Pessoa's verbal texture, which gets completely lost in most translations I've seen. "The Portuguese Sea," poem 30 of Mensagem, ends:

Quem quer passar além da Bojador
Tem que passar além da dor
Deus ao mar perigo e o abismo deu
Mas nele é que espelhou o céu.

In Honig and Brown:

If you'd sail beyond the cape
Sail you must past cares, past grief.
God gave perils to the sea and sheer depth
But mirrored heaven there.

But even without knowing any Portuguese, a reader can see the symmetry of sailing past the Bojador (a West African promontory, slightly south of the Canaries, once a limit of exploration) and the dor, the anguish now seen as its last port, in the rhymed shorter line. The pun that mirrors Deus and deu, "God" and "gave," at the end of the next line is itself brilliantly avowed in the final one, with its image of mirroring and the confirming rhyme of céu—"sky," "heaven." One can't ask a translator to get all of these moments, but one does keep wanting to be reminded that they, or something like them, are there, that the language of the poetry has that sort of dimension.

If English syllables suggest a way of handling Reis's tight strophes, perhaps a way of handling Pessoa's orthonymic poetry has been pointed by Richard Howard in the superb unrhymed but accentual-syllabic verse he used for all of Baudelaire. Howard managed, in versions of poems with rhyming stanzas just like Pessoa's, to create the impression of rhyme by his end-stopping mono- and dissyllabic words; one has the feeling that the line one had just read had rhymed with an earlier one, heard but forgotten. Rhythm is more important than rhyme for holding verse together, even though it cannot often perform the magic on particular words that rhyme, assonance, and alliteration can.

Honig and Brown have done very well by Caeiro, and reasonably well by Álvaro de Campos. Ricardo Reis and Pessoa himself still may have to find their translators. But if Honig and Brown's work renews the debate about translation and leads to new versions of Pessoa, that, too, will be a measure of its success. Meanwhile this volume has brought a great poet to our attention again. Anybody who cares about poetry, about fictions of identity, about the whole of modernism, must be grateful.

Anne J. Cruz (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "Masked Rhetoric: Contextuality in Fernando Pessoa's Poems," in Romance Notes, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, Fall, 1988, pp. 55-60.

[In the following excerpt, Cruz explores the rhetorical implications of Pessoa's use of heteronyms.]

Fernando Pessoa has made an art form of psychic fragmentation. In his poems, mask (un)covers mask in order to expound, explicate, and contradict the multifacetic poet. The creation of heterónimos, as he calls his poetic avatars, presupposes an interest in the ludic: unlike Antonio Machado's pseudonyms, which clearly reveal the poet's persona to the reader, Pessoa's masks contribute to his duplicity as poet. As Octavio Paz has perceptively pointed out in his introduction to Pessoa's poems, "Reis and Campos told what he [Pessoa] would never tell. In contradicting him, they expressed him, in expressing him, they made him invent himself." Pessoa's creations are motivated dramatically; by acting out his many roles, he creates himself. What Pessoa's poetry ultimately discloses, then, is not the "real poet"—whoever he may be—but the rhetorical origins of his art.

The distinction between the rhetorical and the serious has been drawn by Richard Lanham, who notes that these two modes of authorship are based on two differing types of life in western civilization, as defined by Werner Jaeger in his Paideia:

There are two contrasting types of life…. One of them is built upon the flattering quasi-arts—really not arts at all but copies of arts. We may call it, after one of its main species of flattery, the rhetorical ideal of life. Its purpose is to create pleasure and win approval. The other, its opponent, is the philosophical life. It is based on knowledge of human nature and of what is best for it: so it is a real techné, and it really cares for man, for the body as well as the soul [Richard Lanham, Motiues of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance, 1976].

For Lanham, this historical as well as philosophical division has in turn produced two types of literature which need to be measured by different parameters:

There seem to be two characteristic modes of Western literature, then, narrative and speech or serious and rhetorical, and two ranges of motive, one serious and purposive and the other dramatic and playful. The more one ponders these parallel dichotomies, the more clear it becomes that we really need two poetics to make sense of them.

The serious poet's rejection of the dramatic and playful is countered by the ludic poet's revelling precisely in his linguistic ability to play.

Pessoa's poetry places him within the category of rhetorical man who, instead of hiding his art, exults in its ostentation, since art is the only concept in which he believes. As Lanham demonstrates, the poet feels at home in his roles, knowing that to live, he must always play them, since only through his poses does he become himself: "imposture becomes sincerity…. Rhetorical man is an actor and insincerity is the actor's mode of being." The difference between reality and art, between truth and fiction, is exploited continuously by the rhetorical poet, as reality cannot exist without artistic formulation. The poet's language renders significance and form to the chaotic reality around him, only to lose its signifying quality and revert to pure playfulness:

A totally serious, referential use of language never lasts long. It becomes stylized, turns playful … the very process of composition generates an oscillation between play and purpose. But at the same time, a movement toward the opposite extreme, toward pure verbal play, activates our resources for making meaning, our impulse for purpose.

Investigating its own creative impulse, Pessoa's poetics develops from the tensions between play and purpose. Thus, in his often-quoted "Autopsicografía," written under the name Fernando Pessoa, he creates images whose significance he then negates….

To move the reader, the poet must pretend he feels nothing, divesting himself of any emotion so he may draw closer to the reader intellectually. His rational expression—the poem—is, like the poem's calhas de roda, the medium by which he cultivates the emotion of the reader (the coração, reduced to a child's toy, comboio de corda) in order to entertain the reader's intellect (and by entertaining the poet's reason, as the term razão is ambiguous here). Thus, in the poem, the difference between the rhetorical and the serious not only parallels the dichotomy between reason—the intellective faculty—and emotion, but also the function that the poet assigns to the expression of pain as the motivation of an artistic game controlled by the intellect.

The tension between emotion and reason allows the creation of the poem. The calhas de roda symbolize the union between the mind and the heart, a circular pathway with no beginning and no end, and one on which the heart will continuously journey, so long as it feels pain….

To [Georg] Lind, Pessoa's calculated images reveal his serious intent. Yet the poem begins with an antinomy: if the poet is a fingidor, then it is only logical to suppose that what follows is also a fiction. Pessoa distances himself doubly from his poetry; hiding behind two masks from the reader, he narrates the poem in the third person, placing himself in the reader's role ("E os que lêem o que escreve"). By calling the poem "Autopsicografía," he promises the reader at the very least a tentative self-analysis; however, he then negates any truth the poem may contain by presenting himself as his own fictive creation. Nonetheless, the poem does tell us something. It exposes the poet's belief in his ability to create an experience—however fictional—thus celebrating his own self as a creator of fiction as well as a fictional creation….

If in "Autopsicografía" Pessoa disappears behind yet another mask to become one reader among many, in "Isto" he reaffirms his authorial stance through the use of the first person. Assuming the persona of the poet, he distances himself from "them" (dizem)—the disbelievers who take imaginative poetry to be nothing but a lie. To the author of "Isto," creativity does not originate in emotion, but in the imagination, as he perceives incidents that in themselves create poetic visions. The simile of the terrace illustrates the continuity of experience, each incident opening onto the next, and offering the poet a perspective from which he draws for his creative act ("Por isso escrevo em meio / do que não está ao pé.") His attempt to engage experiences (whether real or fictive) becomes the creative force which informs as well as justifies his poem: he is free to create without emotion. Unlike in "Autopsicografía," the poet does not intend to influence the reader's reaction; by separating himself both emotionally and aesthetically, he places the responsibility of response squarely on the reader: "Sentir? Sinta quern lê!"….

Joanna Courteau notes [in her article "Contradiction in the Poetry of Fernando Pessoa," in Actas do II Congresso International de Estudos Pessoanos, 1985] that Pessoa's poetry creates and inhabits a heteroreality, one where "reality corresponds to the aesthetic space of art." She warns, however, that "what must not be forgotten is that this aesthetic space which we may call heteroreality is, unlike everyday reality, simply and purely a construction created by language." This in turn allows us to "set aside our logic and our senses and to participate in the poet's heteroreality" which, to Courteau, is a poetic reality constructed on the basis of contradiction.

Yet, to comprehend Pessoa's contradictions, we need to view the poems as operating not only intertextually—the "real" poet disappearing within the space created by their confrontation, as Courteau has pointed out—but also contextually: we cannot understand the one without reading the other. To read one poem without attending to its poetic response is to ignore the dialectics of Pessoa's poetry, the continual oscillations between truth and fiction, between the serious and the rhetorical, that occur not only in the poetry of his hererónimos, but also in the poems of Fernando Pessoa ele-mesmo. In the final analysis, all his poems must be read in relation to one another in order to uncover the rhetorical strategies through which Pessoa—poet and poetic creation—creates himself.

Richard Zenith (essay date 1993)

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SOURCE: "Fernando Pessoa and the Theatre of His Self," in Performing Arts Journal, Vol. XV, No. 2, May, 1993, pp. 47-9.

[Below, Zenith provides a general overview of Pessoa's career and the development of his poetic persona(e).]

Not widely known in his own country and scarcely at all outside it at the time of his death in 1935, Fernando Pessoa (born 1888) is now generally regarded as Portugal's most original poet since Luís de Camões and one of the most original poets of any land writing in the twentieth century. This phenomenal increase in stature is related more or less directly to the increasing availability of the 25,000 + manuscript sheets left by Pessoa in a large trunk and housed today at the National Library in Lisbon. Pessoa was rapidly appreciated by the Portuguese-speaking world as much of his most important poetry saw print in the 1940s, and in the last decade or so he has become a literary byword across continental Europe, with both his poetry and prose being translated on a grand scale. His work has caught on more slowly in the English-speaking world, which is ironic when we consider that Pessoa, who spent much of his childhood in South Africa, wrote all of his early poems, a number of later poems, and most of his personal notations in English. Even his final recorded words, written the day before his death, were in English: "I know not what tomorrow will bring."

A sizable portion of Pessoa's writings have yet to be published in the original, let alone in translation. Besides poetry, fiction and drama, Pessoa's legacy consists of philosophy, social and literary criticism, translations, linguistic theory, horoscopes and assorted other texts, variously typed, handwritten or illegibly scrawled in Portuguese, English and French. He wrote in notebooks, on loose sheets, on the backs of letters, advertisements and handbills, on stationery from the firms he worked at and from the cafés he frequented, on envelopes, on paper scraps, and in between the lines of his own prior texts. The Pessoa archives are a veritable labyrinth, and so it is not surprising that new and important texts are constantly turning up.

The fragmentary state of the archives is emblematic of the author's literary project of depersonalization. "Be plural like the universe!" wrote Pessoa with a flourish on a scrap of paper left in his famous trunk of manuscripts, and he set the example, multiplying himself into three major "heteronyms"—Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos—along with dozens of lesser "dramatis personae" who wrote poetry, stories, essays and criticism, very often about each other. Teresa Rita Lopes, one of Portugal's most knowledgeable and astute Pessoa scholars, convincingly argues that the universe of Pessoa was a vast and ongoing theatre of himself, and she cites the protean poet's own words as evidence. He wrote, for example, that the heteronyms "should be considered as distinct from their author. Each one forms a drama of sorts; and together they form another drama…. The works of these three poets constitute a dramatic ensemble, with careful attention having been paid to their intellectual and personal interaction…. It is a drama in people, instead of in acts."

The heteronyms were "born" in 1914 (they were given retroactive birth dates: 1889, 1887 and 1890, respectively) and each was endowed with an individuated biography, psychology, politics, religion, and physique. Alberto Caeiro, considered the Master by the other two, was an ingenuous, unlettered man who lived in the country and had no profession. Ricardo Reis was a doctor and classicist who wrote odes in the style of Horace. Álvaro de Campos, a naval engineer, started out as an exuberant futurist with a Whitmanesque voice, but over time he came to sound more like a brooding existentialist. The pithiest description and distinction of the heteronyms was made by Pessoa in a text he 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."

Much of Pessoa's best verse was attributed to the heteronyms, but the majority of his poetry, including nearly his entire production in English, was written under his own name. Pessoa himself may be described as a neo-Symbolist poet of esoteric, patriotic, and existentialist themes. His work, the virtual opposite of Caeiro's, tends to be highly rational and analytical, rarely taking things simply as they are, at face value.

The drama of Pessoa was that there was no drama, except for the literary kind. "Real life" hardly existed for this fragmented soul, or it meant little to him. After returning from South Africa to his native Lisbon at age 17, he never again left Portugal, and almost never even left the capital city. He traveled immensely, but it was all in his writings and his imagination. The realization of a dream will always be something less than the dream, and so the secret of successful living—according to Pessoa—is to act as little as possible, taking refuge from the world in the imagination, where everything is perfect, and nothing disappoints.

Pessoa wrote his only complete play, The Mariner, in 1913, a year before the heteronyms burst onto the scene (though Pessoa began to invent alter egos already as a small child), and the essential drama, or non-drama, of the mature author was all contained here, in seed form. The Mariner is the negation of action, plot, progress, and even character. Nothing in this strange play remotely approaches reality or its semblance. All we have is a vague longing for another age, for other lands and for other seas, for whatever is other, and then the "story": a hazy recollection of a dream within a dream, and the dreamer suspects that she herself may be a mere figment in a dream of the mariner she dreamed about. Nothing of substance is presented in these pages—only words that "seem like people."

This anti-play or "static drama," to use Pessoa's self-contradictory epithet (drama deriving from a Greek verb meaning "to do, to act"), reads like a program or prophecy of the then young poet's life, for he spent the rest of his years leading a largely solitary existence but producing an astonishing quantity of words so as to other himself into fictitious personalities that were perhaps—he speculated—more real than he was.

Static and undramatic as it may be, The Mariner has been staged in a number of languages and countries. And Pessoa's Faust, a long and unfinished fragmentary play on which he worked throughout his adult life, has been produced in both Portuguese and French, having played last year to packed audiences in a theatre outside Paris. In this postmodern age of anti-discourse, anti-history, anti-literature and anti-art, it is surprising that some enterprising troupe in America hasn't already seen fit to give part of the stage to Pessoa's anti-theatre.

Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 366


Jennings, H. D. Os Dois Exilios: Fernando Pessoa Na Africa Do Sul. Porto, Portugal: Centro de Estudos Pessoanos, 1984, 210 p.

This is a critical biography of Pessoa centering on his youth in South Africa.


Anderson, Robert N. "The Static Drama of Fernando Pessoa." Hispanofila 104 (January 1992): 89-97.

Anderson examines questions of genre and Pessoa's conception of himself as a dramatist, and examines how readers today can theorize a dramatic genre to which Pessoa could belong.

Biderman, Sol. "Mount Abiegnos and the Masks: Occult Imagery in Yeats and Pessoa." Luso-Brazilian Review V, No. 1 (June 1968): 59-74.

Biderman addresses the similarities between Pessoa's and Yeats' involvements in mystical and occult movements and how these interests are manifested in their work in similar ways.

Brown, Susan Margaret. "The Whitman/Pessoa Connection." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review IX, No. 1 (Summer 1991): 1-14.

Brown examines the influence on Pessoa of American poet Walt Whitman.

Carreño, Antonio. "Suggested Bases for a Comparative Study of Pessoa and Antonio Machado." Romance Notes XX, No. 1 (Fall 1979): 24-8.

Carreño positions Pessoa and Machado as contemporaries within the Hispanic poetic tradition on the basis of their aesthetics.

Monteiro, George. "Poe/Pessoa." Comparative Literature XL, No. 1 (Winter 1988): 134-49.

Monteiro discusses the influence of the American tradition on Pessoa, specifically Edgar Allan Poe's.

——."The Song of the Reaper: Pessoa and Wordsworth." Portuguese Studies V (1989): 71-80.

Monteiro examines similarities between Pessoa's and William Wordsworth's poetry.

Roditi, Edouard. "Fernando Pessoa, Outsider Among English Poets." The Literary Review (Spring 1963): 372-85.

Roditi brings a biographical angle to bear upon an analysis of Pessoa's English poetry positioned within the context of the major poets writing in English at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Sousa, Ronald W. "On Pessoa's Continued Centrality in Portuguese Culture." Ideologies & Literature III, No. 2 (Fall 1988): 39-50.

Sousa examines the figure of "Pessoa" and its numerous appropriations in the political history of twentieth-century Portugal.

Ziomek, Henryk. "Dream and Vision in the Poetry of Fernando Pessoa." Kentucky RomanceQuarterly XX, No. 4 (1973): 483-93.

Ziomek examines the relationship between reality, dream and image in Pessoa's poetry.

Additional coverage of Pessoa's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 27; Hispanic Literary Criticism, Vol. 2; and Contemporary Authors, Vol. 125.

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