Critical Anthology

(…) No: Pessoa’s life is in fact a poet’s ideal; Pessoa is, as a man, the figure of immobility. Nobody desired to be less apparent: his whole life is involved in, I won’t say mystery, because I hate romanticizing, but discretion, love of silence and contemplation. (…)

[Adolfo Casais Monteiro, A Poesia de Fernando Pessoa, INCM, 1985, The Insincere Verdict, p. 89]


(…) What is the psychological explanation for the failure to experience real, concrete love – of the body and soul - Fernando Pessoa so painfully expressed?
We understand the poet was an idealist and a great romantic. And we have already observed his Álvaro de Campos side, this is, of a certain homosexual drive, very clearly in some of his Odes to a “naval engineer” and confessed in an intimate page where he says “I am of female temperament with male intelligence”; and “It is a frustrating sexual inversion. Remaining within the spirit.”
With Ophélia, the problem may have been close to being resolved, despite some interference (although brief) on behalf of Álvaro de Campos, or his inner demon, who was perhaps much more anti-woman/wife than anti-marriage. (…)

[António Quadros, Fernando Pessoa – life, personality and genius, Publicações Dom Quixote, 1984, p. 174]


(…) certainly, the most interesting interpretation of the cigarette and the smoking habit in general, was given (we may agree or disagree) by Sigmund Freud in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. According to Freud, smoking as a habit, which is based on the mechanism of suction, transports our conscience back to infancy, to our inability of overcoming the so-called “oral phase” of childhood. Many of Ítalo Svevo’s critics followed this Freudian train of thought to such an extent that, curiously enough, many quick and intelligent references by Georges Güntert and Armand Guibert were dismissed, the smoking addiction pertaining to Pessoa-Campos has never, in my opinion, been looked into as it should have. (…)

[Antonio Tabucchi, Pessoana Mínima, INCM, 1984, Pessoa, Campos and Cigarrettes, p. 65/66]  

(…) It was certainly, a good, neurotic relationship, somewhat manic, as is the love, which as a rule, lasts a lifetime: contrary to certain liberating passions, which sweep you off your feet and are all about the carnal. No: this relationship was, and wasn’t, a marriage, and as such, nurtured itself on habits, on dignity, on dedication and pettiness. Nothing sweeping about it. It simply wasted itself on the pure ideal or the pure matrimonial structure, dispensing the marital bed. But, in the end, what has sex got to do with all of this? For Pessoa that was the essence of love, not its accomplishment in a practical sense, as he had theorized in his poems: Love is what is essential/ sex is a mere accident. / It can be equal/ Or different. / Man is not an animal: / He is intelligent flesh, / Although ill sometimes. (…)

[Antonio Tabucchi, Pessoana Mínima, INCM, 1984, Pessoa, a Fortunate Office Employee: «Love Letters» Pessoa, p. 56]

(…) In one of his rare humorous poems of rhyme and measure, the poet signs it, informing us: “Mr. Álvaro de Campos, Naval Engineer’s address while in an unconscious alcoholic state”.
Relying on Fernando Pessoa’s statements in his letter to Casais Monteiro, from where I began, the biographies of his heteronyms were all done a posteriori. Only in this particular case, their life, as it was told existed only in poems, the origin and means by which poets live. By having Álvaro de Campos as an engineer was to dig out the roots of his fascination with machines, the noise of modern life, its violence. (…)

[Cleonice Berardinelli, Fernando Pessoa: I see you again…, Lacerda Editores (Brazil), 2004, Two “Engineer” Poets, p. 153]

(…) Now I ask; how could someone so devoted to being no one, so set not only on refusing the “hard realities of life” but also in denying, profoundly, life in itself as reality, how could, this aspirant to no one at all, Capitan of nothing, general of nowhere, not be interested in spectacles, in a moustache, in the tie or bow-tie, in the hat, in the long johns, in the coffee table where he sat (or not)? (…)

[David Mourão-Ferreira, Tracing Pessoa’s Footesteps, Editorial Presença, 1988, From Pessoa’s Auto-Effacement to Certain Publishing Tactics, p. 84]

(…) Everything is humble in these texts, which also have a vertiginous quality. In truth, noble literary references are too much a part of the theory world to enable us, regardless of other proceedings, to add to them this “poor man’s book”, this gospel without a message, this sort of ontological, hoarse voice that attempts to make itself heard, of an existence that allows itself to also exist. Of course we are aware that behind this muffled scream, this repeated and endless statement of the impotence of being, the grey existence embodied by Bernardo Soares, there is a distant outlook, neutral and lucid, almost perverse, which belongs to Fernando Pessoa.
But here, the indifferent chess player having put on Ricardo Reis’ mask, plays at nothing but his absolute, existential checkmate, his disjointed human reality, disconnected from everything, life as pure dream, intentionally detached by that kind of smile that comes from within despair, resulting in some parts of the Book of Disquiet at times to be both unbearable and strangely liberating. (…)

[Eduardo Lourenço, O Lugar do Anjo, Ensaios Pessoanos, Gradiva 2004, O “Livro do Desassossego” ou o Memorial do Limbo, pág. 96]


(…) After Homer’s hero, travelling ceased to be, merely, the going from one port to another through the crossing of an obstacle space which appoints a positive or negative value to the one who undergoes the journey. Travelling is also engaging in dialogue with space, or to be a part of its discourse, a situation which converts the traveler into a reasonably accomplished fictional or stage character of which both the world and he are accomplices. In this sense there’s always been something about Pessoa which refuses the staging of the world, a journey of any kind. “Travel, losing countries” is one of the verses where he shows a totally different attitude to that of Cesário Verde to whom travelling meant gaining countries. In Fernando Pessoa’s imaginary, perhaps the lack of interest in travelling and in the journey may have been the result of many forms of vital inaptitude that marked his childhood.  Any serious effort to try to be different by a mere change in the scenery seemed a loss of being, that which he will later express in the famous image of invincible fatigue that prevents him from catching the tram. (…)

[Eduardo Lourenço, The Angle’s Place, Pessoan Essays, Gradiva 2004, Pessoa or the Three journeys, p. 149]

(…) No human experience is so charged with a deeper unreality than what we call love, almost exclusively a Western lyric concept. Pessoa’s poetry, while declared and obsessive poetics of conscience as ontological loneliness, had to inevitably be poetry of non-love. What in fact it is, and in such unusual atrocious terms that ii in fact denotes itself as an unnamed place of suffering, like the pure emptiness of feeling, analogous in its inversion of what is classically known as suffering from love. In truth this emptiness of feeling is that kind of wound, and all of Fernando Pessoa’s poetry its echo, expanded in vain. (…)

[Eduardo Lourenço, Fernando – King of our Baviera, INCM, 1993, Fernando Pessoa Or Non-Love, p. 62]

(…) Through his look, imitating Antiquity in its ideal perfection of carved marble, engaging in dialogue with it and truly worthy of it, what stands out is a touch of modern anguish, as modern colour on old, it is the answer to the non-answer, its origin and destiny. We are time and nothing else, we are as after Schopenhauer was so often repeated, a brief light shinning for no reason in the heart of a life devoid of it and then sent back into pure darkness? If this be so, so be it. Let’s take on the challenge and play the game for it is only through such voluntary acceptance that “goodness may exist”. (…)

[Eduardo Lourenço, Pessoa Revisited, Gradiva, 2003, Ricardo Reis or inacessible paganism, p. 53/54]

(…) This is insomnia: a retrieval of the horizon that suspends the useful continuity of real everyday life that pulls sensations as if they were elastics and hastens us into the very abyss of the initial horizon, quoting “the forest of alienation”, “verges of unknown seas touched, the horizon we heard, beaches we would never see, and it was ours the joy of listening, even seeing them within us, the sea where ships surely sailed following different fates besides those useful ones commanded by Earth”. We are facing “this nothing of universal life which is outside” and which is “the invisibility visible to all”. (…)

[Eduardo Prado Coelho, The night of the World, INCM, 1988, Poetics of Disquiet: the insomnia, p. 56]

(…) Interesting how he refers to the role played by Cesário in the emergence of Alberto Caeiro. Cesário was merely a stimulus, a starting point; Caeiro’s footsteps would belong to him alone. Cesário’s example would have put in motion, triggered an energy that came to regulate itself, find its own direction. Cesário served as a catalyst for Caeiro, as a voice of self discovery, self-revelation. His influence on the author of The Keeper of Flocks cannot be quantified at the same level of transmission of “some sort of inspiration”; It will act, instead as a stimulus, a detonator of “inspiration”. (…)

[Fernando J. B. Martinho, Pessoa and Portuguese Poetry – from “Orpheu” to 1960, Biblioteca Breve ICLP, 1983, p. 21]

(…) And yet, here are the facts: from 1915 to 1917, Pessoa wrote eight poems, whose theme was related to the Great War, and which gives a clear understanding of his position regarding war in general. I think this definition is of interest in present days, for the moral testimony of a great author should be heard, even if it has no immediate influence on current events. (…)

[Georg Rudolf Lind, Studies on Fernando Pessoa, INCM, 1981, Fernando Pessoa and the First World War, p. 425/426]

(…) According to Fernando Pessoa, remembering isn’t the same as re-living; it is but a painful recognition that we were once something whose essential reality we are never again allowed to retrieve. From the shadows we came and to the shadows we return. Only the present belongs to us, but what is the present but a perfect line separating the past from the future? Life is therefore fragmented, personality as a unity is an illusion, it is impossible to capture constancy with which to identify. The Heraclitean feeling of the impermanence of things leads to the negation of the self. Living in time is being confronted with the emptiness of our being: “Someone tell me, who am I?” (…)

[Jacinto do Prado Coelho, Diversity and Unity in Fernando Pessoa, Editorial Verbo, 1979, Being and Knowing oneslef p. 89]


(…) Regarding Portuguese Modern Culture, Pessoa is just as ungracious.  Portugal had lost its purity due to the foreign influences on its mentality. It had forgotten itself, and its dazzle with the foreign world was a symptom of its provincialism. Pessoa insists on the corrosive effects of both Catholicism and modern democracy – both are products ignorant of the national spirit – just as he takes his time analyzing “provincial Portuguese mentality”, demonstrated in Eça de Queirós: “The most blatant example of Portuguese provincialism is Eça de Queirós […] because he was the Portuguese writer who was most concerned (as all provincials) with being civilized” (Pages in Aesthetic Doctrine, p. 184) (…)

[Jacinto do Prado Coelho, The Reader and the Letter, Portugália Editora, 1969, Fernando Pessoa’s Utopian Nationalism, p. 274/275]

(…) Having defined art as universal and accepting the incompatibility between the temporal and the universal (as though the latter were a metaphysical substance and not something from which we can abstract realities located in space and time), a man of genius will be one who outlives his time for being “in opposition to it”. Pessoa splits men into superiors and inferiors: the first are the “geniuses”, unbound from the rest of the community, destined to be “superior to the species”, to them, all is permitted; the others are mere components of the unwise mass, they are the “men of the species” (and note here that all women, whose function is procreation, are included within this category): “the man of the species mustn’t express opinions because this is the role of the individual, and as soon as a man becomes a part of an organic unit such as a family, a social class, anything which provides an immediate and living environment, he ceases to be an individual and becomes a random cell” (Pages of Aesthetics p. 133) (…)

[Jacinto do Prado Coelho, The Reader and the Letter, Portugália Editora, 1969, Fernando Pessoa’s Aesthetic Ideas, p. 289/290]

(…) Whoever wished to find the writer during this sad phase of his life could do so at the Alentejo Dairy. It was there, in a corner, at a marble top table, that he sat and read, wrote and worked on his correspondence, making use of the generous Maecenas’ establishment’s letterhead. (…)

[João Gaspar Simões, Life and Work of Fernando Pessoa, Livraria Bertrand, 4thEd. 1980, Sleeps in a Dairy and is Expelled from a Journal, p. 328]  

(…) V. was not mystifying , nor was he contradictory. He was a complex man, of the worst kind of complexity – the sense of emptiness inside and outside, V was not a poet of nothingness, but quite the contrary, poet of excessively everything virtual, of all tragic conscience of probability that belief in destiny cannot rule out. (…)

[Jorge de Sena, Fernando Pessoa & Heteronimy Co. (collected studies 1940-1978), edições 70, 2000, Carta a Fernando Pessoa, p. 19]

(…) Only the poet who remains in conscious and voluntary control during the gestation of the poem whose meaning he is still unaware of (and whose meaningful complexity he partly looses), can alone achieve, as close as ever possible, a truth still unspoilt by the factual circumstances of creation, which are encrypted in recurring images, in analogically suggested topics, in momentary breathing patterns, the numerous pitfalls that the environment, idiosyncrasy, culture, education and ideological tendencies, the political moment, etc, offer such a difficult gestation so that it may drift into comfort, into habit and even into the virtual applause of the audience and the critics. (…)

[Jorge de Sena, Fernando Pessoa & Heteronimic Co. (collected studies 1940-1978), edições 70, 2000, «The poet is a fake» (Nietzsche, Pessoa and more), p. 98/99]

(…) Fernando Pessoa knew perfectly well (and from very early on) that despite the genius of one or other of his friends and companions, and some others of the next generation, Portuguese poetry of the first half of the XX century, was his domain, along with the grandness which the proximity to Camões in Portuguese literary history granted him. I met many people of his generation, great and not so great, and was able to note how they bowed to his undisputed intellectual superiority, in the same way they ferociously argued to being devoured or transformed into “heteronyms” – which they claimed while smiling at their own mystifications, or by stressing up to what point had Pessoa insisted he would die without having completed his work. (…)

[Jorge de Sena, Fernando Pessoa & Heteronymic Co.(collected studies 1940-1978), edições 70, 2000, Fernando Pessoa: the man who never was, p. 357/358]

(…) If a heteronym evokes or hides this or that foreign voice in its speech - - and we know that each one assumed as paradigm different poets, artists, philosophers and spiritual masters -, here they become a spokesperson for these same heteronyms, that return, once transformed, unfamiliar cited echoes, echoes of echoes, reflecting themselves ad infinitum. “Mine and foreign / and read by me” – this should apply to all and any verse, according to Ricardo Reis, second class poet and impersonator of Horace. But the very poet subscribed the inter-textual poetics of his equivalent: “For this reason, distant, I read / as pages, my being” – he replies echoing him. It isn’t surprising that Reis and Pessoa expressly quote each other, as when both speak of “adjourned cadavers which procreate”, in verses which with the simple transformation of the singular into plural they are found repeated in Message and in one of the Odes. This doubling is a precise example of a mesh of inter-textuality and intra-textualilty. (…)

[José Augusto Seabra, The Heart of the Text – new Pessoa essays, Edições Cosmos 1996, Intertextuality and intratextuality, p. 13] 

(…) If there ever was any contemporary poet whose obsession was the reconstruction of the relationship between thought and language, using the philosophical crisis of this very theme as a starting point, this poet was, doubtless, Fernando Pessoa. “Poetry is music composed of thought, and therefore words”, this is one of the terse theories through which his poetry spills even if in the end he subsumes his thoughts into sensations, exorcising philosophy and poetry itself, with “master” Caeiro, hypostasis of his poetic-drama. (…)

[José Augusto Seabra The Heart of the Text – new Pessoa essays, Edições Cosmos 1996, Poetics and Philosophy, p. 22/23]

(…) The tragic Pessoa is scattered, in sum, archi-textually, by his heteronymic speeches, in poetry and prose, in a polylogism whereby the personas, the masks, diversely counteract: “I am the living stage through which many actors performing many plays pass”, says Bernardo Soares. These personas, who dialogically in the heterotext rotate, are at the same time, a choir that infinitely comment themselves. (…)

[José Augusto Seabra, The Heart of the Text – new Pessoa essays, Edições Cosmos 1996, The Tragic Pessoa, p. 34]

(…) He had his own language lab. He was aware of this, and was always amazed and surprised by everything that went on beyond it. “On the outside inside”, as he would say. Because it was in fact from within him that his work emerged, where the machines which accompanied the production of word, metaphors, verse, poems, and complete odes were worked. The thorough work of the poet, the processing of the raw material (the sensations) from where language would emerge, was carefully observed and examined. Raw or processed matter, because it was also about the effects of words on the receptivity of feelings; no matter: as a result of one cascading overturn, which he was master at, and thanks to which second becomes first, the outside inside, the right side reverse, his own poetic lab was also transformed into language matter, creator of sensations apt for the conversion to poetry. (…)

[José Gil, Fernando Pessoa and the Metaphysics of Sensations, Relógio d’Água, 1996, The Poetic Lab, p. 9]

(…) To “follow the smoke as your own trail” is the external dimension of writing, where the subject surrenders to dispersion and vanishing taking with him the recollection of other trails, of discovery, of commerce and lucidity. It is the passing from a trail with a destination to a labyrinth of chance. To cover the world with the clouds that efface it. To dissipate. To leave, on the poem, a map of disappearance, circuits of ink that duplicate the trails of smoke, mark the absent fire. (…)

[Fernando Pessoa International Centennial Conference, SEC, 1990, The Trails of Smoke, Silvina Rodrigues Lopes, p. 326] 

(…) If one can find unity in Pessoa, the rational search for a worldly vision, consciously rooted in his culture and tradition, is the only one possible. He never achieved it and because up till the end of his life he always doubted it, always felt as if he were someone else. It would have been hard, even considering the remaining documents yet to be revealed, to achieve a firm unity on the foundations of hermetic philosophy, with the kind of statements he made, even in the final phase of his life that reveal that the multiple Fernando Pessoa was always present. (…)

[Fernando Pessoa International Centennial Conference, SEC, 1990, Pessoa and Truth(s)… or the Critique of the Abuse of the Hermetic Reading, Onésimo Teotónio Almeida, p. 200]

(…) Returning to Lisbon in 1905, was a conscious decision: to not follow through a brilliantly achieved instruction, in the English language and Culture, and that of detaching himself from the comfort of his mother’s womb. Incidentally, he returned to his paternal grandmother’s house, in Rua da Bela Vista, à Lapa, where two more maternal great aunts also lived. The first inheritance he received from the death of his grandmother Dionísia (General Pessoa’s widow from Tavira) in 1907, allowed him a further step in his emancipation process from his mother and step-father: buying the typography and editing house he named Ibis and quit studying. Avoiding psychoanalytical interpretations, this step of distancing himself from the family and the land his mother’s second marriage had imposed on him represented the apparent act of reuniting ties with his father’s land, the direct descendant of these “nobles and Jews” he was so proud of. (…)

[Teresa Rita Lopes, Pessoa a Man to Know, An Exhibition Guide I, Editorial Estampa, 1990, Between the God of the Father and the God of the Mother, p. 67]

(…) It is interesting to point out in Álvaro de Campos, along with the evident melody (the style that distinguishes him), the profound harmony (the symbolic structure) that connects him to his antecessors, Pessoa, Caeiro, Reis. Beyond the scream, a desire for effacement and a death drive. The sensations, to which Álvaro de Campos surrenders, are either compressed within him in the most intimate of centers or dispersed in the most interior of his exteriors. The night, the dark waters in which he wishes to drown, is the same image of dissolution. There is no journey, in the sense that he doesn’t undergo any negative or positive transformation. For each movement, each impulse, what can be noticed is the immobility and the halting for sleep, (not for dreaming), antecessor of nothing, death. (…)

[Y. K. Centeno, Fernando Pessoa: The remaining Three Hundred and something Essays, Editorial Presença, 1988, Álvaro de Campos: the cart of everything along the road of nothing, p. 69/70]