Fernando Pessoa: The Poet of Many Masks

Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888, died there in 1935, and did not often leave the city as an adult, but he spent nine of his childhood years in the British-governed town of Durban, South Africa, where his stepfather was the Portuguese consul. Pessoa, who was five years old when his natural father died of tuberculosis, developed into a shy and highly imaginative boy, and a brilliant student. Shortly after his seventeenth birthday, he returned to Lisbon to enrol in the university-level course of Arts and Letters but dropped out after two years without having sat for any exams. He preferred to study on his own at the National Library, where he systematically read major works of philosophy, history, sociology and literature (especially Portuguese) in order to complement and extend the traditional English education he had received in South Africa. His production of poetry and prose in English during this period was intense, and by 1910 he was also writing extensively in Portuguese. He published his first essay in literary criticism in 1912, his first piece of creative prose (a passage from The Book of Disquiet) in 1913, and his first poems as an adult in 1914.
Living sometimes with relatives, sometimes in rented rooms, Pessoa supported himself by doing occasional translations and by drafting letters in English and French for Portuguese firms that did business abroad. Although solitary by nature, with a limited social life and almost no love life, he was an active leader of Portugal’s Modernist movement in the 1910s, and he invented several of his own movements, including a Cubist-inspired ‘Intersectionism’ and a strident, quasi-Futurist ‘Sensationism’. Pessoa stood outside the limelight, however, exerting influence through his writings and in his conversations with more conspicuous literary figures. Respected in Lisbon as an intellectual and a poet, he regularly published his work in magazines, several of which he helped to found and run, but his literary genius went largely unrecognized until after his death. Pessoa was convinced of his own genius, however, and he lived for the sake of his writing. Although he was in no hurry to publish, he had grandiose plans for Portuguese and English editions of his complete works, and he seems to have held on to most of what he wrote.
In 1920 Pessoa’s mother, after the death of her second husband, returned from South Africa to Lisbon. Pessoa leased an apartment for the reunited family – himself, his mother, his half-sister and two half-brothers – on the Rua Coelho da Rocha, 16, which is today the Casa Fernando Pessoa. This is where Pessoa lived for the last fifteen years of his life – part of the time with his mother, who died in 1925, and sometimes with his half-sister, her husband and their two children, but he also spent long periods by himself. (Pessoa’s half-brothers emigrated to England in 1920.) Family members have reported that Pessoa was affectionate and good-humoured but resolutely private. No one realized how vast and varied a written universe was contained in the large trunk where he deposited his writings over the years.
The contents of that trunk – which today constitute the Pessoa Archives at the National Library of Lisbon – include over 25,000 manuscript sheets of poetry, prose, plays, philosophy, criticism, translations, linguistic theory, political writings, horoscopes and assorted other texts, variously typed, hand-written or illegibly scrawled in Portuguese, English and French. Pessoa wrote in notebooks, on loose sheets, on the backs of letters, advertisements and handbills, on stationery from the firms he worked for and from the cafés he frequented, on envelopes, on paper scraps, and in the margins of his own earlier texts. To compound the confusion, he wrote under dozens of names, a practice – or compulsion – that began in his childhood. He called his most important personas ‘heteronyms’, endowing them with their own biographies, physiques, personalities, political views, religious attitudes, and literary pursuits. Some of Pessoa’s most memorable work in Portuguese was attributed to the three main poetic heteronyms – Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos – and to the ‘semiheteronym’ called Bernardo Soares, while much of his vast output of English poetry (along with some prose) was credited to heteronyms Alexander Search and Charles Robert Anon. His one French heteronym, Jean Seul, wrote satirical essays. The many other alter egos included translators, short story writers, an English literary critic, an astrologer, a philosopher, a friar, and an unhappy nobleman who committed suicide. There was even a female persona: a hunchbacked consumptive named Maria José, who was helplessly in love with a metalworker who passed by every day below the window where she always sat, gazing and dreaming.
Today, more than seventy-five years after Pessoa’s death, his vast written world has still not been completely charted by researchers, and a significant part of his prose writings are still waiting to be published.

Richard Zenith



“Feel? Let them who read feel.” Fernando  Pessoa
The places mentioned below were those Pessoa privileged with his presence and visits: Bookseller Eliezer Kamenezki (bric-à-brac, Rua de S. Pedro de Alcântara, nº 71); Bookstore Pires. Livraria Bertrand bookstore; Livraria Clássica Editora bookstore; Livraria Ferreira bookstore; Livraria Inglesa bookstore; Parceria António Maria Pereira.

“Don’t read newspapers, or read them only to find out events of little importance or interest; […]” / Bernardo Soares
O Diário de Notícias, O Século and A Capital were his main newspapers. A Capital; A Época; Diário de Lisboa; Diário de Notícias; Diário da Tarde; Jornal do Comércio e das Colónias; Domingo Ilustrado; O Mundo; O Século; República.

Fernando Pessoa walked the streets and cafés of Lisbon daily.
”Why travel? The idea of travelling nauseates me” / Bernardo Soares.
“As is known, Fernando Pessoa, underwent few trips. Besides those mentioned, we can assume he might have, eventually gone to Oporto once and to Fundão on another occasion, although there are no recorded facts to prove this. Fernando Pessoa’s trips were almost always family related. He rarely underwent a trip out of his own initiative. In 1916 he was invited by his Aunt Anica to visit Sweden. That same year he arranged to meet Teixeira de Pascoaes who lived in his house in the Basto region, 3 kilometers from Amarante. Almeirim; Almada; Angra do Heroísmo; Cacilhas; Cascais; Durban, África do Sul; Estoril; Évora; Funchal; Portalegre; Sintra; Tavira (cousin Felisbela).”

In Sitting at the table with Fernando Pessoa/Luís Machado; pref. Teresa Rita Lopes.- Lisboa: Pandora, 2001



My Terrible Baby:

I love your letters, they’re so sweet and I love you too, you’re also sweet. And you’re a bonbon, and a wasp, and you’re honey, that comes from the bees and not the wasps, and everything is alright, and you baby must write me always, even if I don’t, which is always, and I am sad, and mad, and no one likes me, and then again why should they, that exactly, and it all goes back to the beginning, and I may still call you today, and I wish I could kiss your lips, so precisely and voraciously, and eat your lips and the kisses you hide within them, and put my head on your shoulder and slip into the tenderness of love birds, and ask for forgiveness, and pretend to be sorry, and to return over and over again, and full stop until it all starts again, and because it’s you Ofelia who likes a scoundrel and a porker and a pig and a someone with nostrils like a gas meter and a general expression of not being here but in the next door sink, and precisely and finally, and I will end here because I am mad and have always been, from birth, meaning since the day I was born, and I wish Baby were my doll, and I would do as a child, undress her, and this is where my role ends, and this doesn’t sound like something written by a human being, but it’s written by me.


In Love Letters
/ by Fernando Pessoa/organized with notes by David Mourão-Ferreira; based on the text by Maria da Graça Queiroz.- Lisboa: Ática, 1990



Great Portuguese Poet
Fernando Pessoa, the extraordinary poet of “Message”, poem of appraisal of nationalism, one of the most beautiful ever written, was buried yesterday. He was surprised by death in his Christian bed in the Hospital São Luis on Saturday night.
His passage through life left a trail of light and originality. In 1915, with Luiz de Montalvor, Mário de Sá-Carneiro and Ronald de Carvalho — the last two already departed from life — he launched the Orpheu, which had such a profound influence on our literary sphere, and gave him a more and more assertive personality. At the back of his literary circle, at a table in the Martinho da Arcada, Fernando Pessoa was always the youngest of the youngest sitting there. Disconcerting, deeply original and structurally genuine, his personality was as varied as his life. He didn’t undertake one sole activity, a directed activity, he had multiple activities.
He wasn’t the only one writing poetry; there was also Álvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro and Ricardo Reis. He was them profoundly as only he knew how. And in poetry as in life. And in life as in art.
Everything about him was unexpected. From his life to his poems, and even to his death.
Suddenly, as if publicizing a book or a new literary trend he had conceived of and given life to, news of his death circulated. A group of friends led him to an ordinary vault at the Cemetery dos Prazeres. There he lies, next to his dear Cesário, the Cesário he never met and who, unlike anyone, he understood.
If Fernando Pessoa died, if matter has abandoned his body, his spirit will never abandon the hearts and minds of those who admired him. His work and soul remain among them. It is up to them to wake so that the name of one so great doesn’t fall into the common ditch of forgetting.
The poet who was buried yesterday was 47 years old.  Forty seven years and a great love of Life, Art and Beauty. As a young boy, by chance of destiny, which he devotedly followed – Fernando Pessoa theosophist, Christian, who knew about all the religious sects and the negativists, pagan as only artist know how to be, accepted his fate – so he was taken to South Africa. And at the University of the Cape of Good Hope he studied English. He studied the language that Shakespeare and Milton immortalized to such depth that years later he would be presenting in the literary circles of the serene Albion four poetry books – «English Poems, I, II, III, IV»; «Antinuous» and “35 Sonnets”. And he got the first prize in a language contest.
Later in Portugal, his literary activity increased. His contribution to “Águia” can be dated to this time of his life, when his metaphysical messianic ideas, in a famous and elevated study, announced the appearance of a Super-Camões in Portuguese literature.
1915. “Orpheu”. Movement of deep renewal. At that time he worked for “Centauro”, “Exílio”, “Portugal Futurista”, “Contemporânea”. He then began to be loved and understood.
1924. He is the founder, along with Rui Vaz of the magazine «Athena». From then on, his activity just seems to expand. He works for modernist journals such as “Presença”, “Momento” and just a month ago, for “Sudoeste”, founded by Almada Negreiros with notable honesty. He translated Shakespeare and Edgar Poe, who are in a very schematic way, linked to his personality. Whosoever wishes to understand him, browse his vast and disperse work. You will love him. 
Around 11 o’clock yesterday, the body of the great poet was transported from the Chapel to the Prazeres Cemetery, to the family burial vault. Some of his old friends accompanied him. Present were, from “Orpheu”, Luiz de Montalvor, António Ferro, Raul Leal, Alfredo Guizado and Almada Negreiros; from “Presença”, João Gaspar Simões; from “Momento”, Artur Augusto and José Augusto, and Ferreira Gomes, Diogo de Macedo, dr. Celestino Soares, António Botto, Castelo de Morais, João de Sousa Fonseca, Dr. Jaime Neves, António Pedro, Albino Lapa, Silva Tavares, Vitoriano Braga, Augusto de Santa-Rita, Luiz Pedro, Luis Moita, Manuel Serras, Dr. Boto de Carvalho, Rogério Perez, Celestino Silva, Telmo Felgueiras, Nogueira de Brito, Dante Silva Ramos, Carlos Queiroz, Mário de Barros, dr. Rui Santos, Marques Matias, Gil Vaz, Luis Teixeira and a few ohers.
Captain Caetano Dias, the poet’s brother in law represented the family.
Standing by the vault where Fernando Pessoa will from now on remain, Luis de Montalvor, companion of 34 years of literary life, uttered simple and emotion filled words on behalf of the remaining survivors of the group “Orpheu”.
 He said:
 “Two words on Fernando Pessoa’s mortal journey.
 “Two words are enough for him, or none at all. Silence would be preferred, the silence which already surrounds both him and us, which is of the stature of his spirit.
“For him, what is close to God is at peace. But those who shared in his beauty, shouldn’t do so, while seeing him being lowered to the ground, or rather rise, earning the definite ties of infinity, without speaking out a calm but humane word of protest of the rage we feel with his departure.
 “His companions from “Orpheu” or rather his brothers of the same blood ideal to his Beauty couldn’t leave him here, in the extreme earth, without at least having defoliated, upon his gentle death, the gentle lily of his silence and death.
 “We grieve the man that death is taking from us, and with him the loss of the prodigy of his company and the grace of his human presence. But just the man, it’s hard to admit, for his spirit and creative power have received from fate a strange beauty, which will never decease.
 “The rest belongs to the genius Fernando Pessoa”
 The funeral services were conducted by the Barata Agency.