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(Poet, 1888 - 1935)
Translated by John D. Godinho
REALITY, COME BACK TOMORROW
Lisbon, November 26, 1935. Pessoa heads for home at the end of his workday at the import-export office. Under his arm he carries, as always, a leather briefcase. Before going up to his apartment on Coelho da Rocha Street, he stops off at Trindade’s Bar, just around the corner. This is routine. His friend sells him goods on credit. He goes up to the counter and says:
“2, 8 and 6.”
Trindade brings him a box of matches, a
pack of cigarettes and a small glass of brandy.
There is complicity in his eyes. The matches cost 20 cents, the
cigarettes 80, and the brandy 60. So Pessoa simplifies his request: 2, 8,
and 6. Trindade is used to it. The
poet lights a cigarette and drinks the brandy in one gulp. He takes an empty black bottle out of his briefcase and hands
it to Trindade who, discreetly, returns it filled up. With his little black bottle safely put away, Pessoa departs.
He staggers out of the bar, reciting:
Drunk, it grows white
In the market streets,
Of the empty
Of shadows half-shown.
The moon becomes white
In the streets of the market
Deserted, unknown... (1)
|MY SOUL SHATTERED LIKE AN EMPTY VASE|
Pessoa and his heteromyns...
Alberto Caeiro, a heteronym, reveals himself to Fernando Pessoa.
his room, he spends the entire night bent over his desk. His figure blends
in with the books, papers and tiny pencils that no one but him would be
able to handle. The ashtray is full of cigarette ends. He writes,
compulsively, to his young friend Casais Monteiro:
since I was a child, I have had the tendency to create a fictitious world
around me, to surround myself with friends and acquaintances who never
existed. ( I don’t know, of course, if they didn’t really exist or if
it is me who doesn’t exist. On
such matters, as in all others, one shouldn’t be dogmatic.)
Ever since I became aware of the thing that I call self, I can
remember with mental precision, the figures, the movements, the character
and the history of several fictitious people who were, to me, as visible
and mine as those things which we, perhaps abusively, call real life.
This tendency, which exists since I realized that I was a self,
has always been with me, modifying
slightly the kind of music it uses to bewitch me but never altering
its manner of bewitching.” (2)
writing is going at full speed when Pessoa begins to receive unexpected
visitors: Caeiro, Reis, Campos and Soares.
They have plans and they want to show them to the great poet. They
arrive one at a time. It is
dawn and now they are all together. They are surprised by a deeply moved
poet, still holding the sheets of paper in his hand.
“Had he received bad news?” they ask, showing concern. The poet
tries to change the subject. He
becomes confused, lost in his
own words, something that had never happened before. But then, he had
never received visitors at such a late hour, especially without a
previous appointment. This must be an act of
“The Great Architect of the Universe,” he thinks. So be it; let
destiny take its course... Then, by fits and starts, he explains:
put off telling the truth as long as I could.
Now, it’s time to take off the mask.”
listeners are uneasy. Those
who are sitting stand up, those who are
standing either sit down or begin pacing the floor. Pessoa’s
evasive speech is interrupted by moans and groans:
was just writing a letter to a friend in which I confided everything that
I now feel I must tell you.”
takes a deep breath and blurts out:
general commotion among those present.
it. You people are nothing
but characters that I have created. When I die, I’ll take you with
can only be insanity. Sheer madness,” says an offended Álvaro de
tell you how it all happened. ‘One day, it was March 8, 1914, when I
had finally decided to give it all up, I went up to a high desk, took a
sheet of paper and began to write, standing up as I usually do whenever I
can. I wrote thirty-odd poems
in one go, in a kind of trance whose nature I cannot define.
It was the greatest day of my life and I’ll never have another
one like it. I started with the title, O Guardador de Rebanhos (
The Keeper of Sheep). What followed was the appearance of someone in me, to whom I
immediately gave the name of Alberto Caeiro. ...So much so, that upon
finishing those thirty-odd poems, I immediately took another piece of
paper and wrote, also in one go, the six poems that make up A Chuva
Oblíqua (Oblique Rain), by Fernando Pessoa.
Once Alberto Caeiro’s presence materialized, I, instinctively and
subconsciously, set out to find him some disciples.
I yanked a latent Ricardo Reis out of his false paganism,
discovered his name, and adjusted him to himself, because, at this stage,
I could already see him. And,
suddenly, arising from sources directly opposed to those of Ricardo Reis,
a new individual burst impetuously into my mind.
In one fell swoop, at the typewriter, without interruption or
correction, there emerged the Ode Triunfal (Triumphal Ode) by
Alvaro Campos – both, the Ode and the author,
already carrying the name they have now.’” (2)
mean to say that all this time we’ve been nothing but lies?” asks
pain that they really feel. (3)
“That’s really the key,” explains Pessoa.
don’t accept that. Let my
creator die in peace, but I’m going to continue quite alive, making
poetry as always,” cries Álvaro Campos, in defiance.
“Well, now! So the creature turns against its own creator. I should have suspected as much,” deplores Pessoa. “And what about you, Caeiro?”
like everything that’s real
and everything that’s right;
whether or not I liked
And so, if I die now, I die a happy man,
Because everything is real and everything
Campos remarks: “I don’t understand your complacency.
Can’t you see that Pessoa took advantage of us and, particularly,
of you? He was compelled to overcome his decadent lyric subjectivity
and he defeated it in such a sudden and aggressive fashion that he had no
alternative but to give a name to the critic who did it.
And that’s where you come in, to save him. (5)
can’t hide his displeasure. And so, Pessoa explains:
wrote the eighth poem of Guardador
de Rebanhos (The Keeper of Sheep), with misgivings and repugnance,
following your childish and antispiritualist blasphemies. To each character that I was able to experience within me, I
gave an expressive nature and turned him into an author, with books, ideas,
emotions, and art, none of which I, the real author, possess, except for
having been the medium through whom they were written by the figures that
I, myself, created.
didn’t have the right to do that,” Campos insists.
deny me the right to do that would be the same as denying Shakespeare the
right to give expression to Lady Macbeth’s soul.
And if that’s true for fictitious characters in a drama, it is
equally true for characters not in a drama, since it applies because they
are fictitious and not because they are in a drama. There’s no need to
explain something which, by its nature, is simple and intuitively
understandable. It happens,
however, that human stupidity is great while human kindness is not worthy
Reis, who had remained silent throughout the explanation, asks:
then, did you invent us? What’s
the origin of it all?”
Pessoa tries to explain it to him:
the deep characteristics of hysteria that exist in me.
I don’t know if I am simply hysterical, or if I am, to put it
more adequately, hysterical
neurasthenic. Whatever the case, your mental origins are in my organic and
constant tendency to depersonalize and to simulate.
If I were a woman –
in women hysterical phenomena manifest themselves through seizures and
things like that – each poem by Álvaro Campos, the most hysterical
within me, would cause a commotion in the neighborhood.
But I am a man and in men hysteria becomes, mostly, a matter of the
mind; thus, everything ends
up in silence and poetry...” (2)
I AM GOING TO EXIST
Pessoa is not thirsty, that’s why he drinks...
he thinks about going to bed, it’s already a new day. Someone knocks at the door.
It’s Mr. Manacés, the barber.
Pessoa hardly says “good-morning” to him. The phlegm in his throat hampers his speech. His trousers
slipping down his legs, he points to the little black bottle.
Manacés understands the signal.
He goes down to Trindade’s bar to fill it up, even before he
sharpened his razor blade. Now
shaved, the poet leaves for the office. He finishes some translations; has lunch at Martinho da
Arcada and, before returning to work, he goes into a tavern, reluctantly.
He thinks of his doctor who had forbidden him to drink.
Then he asks himself.
Should I drink something or should I commit suicide?
am going to exist. Dammit! I
am going to exist.
me something to drink, for I am not thirsty! (6)
night of November 27 to 28. Pessoa
lies shrunken in bed, his hands pressing his abdomen to relieve liver
colics. He moans, he is in
pain. In the morning of the 28th, Pessoa is taken to S. Luis
dos Franceses Hospital. The
pain increases, he has difficulty breathing.
The poet agonizes. He begs for an end to such suffering and is given a pain
reliever. Under the effect of
the drug, he reflects upon his life, which now threatens to leave him.
OH, TO RELIVE THE SORROW
Fernando Pessoa leaves Durban and returns to Lisbon.
Pessoa earns his living as an office worker.
June 13, 1888. Celebration of Saint Anthony's Day, the
Patron Saint of the city. 15:20h.
The streets of Lisbon are crowded because of a religious procession.
At 4 Largo São Carlos, the excitement is even greater.
Maria Magdalena Pinheiro Nogueira, a native of the Azores, is
drenched in sweat. Her fingers press hard and squeeze a pillow; the pangs
Joaquim de Seabra Pessoa, her husband, is listening to music in
back of the house.
Outside, there is a priest saying mass.
In the bedroom, a baby cries.
António Nogueira Pessoa is
sun is in Gemini. “He will be a child blessed with the gifts of
sensibility and humanism,” ventures one of his aunts.
At the age of six, Fernando loses his
father, a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice and music critic for
the daily Diário de Notícias.
Soon thereafter, his brother Jorge, just a bit over six months old,
dies. Loneliness becomes a part of Pessoa’s everyday life at a very
tender age. He invents a friend: a certain
Chevallier de Pas, through whom he writes letters from him, Pessoa, to
He moves to Durban, at the age of seven.
His mother had married, by proxy, commander João Miguel Rosa,
Portuguese consul in the British colony of Natal, in South Africa. Five
children are born to the couple.
It’s a new family for Pessoa. He’ll live in Durban until the
age of 17.
In 1896, he is admitted to West Street, where he studies
English and makes his first Holy Communion.
In English schools he learns principles of trade and commerce.
He stands out as one of the better students.
In 1904, he finishes his Intermediate Examination in the
is awarded the Queen Victoria Prize in English Stylistics as part of the
admission tests for Cabo Universidade. He writes poetry and prose, always
He reads Milton, Byron, Shelley, Tennyson and Poe.
He is familiar with Pope and his school of thought.
1905. Pessoa decides to move back to Lisbon to take a university
course on literature.
He leaves Durban on a German ship, the “Herzog.”
He’ll be staying with his grandmother Dionisia.
The Portuguese language reveals itself as “foreign,” with the
added characteristic of seeming “strange,” even though he understands
it perfectly. In other words, to his ears the Portuguese language is not
yet worn out by daily use, bom dia (good morning), boa tarde
como está (how are you?), passou bem? (how have you been?) e a mãezinha
(is your Mom feeling better?) está
melhorzinha, muito obrigado (she feels a bit better, thank you)! The
language is a block of marble that makes one feel like sculpting it, to
make literature. He discovers Cesário Verde and Baudelaire.
He drops out of the course.
His grandmother dies. He takes his inheritance and sets up a
printing shop: Ibis-Tipográfica Editora-Oficinas a Vapor. It hardly
begins to operate and closes down.
I failed at everything.
Considering that I had no goals,
perhaps everything was nothing.
I dodged the training I was given
by slipping through the window
in the back of the house...(7)
poet earns his living as a translator of business letters and, later, as
He gets away from the office whenever he can.
He just grabs his hat and says:
“I’m going to Abel’s.”
boss finds out that “Abel’s” is nothing more than a warehouse
belonging to the Abel Pereira da Fonseca winery, where Pessoa goes for a
few shots of brandy.
He is caught “red-handed.”
The boss doesn’t mind because Pessoa “aways comes back in
better shape to work.” It’s
a part-time job.
The rest of the time he devotes to literature:
Camões, António Vieira, Antero de Quental and the symbolists. He
begins to write verses in Portuguese.
The Portuguese Renaissance, a nostalgic movement headed by
Teixeira de Pascoaes, makes its appearance.
In the city of Oporto, the group founds a literary magazine called Águia.
Pessoa becomes a collaborator.
He publishes a series of articles, among them “The
New Portuguese Poetry Sociologically Considered.”
also becomes a critic for the weekly magazine Teatro.
makes friends with Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Luís de Montalvor, Armando
Cortes-Rodrigues, Raul Leal, António Ferro, Alfredo Guisado and the
painter Almada Negreiros. He
never misses the literary gatherings held at Café Chiado, Montanha, A
Brasileira, Os Irmãos Unidos.
Together with this group, Pessoa founds Orpheu, an avant-garde
magazine in tune with the new European movements: futurism, orphism,
This publication reveals names such as Santa-Rita Pintor and Ângelo
Lima, a marginal poet who was committed to an asylum.
Orpheu doesn’t reach its third issue.
Two issues were enough to outrage literary conservatives.
THE OTHER POETS
1914. Pessoa meets Alberto
Caeiro, a "pale blond,
blue-eyed" man. (5) He was born in Lisbon, 1888, but now lives in
Ribatejo. He has no
profession. His education is
limited. He views the
world from an old aunt’s estate. A simple, bucolic man, he writes O
Guardador de Rebanhos (The keeper of Sheep), O Pastor Amoroso (The Loving
Shepherd) and part of Poemas
Inconjuntos (Disconnected Poems). In
a letter to a friend, Pessoa reveals: Forgive me
for the absurdity of this phrase: My master had become present in me.
don’t believe in God because I have never seen him.
he wanted me to believe in him,
he would come to speak to me
he would come through my door
to me: Here I am! (9)
breathes and perspires poetry; he draws in the other poets.
He meets Álvaro de Campos, the avant-garde author of Ode
Triunfal (Triumphal Ode), Ode Marítima (Maritime Ode) and Ultimatum.
He is tall, has straight hair, parted on
one side, and wears a monocle. (2)
He was born in Tavira in
1890. He had finished high
school in Portugal and then moved to Glasgow, in Scotland, where he
graduated as a mechanical and naval engineer.
He had written Opiário, an ironical poem about opium and
exoticism, a piece of literary decadence.
In Lisbon, he had dedicated himself to literature and to modernist
polemics. He had also written articles for some newspapers on current
political affairs. As far as Pessoa was concerned, Álvaro was only a
blasé, indolent symbolist, a cultured and bored bourgeois. Campos is
also a disciple of Caeiro, but contrary to Caeiro’s serenity, he
chooses the ethics of dynamism and violence.(8)
the savagery of this savagery! To hell
every life like ours, this is not
life is about!
I am, an engineer, forced to be practical,
I am, motionless, in relation to you,
when I walk;
I’m in command, I am weak;
your great dynamics,
hot and soaked in blood! (10)
1914. Another poet makes his
appearance in the life of Pessoa, who had become aware of his existence
two years before. He is Ricardo Reis, average height, although frail he
didn’t appear to be as frail as, in truth, he was, with a vaguely brown
complexion. (2) This
physician from Oporto, a defender of the monarchy, is one year older than
Pessoa and spends some time in exile in Brazil after the proclamation of
the Republic. A
traditional thinker, a conservative, he uses classicism as a point of
departure to approach the subject of human restlessness, to question the
meaning of the Universe. (8) He writes intensely: eleven odes in one
so, Lydia, by the fireplace, as if we were,
the Gods of home, right there in eternity,
people who confection clothes
we once did
to our lives when we think
what we once were.
outside, there is only night. (11)
devotes himself entirely to his new friends.
His close relationship with such distinguished poets brings more
color to his colorless daily life. One
other writer will be added to this group of artists. In one of these low-priced restaurants,...the poet meets a
man, who looks to be around 30, somewhat tall, whose back becomes quite
hunched when he sits. They begin to greet each other and soon they
become friends. Soares gives
the poet his Livro do Desassossego (The Book of Disquiet), a
collection of writings, not easily classified, with characteristics of
autobiographical fragments, confessions, psychological introspection,
descriptions of landscapes, reflections, and free verses. (8)
Fernando Pessoa publishes Mensagem.
Mário de Sá-Carneiro commits suicide in Paris. Pessoa
is shocked. In a letter to his Aunt Anica he says that, despite the
distance, his friend’s death is deeply felt. Distress.
He begins to look for answers in the occult.
“I believe in the existence of worlds which are superior to
ours, in the existence of inhabitants of such worlds, and in the existence
of several degrees of spiritualities,” he admits.
He becomes interested in secret societies
the Rosicrucian Order, the Freemasons,
the Knights Templar. He studies spiritism, sorcery and the cabala
and translates many books of the Theosophical and Esoteric Collection. Under
the influence of occultism, he writes O Último Sortilégio (The Last
Sortilege) and Além-Deus (Beyond God). He
becomes especially interested in astrology and begins to study and
He even considers establishing himself in Lisbon as a licensed
Caeiro receives an astrological chart made by the poet.
poetry begins to arouse the interest of the critics.
The Times and The Glasgow Herald have articles
covering the two booklets of poems in English which he had published in
now writes for the most important literary magazines in Portugal.
In Contemporânea he publishes
O Banqueiro Anarquista (The Anarchist
Mar Português (The
O Menino da Sua Mãe (Mommy’s
In 1928, he becomes involved in politics.
In Interregno, a political publication of the Núcleo de Acção
Nacional (Center for National Action), he publishes an apology for
Salazar’s dictatorship. A blunder.
Pessoa does not agree with the despotism and ultranationalism of
the existing regime.
Later, he writes three texts satirizing the Estado Novo (The New
of them is addressed to the leader of the movement:
de Oliveira Salazar
sequence of three names, quite regular...
is just a last name.
themselves, they’re not hard to take.
doesn’t make sense
the sense that they all make. (12)
that same year, Pessoa goes into advertising.
Coca-Cola has just entered the Portuguese market and the poet is
charged with the task of creating a slogan for the product: “First,
you find it strange; then you can’t change.”
The product sells like hotcakes, but later the authorities prohibit
its sale in Portugal.
The very slogan, argue the authorities, recognizes the harmful
effects of the soft drink.
the years that follow, Pessoa plunges into the study of astrology.
He exchanges correspondence with the world-famous British occultist
Aleister Crowley, known throughout the world.
Crowley goes to Lisbon to meet Pessoa and then vanishes
Pessoa collaborates with the police to solve what is being
described as a crime.
Pessoa writes to a friend about this hubbub:
“Crowley, who took up residence in Germany after committing
suicide, wrote me a few days ago asking for my translation, or rather, the
publication of the translation.” Pessoa is referring to the sorcerer’s
poem “Hymn to Pan,” which is published in 1931.
|TO LATE FOR THE REUNION|
30, 1935. Edgy, tossing and
turning in bed, Pessoa is burning with fever.
shall never be anything
cannot wish to be anything.
from that, I hold within me
the dreams of the world.
I’m defeated, as if I’d learned the truth.
I am lucid, as if I were about to die.
chaplain tries to calm him down. He
insists on calling out the names of Caeiro, Reis, Campos and Soares. As if they heard the summons of their creator, the poets head
for the hospital. Pessoa is
in the throes of death. He tugs at the bedsheet,
his body shrinks. “Give me my glasses, my glasses,” he
asks. He readies himself for
a last glance at his creation. They haven’t arrived yet.
But he can feel that they are coming. Oh, yes, they are coming.
Reis, Campos and Soares rush into the room.
But they are too late, the poet is dead. There remain only a few
notes scribbled on a piece of paper:
I made of myself something beyond my knowledge,
And what I could make of myself I failed to
The domino costume that I wore was all wrong.
They immediately took me for someone I was not
and I didn’t deny it, and I was lost. When
to take off the mask,
It was stuck to my face.
When I took it off and looked in the mirror,
I had grown old,
the costume that I had not taken off.
I threw the mask away and slept
in the dressing room
As a dog tolerated by the management
because he’s harmless.
And I’m going to write this story to prove
that I’m sublime. (7)
F.P. - (2) Carta a Casais Monteiro (Letter
to Casais Monteiro)(01-13-1935) - (3)
Livro do Desassossego, (The
- (4) Poemas Inconjuntos (Disconnected
Poems), A.Caeiro - (5) João
Gaspar Simões, biographer. - (6)
Bicarbonato de Soda (Bicarbonate of Soda), F.P. -
(7) Tabacaria (The Tobacco Shop), A.Campos.-(8) Maria José de Lencastre, biographer - (9)
O Guardador de Rebanhos (The Keeper of Sheep), A.Caeiro. - (10)
Ode Marítima (Maritime Ode), A.Campos, carta de F.P. a Casais
Monteiro - (11) Lydia,
R.Reis - (12) António de Oliveira