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and writer of prose - 1907-1995)
by Rolando Galvão
Translated by John D. Godinho
THE MAN AND HIS ORIGINS
Correia da Rocha, who will be known as Miguel Torga, is born on August 12,
1907, in S. Martinho da Anta, municipality of Sabrosa, in the province of
Trás-os-Montes. His parents
are country people and he maintains strong ties with his origins, his
family, the rural environment and the nature that surrounds him.
Even when they are not specifically mentioned, his father, his
mother, his grade school teacher, Mr. Botelho, the crags, the mountains,
the lean results of the earth obtained after much sweat and toil, the
megalithic monuments so comun in the region, they are always present.
enters the Seminary, but leaves soon thereafter.
emigrates to Brazil in 1920. There,
he works in his uncle’s coffee plantation havesting coffee beans. His
uncle becomes aware of his qualities and pays for his enrollment and
studies at Leopoldina High School, where his teachers also take note of
returns to Portugal in 1925 and enters the School of Medicine at the
University of Coimbra. He participates moderately in the carefree
activities of student life. He
publishes is first books while still a student.
He graduates in 1933, thanks to the financial assistance received
from his Brazilian uncle.
family is one of the focal points of his life.
He hardly needs any words to communicate with his father to whom he
devotes much love and respect. “I
cut my father’s hair and shaved him...He was always handsome, the old
man.” He remembers the
loving arms of his father holding his newborn
granddaughter for the first time.
He shows the same love for his mother in the poems he dedicates to
her. And the same is true of the deep love and affection he holds for his
wife and child.
is a certain amount of arrogance, a certain detachment from other people,
a type of shyness common to those who come from humble origins:
haven’t always written that I am intransigent, difficult, using a type
of logic that borders on inhumanity... I haven’t always admitted that I
was irritated with this person or that friend...Unfortunately, people
don’t let me alone, to think alone, to feel alone.
is a desire for absolute perfection and truth:
each phrase be a means of seduction, instead of an ingenious disguise...and
that it be an act without subterfuge. To that end, I clean it scrupulously,
removing all impurities and ambiguities.
has the reputation of never giving anything to anybody. But that is idle
talk, easily contradicted by the numerous patients that he takes care of,
free of charge. He confides
to some friends that his financial resources are limited.
That is understandable: for
political reasons, his wife, Professor Andrée Crabbé Rocha, is forbidden
to teach, and, in the first few years of publishing his work, he finds
that editorial costs are high...
idea of death and solitude is always with him. Ever since he was a child,
these feelings have been present in his body and spirit. They are
mentioned in about half of the twenty-five poems included in the last
volume of Diário. Not because he has reached a ripe old age or
because he is suffering from some terminal illness. They were with him
even before he reached his 40s. They are not felt as some type of fear,
they are, rather, taken as a type of limitation. One night, when he was a
child, alone, unprotected, confused,
he witnesses the death of his grandfather.
This event is not alien to his obsession.
the funeral of Afonso Duarte (TN: Influential poet in Coimbra circles), he
states, in his eulogy, that death purifies
is, much to his misfortune, a source of loneliness: we are born alone, we live alone and we die alone.
is a tireless traveler, in his own country and abroad. He travels to China and India when he is close to 80.
“I must seem crazy running around my native land without even
knowing the reasons for such pilgrimages.”
is excited by monuments. The
Jerónimos, Batalha and Alcobaça monasteries have a deep meaning in the
soul of the nation. The convent at
Mafra is a stupid affair which justifies any punishment for the
kings who squandered gold to have it built. Paleolithic monuments
am a crossroads where two natures meet. Those
who know him well might add: innumerous natures...
“Some of Camões’s verses were crudely hammered out”, says Miguel Torga.
His relationships with other people, whether on
an artistic, literary or any other level, are not easy.
They are even more
difficult when it comes to personalities or people in the public eye, but
they are friendlier when he deals with people from humble origins.
He quarrels with his friends at literary
meetings. As a rule, such
differences are not reconciled.
In the exercise of his profession, he treats
many patients, free of charge. He
becomes involved in long conversations with them, especially those of
humble origins or those who come from his part of the country
He does not autograph or write dedications in
his books, so as to leave the reader entirely free to make his own
judgment regarding the contents.
An important political figure complains to the
author regarding his refusal to autograph and dedicate a particular book.
Torga replies that the complainer is luckier than a certain lady
they both know. After all,
he, the complainer, doesn’t have the attributes of beauty and elegance
that she had but she was refused just the same...There was no
double-entendre here, since he was not given to saying things in jest.
Nor does he lend himself to writing prefaces for
the works of fellow writers, with rare exceptions.
There’s a story going around Coimbra, perhaps exaggerated, that
he once was asked by a young writer and his refusal was put in the form of
a question: “What do you
intend to publish, your work or my preface?”
He is not afraid to criticize the work of others,
even those who have been placed on a pedestal.
Of Camões, he says that some of his verses were crudely hammered
out. Even the title Os Lusíadas,
he says, is an expression of our insignificance and the verses are more
illegible than those of the Divine Comedy. Nevertheless, he
expresses great admiration for the bard and his poetry.
He says that the absence of any doubts regarding
anything is the work of our brilliant thinkers always on duty.
He deeply mistrusts, and has very little
patience with, intellectuals: “I talk only as much as I feel
obligated to...I leave him as soon as I can and return to relationships
which are less tense and more fruitful...,not depositing any hopes in men
of letters..., in the company of illiterates where I can still find
laughter, indignation and awe...”
THE FATHERLAND IS A MAGNET
The wonderful world of Trás-os-Montes is one of
his great loves. He carries
it in his soul wherever he goes; it seems that he sees it everywhere.
It is always coming up in his prose, always praised as the land of
God and of the gods.
It doesn’t belong to him alone, but it will
belong only to those who wish to deserve it. So he says in Portugal, where he paints the picture of
another one of his loves: his
This type of worship leads to excesses.
In the neighboring province of Minho he finds himself bored by the
permanent presence of the color green.
He is disheartened, looking for a Minho with less corn, less
grass, less vineyards. He finds it where the grass gives way to barren, gray-colored
soil, identified with the human landscape. In other words: his
This is his territory and he sees in it things
that others fail to see. A
paradise where all one needs to do is hold out his hand and he will be
presented with potatoes, figs, nuts, olive oil and other countless riches
and gifts that are beyond anyone’s imagination.
But in the past he had spoken of Marão,
which yields neither straw nor grain, where hungry children feed
on the herbage available.
He recognizes that only with a full stomach can
one admire the beauty of the colors
and the skyline of the mountains...
His exaggeration reaches levels which can only
be explained by a symbiosis of passion and poetry and by his boundless
ingeniousness. The disputes
among the local citizens, sometimes translated into physical aggression,...like
wild animals, are the result of an exacerbation of pure and crystal clear
He is strongly attracted by the city of Évora
and its monuments. It
synthesizes the diversity of all the peoples who came before: the latins,
the moors and the others...
His love for his fatherland, a magnet, comes
through in every line he writes. He
goes to Spain, to Verin, and is greatly pleased by the view of Portugal
from the top of a castle.
Strangely enough, he accepts the idea of
multicontinentality, though he tempers it with his universalist humanism.
Later, he stresses the differences in the positive characteristics
of the two ethnic groups.
Each monument, each stone, each tract of flat
land, the sea, the mountains, they are all passionately glorified, as long
as they are Portuguese...
He has a certain Iberian political theory:
my civic native land ends in Barca de Alva...my earthly native
land ends in the Pyrenees.
He does not reflect on a position regarding
political union. Rather, his thoughts on the question are revealed in his
references to a common destiny and a common cultural legacy.
In A Vida (Poemas Ibéricos) (Life: Iberian Poems), he
mentions the Basques, the
Andalusians, the Galicians, the Asturians, the Catalans and the Portuguese,
but he does not mention the Castilians. When he compares heroes, he calls
Hernando Cortez inhuman and brutal, while he seems to merely shed the
tears shed by Afonso de Albuquerque:
will go up in smoke
In those golden palaces
And so, the Fatherland
will lose its way
to the walls of Goa.
In a poem dedicated to
Garcia Lorca, published before Iberian Poems, Torga anticipates the
preface written by his wife for the bilingual edition (Portuguese and
Castilian, translated by Eugénio de Andrade), when he says that “he
is bringing heather to the rose of Granada” and that he will be
present “as long as there
is poetry, life and people in Iberia.”
COIMBRA AND TRADITION
Torga praises and disparages Coimbra.
Coimbra is one of Torga’s main connections
with life. He studies there
and, after 1939, that is where he practices medicine, where lives and
where his creativity reveals itself like a volcano in permanent activity. He attends literary meetings, he has a number of friends and
spends a few hours every day chatting with his friend João Fernandes,
before he goes to one of the cafés, the Central, the Brasileira or the
Coimbra brings out in him conflicting feelings:
passion and shyness, humbleness and immodesty, praise and disparagement of
things close to him.
His political position reflects his concept and
criticism of university teaching prevalent at the time.
The University, a large building to teach country folk...,
defends itself from any subsersive originality or thought...It is the
mystification of the mortar-board and tassel.
A firm believer in everything that is beautiful
and monumental, he does not dedicate one single word in his prose work Portugal,
to the Santa Cruz Church, to the Old Cathedral, Almedina or the Church of
Santiago. Not even one word
for the narrow streets of the Lower City, with their special charm which
leaves no one indifferent.
He opens the chapter dedicated to Coimbra with a
line that Eça de Queiroz wrote for his character Conselheiro Acácio (TN:
from Eça’s Cousin Basílio), saying that the city is “...an
odalisque reclining in her private chambers...”
The so-called “idle talk
tradition” explains this state of mind. This is more
extensively spelled out in a section he calls A Fornatura (The
Graduation) included in Memórias de Alegria (Memories of Joy),
an anthology compiled by Eugénio de Andrade, where he discusses the
practices and traditions of the academic environment. He always opposed
them openly. The cape and the
academic gown are anachronistic symbols which compose what he calls “the
Committing a “social crime,” he wears a
regular suit to his graduation ceremony, but he can’t prevent his
garments from being ripped and torn by his classmates, following the
tradition of ripping and tearing the cape and the academic gown.
Although this aversion softens with time, it
never dies out. He considers A
Queima das Fitas (The Burning of the Ribbons), of 1957,
to be one of his funereal anniversaries...
POLITICS AND POLITICIANS
Strictly speaking , it is not easy to classify
Torga’s political orientation. Before
April 25 (TN: The revolution that overthrew Salazar’s regime), he is,
undoubtedly, a man belonging to the opposition.
He is arrested several times and some of his
works are apprehended.
He goes to Paris and mingles with other exiles
who, mostly, will come to organize the Socialist Party.
They ask him to stay, but he refuses, explaining that he will never
get used to the great distance between him and his country.
He returns to Portugal, is arrested by the
secret police and is sent to Aljube Prison.
deny him a passport a number of times.
He presides at the first meeting of the Central
Regional Section of the Socialist Party.
He makes it clear that he is not a member of the party and that his
participation is in keeping with the socialist principles that he has
always held. He is more sensitive to a code of ethics than to an
ideology, more...a fraternal participant than a strict party follower.
He states that the adoption of foreign
systems and methods... will not permit us to be at peace with our
constitutional nature nor will it lead us to the road of a growing
democracy...that goal will only be reached by adopting original solutions....Capitalism
does not hesitate even before a road of suffering; he sharpens his
incorrigible frankness and, in another passage, he sees Judaic-Christian
roots in communism.
A few years before, speaking of intellectuals on
the political scene, he had stated: there
is nothing less sociological than the application of the strict spirit of
the system to a living community. And he accuses Sartre of having
placed preconception above conception in order to promote his own
image, without any concern for the fact that, in the process, he was
corrupting entire generations.
His manifest impatience toward politicians and
his shying away from the centers of power are consistent with his
declarations that he has anarchist leanings. His political feelings are
reminiscent of Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s socialism, marked by strong
interaction with an anarchism which is noble, profoundly humane, and
non-violent. He remains,
always, in opposition to the government, since power means keeping the
people at a distance, the people that give it support.
The revolution of April 25 brings him a feeling
of freedom but along with it come some disappointments – political
persecution, the jockeying for government positions.
Politics is for them (the politicians) a promotion and,
for me, an affliction. He describes, with irony and disbelief,
the conversations that he has with policians, irrespective of his
agreement or disagreement with their political affiliation.
He does not support, nor does he have any of
sympathy for, the idea of a European Union.
It offends his feelings of patriotism and his ideals for his native
land. This is the
repudiation by a Portuguese poet based on the lack of responsibility of a
handful of accountants who have deprived him of his sovereignty...and
Maastricht will be an indelible stain in the memory of Europe.
He is jubilant when the Danish refuse to approve the first
European Union referendum.
|THE WRITER AND THIS OEUVRE|
Adolfo Rocha decides to adopt the name “Miguel Torga” as his pseudonym.
Torga and his Animals, with human attributions.
He decides to adopt the pseudonym of Torga. He
chooses it carefully. Torga
means heather, a wild, low-growing shrub, that grows spontaneously in dry
rural areas throughout Portugal, but especially in the mountainous regions
in the north. It is the
sturdiness of this plant that will characterize the poet and the writer of
This is more than a sign of things to come; it
is an agenda that includes the refusal to submit to nature and to human,
political, social and all other systems which make up his work, full of
strength, independence and intransigence. Going against all barriers and
interests which apparently are contradictory but, in fact, are mutually
complementary, he exposes his truth without any restrictions when speaking
of people, events or facts; he
is not afraid to attack the established order, but, at the same time, he
does not set aside those conservative principles in which he believes; he
alters his position on a given subject as long as “his truth” demands
it. There is no possible uniformity of criteria before
the surprising and paradoxical diversity of life (Diário XII, p.
In the 1920s, his first published works, when he
was still a student, are signed with his real name, Adolfo Correia da
Immediately upon its foundation, he joins the
group Presença which includes the great poets of his time.
But in 1930, he leaves the organization, together with Branquinho
da Fonseca and Edmundo Betancourt, because he believes
it imposes restrictions on the freedom to create.
In Altitude, he equates death to the
misfortune of holding positions without consistency. Efforts should be
exerted in all moments of life and of literary production...
Together with Branquinho da Fonseca he founds a
new literary magazine called Sinal which has a very short life.
Later he founds Manifesto, this time with Albano Nogueira, which is
In 1928, he publishes his first book, Ansiedade,
which is followed by Rampa. Both
are books of poetry.
This is the beginning of what will be one of the
most extensive and profound productions in Portuguese literature, ever.
Writing will be, from that moment on, a constant registration of emotions,
difficult to equal.
He publishes Tributo (Tribute) and Abismo
(Abyss), poetry, and Pão Ázimo (Unleavened Bread) and A
Terceira Voz (The Third Voice), his first books of prose. In this last book, he uses his pseudonym, Miguel Torga, for
the first time. It will
become his name not only in his writings, but for all other activities in
his life, including his relationships with friends.
The books mentioned above are either out of
print or were apprehended or were simply removed from circulation.
In 1936, he returns to poetry with his O
Outro Livro de Job (The Other Book of Job), which is re-edited in 1944
and will have three new printings until 1988.
Torga’s literary production begins to gain
He continues to write poetry.
He publishes Lamentação (Lamentation) (1943) and Libertação
(Liberation) (1944), a hopeful appeal for the coming
of the angel of visitations and poetry,
and that he bring the wood and the flame
for the fire he asked for.
There follow Odes (1946) and Nihil
Sibi (1948). In 1950, he publishes o Cântico do Homen (Hymn to
Man), which was immediately reprinted.
Without overlooking resistence and hope, the hymn laments the human
But the humiliating fruits of failure
have a bitter taste that excites me
Cover with flowers the ground of
the old world:
The future is upon us!
Soon thereafter, he publishes Alguns Poemas
Ibéricos (Some Iberian Poems) (1952).
Then, in 1954, Penas do Purgatório (Punishment in Purgatory):
present every day;
...this secret flame
that within us exists
And that, though quenched
Four years later, he publishes Rebellious
Orpheus, profoundly in disagreement with the restrictions then being
sing as one who uses
sing, and never ask the Muses
it is terror or beauty what I sense.
And in the same book:
I was born a subversive.
Starting with subversive feelings about myself
– the main reason
for my dissatisfaction.
In poetry, he also publishes Câmara Ardente
(Funeral Parlor) (1962) and Poemas Ibéricos (Iberian Poems),
the latter being translated into Spanish and French.
Not all of his poetical production is mentioned
here. In 1941, he begins to
publish his Diário (Diary) which, in a sequence of sixteen
volumes, will include innumerable poems together with the most diversified
types of prose: comments on a
great variety of events, intimate thoughts, poetry, articles, political
and social analyses, criticism of customs, notes on landscape, study of
cultures, impressions from trips. This should be enough to qualify Torga
as one of the greatest writers, not only of the century, but of all time,
not just in Portuguese terms, but
in terms of universal literature.
The theater is also deserving of his creative
efforts. He publishes O
Paraíso (Paradise), Sinfonia (Symphony) (whose apprehension causes
him much grief), Mar (The Sea), and Terra Firme (Terra
Firma), a drama dealing with rural life and the endless waiting by
brides and family for those who emigrated.
In prose, he publishes The Creation of the
World – The First Two Days (1938), the first of a series, which will
be followed by The Creation of the World – the Third Day and then
continues up to The Creation of the World – the Sixth Day (1981).
In a sense, it it complemented by the Diário (Dairy) in its
whose last edition occurred in 1993, includes excepts from previous works
and is explained by the poem Pátria (Fatherland), which is used as
...Today, I know
small piece of land
His most important work as a novelist is Vindima
(The Grape Harvest). There
is no question regarding the literary quality of this type of work, but it
is not considered to be on a par with the rest of his production. This is
so for reasons that have nothing to do with quality, in the opinion
of António Arnaut.
Many consider Torga’s short stories as the
apex of his qualities as a writer. In Tales from the Mountain, he
deals once again with the dramas of rural life.
is published in 1940 and is re-edited soon thereafter. It is translated
into innumerous languages. In
it, he deals with animals with human feelings or human beings dressed as
animals, or a brotherhood of animals and men, all joined by a plaster made
of life. Nero, the dog, Tenório,
the rooster, Morgado, the
donkey, Ladino, and Ramiro. And
Madalena, making her way against the contradiction between culture and
His writings are listed in a number of
anthologies next to the great names of world literature.
Amado, the Brazilian novelist, considers Torga to be above prizes,
including the Nobel Prize for Literature, for which he was nominated in
1960. He did not
received it, possibly due to the interference of
people in power in Portugal at the time.
He is nominated again a few years later but, as we know, is not
is not his intention to show his disappointment, but it becomes quite
apparent to his friends.
to honors and glory, he refuses the “Almeida Garrett” Prize, awarded
to him in 1954.