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MIGUEL TORGA

(Poet and writer of prose - 1907-1995)

by Rolando Galvão

Translated by John D. Godinho

 

Miguel Torga

I, A SINNER, CONFESS THAT I AM A SWAMP AND THE SWAMP'S MOONLIGHT, ALL MIXED...

WHEN IT ALL HAPPENED... 

1907: Adolfo Correia da Rocha is born in S. Martinho de Anta (Vila Real district) - 1920: Emigrates to Brazil - 1925: Returns from Brazil - 1927: Presença, a literary magazine, is founded and he becomes a collaborator. - 1928: He enters the School of Medicine, University of Coimbra;  publishes Ansiedade (Anxiety), his first book of poetry. - 1930: He leaves Presença. - 1931: Publishes Pão Ázimo (Unleavened Bread), his first book written in prose. - 1933: He graduates from the School of Medicine. - 1934: Publishes A Terceira Voz (The Third Voice), in prose, and begins to use the name Miguel Torga as a pseudonym. - 1936: O outro livro de Job (The Other Book of Job), book of poetry, is published. - 1937: A Criação do Mundo – Os dois primeiros dias  (The Creation of the World – The first two days). - 1939: Opens a medical office in Coimbra - 1940: Publishes Os Bichos (The Animals). - 1941: Publishes the first volume of Diário (Diary); Contos da Montanha (Tales from the Mountain), later republished in Rio de Janeiro; Terra firme and Mar (The Sea), his first play. - 1944: Novos Contos da Montanha (New Tales from the Mountain), poetry. - 1945: Vindima (The Grape Harvest), his first novel. - 1947: Sinfonia (Symphony), a play. - 1950: Cântico do Homem (Hymn to Man), poetry; Portugal. - 1954: Penas do Purgatório (Punishment in Purgatory), poetry - 1958: Orfeu Rebelde (Rebellious Orpheus), poetry. - 1965: Poemas Ibéricos (Iberian Poems). - 1981: Publishes the last volume of A Criação do Mundo (The Creation of the World.  - 1993: The last volume of Diário (XVI). - 1995: Adolfo Correia da Rocha dies. 

 

THE MAN AND HIS ORIGINS

Cover of the book Ansiedade. The author was not yet using his pseudonym "Miguel Torga.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miguel Torga, António de Sousa, Afonso Duarte, Paulo Quintela and Vitorino Nemésio (photograph, 1937)

 

Adolfo 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.

He enters the Seminary, but leaves soon thereafter.

He 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 his talent.

He 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.

His 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.

There is a certain amount of arrogance, a certain detachment from other people, a type of shyness common to those who come from humble origins:

I 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.

There is a desire for absolute perfection and truth:

That 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.

He 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...

The 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.

At the funeral of Afonso Duarte (TN: Influential poet in Coimbra circles), he states, in his eulogy, that death purifies  one’s feelings.

Man is, much to his misfortune, a source of loneliness:  we are born alone, we live alone and we die alone.

He 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.”

He 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 fascinate him.

I am a crossroads where two natures meet. Those who know him well might add: innumerous natures...

He dies on January 17, 1995, and is buried in S. Martinho da Anta, near his parents and his sister.

 

OTHER PEOPLE

 

“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

Cover, "The Third Voice", 1934 edition.The author is now using his pseudonym.

 

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 fatherland.

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 birthplace, Trás-os-Montes.

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 virtues...

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:

 ...And so, India

will go up in smoke

In those golden palaces

of Lisboa;

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 Arcádia.    

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 uniform.”

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...

But Coimbra is one of the loves of his life.  That’s where he lives, works and spends his time.  The most beautiful city in the country,...the setting for a perpetual rebirth of the spirit.

 

POLITICS AND POLITICIANS

Miguel Torga 

 

 

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.

The  authorities 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.

Regarding the division of Europe into regions, he asks:  “The world is facing the drama of diversities and now we, who have had national unity in territory, language, customs and religion for the past eight hundred years, should we commit the insanity of destroying it?”

 

THE WRITER AND THIS OEUVRE

Adolfo Rocha decides to adopt the name “Miguel Torga” as his pseudonym.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of the book "Rampa".  The author was not yet using his pseudonym 'Miguel Torga.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 prose.

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. 133).

In the 1920s, his first published works, when he was still a student, are signed with his real name, Adolfo Correia da Rocha.

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 also short-lived.

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 recognition.

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 condition:

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):

  ...this torment,

present every day;

...this secret flame

that within us exists

And that, though quenched

or controlled,

still insists.

Four years later, he publishes Rebellious Orpheus, profoundly in disagreement with the restrictions then being imposed:

I sing as one who uses
verses as a means of self-defense

I sing, and never ask  the Muses

If 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 autobiographical nature.

Portugal, whose last edition occurred in 1993, includes excepts from previous works and is explained by the poem Pátria (Fatherland), which is used as a prologue:

...Today, I know
of only one thing that pleases me

 - a small piece of land
trimmed with the presence of the sea.                                                                                     

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.  

The Animals 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 life.

His writings are listed in a number of anthologies next to the great names of world literature.

There are translations of his books in a number of languages: Spanish, French, English, German, Chinese, Japanese, Croatian, Romanian, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Bulgarian.  Some of these translations include prefaces written by Torga, himself

 

PRIZES

 

Jorge 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 successful.

It is not his intention to show his disappointment, but it becomes quite apparent to his friends.

Averse to honors and glory, he refuses the “Almeida Garrett” Prize, awarded to him in 1954.

Nevertheless, he receives a number of other prizes.  In 1976, he receives the “Knokke-Heist International Poetry Prize,” and, a few years later, the “Montaigne Prize” awarded by the F.V.S. German Foundation. He also receives Portuguese prizes among which are the “Camões Prize”, in 1989, the “Personality of the Year Prize”, in 1991, and, in the following year, the “Literary Life” Prize, which is awarded for the very first time. In 1969, he had received the literary prize given by the newspaper “Diário de Notícias” and, in 1980, together with Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the Brazilian poet, he receives the “Morgado de Mateus” Prize.  His capacity to create will continue strong until close to his death, which occurs in 1995.

 

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