Fernando Pessoa: the master of literary indiscipline

Omaggio di Zoa Studio a Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa è stato un poeta, scrittore e aforista portoghese, uno dei più rappresentativi del ventesimo secolo. Ve ne raccontiamo il motivo nella giornata che commemora la sua scomparsa.

Fernando Pessoa: Portugal, South Africa and again Portugal

The Portuguese writer Fernando Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon (Portugal) on June 13, 1888.

Apart from his childhood and adolescent years (1896-1905) he lived in Durban (South Africa). There, his mother, widowed when he was five, joined her new husband. After his primary, secondary and business studies in English, he turns out to be an excellent linguist, gifted for literature. When, at the age of seventeen, he returned to Portugal, he remained faithful to the English language for a long time. The knowledge of which would be his declared livelihood. After a failed attempt in typography, he entered the service of various commercial companies as editor-secretary for foreign correspondence.

In private, Fernando Pessoa feverishly reads everything that happens to him. French symbolists, German philosophers, Anglo-Saxon Theosophists whose works he will translate, and such Max Nordau. Nordau will make such an impression on him that he believes himself on the verge of madness – where his grandmother had sunk instead .

Pessoa, a discreet man, who often changed his address to better cover his tracks, was seething with projects: leader of a group of young peers, he immediately moved away from “Saudosism”, a decadent form of symbolismthen in full decline.

If he still hides his verses, he publishes critical essays in Aguia, organ of the group “The Portuguese Renaissance”. He prophesied to his country the advent of a “super-Camões” whose name is now easy to imagine. Another movement he founded, “Paulism”, has only an ephemeral existence. Of a completely different scale are “Sensationism” and “Intersectionism”, which both lead to the “Futurism” of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti that conquered Europe.

One, none, one hundred thousand

It was then, the year the First World War broke out, that a psychic cyclone occurred in Fernando Pessoa, which astonished the most clairvoyant of his relatives, Mario de Sá-Carneiro, who left the beginning of a great work before commit suicide, dressed in his tailcoat, in Paris. It was March 8, 1914, a famous date in the annals of literary creation.

Fernando Pessoa began to write, standing on a tall dresser: without ever pausing, more than thirty poems were pushed under the beak of his pen. Imperiously feeling that they belong to someone other than him, in which he greets his master, he signs them with this name: Alberto Caeiro, whose work will be collected in a collection. Soon after, six new poems appear, of which he recognizes the authorship. A teacher needs disciples: in the same session two new characters appear, Ricardo Reis and, very different from him, a certain Alvaro de Campos, who dictates to him, this time with a typewriter, the long and fiery Triumphant Ode.

From that memorable day when mediumship, clairvoyance, belief and mythomania come together in an unprecedented conflagration, this family takes shape and lives, to use the expression of J. do Prado Coelho, in unity and diversity. The characters born on the same day are not twins, on the contrary. Each of these heteronyms is assigned a date of birth, or even a horoscope, profession, biography, political views. Among them exchanges of opinions, comments, controversies – it happens to them to judge Fernando Pessoa, their demiurge for all. All this, in full fever of creation, goes on.

“I felt more about the beings I created than myself”

War and after war

This courteous, rather shy man, full of humor but impenetrable “master of indiscipline”, published the avant-garde magazine Orpheu in 1915, of which only two issues were offered for sale. Around him he gathered the best names of his generation: in addition to Mario de Sá-Carneiro, Luiz de Montalvor, Angelo Lima, the painters Sousa-Cardoso and Almado Negreiros, as well as the Azorean poet Armando Cortes-Rodrigues, to whom he sent letters ( published in Lisbon in 1944) which are a testimony to this period of animation and effervescence. Before sinking, Orpheu publishes, signed by Alvaro de Campos, the large Il Marinaio where ferocity and tenderness collide, with echoes of Walt Whitman and ancestral Portuguese “saudade”.

Between 1918 and 1921 Fernando Pessoa had the poems written directly in English printed at his own expense in thin booklets: 35 Sonnets, Inscriptions, Antinoüs and Épithalame, the first two of an irreproachable classical style, the other two of pure eroticism. “My whole life revolves around my work, however good or bad it may be. Everything else in existence has a secondary interest in me. “

It was only in 1927, eleven years after the death of Mario de Sá-Carneiro, that Fernando Pessoa was included in a group of then unknown but then illustrious writers (José Régio, Joao Gaspar Simoes, Adolfo Casais Monteiro, etc.) who published in Coimbra the magazine Presença, litmus test of a hypersensitive generation.

This group belongs to a Frenchman, Pierre Hourcade, who in 1930 signed a meeting with Fernando Pessoa, announcing many other testimonies. The poet, comforted by the fervor of his younger colleagues, detached from his considerable poetic production the material for a small book, Message (1934), the only one of his collections that he saw printed. It contains accents and initiatory images, grafted on the Rosicrucian tradition.

The last years of Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa did not survive this semi-failure for long: exhausted by the excesses of his interiority, by the chronic flu, by the neurasthenic attacks and even by alcohol in recent months, he died on November 30, 1935 at the French hospital in Lisbon, at the age of 47 years.

Tomba di Fernando Pessoa a Lisbona
Toma of Fernando Pessoa in Lisbon

His real life then begins. The large rustic trunk where he kept his manuscripts continues to throw up his treasures: a dozen collections of poems, collected in one volume, Opere poetici (Rio de Janeiro, 1972), and numerous books of prose: correspondence, critical essays, pages of aesthetics and philosophy, intimate notes, etc., of which a choice is published in Opere in prose (Rio de Janeiro, 1974).

Fernando Pessoa then becomes an international glory: conferences and seminars are dedicated to him, he is translated into most languages. His three major heteronyms became famous (fifteen are attributed to him in all): Alberto Caeiro, wise man living in the countryside, sensual self-taught, clairvoyant agnostic and friend of the obvious. Then there is Ricardo Reis, pagan humanist, disciple of Horace and Anacreon, archaic in form and epicurean in thought. And Alvaro de Campos, engineer living in the Anglo-Saxon world, champion of speed, engines, introspection and bitter contemplation of the absurd.

Where he signs with his real name, Fernando Pessoa is a network of contradictions. Hermetic but clear, serious, pleasant, sarcastic, tender, humorous, eloquent, delicate, cynical, passionate, detached, refined. He is all of this at the same time.

Fernando Pessoa has something like an atom in him. He is the disintegrator of the “I” which is reconstituted in multiple fragments.



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