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Selected Poems


Fernando Pessoa’s writings belong to two categories of works, which we may call orthonymic and heteronymic. We cannot call them autonymous and pseudonymous, for that’s not in fact what they are. Pseudonymous works are by the author in his own person, except in the name he signs; heteronymic works are by the author outside his own person. They proceed from a full-fledged individual created by him, like the lines spoken by a character in a drama he might write.

The heteronymic works of Fernando Pessoa have been produced by (so far) three people’s names—Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos. These individuals should be considered distinct from their author. Each one forms a kind of drama, and all of them together form another drama. Alberto Caeiro, deeming himself born in 1889 and dying in 1915, wrote poems with a definite orientation. The other two were his disciples, each descending (as disciples) from a different aspect of that orientation. Ricardo Reis, who considers himself born in 1887, isolated and stylized the intellectual and pagan aspect of Caeiro’s work. Álvaro de Campos, born in 1890, isolated the work’s (so to speak) emotive side, which he designated as “sensationist” and which—in combination with other, lesser influences, most notably that of Walt Whitman—gave rise to various compositions. These are generally of a scandalous and irritating nature, particularly for Fernando Pessoa, who in any case has no choice but to write and publish them, however much he disagrees with them. The works of these three poets form, as I’ve said, a dramatic ensemble, and the intellectual interaction of their personalities as well as their actual personal relationships have been duly studied. All of this will go into biographies to be accompanied, when published, by astrological charts and perhaps photographs. It’s a drama divided into people instead of into acts.

(If these three individuals are more or less real than Fernando Pessoa himself is a metaphysical problem that the latter—not privy to the secret of the Gods and therefore ignorant of what reality is—will never be able to solve.)


(from a “Bibliographical Summary” drawn up by Pessoa and published in 1928)

Fernando Pessoa, A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe. Selected Poems, Edited and Translated by Richard Zenith, London: Penguin Books, p. 4

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