Fernando Pessoa - Writing A Lifetime

Writing A Lifetime

He looked about thirty, thin, rather above average height, exaggeratedly bent over when seated but less so when he stood up, dressed with a certain negligence, which was not entirely negligence. On his pale, uninteresting face an air of suffering did not stir interest, although it was difficult to define what kind of suffering that air — it seemed to suggest several kinds: privation, anguish, and a suffering born from the indifference of having suffered a great deal.

Fernando Pessoa, from the Introduction to
The Book of Disquiet, tr. by Alfred Mac Adam.

In his early years, Pessoa was influenced by major English classic poets as Shakespeare, Milton or Spenser and romantics like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. Later, when he returned to Lisbon for good, he was influenced by French symbolists Charles Baudelaire, Maurice Rollinat, Stéphane Mallarmé; mainly by Portuguese poets as Antero de Quental, Gomes Leal, Cesário Verde, António Nobre, Camilo Pessanha or Teixeira de Pascoaes. Later on, he was also influenced by modernists as Yeats, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, among many other writers.

During World War I, Pessoa wrote to a number of British publishers in order to print his collection of English verse The Mad Fiddler (unpublished during his lifetime), but it was refused. However, in 1920, the prestigious literary journal Athenaeum included one of those poems. Since the British publication failed, in 1918 Pessoa published in Lisbon two slim volumes of English verse: Antinous and 35 Sonnets, received by the British literary press without enthusiasm. Along with some friends, he founded another publishing house, Olisipo, which published in 1921 a further two English poetry volumes: English Poems I–II and English Poems III by Fernando Pessoa.

Politically, Pessoa considered himself a "mystical nationalist" and, despite his monarchist sympathies, he didn't favour the restoration of the monarchy. He described himself as conservative within the British tradition. He was an outspoken elitist and aligned himself against communism, socialism, fascism and Catholicism. He supported the military coups of 1917 and 1926, and wrote a pamphlet in 1928 supportive of the Military Dictatorship but after the establishment of the New State, in 1933, Pessoa become disenchanted with the regime and wrote critically of Salazar and fascism in general. In the beginning of 1935, Pessoa was banned by the Salazar regimen, after he wrote in defense of Freemasonry.

Here lies who thought himself the best
Of poets in the world's extent;
In life he had not joy nor rest.
Alexander Search, 1907.

Pessoa died of cirrhosis in 1935, at the age of forty-seven, with only one book published in Portuguese: "Mensagem" (Message). However, he left a lifetime of unpublished and unfinished work (over 25,000 pages manuscript and typed that have been housed in the Portuguese National Library since 1988). The heavy burden of editing this huge work is still in progress. In 1988 (the centenary of his birth), Pessoa's remains were moved to the Hieronymites Monastery, in Lisbon, where Vasco da Gama, Luís de Camões, and Alexandre Herculano are also buried. Pessoa's portrait was on the 100-escudo banknote.

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