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Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa, recognized as the greatest poet of the Portuguese language was born on 13th of June 1888 in Lisbon, Portugal. He is distinguished as the most momentous literary figure of the 20th century who played a major role in the development of modernism in his country.

When five, Pessoa moved to Durban, South Africa with his mother after the demise of his father. It was in Durban, where he received his early education in an English school, that Pessoa developed profound appreciation for English literature. Young Pessoa received his first recognition at the age of 15 when he was awarded Queen Victoria Memorial Prize for the best paper in English.

In 1905 Pessoa returned to his homeland Portugal never to leave again. Here he started making his living as a commercial translator and by drafting business letters in English and French. By 1914 Pessoa had started publishing criticism in prose and poetry. This year is also marked as the birth year of Pessoa’s three main literary personas which he preferred to call heteronyms rather than pseudonyms. These were Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Alvaro de Campos. Although throughout his career Pessoa used at least Seventy Eight of his literary figures yet these were the three main heteronyms he returned to from time to time. They all were unique in every manner; they had their own writing style, history, exclusive personality and distinctive physiology. In 1935 Pessoa wrote a letter Adolfo Casais Monteiro explaining how he writes through the names of his three favorite heteronyms.

“How do I write in the name of these three? Caeiro, through sheer and unexpected inspiration, without knowing or even suspecting that I’m going to write in his name. Ricardo Reis, after an abstract meditation, which suddenly takes concrete shape in an ode. Campos, when I feel a sudden impulse to write and don’t know what.”

Pessoa is known and praised to have given his heteronyms a full life, entirely different and separate from his own, compared to many other literary personas adopted by noble writers of his era.

In 1915 Pessoa together with a number of poets and artists established a literary magazine with the name Orpheu. However, they were only able to publish two issues and had to shut down due to financial difficulties. Orpheu published different writers, poets and artists along with Pessoa.

Most of his poems whether written under his own name or his heteronyms were published in literary magazines. He only published four compiled books of poems, three of which were in English and only one in Portuguese. He also wrote short essays, several of which remained unfinished. His first book was published in 1918. Pessoa died at the age of forty seven in the year 1935. He left behind a legacy of heavy burden on the shoulders of publishers to edit his huge unfinished and unpublished work. This includes twenty five thousand pages of typed and manuscript pages. He is remembered as the most celebrated Portuguese poet. It is often said that the four greatest Portuguese poets of modern times are Fernando Pessoa.

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