Fernando Pessoa — Heteronym — Riff

The days between Christmas and New Year is time to read all that has piled up over the year. Some reading is done, but time always gets the better of me. I have been digesting and making my way through three books of poetry by Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) until now. For such a complex and fragmented poet, it only seems right that, with a nod and deep bow to Biblioklept, this is a riff.

  1. How well is Pessoa known in the Anglosphere? As a multilingual from an often monolingual culture, this worries me. I have never asked much about what more literary friends know about Pessoa (if anything), but his European contemporaries, Rilke, Cavafy, Lorca and the like, come up with an irregular frequency in conversation, on blogs I read or podcasts I listen to. Pessoa never. The Poetry Foundation (only) has six poems on its website, books are available in translation, but who knows? Is it the heteronyms putting people off?
  2. Or is it the “problematic” way he published so little during his lifetime (he seems to have been quite evasive with publishers) and most of his work ended up on paper in a trunk when Pessoa died in 1935? For any writer, this would be a difficult task: for an author with multiple writing personae like Pessoa, even more so. For example, the first Portuguese edition of The Book of Disquiet was published in 1982; the edition I’ve read not until 1998. And even today, the “critical version” of key texts is disputed—in the back of one of these books is a fierce afterword explaining why the Critical Edition “mutilates” and using a “patchwork quilt technique”.
  3. The poems or prose in all the Pessoa books I’ve read are numbered. These numbers are probably interchangeable.
  4. I first read Pessoa a decade ago in London. In The Book of Disquiet Pessoa comes close to the novel, through a sequence of unlinked first-person prose pieces (it could be a sequence prose poems, but lets not complicate things by making them more esoteric) about the melancholy life of an office clerk/flâneur in Lisbon. I won’t describe it more, you should read it. Read more of this post
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