Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa
Portrait of Pessoa, 1914.
Portrait of Pessoa, 1914.
BornFernando António Nogueira Pessoa
(1888-06-13)13 June 1888
Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal
Died30 November 1935(1935-11-30) (aged 47)
Lisbon, Portugal
Pen nameAlberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Bernardo Soares, etc.
OccupationPoet, writer, translator and philosopher
LanguagePortuguese, English, French
Alma materUniversity of Lisbon
GenrePoetry, essay, fiction
Notable worksMensagem (1934)
The Book of Disquiet (1982)
Notable awards
  • Queen Victoria Prize (1903)
  • Antero de Quental Award (1934)

Signature"Fernando Pessoa"

Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa (Portuguese: [fɨɾˈnɐ̃du pɨˈsoɐ]; 13 June 1888 – 30 November 1935), commonly known as Fernando Pessoa, was a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language. He also wrote in and translated from English and French.

Pessoa was a prolific writer, and not only under his own name, for he dreamed up approximately seventy-five others. He did not call them pseudonyms because he felt that did not capture their true independent intellectual life and instead called them heteronyms. These imaginary figures sometimes held unpopular or extreme views.

Early years in Durban

Pessoa's birthplace: a large flat at São Carlos Square, just in front of Lisbon's opera.

Pessoa was born in Lisbon on 13 June 1888. When Pessoa was five, his father, Joaquim de Seabra Pessôa, died of tuberculosis and the following year, on 2 January, his younger brother Jorge, aged one, also died.

After the second marriage of his mother, Maria Magdalena Pinheiro Nogueira, proxy wedding to João Miguel dos Santos Rosa, Fernando sailed with his mother for South Africa in the beginning of 1896, to join his stepfather, a military officer appointed Portuguese consul in Durban, capital of the former British Colony of Natal. Later on, in 1918, Pessoa wrote a letter in which refers:

Last year in Lisbon before moving to Durban, 1894, aged 6.

There is only one event in the past which has both the definiteness and the importance required for rectification by direction; this is my father's death, which took place on 13th July, 1893. My mother's second marriage (which took place on 30th December, 1895) is another date which I can give with preciseness and it is important for me, not in itself, but in one of its results – the circumstance that, my stepfather becoming Portuguese Consul in Durban (Natal), I was educated there, this English education being a factor of supreme importance in my life, and, whatever my fate be, indubitably shaping it.

The dates of the voyages related to the above event are (as nearly as possible):

1st. voyage to Africa – left Lisbon beginning January 1896.

Return – left Durban in the afternoon of 1st. August 1901.

2nd. voyage to Africa – left Lisbon about 20th. September 1902.

Return – left Durban about 20th. August 1905.[1]

The young Pessoa received his early education at St. Joseph Convent School, a Catholic grammar school run by Irish and French nuns. He moved to the Durban High School in April 1899, becoming fluent in English and developing an appreciation for English literature. During the Matriculation Examination, held at the time by the University of the Cape of Good Hope (forerunner of the University of Cape Town), in November 1903 he was awarded the recently created Queen Victoria Memorial Prize for best paper in English. While preparing to enter university, he also attended the Durban Commercial High School during one year, in the evening shift.

Pessoa in Durban, 1898, aged 10.

Meanwhile, Pessoa started writing short stories in English, some under the name of David Merrick, many of which he left unfinished.[2] At the age of sixteen, The Natal Mercury[3] (edition of 6 July 1904) published his poem "Hillier did first usurp the realms of rhyme...", under the name of C. R. Anon (anonymous), along with a brief introductory text: "I read with great amusement...". In December, The Durban High School Magazine published his essay "Macaulay".[4] From February to June 1905, in the section "The Man in the Moon", The Natal Mercury also published at least four sonnets by Fernando Pessoa: "Joseph Chamberlain", "To England I", "To England II" and "Liberty".[5] His poems often carried humorous versions of Anon as the author's name. Pessoa started using pen names quite young. The first one, still in his childhood, was Chevalier de Pas, supposedly a French noble. In addition to Charles Robert Anon and David Merrick, the young writer also signed up, among other pen names, as Horace James Faber, Alexander Search, and other meaningful names.

In the preface to The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa wrote about himself:

Nothing had ever obliged him to do anything. He had spent his childhood alone. He never joined any group. He never pursued a course of study. He never belonged to a crowd. The circumstances of his life were marked by that strange but rather common phenomenon – perhaps, in fact, it’s true for all lives – of being tailored to the image and likeness of his instincts, which tended towards inertia and withdrawal.

Pessoa in 1901, aged 13.

The young Pessoa was described by a schoolfellow as follows:

I cannot tell you exactly how long I knew him, but the period during which I received most of my impressions of him was the whole of the year 1904 when we were at school together. How old he was at this time I don’t know, but judge him to have 15 or 16. [...]

He was pale and thin and appeared physically to be very imperfectly developed. He had a narrow and contracted chest and was inclined to stoop. He had a peculiar walk and some defect in his eyesight gave to his eyes also a peculiar appearance, the lids seemed to drop over the eyes. [...]

He was regarded as a brilliant clever boy as, in spite of the fact that he had not spoken English in his early years, he had learned it so rapidly and so well that he had a splendid style in that language. Although younger than his schoolfellows of the same class he appeared to have no difficulty in keeping up with and surpassing them in work. For one of his age, he thought much and deeply and in a letter to me once complained of "spiritual and material encumbrances of most especial adverseness". [...]

He took no part in athletic sports of any kind and I think his spare time was spent on reading. We generally considered that he worked far too much and that he would ruin his health by so doing.[6]

Ten years after his arrival, he sailed for Lisbon via the Suez Canal on board the "Herzog", leaving Durban for good at the age of seventeen. This journey inspired the poems "Opiário" (dedicated to his friend, the poet and writer Mário de Sá-Carneiro) published in March 1915, in Orpheu nr.1[7] and "Ode Marítima" (dedicated to the futurist painter Santa-Rita Pintor) published in June 1915, in Orpheu nr.2[8] by his heteronym Álvaro de Campos.

Other Languages
aragonés: Fernando Pessoa
asturianu: Fernando Pessoa
Avañe'ẽ: Fernando Pessoa
azərbaycanca: Fernando Pessoa
беларуская: Фернанду Песоа
български: Фернанду Песоа
brezhoneg: Fernando Pessoa
čeština: Fernando Pessoa
español: Fernando Pessoa
Esperanto: Fernando Pessoa
estremeñu: Fernando Pessoa
français: Fernando Pessoa
hrvatski: Fernando Pessoa
íslenska: Fernando Pessoa
italiano: Fernando Pessoa
latviešu: Fernandu Pesoa
Lëtzebuergesch: Fernando Pessoa
македонски: Фернандо Песоа
Bahasa Melayu: Fernando Pessoa
Mirandés: Fernando Pessoa
Nederlands: Fernando Pessoa
Napulitano: Fernando Pessoa
norsk nynorsk: Fernando Pessoa
Piemontèis: Fernando Pessoa
português: Fernando Pessoa
română: Fernando Pessoa
sicilianu: Fernando Pessoa
Simple English: Fernando Pessoa
slovenščina: Fernando Pessoa
српски / srpski: Фернандо Песоа
Türkçe: Fernando Pessoa
українська: Фернанду Пессоа
Tiếng Việt: Fernando Pessoa