Fernando Antonio Nogueira Pessoa was born in 1888 in Lisbon and raised in Durban, South Africa, where his stepfather was the Portuguese consul. Returning to Portugal at the age of 17 he attempted a career in the arts with poems in English to no success. In 1914 three different subpersonae (heteronyms) emerged from his imagination. As a child, Pessoa had held long dialogs with imaginary individuals, whom he not only heard, but saw and named. Perhaps these individuals transcended the gap of sanity and became real poets with sharply differentiated biographies and styles. Their names: Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro dos Campos, and Ricardo Reis.
These heteronyms became famous writers with lives and circumstances of their own. The social pages of newspapers and magazines followed their tracks and published their life happenings, despite their reclusive nature or the fact that some of them lived overseas. This was made possible because Pessoa worked at, and at a time, even owned some of these publications. Thus, he was able to make his subpersonae real through the use of printed media, very much like people do it on the internet nowadays.
However, different from today's individuals with multiple electronic personalities, his heteronyms consumed his entire life and being. On a letter he wrote to a friend he confesses the creation of his first and most important heteronym:
" I wrote thirty-odd poems straight off, in a kind of ecstasy whose nature I cannot define. It was the triumphal day of my life, and I shall never be able to have another like it. I started with a title
'The Keeper of Sheep'
. And what followed was the apparition of somebody in me, to whom I at once gave the name of Alberto Caeiro. Forgive me the absurdity of the phrase: My master had appeared in me. This was the immediate sensation I felt."
From 1914 until his death in 1935, Pessoa's works were not only published by different journals, magazines and newspapers, but also the media covered literary discussions among the heteronyms. Alberto Caeiro even criticized Pessoa's own poems and writings (Pessoa also wrote under his own name for a period of time). The Death of the some of these writers were mourned and some of the heteronyms created poems in honor of the gone ones. Even a Nobel prize of literature, Jose Saramago dedicated one of his best novels to one of Pessoa's heteronyms.
It is impossible to describe in this article the details of all heteronyms created by Pessoa. Fernando was a poet who refused to be himself. He was a poet of the overlapping layers of consciousness, of the many faces of identity that refuse to be unified under one rubric. Self, in Pessoa, was always in tension with Other. In his own words " I fitted it all into moulds of reality. I graded their influences, recognized their friendship, heat, inside me, their discussions and divergences of criteria, and in all this it seemed to me that I, the creator of it all, was the least thing there. It is if it all happened independently of me. And it is if it still happens like that ..."
Pessoa towards the end sublimated his own genius in the creation of heteronyms, imaginary poets possessing distinct influences and phrases, grammar and style. " To create I have destroyed myself ... I'm the empty stage where various actors act out various plays. I am a secret orchestra whose instruments strum and bang inside me. I only know myself as the symphony".
Caeiro, Campos, Reis and the real Pessoa had the most amount of publications and followers. Later in 1982, Pessoa started gaining contemporary fame around the world with the surge of Bernardo Soares, another Heteronym who wrote the
Book of Disquiet
. This book was published for the first time and translated into several different languages in the early 1980's, becoming one of Pessoa's most admired works.
It is impossible to talk about Pessoa without mentioning the lives of these famous personae. They were as much a part of Pessoa as himself.
Alberto Caeiro: Both Alvaro dos Campos and Ricardo Reis considered Caeiro a master writer. They both confessed that Caeiro's thoughts influenced their work. Alberto was a shepperd who lived outside Lisbon, agnostic who avoided the city and crowds, who lived barefoot in contact with nature and peace. Caeiro was what Pessoa longed to be and could not, he was "the Master."
Ricardo Reis was a poet of Sad Epicureanism, master of highly wrought, metaphysical and neoclassical odes. He was born in Porto and educated by Jesuits. He was a doctor by profession and monarchist by conviction. Reis sought exile in Brazil after the proclamation of the first Portuguese Republic in 1919. Antonio Tabucchi, one of the writer's foremost critics and translators, believes Reis to have died peacefully in exile at the end of 1935. Novelist Jose Saramago, however, speculated that Reis died in Lisbon one year later under mysterious circumstances, unwittingly entangled in the revolts which spilled over from the Spanish Civil war in Lisbon. Reis was the nearest that Pessoa could come to being Caeiro.
Alvaro dos Campos was born in the city of Taviras and was a naval engineer in Glasgow who travelled widely before settling in Lisbon and founding the avant-garde magazine Orfeu. His writings proclaimed the advent of a perfect and mathematical humanity. Impressed by the force and ambition of Campos' works, Mario de Sa Carneiro, ventured that Campos' poetry would outlast his own. Campos did Pessoa's travelling for him.
Bernardo Soares was a book-keeper who lived a humble life in Lisbon which book was only discovered in 1982. Soares was perhaps a close image of the darkest side of Pessoa.
Through the creation of these heteronyms, Pessoa (which means `person' in Portuguese) expressed contradicting ideas about futurism, occultism, fascism, paganism, free love and existentialism. He believed that a man cannot possibly live and fully understand life by being only one person, but it takes to live simultaneous ones to achieve this higher understanding. Obscure in life, he is now the engine of a substantial academic and literary industry in his native country, as well as the subject of heated debate on the internet as to his textuality, intertextuality, sexuality and meta -meaning .
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