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.
Pessoa was born in Lisbon. On July 13, 1893, when Pessoa was five, his father, Joaquim de Seabra Pessoa, died of tuberculosis and the following year, on January 2, his younger brother Jorge, aged one, also died.
After the second marriage of his mother, Maria Magdalena Pinheiro Nogueira, to João Miguel dos Santos Rosa, on December 31, 1895, little 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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, Pessoa started writing short stories in English, some under the name of David Merrick, many of which he left unfinished. At the age of sixteen, The Natal Mercury (edition of July 6, 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". 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". 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.
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.
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 and "Ode Marítima" (dedicated to the futurist painter Santa-Rita Pintor) published in June 1915, in Orpheu nr.2 by his heteronym Álvaro de Campos.
While his family remained in South Africa, Pessoa returned to Lisbon in 1905 to study diplomacy. After a period of illness, and two years of poor results, a student strike against the dictatorship of Prime Minister João Franco put an end to his formal studies. Pessoa became an autodidact, a devoted reader who spent a lot of time at the library. In August 1907, he started working as a practitioner at R.G. Dun & Company, an American mercantile information agency (currently D&B, Dun & Bradstreet). His grandmother died in September and left him a small inheritance, which he spent on setting up his own publishing house, the "Empreza Ibis". The venture was not successful and closed down in 1910, but the name ibis, the sacred bird of Ancient Egypt and inventor of the alphabet in Greek mythology, would remain an important symbolic reference for him.
Pessoa returned to his uncompleted formal studies, complementing his British education with self-directed study of Portuguese culture. The pre-revolutionary atmosphere surrounding the assassination of King Charles I and Crown Prince Luís Filipe in 1908, and the patriotic outburst resulting from the successful republican revolution in 1910, influenced the development of the budding writer; as did his step-uncle, Henrique dos Santos Rosa, a poet and retired soldier, who introduced the young Pessoa to Portuguese poetry, notably the romantics and symbolists of the 19th century. In 1912, Fernando Pessoa entered the literary world with a critical essay, published in the cultural journal A Águia, which triggered one of the most important literary debates in the Portuguese intellectual world of the 20th century: the polemic regarding a super-Camões. In 1915 a group of artists and poets, including Fernando Pessoa, Mário de Sá-Carneiro and Almada Negreiros, created the literary magazine Orpheu, which introduced modernist literature to Portugal. Only two issues were published (Jan–Feb–Mar and Apr–May–Jun 1915), the third failed to appear due to funding difficulties. Lost for many years, this issue was finally recovered and published in 1984. Among other writers and poets, Orpheu published Pessoa, orthonym, and the modernist heteronym, Álvaro de Campos.
Associated with the artist Ruy Vaz, Pessoa also founded the "Art Journal" Athena (1924–25), in which he published verses of the heteronyms Alberto Caeiro and Ricardo Reis. Along with his profession, as free-lance commercial translator, Fernando Pessoa undertook intense activity as a writer, literary critic and political analyst, contributing to the journals and newspapers A Águia (1912–13), Teatro (1913), A Renascença (1914), O Jornal (1915), Orpheu (1915), Exílio (1916), Centauro (1916), Terra Nossa (1916), Portugal Futurista (1917), Acção (1919–20), Ressurreição (1920), Contemporânea (1922–26), Athena (1924–25), Diário de Lisboa (1924–35), Revista de Comércio e Contabilidade (1926), Sol (1926), O Imparcial (1927), Presença (1927–34), Notícias Ilustrado (1928–30), Girassol (1930), Revolução (1932), Descobrimento (1932), Fama (1932–33), Fradique (1934) and Sudoeste (1935).
After his return to Portugal, when he was seventeen, Pessoa barely left his beloved city of Lisbon, which inspired the poems "Lisbon Revisited" (1923 and 1926), under the heteronym Álvaro de Campos. From 1905 to 1920, when his family returned from Pretoria after the death of his stepfather, he lived in fifteen different locations in the city, moving from one rented room to another depending on his fluctuating finances and personal troubles.
Pessoa adopted the detached perspective of the flâneur, Bernardo Soares, another of his heteronyms. This character was supposedly an accountant, working for Vasques, the boss of an office located in Douradores Street. Bernardo Soares also supposedly lived in the same downtown street, a world that Pessoa knew quite well due to his long career as freelance correspondence translator. In fact, from 1907 until his death in 1935, Pessoa worked in twenty-one firms located in Lisbon's downtown, sometimes in two or three of them simultaneously. In The Book of Disquiet, Bernardo Soares describes some of those typical places and their "atmosphere".
A statue of Fernando Pessoa sitting at a table (below) can be seen outside A Brasileira, one of the preferred places of young writers and artists of Orpheu's group during the 1910s. This coffeehouse, in the aristocratic district of Chiado, is quite close to Pessoa's birthplace: 4, São Carlos Square (in front of the Opera House, where stands another statue of the writer), one of the most elegant neighborhoods of Lisbon. Later on, Pessoa was a frequent customer at Martinho da Arcada, a centennial coffeehouse in Comercio Square, surrounded by ministries, almost an "office" for his private business and literary concerns, where he used to meet friends in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1925, Pessoa wrote in English a guidebook to Lisbon but it remained unpublished until 1992.
Pessoa translated a number of Portuguese books into English. He also translated into Portuguese The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the short stories "The Theory and the Hound", "The Roads We Take" and "Georgia's Ruling" by O. Henry, and the poems "The Raven", "Annabel Lee" and "Ulalume" by Edgar Allan Poe who, along with Walt Whitman, strongly influenced him. In addition, Pessoa translated into Portuguese a number of books by leading theosophists such as C. W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant.
In 1912–14, while living with his aunt "Anica" and cousins, Pessoa took part in "semi-spiritualist sessions" that were carried out at home, but he was considered a "delaying element" by the other members of the session. Pessoa's interest in spiritualism was truly awakened in the second half of 1915, while translating theosophist books. This was further deepened in the end of March 1916, when he suddenly started having experiences where he became a medium, which were revealed through automatic writing. On June 24, Pessoa wrote an impressive letter to his aunt and godmother, then living in Switzerland with her daughter and son in law, in which he describes this "mystery case" that surprised him.
Besides automatic writing, Pessoa stated also that he had "astral" or "etherial visions" and was able to see "magnetic auras" similar to radiographic images. He felt "more curiosity than fear", but was respectful towards this phenomenon and asked secrecy, because "there is no advantage, but many disadvantages" in speaking about this. Mediumship exerted a strong influence in Pessoa's writings, who felt "sometimes suddenly being owned by something else" or having a "very curious sensation" in the right arm, which was "lifted into the air" without his will. Looking in the mirror, Pessoa saw several times what appeared to be the heteronyms: his "face fading out" and being replaced by the one of "a bearded man", or another one, four men in total.
Pessoa also developed a strong interest in astrology, becoming a competent astrologist. He elaborated more than 1,500 astrological charts, including well-known people like William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Robespierre, Napoleon I, Benito Mussolini, Wilhelm II, Leopold II of Belgium, Victor Emmanuel III, Alfonso XIII, or the Kings Sebastian and Charles of Portugal, and Salazar. In 1915, Pessoa created the heteronym Raphael Baldaya, an astrologist, and planned to write under his name "System of Astrology" and "Introduction to the Study of Occultism". Pessoa established the pricing of his astrological services from 500 to 5,000 réis and made horoscopes of customers, friends and also himself and, astonishingly, of the heteronyms and also of journals as Orpheu.
Born on June 13, Pessoa was native of Gemini and had Scorpio as rising sign. The characters of the main heteronyms were inspired by the four astral elements: air, fire, water and earth. It means that Pessoa and his heteronyms altogether comprised the full principles of ancient knowledge. Those heteronyms were designed according to their horoscopes, all include Mercury, the planet of literature. Astrology was part of his everyday life and Pessoa kept that interest until his death, which he was able to predict with a certain degree of accuracy.
As a mysticist, Pessoa was an enthusiast of esotericism, occultism, hermetism, numerology and alchemy. Along with spiritualism and astrology, he also paid attention to neopaganism, theosophy, rosicrucianism and freemasonry, which strongly influenced his literary work. His interest in occultism led Pessoa to correspond with Aleister Crowley and later helped him to elaborate a fake suicide, when Crowley visited Portugal in 1930. Pessoa translated Crowley's poem "Hymn To Pan" into Portuguese, and the catalogue of Pessoa's library shows that he possessed Crowley's books Magick in Theory and Practice and Confessions. Pessoa also wrote on Crowley's doctrine of Thelema in several fragments, including Moral.
Pessoa's declared about secret societies:
I am also very interested in knowing whether a second edition is shortly to be expected of Athur Edward Waite’s The Secret Tradition in Freemasonery. I see that, in a note on page 14 of his Emblematic Freemasonery, published by you in 1925, he says, in respect of the earlier work: "A new and revised edition is in the forefront of my literary schemes." For all I know, you may already have issued such an edition; if so, I have missed the reference in The Times Literary Supplement. Since I am writing on these subjects, I should like to put a question which perhaps you can reply to; but please do not do so if the reply involves any inconvenience. I believe The Occult Review was, or is, issued by yourselves; I have not seen any number for a long time. My question is in what issue of that publication – it was certainly a long while ago – an article was printed relating to the Roman Catholic Church as a Secret Society, or, alternatively, to a Secret Society within the Roman Catholic Church.
Literary critic Martin Lüdke described Pessoa's philosophy as a kind of pandeism, especially as to those writings made under the pseudonym of Alberto Caeiro.
In his early years, Pessoa was influenced by major English classic poets such as Shakespeare, Milton and Pope, or romantics like Shelley, Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tennyson. After his return to Lisbon in 1905, Pessoa was influenced by French symbolists and decadentists 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 W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, among many other writers.
During World War I, Pessoa wrote to a number of British publishers, namely Constable & Co. Ltd. (currently Constable & Robinson), 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. In his publishing house, Olisipo, Pessoa issued also some books by his friends: A Invenção do Dia Claro (The invention of the clear day) by José de Almada Negreiros, Canções (Songs) by António Botto, and Sodoma Divinizada (Divinized Sodome) by Raul Leal (Henoch). Olisipo closed down in 1923, following the scandal known as "Literatura de Sodoma" (Literature of Sodome), which Pessoa started with his paper "António Botto e o Ideal Estético em Portugal" (António Botto and the aesthetical ideal in Portugal), published in the journal Contemporanea.
Politically, Pessoa considered himself a "mystical nationalist" and, despite his monarchist sympathies, he didn't favour the restoration of the monarchy. Pessoa 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 became disenchanted with the regime and wrote critically of Salazar and fascism in general. In the beginning of 1935, Pessoa was banned by the Salazar regime, after he wrote in defense of Freemasonry.
Pessoa died on November 30, 1935, aged 47, having published four books in English and one alone in Portuguese: Mensagem (Message). However, he left a lifetime of unpublished, unfinished or just sketchy work in a domed, wooden trunk (25,574 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 1985 (fifty years after his death), 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.
Pessoa's earliest heteronym, at the age of six, was Chevalier de Pas. Other childhood heteronyms included Dr. Pancrácio and David Merrick, followed by Charles Robert Anon, an English young man that became Pessoa's alter ego. In 1905/7, when Pessoa was a student at the University of Lisbon, Alexander Search took the place of Anon. The main reason for this was that, although Search is English, he was born in Lisbon as his author. But Search represents a transition heteronym that Pessoa used while searching to adapt to the Portuguese cultural reality. After the republican revolution, in 1910, and consequent patriotic atmosphere, Pessoa created another alter ego, Álvaro de Campos, supposedly a Portuguese naval engineer, born in Tavira and graduated in Glasgow. Translator Richard Zenith notes that Pessoa eventually established at least seventy-two heteronyms. According to Pessoa himself, there were three main heteronyms: Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis. The heteronyms possess distinct biographies, temperaments, philosophies, appearances, writing styles and even signatures.
Pessoa wrote on the 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. (My semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares, who in many ways resembles Álvaro de Campos, always appears when I'm sleepy or drowsy, so that my qualities of inhibition and rational thought are suspended; his prose is an endless reverie. He’s a semi-heteronym because his personality, although not my own, doesn’t differ from my own but is a mere mutilation of it. He’s me without my rationalism and emotions. His prose is the same as mine, except for certain formal restraint that reason imposes on my own writing, and his Portuguese is exactly the same – whereas Caeiro writes bad Portuguese, Campos writes it reasonably well but with mistakes such as "me myself" instead of "I myself", etc.., and Reis writes better than I, but with a purism I find excessive...).
Alberto Caeiro was Pessoa's first great heteronym; it summarized by Pessoa as follows: "He sees things with the eyes only, not with the mind. He does not let any thoughts arise when he looks at a flower... the only thing a stone tells him is that it has nothing at all to tell him... this way of looking at a stone may be described as the totally unpoetic way of looking at it. The stupendous fact about Caeiro is that out of this sentiment, or rather, absence of sentiment, he makes poetry."
What this means, and what makes Caeiro such an original poet is the way he apprehends existence. He does not question anything whatsoever; he calmly accepts the world as it is. The recurrent themes to be found in nearly all of Caeiro's poems are wide-eyed childlike wonder at the infinite variety of nature, as noted by a critic. He is free of metaphysical entanglements. Central to his world-view is the idea that in the world around us, all is surface: things are precisely what they seem, there is no hidden meaning anywhere.
He manages thus to free himself from the anxieties that batter his peers; for Caeiro, things simply exist and we have no right to credit them with more than that. Caeiro attains happiness by not questioning, and by thus avoiding doubts and uncertainties. He apprehends reality solely through his eyes, through his senses. Octavio Paz called him the innocent poet. Paz made a shrewd remark on the heteronyms: In each are particles of negation or unreality. Reis believes in form, Campos in sensation, Pessoa in symbols. Caeiro doesn't believe in anything. He exists.
Poetry before Caeiro was essentially interpretative; what poets did was to offer an interpretation of their perceived surroundings; Caeiro does not do this. Instead, he attempts to communicate his senses, and his feelings, without any interpretation whatsoever.
Caeiro attempts to approach Nature from a qualitatively different mode of apprehension; that of simply perceiving (an approach akin to phenomenological approaches to philosophy). Poets before him would make use of intricate metaphors to describe what was before them; not so Caeiro: his self-appointed task is to bring these objects to the reader's attention, as directly and simply as possible. Caeiro sought a direct experience of the objects before him.
As such it is not surprising to find that Caeiro has been called an anti-intellectual, anti-Romantic, anti-subjectivist, anti-metaphysical...an anti-poet, by critics; Caeiro simply—is. He is in this sense very unlike his creator Fernando Pessoa: Pessoa was besieged by metaphysical uncertainties; these were, to a large extent, the cause of his unhappiness; not so Caeiro: his attitude is anti-metaphysical; he avoided uncertainties by adamantly clinging to a certainty: his belief that there is no meaning behind things. Things, for him, simply—are.
Caeiro represents a primal vision of reality, of things. He is the pagan incarnate. Indeed, Caeiro was not simply a pagan but paganism itself.
The critic Jane M. Sheets sees the insurgence of Caeiro—who was Pessoa's first major heteronym—as essential in founding the later poetic personas: By means of this artless yet affirmative anti-poet, Caeiro, a short-lived but vital member of his coterie, Pessoa acquired the base of an experienced and universal poetic vision. After Caeiro's tenets had been established, the avowedly poetic voices of Campos, Reis and Pessoa himself spoke with greater assurance.
In a letter to William Bentley, Pessoa wrote that "a knowledge of the language would be indispensable, for instance, to appraise the 'Odes' of Ricardo Reis, whose Portuguese would draw upon him the blessing of António Vieira, as his stile and diction that of Horace (he has been called, admirably I believe, 'a Greek Horace who writes in Portuguese')".
Reis, both a character and a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa himself, sums up his philosophy of life in his own words, admonishing: 'See life from a distance. Never question it. There's nothing it can tell you.' Like Caeiro, whom he admires, Reis defers from questioning life. He is a modern pagan who urges one to seize the day and accept fate with tranquility. 'Wise is the one who does not seek', he says; and continues: 'the seeker will find in all things the abyss, and doubt in himself.' In this sense Reis shares essential affinities with Caeiro.
Believing in the Greek gods, yet living in a Christian Europe, Reis feels that his spiritual life is limited, and true happiness cannot be attained. This, added to his belief in Fate as a driving force for all that exists, as such disregarding freedom, leads to his epicureanist philosophy, which entails the avoidance of pain, defending that man should seek tranquility and calm above all else, avoiding emotional extremes.
Where Caeiro wrote freely and spontaneously, with joviality, of his basic, meaningless connection to the world, Reis writes in an austere, cerebral manner, with premeditated rhythm and structure and a particular attention to the correct use of the language, when approaching his subjects of, as characterized by Richard Zenith, 'the brevity of life, the vanity of wealth and struggle, the joy of simple pleasures, patience in time of trouble, and avoidance of extremes'.
In his detached, intellectual approach, he is closer to Fernando Pessoa's constant rationalization, as such representing the orthonym's wish for measure and sobriety and a world free of troubles and respite, in stark contrast to Caeiro's spirit and style. As such, where Caeiro's predominant attitude is that of joviality, his sadness being accepted as natural ('My sadness,' Caeiro says, 'is a comfort for it is natural and right.'), Reis is marked by melancholy, saddened by the impermanence of all things.
Ricardo Reis is the main character of José Saramago's 1986 novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.
Álvaro de Campos manifests, in a way, as an hyperbolic version of Pessoa himself. Of the three heteronyms he is the one who feels most strongly, his motto being 'to feel everything in every way.' 'The best way to travel,' he wrote, 'is to feel.' As such, his poetry is the most emotionally intense and varied, constantly juggling two fundamental impulses: on the one hand a feverish desire to be and feel everything and everyone, declaring that 'in every corner of my soul stands an altar to a different god' (alluding to Walt Whitman's desire to 'contain multitudes'), on the other, a wish for a state of isolation and a sense of nothingness.
As a result, his mood and principles varied between violent, dynamic exultation, as he fervently wishes to experience the entirety of the universe in himself, in all manners possible (a particularly distinctive trait in this state being his futuristic leanings, including the expression of great enthusiasm as to the meaning of city life and its components) and a state of nostalgic melancholy, where life is viewed as, essentially, empty.
One of the poet's constant preoccupations, as part of his dichotomous character, is that of identity: he does not know who he is, or rather, fails at achieving an ideal identity. Wanting to be everything, and inevitably failing, he despairs. Unlike Caeiro, who asks nothing of life, he asks too much. In his poetic meditation 'Tobacco Shop' he asks:
How should I know what I'll be, I who don't know what I am?
Be what I think? But I think of being so many things!
"Fernando Pessoa-himself" is not the "real" Fernando Pessoa. Like Caeiro, Reis and Campos, Pessoa-"himself" embodies only aspects of the poet. Fernando Pessoa's personality is not stamped in any given voice; his personality is diffused through the heteronyms. For this reason "Fernando Pessoa-himself" stands apart from the poet proper.
"Pessoa" shares many essential affinities with his peers, Caeiro and Campos in particular. Lines crop up in his poems that may as well be ascribed to Campos or Caeiro.
Like Álvaro de Campos, Pessoa-himself was afflicted with an acute identity crisis. Pessoa-himself has been described as indecisive and doubt plagued, as restless. Like Campos he can be melancholic, weary, resigned.
A constant theme in Pessoa's poetry is Tédio, or Tedium. The dictionary defines this word simply as 'a condition of being tedious; tediousness or boredom.' This definition does not sufficiently encompass the peculiar brand of tedium experienced by Pessoa-himself. His is more than simple boredom: it is from a world of weariness and disgust with life; a sense of the finality of failure; of the impossibility of having anything to want.
Mensagem, written in Portuguese, is a symbolist epic made up of 44 short poems organized in three parts or Cycles:
The first, called "Brasão" (Coat-of-Arms), relates Portuguese historical protagonists to each of the fields and charges in the Portuguese coat of arms. The first two poems ("The castles" and "The escutcheons") draw inspiration from the material and spiritual natures of Portugal. Each of the remaining poems associates to each charge a historical personality. Ultimately they all lead to the Golden Age of Discovery.
The second Part, called "Mar Português" (Portuguese Sea), references the country's Age of Portuguese Exploration and to its seaborne Empire that ended with the death of King Sebastian at El-Ksar el Kebir (Alcácer-Quibir in Portuguese) in 1578. Pessoa brings the reader to the present as if he had woken up from a dream of the past, to fall in a dream of the future: he sees King Sebastian returning and still bent on accomplishing a Universal Empire.
The third Cycle, called "O Encoberto" ("The Hidden One"), refers to Pessoa's vision of a future world of peace and the Fifth Empire (which, according to Pessoa, is spiritual and not material, because if it were material England would already have achieved it). After the Age of Force, (Vis), and Taedium (Otium) will come Science (understanding) through a reawakening of "The Hidden One", or "King Sebastian". The Hidden One represents the fulfillment of the destiny of mankind, designed by God since before Time, and the accomplishment of Portugal.
King Sebastian is very important, indeed he appears in all three parts of Mensagem. He represents the capacity of dreaming, and believing that it's possible to achieve dreams.
One of the most famous quotes from Mensagem is the first line from O Infante (belonging to the second Part), which is Deus quer, o homem sonha, a obra nasce (which translates roughly to "God wishes, man dreams, the work is born"). Another well-known quote from Mensagem is the first line from Ulysses, "O mito é o nada que é tudo" (a possible translation is "The myth is the nothing that is all"). This poem refers to Ulysses, king of Ithaca, as Lisbon's founder (recalling an ancient Greek myth).
In 1912, Fernando Pessoa wrote a set of essays (later collected as The New Portuguese Poetry) for the cultural journal A Águia (The Eagle), founded in Oporto, in December 1910, and run by the republican association Renascença Portuguesa. In the first years of the Portuguese Republic, this cultural association was started by republican intellectuals led by the writer and poet Teixeira de Pascoaes, philosopher Leonardo Coimbra and historian Jaime Cortesão, aiming for the renewal of Portuguese culture through the aesthetic movement called Saudosismo. Pessoa contributed to the journal A Águia with a series of papers: 'The new Portuguese Poetry Sociologically Considered' (nr. 4), 'Relapsing...' (nr. 5) and 'The Psychological Aspect of the new Portuguese Poetry' (nrs. 9,11 and 12). These writings were strongly encomiastic to saudosist literature, namely the poetry of Teixeira de Pascoaes and Mário Beirão. The articles disclose Pessoa as a connoisseur of modern European literature and an expert of recent literary trends. On the other hand, he does not care much for a methodology of analysis or problems in the history of ideas. He states his confidence that Portugal would soon produce a great poet – a super-Camões – pledged to make an important contribution for European culture, and indeed, for humanity.
The philosophical notes of young Fernando Pessoa, mostly written between 1905 and 1912, illustrate his debt to the history of Philosophy more through commentators than through a first-hand protracted reading of the Classics, ancient or modern. The issues he engages with pertain to every philosophical discipline and concern a large profusion of concepts, creating a vast semantic spectrum in texts whose length oscillates between half a dozen lines and half a dozen pages and whose density of analysis is extremely variable; simple paraphrasis, expression of assumptions and original speculation.
Pessoa sorted the philosophical systems thus:
- Relative Spiritualism and relative Materialism privilege "Spirit" or "Matter" as the main pole that organizes data around Experience.
- Absolute Spiritualist and Absolute Materialist "deny all objective reality to one of the elements of Experience".
- The materialistic Pantheism of Spinoza and the spiritualizing Pantheism of Malebranche, "admit that experience is a double manifestation of any thing that in its essence has no matter neither spirit".
- Considering both elements as an "illusory manifestation", of a transcendent and true and alone realities, there is Transcendentalism, inclined into matter with Schopenhauer, or into spirit, a position where Bergson could be emplaced.
- A terminal system "the limited and summit of metaphysics" would not radicalize – as poles of experience one of the singled categories – matter, relative, absolute, real, illusory, spirit. Instead, matching all categories, it takes contradiction as "the essence of the universe" and defends that "an affirmation is so more true insofar the more contradiction involves". The transcendent must be conceived beyond categories. There is one only and eternal example of it. It is that cathedral of thought -the philosophy of Hegel.
Such pantheist transcendentalism is used by Pessoa to define the project that "encompasses and exceeds all systems"; to characterize the new poetry of Saudosismo where the "typical contradiction of this system" occurs; to inquire of the particular social and political results of its adoption as the leading cultural paradigm; and, at last, he hints that metaphysics and religiosity strive "to find in everything a beyond".Histórias de um Raciocinador e o ensaio "História Policial" (Tales of a Resoner and the essay "Detective Story") bilingual edition, translated from the original writings in English, Ana Maria Freitas, edit & transl, Lisbon, Portugal: Assírio & Alvim, 2012, ISBN 978-972-0-79312-6
Forever Someone Else – selected poems – 2nd edition (enlarged), Richard Zenith, transl, Lisbon, Portugal: Assírio & Alvim, 2010 , ISBN 978-972-37-1379-4
Collected Poems of Álvaro de Campos, Chris Daniels, transl, Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2009 [1928–35], ISBN 978-1-905700-25-7
Lisbon: What the Tourist Should See, Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2008, ISBN 978-1-905700-25-7
The Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro, Chris Daniels, transl, Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-905700-24-0
Selected English Poems, Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-905700-26-4
Message, Jonathan Griffin, transl, Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-905700-27-1
Selected English Poems , ed. Tony Frazer, Exeter (UK): Shearsman Books, 2007. ISBN 1-905700-26-1
A Centenary Pessoa, tr. Keith Bosley & L. C. Taylor, foreword by Octavio Paz, Carcanet Press, 2006. ISBN 1-85754-724-1
A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems, tr. Richard Zenith, Penguin Classics, 2006. ISBN 0-14-303955-5
The Education of the Stoic, tr. Richard Zenith, afterword by Antonio Tabucchi, Exact Change, 2004. ISBN 1-878972-40-5
The Book of Disquiet, tr. Richard Zenith, Penguin classics, 2003. ISBN 978-0-14-118304-6
The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa, tr. Richard Zenith, Grove Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8021-3914-0
Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person: A Transelation of Alberto Caeiro/Fernando Pessoa, tr. Eirin Moure, House of Anansi, 2001. ISBN 0-88784-660-2
The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa, Richard Zenith, transl, New York, USA: Grove Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8021-3914-6
Selected Poems: with New Supplement tr. Jonathan Griffin, Penguin Classics; 2nd edition, 2000. ISBN 0-14-118433-7
Fernando Pessoa & Co: Selected Poems, tr. Richard Zenith, Grove Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8021-3627-3
Poems of Fernando Pessoa, Edwin Honig & Susan Brown, transl, San Francisco, USA: City Lights Books, 1998, ISBN 978-0-87286-342-2
The Keeper of Sheep, bilingual edition, tr. Edwin Honig & Susan M. Brown, Sheep Meadow, 1997. ISBN 1-878818-45-7
Message, tr. Jonathan Griffin, introduction by Helder Macedo, Menard Press, 1992. ISBN 1-905700-27-X
The Book of Disquietude, tr. Richard Zenith, Carcanet Press, 1991. ISBN 0-14-118304-7
The Book of Disquiet, tr. Iain Watson, Quartet Books, 1991. ISBN 0-7043-0153-9
The Book of Disquiet, tr. Alfred Mac Adam, New York NY: Pantheon Books, 1991. ISBN 0-679-40234-9
The Book of Disquiet, tr. Margaret Jull Costa, London, New York NY: Serpent's Tail, 1991, ISBN 1-85242-204-1
Fernando Pessoa: Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems, tr. George Monteiro, Gavea-Brown Publications, 1989. ISBN 0-943722-14-4
Always Astonished, tr. Edwin Honig, San Francisco CA: City Lights Books, 1988. ISBN 978-0-87286-228-9
Always Astonished: selected prose, Edwin Honig, transl, San Francisco, USA: City Lights Books, 1988, ISBN 978-0-87286-228-9
Selected Poems, tr. Edwin Honig, Swallow Press, 1971. ISBN B000XU4FE4
English Poems, 2 vol. (vol. 1 part I – Antinous, part II – Inscriptions; vol. 2 part III – Epithalamium), Lisbon: Olisipo, 1921 (vol. 1, 20 pp.; vol. 2, 16 pp., 24 cm). Portugal: PURL.
35 Sonnets, Lisbon: Monteiro & Co., 1918 (20 pp., 20 cm). Portugal: PURL.
Antinous: a poem, Lisbon: Monteiro & Co., 1918 (16 p., 20 cm). Portugal: PURL.
The anarchist banker and other Portuguese stories. Carcanet Press, 1996. ISBN 978-1-8575420-6-6
Philosophical Essays: A Critical Edition. Edited with notes and introduction by Nuno Ribeiro. New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-9836972-6-8
The Transformation Book — or Book of Tasks. Edited with notes and introduction by Nuno Ribeiro and Cláudia Souza. New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2014.