Fernando Pessoa

Been a while since I mentioned Fernando Pessoa (or Alberto Caeiro, or Álvaro de Campos, or Ricardo Reis) around here.

Read him. Here’s some information if you don’t already know.

Since his death, Pessoa’s reputation has increasingly grown throughout the world, to the point where he’s recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century. The Portuguese adore Pessoa, and not only does his legacy pervade most discussions of literature in Portugal, but to the general public at large this modestly dressed, be-speckled poet is something of a rock star. Anywhere in Lisbon you can exchange euros for Fernando Pessoa tee shirts, coffee cups, notebooks and key chains, even Do Not Disturb signs—you name it. The first evening I ever spent in Lisbon, back in June of 1999, turned out to be the birthday of Pessoa (he would have been 111), and my family and I made our way to a grand celebration of the event: 400 Portuguese artists had been commissioned to each create a work of art about Pessoa, and these were displayed together on a long wall.

Not only did Pessoa’s invented poets have separate biographies and signatures, they each wrote an entirely different sort of poetry from the others. Alberto Caeiro, who imagined himself a sheep herder, was a poet of nature and a philosopher who distrusted abstraction in language . . .

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