Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Back in town just a few hours, I checked out the NY Times to see what I missed while off the grid. I was surprised to find this story about Portuguese poet and novelist Fernando Pessoa.

Even writing in the mid-20th century, during an age of modernism and literary experimentation, Pessoa was noteworthy for his daring and inscrutability. He wrote hundreds, possibly thousands, of poems and stories under the guise of “heteronyms.” Unlike simple pseudonyms, Pessoa’s heteronyms were imaginary characters who not only wrote in different styles but were fully developed personalities with their own supposed physical appearances, biographies and social lives. Several heteronyms published their work in different languages (Pessoa wrote fluently in Italian and English as well as Portuguese) in various countries. Pessoa never revealed the extent of his disguises, and according to the latest count by his editor Teresa Rita Lopes, work by at least 70 of his heteronyms was published during the poet’s lifetime. There may be many more not yet uncovered.

This photo of Pessoa is one of very few that exists. The poem below is attributed to one of his better known heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro.

Pity the flowers in the corners of formal gardens.
They look as if they fear the police.
But such goodness is theirs that they bloom just the same
and they wear the same ancient smile
they wore before the first look of that first man
who, seeing them emerge, touched them lightly
to see if they could talk.

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