Episode 1 – Fernando Pessoa

In this episode Drake and Pedro discuss Fernando Pessoa.

Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese writer, born on 13 June, 1888 in Lisbon, Portugal. Although a prolific poet and writer, little of his writing was published during his lifetime, eventually finding success posthumously with his poems and the most famous of his works, The Book of Disquiet. Having always been interested in literature since childhood, Pessoa wrote in several languages, English, French, and Portuguese. In most of his works Pessoa wrote under a heteronym, a literary concept, differing from pen-names and pseudonyms as he felt they were too reductive, that embodied imagination in the creation of several narrators, each with different backgrounds, motives, lifestyles, languages, etc. Pessoa wrote under his first heteronym at the age of six, and wrote under several heteronyms, throughout his life, as the writings he left is still being studied, there isn’t a exact number of heteronyms, however there are four that are widely read and studied, and were the subject of the podcast episode, Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares, whose writings are in Portuguese.¹

According to the literary critic Harold Bloom in The Western Canon:

Pessoa was neither mad nor a mere ironist; he is a Whitman reborn, but a Whitman who gives separate names to “my self”, “the real me” or “me myself”, and “my soul”, and writes wonderful books of poems for all three of them as well as a separate book under the name of Walt Whitman. The parallels are close enough not to be coincidences, particularly since the invention of the “heteronyms” (Pessoa’s term) followed an immersion in Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman, one of the roughs, an American, the “myself” of Song of Myself, becomes Álvaro de Campos, a Portuguese Jewish ship’s engineer. The “real me” or “me myself” becomes the “keeper of the sheep”, the pastoral Alberto Caeiro, while the Whitmanian soul transmutes into Ricardo Reis, an Epicurean materialist who writes Horatian odes.

Alberto Caeiro is a simple man, a shepherd, who is in touch with nature and without formal education. According to Octavio Paz, he is “everything that Pessoa is not and more”, and according to Ricardo Reis, “The only entirely sincere poet in the world.”

Ricardo Reis is a physician influenced by the classics, the most heavily educated of Pessoa’s heteronyms, and who became a disciple of Alberto Caeiro. According to Pessoa, “Reis writes better than I, but with a purism I find excessive.”

Álvaro de Campos is a naval engineer. According to Pessoa, he is “the most hysterically hysterical of me”. Campos eventually was influenced by Caeiro, but drifted more to isolation and melancholy. After a decadent phase, he wrote free-verse and writes in a manner  similar to Walt Whitman, and instead of influence by nature, De Campos focuses on the industrial civilisation, machinery, and movement.

Bernardo Soares is a semi-heteronym, according to Pessoa, “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”. He is the author of The Book of Disquiet.

Octavio Paz, a mexican diplomat and writer, brilliantly summarize these four heteronyms.

Caeiro is the sun in whose orbit Reis, Campos and Pessoa himself rotate. 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

From the Ode I in The Keeper of Sheep, by Alberto Caeiro (Richard Zenith’s translation):

I have no ambitions nor desires.
To be a poet is not my ambition,
It’s simply my way of being alone.

From the Ode XXIV in The Keeper of Sheep, by Alberto Caeiro (Nuno Hipólito’s translation):

The essential thing is to be able to see,
To know how to see without thought,
To know how to see when we’re seeing,
And not even think about it
Nor see when we think.

From I love what I see because one day, by Ricardo Reis (Richard Zenith’s translation)

I love what I see because one day
I’ll stop seeing it. I also
Love it because it is.
In this calm moment when I feel myself
By loving more than by being,
I love all existence and myself.
No better thing could the primitive gods
Give me, were they to return—
They, who also know nothing.

From Tobacco Shop by Álvaro de Campos (Richard Zenith’s Translation)

I’m nothing.
I’ll always be nothing.
I can’t want to be something.
But I have in me all the dreams of the world.

From the Book of Disquiet (which has 481 entries in Richard Zenith’s organization) by Bernardo Soares

I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost faith in God, for the same reason their elders had had it — without knowing why. (From 1)
Decadence is the total loss of unconsciousness, which is the very basis of life. Could it think, the heart would stop beating. (From 1)
To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think. (From 49)
We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect. (From 287)

2 thoughts on “Episode 1 – Fernando Pessoa

  1. I enjoyed your two podcasts on Youtube.
    There is a dearth of this stuff.
    I await more.
    Perhaps Cavafy would pair nicely with Pessoa? It’s said they were once on the same ferry but never met.
    Wallace Stevens or Wordsworth?
    Anyway, keep it up.


    1. Glad to hear you liked it :).
      We are sure going to make more, we have the subject of the next episode planned and we discussed other writers we could talk about so it is going to happen.

      As far as Cavafy I never read him or anything about him.. I’m sort of familiar with Stevens and I know something about Wordsworth, but… Oh, It reminded me that a episode about Coleridge would be a good idea! I never forgot the lines in which he compares History to lantern.in a stern mostly because it was largely quoted here in Brazil during the 80s and 90s as one of our former ministers, and a important person during the militar government of the 60s-80s and in the democracy that came after, would use Coleridge’s quote when discussing the past of our politics and managed to popularize it.

      Anyhow, the issue with the subjects of the podcast is finding overlapping subjects as there are two hosts, but I’ll check something about Cavafy (reading the wiki he seems like someone I’d enjoy) and we are going to see what is going to happen.

      Thanks and see you.


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