Selected English Poems

Selected English Poems

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Pessoa wrote a large number of poems in English, some of them in the guise of early heteronyms (such as Alexander Search and Charles Robert Anon) which prove to be fascinating precursors of the later, modernist work in Portuguese. While not the equal of the masterly Caeiro, Campos, Reis or Pessoa-himself, these poems deserve to be better known and at least available in the English-speaking world. Pessoa was educated in English in Durban, as the stepson of a Portuguese diplomat, and was completely bilingual. He translated several books from English for Portuguese publishing houses. The sometimes startlingly frank content of the earlier English poems - published privately in Lisbon - may well have prevented their wider dissemination in more prudish British circles. What is not so well-known is that Pessoa continued to write poetry in a bookish form of English throughout his life and this volume is an attempt to show the nature of that work to its originally intended audience - an anglophone readership.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 108 pages
  • 137.16 x 210.82 x 7.62mm | 158.76g
  • Exeter, United Kingdom
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 1905700261
  • 9781905700264
  • 828,946

About Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Antonio Nogueira Pessoa was born in Lisbon on 13 June, 1888. Five years later his father Joaquim, a civil servant, died of tuberculosis. His mother, Maria Madalena Nogueira Pessoa, remarried a year and a half later to Commander Joao Miguel Rosa, the Portugese consul in Durban. Pessoa attended an English school in Durban, where he lived with his family until the age of seventeen, returning only once to Portugal, when he was thirteen. He was to return to Lisbon for good in 1905. He began studying at the University of Lisbon in 1906 but dropped out after only eight months, after a student strike had interrupted his studies. In the following years he stayed with relatives or in rented rooms, making his living by translating, writing in literary journals, and drafting business letters in English and French. He began publishing criticism in 1912, creative prose in 1913, and poetry in 1914. 1914 was also the year when the major alter egos he called heteronyms -- Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campos -- came into existence. The majority of Pessoa's poems, whether heteronymic or orthonymic (i.e. written under his own name), appeared in literary magazines. He published his first book of English poems, 'Antinous' in 1918, followed by 'Sonnets' (1918) and 'English Poems' (1921), but released only a single book of Portuguese poems, 'Mensagem' (Message), in 1933. He died on 30 November, 1935, in Lisbon - apparently from cirrhosis of the liver. Pessoa avoided the literary world and most social contact and his work was only to gain a wide readership after his death. Pessoa's adoption of different personae has parallels with other writers, but no other writer was to be as thorough, or was to have as many heteronyms. Pessoa went so far as to develop detailed biographies and personalities for these other aspects of himself, and it is tempting to assume that this quiet, bookish man lived out his life in the imagination, the alter egos giving him a chance to be what he was not, or what he wished he could be. Alberto Caeiro was an unsophisticated, unemployed man from the provinces. Ricardo Reis was a doctor and classicist who wrote Horatian odes. Alvaro de Campos, a naval engineer, was a bisexual dandy who studied in Glasgow, traveled to the Orient, and lived in London. Pessoa wrote (in English), "Caeiro has one discipline: things must be felt as they are. Ricardo Reis has another kind of discipline: things must be felt, not only as they are, but also so as to fall in with a certain ideal of classic measure and rule. In Alvaro de Campos things must simply be felt." In later years, Pessoa also spawned the assistant book-keeper Bernardo Soares, a so-called "semi-heteronym" who authored the enormous journals-style volume The Book of Disquiet; Antonio Mora, a philosopher and sociologist; the Baron of Teive, an essayist and author of The Education of the Stoic - a book about why he is unable to write; Thomas Crosse, whose critical writings in English promoted Portuguese literature and especially Alberto Caeiro's work; I. I. Crosse, Thomas's brother and collaborator; Coelho Pacheco, poet; Raphael Baldaya, astrologer; Maria Jose, a nineteen-year-old hunchback consumptive who wrote a desperate, unmailed love letter to a handsome metalworker who passed under her window on his way to work each day; and so on. At least seventy-two names besides Fernando Pessoa were said to be the authors of the innumerable texts that were actually written and the many more that were only planned. Although Pessoa did actually publish some works under pseudonyms, he distinguished this from his "heteronymic" project: "A pseudonymic work is, except for the name with which it is signed, the work of an author writing as himself; a heteronymic work is by an author writing outside his own personality: it is the work of a complete individuality made up by him, just as the utterances of some character in a drama would be." For most of his adult life Pessoa lived in furnished rooms in Lisbon. He seems to have a number of plans to collect and publish his work - notes survive indicating the contents of various volumes by Reis, Caeiro and others - but he was never to manage to achieve this, with the sole exception of 'Mensagem', ascribed to his own name. He ran his own little publishing house in the 1920s, which was to fail after the publication of six volumes -- two of them his consisting of his own early poems in English - and he also founded the pioneering avant-garde journal 'Orpheu', where he published a large number of his poems, but which was to collapse before publication of the third issue, owing to a lack of funds.
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