On June 13th 1888, the most important contemporary Portuguese poet was born in Lisbon: Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa was not a mere poet; he became multiple poets by “inventing” alter-egos (his famous “heteronyms”) who had their own biographies and poetic styles. For instance, while Ricardo Reis (born in Oporto, 1887) had an intellectual almost fatalistic approach to life and poetry, Alvaro de Campos (Tavira, 1890) had different poetic phases, varying from extreme vitalism to a decadent melancholia. Other famous heteronyms are Alberto Caeiro (the master of most of the heteronyms), António Mora, Bernardo Soares, and Fernando Pessoa himself.
I don’t remember when I discovered Fernando Pessoa’s poetry. But what I do remember is that by 2003 Ricardo Reis was already my favorite heteronym. I remember this because I used to call one of the most special friends I have ever had “Lidia” (in English, “Lydia”), one of the women Ricardo Reis addresses to in his poems:
When I started college, I used to share Reis’ fatalism, his enjoy-the-present-that-is-already-vanishing sentimentalism (“Come sit by my side, Lydia“), his “we are nothing… we are just stories telling stories, nothing” philosophy of life. Discovering Alvaro de Campos’ dynamism and excitement about machines, cars, and technology (like in his well-known poem “At the wheel of the Chevrolet on the road to Sintra”) some years later was quite refreshing (although I have to admit that I still prefer his decadent nostalgia rather than his vitalistic enthusiasm):
I carry inside my heart,
As in a chest too full to shut,
All the places where I have been,
All the ports at which I have called,
All the sights I’ve seen through windows and portholes
And from quarterdecks, dreaming.
And all of this, which is so much, is nothing next to what I want.
(Excerpt from Passagem das horas. Translation by Booklover)
To get a better idea about this decadent melancholy I have been talking about, you need to read the most perfect poem in the world: “Estanco”.
In 2006, I spent 6 weeks in Sevilla, Spain as part of a student exchange. I had the opportunity to visit Lisbon, Pessoa’s home town, and simply fell in love with the city, its squares, its streets, its castle, and other wonderful locations. Accidentally, I found the café A Brasileira, where there’s a bronze statue of Fernando Pessoa sitting at a table. This almost moved me to tears and, of course, a selfie documented this accidental encounter:
Hopefully I’ll have a drink with Pessoa, Reis, de Campos and Co. next time I visit Lisbon in general and A Brasileira in particular…