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History of Portuguese Literature Origins of Portuguese Literature The Portuguese Language Oral Literature Fiction Lyricism
Travel Literature Cantigas de amigo Historiography Doctrinal Prose


Fernando Pessoa


"Diário de Lisboa", literary supplement, 6 December 1935

Lisbon. Elevador da Glória, 
in Praça dos Restauradores

Together with Camões, he is the most important figure in Portuguese Literature, dominating the twentieth century with his problematics of diverse and questioning meaning, divided into heteronyms: Alberto Caeiro, the naturalist with an apparently ingenuous perception of objects; Ricardo Reis, a classicising and stoic author; Álvaro de Campos, spectacular and futuristic; Bernardo Soares, the author of the intimist and fragmentary prose of the Livro do Desassossego; and various others.

In addition to these heteronyms, Fernando Pessoa himself is also, in his own right, a great poet of symbolism and modernism, pursuing the theme of evanescence, indefinition and dissatisfaction with things and beings, and introducing great innovations along the diverse paths that he followed in the formulation of poetic discourse (sensationalism, Paulism, intersectionism, etc.).

Fernando Pessoa also produced the enigmatic volume of poems entitled Mensagem, which greatly transcends the simple glorification of the mythical Portuguese past, (not to mention his plays and the poems that he wrote in English). With his writing, Portuguese literature found a lyrical framework for studying the fundamental questions of human existence, either those of a philosophical nature or those arising loosely from everyday life. In short, his writing provided the foundations for the pillars on which our modernity was to become truly established.

The mystery of things, where is it?
Where is it that does not appear
At least to show us that it is a mystery?
What knows the river of this and what knows the tree?
And I, who am no more than they are, what do I know?
Whenever I look at things and think about what men think of them,
I laugh like a rivulet that sounds so coolly upon a stone.

Because the only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning.

Alberto Caeiro

No: I want nothing.
I have already said I want nothing.
Don’t come to me with conclusions!
The only conclusion is to die.
Don’t bring me aesthetics!
Don’t talk to me about morals!
Take metaphysics away from me!
Don’t proclaim to me complete systems or line up for me the conquests
Of sciences (of sciences, my God, of sciences!) -

Of sciences, of the arts, of modern civilisation!
What harm have I done to all the gods?
If they hold the truth, let them keep it! (... )
Oh blue sky - the same as in my childhood -,
Eternal truth empty and perfect!
Oh soft Tagus ancestral and silent,
Small truth wherein the sky is reflected!
Oh grief revisited, Lisbon of times past of today!
You give me nothing, you take nothing from me, you are nothing as far as I can feel.
Leave me in peace! I shall not be late, for I am never late...
And as long as the Abyss is late and the Silence I wish to be alone!


Álvaro de Campos, «Lisbon Revisited» (1923)

© Instituto Camões, 2001