|History of Portuguese Literature||Origins of Portuguese Literature||The Portuguese Language||Oral Literature||Fiction||Lyricism|
|Travel Literature||Cantigas de amigo||Historiography||Doctrinal Prose|
consists of a set of written texts (which are also often firmly rooted in the
oral tradition), aesthetically composed from common language and expressing the
cultural specificity of a community.
Portuguese literature was formed on the basis of a single, unified geographical space, namely the Portuguese territory,
The Lusitanian Kingdom, / Where the land ends and the sea begins
it was later to spread to various parts of the world as a consequence of the
Portuguese maritime discoveries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
This great adventure resulted in an extremely rich travel
literature and was responsible for the expansion of the national language.
history of Portuguese literature
accompanied the aesthetic evolution of western culture, emerging from a
mediaeval Latin-based environment that served as the basis for the formation and
perfection of literary language until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
It was also open to popular influences, particularly in the early days of historiography
(whose most important figure was Fernão Lopes,
with his remarkable capacity for describing mass social movements) and in the theatre
(whose most notable figure was Gil Vicente, with
his ability to communicate the traditional wisdom deriving from the spontaneity
of the ordinary people):
All the glory in people’s life
comes from having money
and whoever wishes to have a great amount
must first be
as nasty as he can
Gil Vicente, Auto da Feira - 1527
its origins, Portuguese literature was to
develop an intense lyricism with the poetry of
troubadours, and particularly with the cantigas
de amigo. Generally speaking, this tradition continued into classical
lyrical poetry, as well as into the poetry of Camões
in particular, and was taken up once again in a renewed fashion in the period of
Romanticism, which had a number of important
personalities: Garrett and the romantic
nationalism of amorous expression; Cesário
Verde and the simultaneously idealised and banal daily urban life; Antero de Quental
and the dilaceration of thought involved in concrete existence; Camilo
Pessanha and the dream of verbal perfection in the corrosion of
human time - as well as in the work of a great number of contemporary
People! In the torn cloth of your shirts
I think I see a shining flag!
With this you suffer, drink and agonise:
Large stains of wine draw stripes upon it,
And your braces form a cross!
Cesário Verde, Contrariedades - 1887
Luís de Camões (16C) and Fernando Pessoa (20C) are, however, considered to be the greatest writers in the history of Portuguese literature. In fact, Modernism found perhaps its most personalised and complex expression in the figure and writing of Pessoa (the founder of the Orpheu magazine), for the galaxy of his heteronyms (the names of distinct personalities with whom he composed his various works) represents a distinctive phenomenon in his literary composition and in the corresponding human experience, with quite surprising literary results, giving rise to genuine fiction in the art of writing:
The poet is a feigner.
So completely does he feign
that he even feigns that the pain
that he really feels is pain
Fernando Pessoa, Autospsicografia - 1932
fiction (especially the novel) has also enjoyed
its own particular periods of splendour in Portuguese literature. Ever since Bernardim
Ribeiro (16C), but particularly after the
periods of Romanticism and Realism,
the production of this literary genre has been steadily increasing, with an ever
greater interest being shown by both the reading public and the critics. On the
basis of the relationship between the individual and society, which was itself
the central feature in the apogee of the novel in the nineteenth century,
narrative prose has ceaselessly created a whole range of different aspects that
are worthy of being studied: the construction of the plot, the development of
the characters, relationships of social dominance, the problematics of existence,
subjective conflicts, the passage of time, the activity of writing, the hybrid
nature of genres, the rewriting of texts in the form of a parody and the
deconstruction of discourse.
such as Camilo Castelo Branco, Eça
de Queirós, Raúl Brandão, Aquilino
Ribeiro and, more recently, Vergílio Ferreira,
Agustina Bessa-Luís, José
Cardoso Pires, José Saramago
and António Lobo Antunes
are some of the most notable figures to have emerged in this particular area, in
which one of the most remarkable features of contemporary
authors is their sheer number and quality.
nightfall, the commander came back from the shore and, his eyes clouded over
with tears, began to contemplate the exile, who was himself contemplating the
first stars, appearing high above the belvedere.
‘Are you looking for her in the sky?’ asked the sailor.
‘Am I looking for her in the sky?’ Simão repeated mechanically.
‘Yes!… The sky is where she must be.’
‘Teresa!… Is she dead?’
‘She died over there on the belvedere, from where she was waving.’
Simão bent over the ship’s rail and stared into the torrent below. The commander threw his arms around him and said:
‘Be brave, you poor wretch, be brave! Seafarers believe in God! Wait and the sky will open up for you through the prayers of that angel!’
Mariana was right behind Simão and had raised her hands.
‘It’s all over!… murmured Simão. ‘Now I’m free… to die…’
Camilo Castelo Branco, Amor de Perdição - 1862
is a world in each stone, time, with its human torrent, will be enveloped by a
gloomy void, a void of all thwarted intentions. In enmity, in mistrust and
desolation, footsteps go ever faster, God’s writings are followed; everything
slips into eternity, in a fog of impotence and cold (…) Here my days go by,
here you die and resuscitate for me. History comes of age through your streets,
these fallen blinds, these locked doors that can only be broken open by a mental
Agustina Bessa-Luís, A Muralha - 1957
contemporary authors, there are a number of prominent figures whose vast
literary output spreads across different genres, in particular poetry, the
novel and the short story. But, in certain cases, plays, criticism, essays,
autobiography and diary-writing are also to be found. Such writers include
many who have since disappeared, although until quite recently they
represented important influences on the Portuguese intellectual scene, with
their manifold personalities and diversified talent, generally committed to
forging an alliance, and sometimes a conflict, between poetic labours and
concrete existence, and to reaffirming literature’s lucid (i.e.
intelligent and radiant) capacity for understanding what is real: Miguel
Torga, Vitorino Nemésio, Jorge
de Sena, Carlos de Oliveira
and David Mourão-Ferreira.
same direction was followed by the leading writers of contemporary poetry (themselves
promoters, albeit of other forms of literary expression), amongst whom the most
important are António Ramos Rosa,
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen,
Eugénio de Andrade and Herberto
Reader: I return
to you. A book that will quickly die.
Quickly before. The wave comes, the wave
floods: The night fallen on your fingers (…)
Eternal, the time. Of a wave that is bigger than our
time. Time the reader of one. Author.
Or a book and a God with waves of a sea
more patient. -
Waves than a
Helder, Para um leitor ler de/vagar -
the field of prose, we find a number of central female figures beginning to
emerge: Maria Judite de Carvalho,
Maria Velho da Costa and Maria
Gabriela Llansol. These dedicate themselves to a type of fiction that
reworks the traditional novel and short story, bringing them closer to other
genres (chronicles, poems in prose and other types of writing extraneous to
normal literary conventions), experimenting with new forms for the expression of
In a story, there is (or is not) a moment of revelation which is said to be sublime. Normally a brief one. As I believe that a skilled reader already knows all the plots, this moment is practically all that matters in writing.
Maria Gabriela Llansol, Um Beijo Dado Mais Tarde - 1990.
© Instituto Camões, 2001