A centenary Pessoa by Pessoa, Fernando; Lisboa, Eugénio; Taylor, Len Clive

By Pessoa, Fernando; Lisboa, Eugénio; Taylor, Len Clive

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1 Dom Sebastian: Sebastião (1554-78), whose death in the battle of Alcácer-Quibir (Al-Qasr al-kabir), Morocco, led to the end of Portugal’s Golden Age with annexation by Spain in 1580. Rumours of his survival generated the messianic cult of Sebastianismo, which persists to this day in some educated circles.

Thus it is not pointless to recall the salient features of his life, so long as we know that it is the footprints of a shadow we are following. The real Pessoa is someone else. Born in Lisbon in 1888. Father dies, mother re-marries. In 1896 she and her children move to Durban, South Africa, where her second husband is sent as Portuguese Consul. English education. Bilingual poet, the Anglo-Saxon influence will be constant on his thought and in his work. In 1905, on the verge of matriculating at the University of Capetown, he must return to Portugal.

Near-anonymity and near-celebrity. Everyone knows the name of Fernando Pessoa but few know who he is or what he does. ’ I imagine Pessoa would not have minded the confusion. On the contrary, he cultivated it. Periods of literary agitation followed by stretches of lethargy. If his appearances are isolated and spasmodic, like hand-claps to scare off the fat cats of official literature, his lonely work is constant. Like all the great lazy geniuses, he spends his life making catalogues of the works he will never write; and as also happens with lethargic people, when they are impassioned and imaginative, in order not to burst, not to go crazy, almost on the sly, in the margins of their great projects, each day he writes a poem, an article, a reflection.

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