“This tendency to create around me another world, just like this one but with other people, has never left my imagination.”
Fernando Pessoa only lived to see the publication of a small part of his extensive work, which began to be published in various book forms from 1942 onwards. He left more than 25 thousand sheets of paper covered with texts that he had written, and these are now kept at the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. The long time that it took to decipher and organise these papers explains the lengthy interval before Fernando Pessoa’s work began to be published.
Fernando Pessoa’s uniqueness as a writer is clearly visible not only in his texts, but above all through his original creation of literary figures whom he attributed with their own life and works. In a letter addressed to the Portuguese writer Adolfo Casais Monteiro, on 13 January 1935, Fernando Pessoa identified the three heteronyms, “characters without drama”: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos and the semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares, and presented a narrative for their origin, which can be seen in the original letter.
Fernando Pessoa began writing poems as a child – his first poem dates from 1895, when he was seven years old. He wrote in Portuguese at first, but he very quickly began to use other languages too (his first poem in English dates from 1901). He began with poetry and soon spread to other genres, such as news articles, riddles, puzzles and anecdotes that were published in the newspaper O Palrador. This publication, which was completely written by Pessoa, had five issues printed in the first quarter of 1902. Its editor was named as Pedro da Silva Salles, and it had various “collaborators”: Pad Zé, Pip, Dr. Pancrácio and Diabo Azul, among others. As an adult, when writing to Adolfo Casais Monteiro about the heteronyms, he remembered Chevalier de Pas, an invention from his childhood, of whom all that now remains is the record of his birth (the first known words from Pessoa’s writing).
Until his death, he did not abandon any of these different facets. Together with poetry, he wrote essays, plays, various letters and detective stories, and also devoted himself to astrology, besides being an inventor, a literary critic and a copywriter. Although his professional occupation was that of being a “foreign correspondent for commercial establishments” (he was responsible for writing letters in foreign languages), he always remained linked to publishing projects and magazines such as Orpheu, Athena and the Íbis publishing house. Besides the heteronyms Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos and the semi-heteronym Bernardo Soares, the figures that he created, and who were related with the authorship of texts and poems, numbered more than one hundred, including such characters as António Mora, Jean Seul de Mérulet, Dr. Pancrácio, Charles Robert Anon, Alexander Search and Abílio Quaresma.
His last words were written in pencil, in English, on the day before his death: I know not what tomorrow will bring.