Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fernando Pessoa

Ian McDonald on Fernando Pessoa's poetry.
The work of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1953) is hardly known to English-speaking peoples. Most of his life he was a low-level, free-lance commercial correspondent. He reported and wrote about day-to-day transactions in the humdrum world of business.
The routines of his earning career were completely ordinary. They provided him with only a precarious living but gave him ample time for what really was the only thing that mattered to him: poetry. However, very little of his verse was published in his lifetime. His love of writing overwhelmed him and he lived only for that. Publication hardly mattered. It can almost be said that he wrote in strictest secrecy.
After Pessoa’s death vast quantities of unpublished prose and verse were discovered jumbled in a big truck at his sister’s house. Since then sifting through the material, publishing it, discussing and interpreting it has become a growth industry in European academic circles.
No label fits him: symbolist, modernist, existentialist, occultist even – he was all of them at different times and sometimes simultaneously. His poetry is controlled, unsentimental, totally removed from unreflecting spontaneity. Central to it are the mystery and terror of existence and the anguished endeavour to make sense of oneself in relation to the universe. Why in God’s name or for no reason at all did the universe come into existence? If life ends in blank nothingness what is its purpose – to what end do we potter around for 70 years or so and then disappear?
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