Pessoa múltiple: antología bilingue by Jerónimo Pizarro and Nicolás Barbosa

Pessoa múltiple: antología bilingüe. Edition, translation, and notes by Jerónimo Pizarro and Nicolás Barbosa. Colombia: Fondo de Cultura Económica. 2016. 495 pages.

    

I’m enthusiastic about this edition of Pessoa múltiple by Jerónimo Pizarro, a diligent researcher who has devoted himself to deepening our understanding of Fernando Pessoa. Together with Nicolás Barbosa, the two offer new readings on the essential recent classic of world literature. Pessoa múltiple, “is an invitation to read the Pessoan poetry in its entire scope, variety, and multiplicity,” adding, “Fernando Pessoa no longer requires a generic introduction to his life and work.”

    The book enriches and strengthens the Fondo de Cultura Económica’s list on the life and work of the poet. In 1987, the Fondo published Vida y obra de Fernando Pessoa. Historia de una generación [Life and Works of Fernando Pessoa. History of a Generation] by João Gaspar Simões, a young Portuguese poet who devoted himself to the timely and immediate task of compiling testimonies from the people who, like himself, had lived with the genius who died in 1935. Thanks to this, it was possible to record a large part of his life. 

    Fernando Pessoa began to be read in Mexico beginning in the early 1960s. Around the same time, in 1961, Octavio Paz published "El desconocido de sí mismo" [A Stranger to Himself] in the journal Universidad de México, which he later included in Cuadrivio [Quadrivium]. A decade and a half earlier, in 1946, ten years after Pessoa’s death, a collection of verses in Portuguese, prefaced by Joaquin de Entrambasaguas, appeared in Madrid. 

    In June of 1963, in Monterrey, the journal Armas y Letras dedicated a special issue to Pessoa. The editorial page acknowledgements suggest that the translation –as well as that of Paz– came from previous French versions…

    In their bilingual poetry selection, Pessoa múltiple, Pizarro and Barbosa call our attention to the justifiable need of including Pessoa, himself, differentiated from his 136 fictitious pseudonyms. As readers know, each of Pessoa’s numerous poetic heteronyms has a work of singular importance; as are the prose heteronyms. There are many other names that Pessoa’s pen brought into existence that are also known and had somewhat less to do with the literary aspect. It is all there in the enchanted chest preserved by the National Library of Lisbon – where some claim that Pessoa, hidden inside, transformed into a duende, continues to write.

    In Pessoa múltiple, the inclusion of the Pessoa’s work in English is important as the majority of the books that the poet saw published were written in English. Even though his writing may have begun some five or ten years prior, 35 Sonnets appeared in 1918 and failed to receive the reception that the poet yearned for in Great Britain, which could be the reason why he began to limit his production of poems in that language beginning in 1922. Pessoa’s own distribution of his English volumes reached newspapers like the Glasgow Herald that had reservations about the “muddled style” of the Sonnets. The Times Literary Supplement, for its part, wrote that “Mr. Pessoa's command of English is less remarkable than his knowledge of Elizabethan English.”

    His first verses, at the age of 10 or 12, are love poems; in my opinion, the English language initially allowed him to express the theme of love; maybe the poet felt that English was like an encrypted language that gave him freedom to express his ideas without fear of being discovered and ultimately judged or rejected. This makes it even more relevant that a large portion of his early books were written in English. His sonnets are expressed in a classic style: it was a language that the poet dominated but did not possess deep within himself. Pessoa never knew England. The structural formality of the sonnet allows him to create ideas that he will develop in his other voices. The expressive content of the 35 Sonnets can be compared with certain later poems by Álvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro, and Ricardo Reis; I find similarities that remind me of that seed where Pessoa, writing as Pessoa, begins to outline distinct voices. The fact that he wrote in an acquired, and not his maternal, language is the first step in this adventure of distancing to create a universe distinct from that of the author, properly speaking. Fernando Pessoa was thinking in his mother language, feeling and living in Portuguese. 

    Pessoa and his other names wrote in French as well; thus, we have a writer in three languages. The complete works, Drama en gente [Drama in People], as the poet himself defined it, turned out to be a complex weave that in the end produces a work that is both surprising and always new. The introduction of this anthology calls our attention to two of Pessoa’s key concepts to read and understand, “the internally multiple and the externally multiple,” as the authors of this volume accurately and expressively call it. 

    A necessary poem is “Autopsicografía” [Autopsychography], which from the title already proposes a sort of automatic writing. It is one of the most enlightening poems about Pessoa’s poetic creation. In whichever comparison with other translations, the reader is able to note the formal will of the translation in this volume, which calls attention to the original rhythm of the verse. Additionally, the difficulty of imitating the measure of the verse in three languages so similar, with such proximity.

    In the selection of poems in Pessoa múltiple, the usual reader of this Portuguese poet will find some familiar poems, but there will also be marvelous surprises. A carefully edited book, with interesting approaches to translation, and in which new readers will be captive forever by Pessoa, in that they will have a complete vision of these multiple treasures that represent the Pessoan universe. It is surprising to discover that an alternative title for “Tabaquería” [The Tobacco Shop], the renowned poem by Álvaro de Campos, was “Marcha de la derrota” [March of Defeat]. More than 80 years after the death of the writer, it becomes clear that every work of Pessoa still offers us mysteries to discover and elucidate. 

    If Pessoa insists that any text that can be translated should never be written, this book is an example of the need to disobey the teacher to provide in our language one of the most intense, rich, and multiple works that the 20th century bequeathed us. Poems destined to stimulate the the reader’s ear and sensibility; poems that go directly to the mind without degrading the essentially fundamental musicality of the poem. I underscore the surprise of reading a beautiful autobiographical poem for the first time in Spanish, lyrically declarative, with a French title: “Un soir à Lima” [An Evening in Lima]. The title is from a piece by Belgian composer, pianist, and harpist Félix Godefroid (1818-1897), who spent the greater part of his life in France and, by 1859, had composed a work that Pessoa heard on the radio in Lisbon and reminded him of his mother’s playing it on the piano. It is moving to note that the poem was written around the 17th of September, 1935, a couple of months before the poet’s death. In his last months of his life, emotion plucks from him this magnificent poem. In this bilingual anthology, Pessoa múltiple, Pizarro and Barbosa share discoveries extracted from the fascinating chest and bring us a little closer to Fernando Pessoa and his multiple poets. 

 

Eduardo Langagne
General Director of the Foundation for Mexican Letters

 

Translated by Alex Soderfelt

Reviewer 

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LALT Vol. 1 No. 2
Number 2

The second issue of Latin American Literature highlights the Caribbean and queer literature from across Latin America, featuring dossiers of revolutionary Chilean writer Pedro Lemebel and Mexican author Yuri Herrera as well as a special section on literary voices from Cuba.

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