by Carla Leitão
Archipelagos 01 / November 22nd 2011 / Brooklyn (USA)


This synthesis is a guideline of particular topics and themes around the portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa and his heteronyms, as they were suggested and discussed by Carla Leitão during the event “Archipelagos 01”. This synthesis is not an essay nor an introduction to the work of this poet writer. This text does not contain all the important aspects of the delivery which can be seen in the video of the same event.


Fernando Pessoa had more than 70 heteronyms (including orthonyms). Four of them, and then Fernando Pessoa, the orthonym, are particularly popular and important to understand his work and cultural context. Some heteronyms are related to each other in some fashion and will engage in conversations with each other. Pessoa did astrological charts or created biographical data, including accurate birthdates for several heteronyms. Many heteronyms and orthonyms have an intrinsic, interior contradiction.
One of Pessoa’s main known poems, has more than 20 great translations and is called Autopsicography.
(the one below from Richard Zenith)


 O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor
A dor que deveras sente.
E os que lêem o que escreve,
Na dor lida sentem bem,
Não as duas que ele teve,
Mas só a que eles não têm.

E assim nas calhas da roda
Gira, a entreter a razão,
Esse comboio de corda
Que se chama o coração.

“Autopsychography” (transl. Richard Zenith)

The poet is a faker
Who’s so good at his act
He even fakes the pain
Of pain he feels in fact.

And those who read his words
Will feel in his writing
Neither of the pains he has
But just the one they’re missing.

And so around its track
This thing called the heart winds,
A little clockwork train
To entertain our minds.

Alberto Caeiro (1889-1915) is the poet who wants to see things as they are, who tried to avoid that thinking comes in between him and the act of “seeing”. His main book is “The Keeper of Sheep”, the Keeper is himself, and the sheep are thoughts.

Several other heteronyms and orthonyms are, to some degree, apprentices, students or mentored by Caeiro, and maintain a continuing dialogue with him and his ambitions for poetry. The other four presented here are the often most cited examples and possibly the most prolific.

The age and name of Caeiro evoke Mário de Sá-Carneiro, a poet and very close friend of Fernando Pessoa who suicided at the age of 26.

“O Guardador de Rebanhos”

O meu olhar é nítido como um girassol.
Tenho o costume de andar pelas estradas
Olhando para a direita e para a esquerda,
E de vez em quando olhando para trás…
E o que vejo a cada momento
É aquilo que nunca antes eu tinha visto,
E eu sei dar por isso muito bem…
Sei ter o pasmo comigo
Que tem uma criança se, ao nascer,
Reparasse que nascera deveras…
Sinto-me nascido a cada momento
Para a eterna novidade do mundo…

Creio no mundo como num malmequer,
Porque o vejo. Mas não penso nele
Porque pensar é não compreender…
O mundo não se fez para pensarmos nele
(Pensar é estar doente dos olhos)
Mas para olharmos para ele e estarmos de acordo.

Eu não tenho filosofia: tenho sentidos…
Se falo na Natureza não é porque saiba o que ela é,
Mas porque a amo, e amo-a por isso,
Porque quem ama nunca sabe o que ama
Nem sabe porque ama, nem o que é amar…

Amar é a eterna inocência,
E a única inocência é não pensar…

” The Keeper of Sheep II” (transl. by Richard Zenith)

My gaze is clear like a sunflower.
It is my custom to walk the roads
Looking right and left
And sometimes looking behind me,
And what I see at each moment
Is what I never saw before,
And I’m very good at noticing things.
I’m capable of feeling the same wonder
A newborn child would feel
If he noticed that he’d really and truly been born.
I feel at each moment that I’ve just been born
Into a completely new world…

I believe in the world as in a daisy,
Because I see it. But I don’t think about it,
Because to think is to not understand.
The world wasn’t made for us to think about it
(To think is to have eyes that aren’t well)
But to look at it and to be in agreement.

I have no philosophy, I have senses…
If I speak of Nature it’s not because I know what it is
But because I love it, and for that very reason,
Because those who love never know what they love
Or why they love, or what love is.

To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think…

Álvaro de Campos (1890-…) is a compulsive writer. Both paranoid and attracted by the machines of progress and possible communication with them, is, unlike Caeiro, very driven by the compulsion of ‘feeling’, and is therefore interested in ‘sensations’ and ‘drive’. He plays the most anguished part of Pessoa, his liminal ethical interrogations and desires.

“Ode Triunfal” (1914), excerpt

À dolorosa luz das grandes lâmpadas eléctricas da fábrica
Tenho febre e escrevo.
Escrevo rangendo os dentes, fera para a beleza disto,
Para a beleza disto totalmente desconhecida dos antigos.
Ó rodas, ó engrenagens, r-r-r-r-r-r-r eterno!
Forte espasmo retido dos maquinismos em fúria!
Em fúria fora e dentro de mim,
Por todos os meus nervos dissecados fora,
Por todas as papilas fora de tudo com que eu sinto!
Tenho os lábios secos, ó grandes ruídos modernos,
De vos ouvir demasiadamente de perto,
E arde-me a cabeça de vos querer cantar com um excesso
De expressão de todas as minhas sensações,
Com um excesso contemporâneo de vós, ó máquinas!

“Triumphal Ode” excerpt transl. by R. Zenith

By the painful light of the factory’s huge electric lamps
I write in a fever.
I write gnashing my teeth, rabid for the beauty of all this,
For this beauty completely unknown to the ancients.

O wheels, O gears, eternal r-r-r-r-r-r-r!
Bridled convulsiveness of raging mechanisms!
Raging in me and outside me,
Through all my dissected nerves,
Through all the papillae of everything I feel with!
My lips are parched, O great modern noises,
From hearing you at too close a range,
And my head burns with the desire to proclaim you
In an explosive song telling my every sensation,
An explosiveness contemporaneous with you, O machines!


Ricardo Reis (1887-…) is a doctor and poet. His poems are often a reaction to Caeiro refusal to engage sentiment, or feeling, but simultaneously fascinated by Caeiro’s restrain. For this reason, Caeiro is disturbed by his own thoughts. For this reason, he is sometimes presented as the most lyrical and simultaneously classical from these 3 heteronyms, where the proper form of his poems is often following Greek and Latin models of odes. He is particularly concerned with poetic aesthetic, form, and ethics as a driving force.


Vivem em nós inúmeros
Se penso ou sinto, ignore
Quem é que pensa ou sente.
Sou somente o lugar
Onde se sente ou pensa.

Tenho mais almas que uma.
Há mais eus do que eu mesmo.
Existo todavia
Indiferente a todos.
Faço-os calar: eu falo.

Os impulsos cruzados
Do que sinto ou não sinto
Disputam em quem sou.
Ignoro-os. Nada ditam
A quem me sei: eu escrevo.

(translation Richard Zenith)

Countless lives inhabit us.
I don’t know, when I think or feel,
Who it is that thinks or feels.
I am merely the place
Where things are thought or felt.

 I have more than just one soul.
There are more I’s than I myself.
I exist, nevertheless,
Indifferent to them all.
I silence them: I speak.

 The crossing urges of what
I feel or do not feel
Struggle in who I am, but I
Ignore them. They dictate nothing
To the I I know: I write.

Bernardo Soares is the author of “The Book of Disquiet”. Supposedly an accountant by profession, the book consists of a collection of fragment-thoughts. As Judith Balso, puts it, he claims to be doing an autobiography, but this document lacks all facts, dates, names and history.

“The Book of Disquiet”, excerpts

 Every time my purpose, under the influence of my dreams, raises itself above the quotidian level of my life, for a moment I feel as if I’m high in the air, like a child on a swing. Each of those times, I’ve had to descend to the city park, and know my defeat without war banners flying, with no sword that I might have strength enough to pull from its sheath.


For a long time – I don’ know if it’s a matter of days or months – I haven’t written down a single impression; I’m not thinking, therefore I’m not existing. I have forgotten who I am; I don’t know how to write because I don’t know how to be. Because of an oblique sleep, I was someone else. Knowing that I don’t remember myself is waking up.

I fainted during a bit of my life. I regain consciousness without any memory of what I was, and the memory of who I was suffers for having been interrupted. There is in me a confused notion of an unknown interval, a futile effort on the part of my memory to want to find that other memory. I don’t connect myself with myself. If I’ve lived, I forget having known it.


People say that ennui is a malady of the inert or that it only attacks those with nothing to do. But this illness of the soul is more subtle: it attacks who have a tendency toward it and forgives even less those who work or pretend to work (which, in this instance, is the same thing) than the truly inert.

    There is nothing worse than the contrast between the natural splendor of interior life, with its natural Indies and its unknown lands, and the sordidness, even if it truly is not sordid, of the dayliness of life. The ennui of the brave is the worse of all.

Ennui is not the illness of the boredom of not having anything to do, but the more serious illness of feeling that it’s not worthwhile doing anything. And being that way, the more there is to do, the more ennui there is to feel.

     How many times do I raise my head from the account book where I am writing and where I work with my head empty of the entire world! I’d be better off inert, without doing anything, without having to do anything, because that ennui even if it’s real, at least I’d enjoy it. In my present ennui there is no rest or nobility or well-being in which there might be ill-being: there is an enormous extinguishing of all made gestures, not a virtual fatigue of unmade gestures.

Fernando Pessoa himself is the author of main work “Cancioneiro”, which is a following of the Canzioniere of Petrarch, and the continuation of a traditional form coming from troubadour poets – “cantigas”. This is however still a semi-heteronym, not the real Pessoa, but merely “a mutilation of it”,  as described by the same.

Many topics, celebrations and anxieties manifested in Pessoa’s work have fantastic resonances with philosophical questions of the 20th century, specially those of his own time. I would like to propose that his work has very interesting relevance to perhaps less explored topics of our time and most recent history that deal with such problematics as the splitting of identity and the idea of virtuality and media as an extension of the body, as well as finds some refreshing readings in the most recent concepts explored by Judith Balso and Alain Badiou in relationship to still current problems of metaphysics, politics and aesthetics.
Several of these themes are also specially resonant to the discussion with the other authors present in this event.
I proceed into briefly pointing at them and their possible connections across these authors and these continuing contemporary questions.


Tédio (rough translation: tediousness, boredom) and disquiet (restlessness) are two terms of very difficult translation, which are crucial to the interpretation and understanding of the action enacted by the poems of Pessoa and their heteronyms. Their function in the elevation of perceptive and acting capacity of the poet dominates the connections that poems are to have to important aspects in the discussion of metaphysics and ethics.


In “The Overlapping Landscapes of the Soul and of Reality” – in “Cancioneiro” – Pessoa presents a description of the happening moment of perception, evoking the concept of “landscapes ” to characterize and attribute both the soul and reality, proceeding to describe the layering or overlapping process that happens between these two landscapes in the moment of perception.

Alma e Realidade, Duas Paisagens Sobrepostas
(in Cancioneiro)

1 – Em todo o momento de actividade mental acontece em nós um duplo fenómeno de percepção: ao mesmo tempo que tempos consciência de um estado de alma, temos diante de nós, impressionando-nos os sentidos que estão virados para o exterior, uma paisagem qualquer, entendendo por paisagem, para conveniência de frases, tudo o que forma o mundo exterior num determinado momento da nossa percepção.

2 – Todo o estado de alma é uma passagem. Isto é, todo o estado de alma é não só representável por uma paisagem, mas verdadeiramente uma paisagem. Há em nós um espaço interior onde a matéria da nossa vida física se agita. Assim uma tristeza é um lago morto dentro de nós, uma alegria um dia de sol no nosso espírito. E – mesmo que se não queira admitir que todo o estado de alma é uma paisagem – pode ao menos admitir-se que todo o estado de alma se pode representar por uma paisagem. Se eu disser “Há sol nos meus pensamentos”, ninguém compreenderá que os meus pensamentos são tristes.

3 – Assim, tendo nós, ao mesmo tempo, consciência do exterior e do nosso espírito, e sendo o nosso espírito uma paisagem, tempos ao mesmo tempo consciência de duas paisagens. Ora, essas paisagens fundem-se, interpenetram-se, de modo que o nosso estado de alma, seja ele qual for, sofre um pouco da paisagem que estamos vendo – num dia de sol uma alma triste não pode estar tão triste como num dia de chuva – e, também, a paisagem exterior sofre do nosso estado de alma – é de todos os tempos dizer-se, sobretudo em verso, coisas como que «na ausência da amada o sol não brilha», e outras coisas assim. De maneira que a arte que queira representar bem a realidade terá de a dar através duma representação simultânea da paisagem interior e da paisagem exterior. Resulta que terá de tentar dar uma intersecção de duas paisagens. Têm de ser duas paisagens, mas pode ser – não se querendo admitir que um estado de alma é uma paisagem – que se queira simplesmente interseccionar um estado de alma (puro e simples sentimento) com a paisagem exterior. […]

Fernando Pessoa, in ‘Cancioneiro


“I lack the money to be a dreamer”.
There is a clear difference of the landscapes, lifestyles and rhythms that color each heteronym and which emerge from the poems. The heteronyms seem intrinsically shaped, linked and simultaneously longing for the specific space-time culture moments they dwell in.

Caeiro, the Keeper, lives in the countryside, even though he has perhaps belonged once to the urban. He is a Keeper of sheep, without the sheep.

Campos, is often in the most noisy or overwhelming places of activity of the city, describing what it is to be in contact with it. Triumphal Ode reads as if it could have been written from the inside of a factory during working hours.

Reis, though urban, has time and isolation to perfect his poems. He could be imagined in a quiet studio – the persistence of the doctor’s small medical office – working at his removed poems.
Soares works in a regular, boring job, from which he escapes into dreams that last entire days, loosing sense of time, and of space.

Pessoa, the orthonym, is compelled to the same flaneur activity of Pessoa the poet, erring through the streets while thinking and writing in cafes.

These are the 4 to 5 figures of the escape of tédio (tediousness), the feeling of increasing inaction and desire to sleep, counterpart to romantic exaltation on the one hand and to the speed and sense of purpose of high modernity on the other.


The main contextualizations of Fernando Pessoa’s work propose that he occupies a singular place in the transition or dialogue between the cultures of thought of romanticism and modernism, influenced by discussions and discourses engaged by, for instance, John Ruskin among others.
Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms suggest and exercise those philosophical and artistic battles with concepts of perception, representation and ethics on the 19th century – particularly its second half – and beginning of the 20th century and modernity.


Several analysis of Pessoa’s poetry place at the core of the philosophical discussion on metaphysics and existentialism, including the role they played in the development of artistic and political movements.
Regarding this topic, the work of Judith Balso stands out for her unique insight of the potential contribution of Pessoa’s work to metaphysical inquiry, evoking the possibility that his instruments – the poem and the heteronyms – may have been far more performative in acting upon the bodies of metaphysics.
Balso’s presents several possible elements on Pessoa’s body of work with particular relevance to philosophical inquiry within metaphysics, still relevant today, among which:
– poem and action vs poem and its separation of politics
– what the poem says without being uttered
– thinking Being as different from thinking Truths
– the multiplicity of being

The discussions around metaphysics happen around the figure of Caeiro who calls for  the need to get rid of a metaphysical inquiry and its insistence on seeing things behind things, rather as it should be, things in their own existence, as existing. “Nature is parts without whole”.

Campos and Reis being his most direct ‘students’, develop two different approaches of response to his discourse. Campos is the most antagonistic of the two, presenting in both his prolific, unconstrained style and thematic, a violent reaction to the dry absence of meaning in Caeiro’s work, instead referencing the experience of a perceived world which layers connections in several dimensions. His style evokes some characteristics of the romantic epic. Reis work is dominated by his fascination with Caeiro, reaction against the compulsiveness of Campos and is predilection for form and aesthetics. While claiming the impossibility to avoid subjectivity, Reis says Man is itself a thing, saying they are as much a product of contingency and devoid of meaning as any other thing in the universe.

Balso proposes that this dialogue and confrontation are unique modes of claiming thinking as immanent to the poem, and the poem’s unique capacity to “radically critique metaphysics and continue to bear its ambition.”

In this conversation, I find and propose that discussions on these aspects are interesting to discuss in the context of the new oblivion of the discussion of Being (and overall work by Heidegger’s on ‘Being’ and ‘Dwelling’), the now historical discourse on the metropolis, flaneur behavior, the ever present but most recent rehabilitation on the understanding of multitudes, and the influence of cybernetics in characterizing the spaces where thinking and action happen.