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Pessoa, Fernando (1888–1935)

A poet's poet and a modernist of the first rank, Fernando Pessoa grew up in Durban, South Africa, but lived subsequently in his native city of Lisbon, Portugal. He eked out a marginal livelihood there as a commercial translator. The magnitude and quality of his literary output came largely as a surprise to posterity and are still being assessed. He devised a series of alter egos (heteronyms), each one with a distinctive poetic style, to whom he attributed much of his writing.

Pessoa mastered English at an early age and was annotating a copy of Leaves of Grass at a crucial moment in his literary development. It was at this time that his celebrated poem "Salutation to Walt Whitman" (1914) was written. The "Salutation" makes deft use of Whitman's stylistic tics and recreates a Whitmanesque mood of transcendental enthusiasm. However, it does so in a way that makes Leaves of Grass seem faintly preposterous. In fact, the work is a puckish send-up.

Yet Pessoa made use of Whitman's technical advances to great effect elsewhere in his more reflective verse. It also appears that his pastoral lyrics were, at bottom, an elaborate philosophical commentary on Leaves of Grass. Such links between the two poets were of a serious and substantial character.


Brown, Susan Margaret. "Pessoa and Whitman: Brothers in the Universe." The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman. Ed. Robert K. Martin. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1992. 167–181.

Pessoa, Fernando. Poems of Fernando Pessoa. Ed. and trans. Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown. New York: Ecco, 1986.

Sena, Jorge de. "Fernando Pessoa: The Man Who Never Was." The Man Who Never Was: Essays on Fernando Pessoa. Ed. George Monteiro. Providence, R.I.: Gávea-Brown, 1982. 19–31.

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