Friday, September 21, 2012


 To the Poets:
Fernando Pessoa, poet of Portugal, is so well regarded here that he is buried in the Moisteiro de Ste. Geronimo [Monastery of St. Jerome], the other tombs inhabited by the great Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama and royalty of  the 14-15th Centuries and one other poet-novelist-writer of history, Alexandre Herculano of the first half of the 19th century. 

On my first day in Portugal I encountered Pessoa’s statue in Rua de Poete near the coffeehouse la Brasileira, which I later learned had been a favorite gathering place for artists and poets.   On my trip to Lisbon, Pessoa kept turning up.

Pessoa was born in 1888, around the same time as my maternal grandmother and died in 1935 (40 years before my grandmother).  Of Portuguese origin, he spent much of his youth in South Africa before returning to Portugal and studying Portuguese literature.  Interestingly, seeing this statue, I thought of him as a flaneur or boulevardier, and in fact the description I read later said he was considered a flaneur and wrote wonderful descriptions of the bars, cafes and street life of Lisbon.  One of his books was Lisbon Revisited:

Once again I see you – Lisbon, the Tagus, and all –
Useless passerby of you and of me,
Stranger in this place as in every other,
Accidental in life as in the soul,
Phantom wandering the halls of memory,
To the squealing of rats and the squeaking of boards,
In the doomed castle where life must be lived...
Fernando Pessoa, from "Lisbon Revisited" (1926),
ed. and tr. by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown.
Copied From Wikipedia


Pessoa also was known to be the creator of heteronyms, fictitious personae, whom he created to write in different styles.  While at his tomb, I read what I thought was an epitaph penned by one Ricardo Reis, whom I later discovered was one of his 80 heteronyms!  Politically, Passoa described himself as a “mystical nationalist,”  He came to oppose Salazar and was banned by his government.  Pessoa, literary critic, poet, translator of Whitman and Poe and Hawthorne into Portuguese, died in 1935.
Only a couple of years ago, I read a novel by Jose Saramango, The Double, also one of Portugal’s greatest novelists and poets of the 20th century, winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.  Saramango who died in 2010 had also been unknown to me.  Yet when he was almost 60, he became well known with his fourth novel, Memorial do Convento, set during the inquisition in 18th century Lisbon.  Once translated, this book became an international success.  He wrote over 20 novels and several volumes of poetry.  I am especially interested in one novel , The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, one of Pessoa’s heteronyms and will seek to find it when I return to the U.S.    Yet while Pessoa described himself as basically a conservative in the British mold and eschewed  socialism and communism, Saramango was an outspoken atheist and communist.

Discovering these writers reminds me how Anglo-centered we Americans  with English and American writers (even the Canadians get short shrift from us – Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Robertson Davies, to name a few).

Hail to these Portuguese writers:  Fernando Pessoa and Jose Saramango.

And to the Discoverers
When I was a young child and learned about Vasco De Gama, I so loved the sound of the  name of this explorer who first found the way from Portugal to India.  He is yet another of the notables venerated in the Mosteiro de San Geronimos in Belem section of Lisbon (some consider Belem a separate town).  The monastery was established as a contemplative order in Portugal to support the royal family and to support the explorers  who were seeking to discover the New World on behalf of Portugal.
Across from the Monastery and adjacent to the water  is a large modern statue honoring the 35  discoverers. 
With Cristóvão da Gama, captain at the helm of the  currack  on the East side, one views:

·         Afonso V of   Portugal















My Fellow Explorers: Matt and Andrea Smith
on Balcony of Courtyard,
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Lisboa
ALL HAIL THE DISCOVERERS OF THE SPIRIT AS WELL AS OF NEW WORLD (and those of us who follow in their footsteps)
Kay with Vasco de Gama in his final place of rest

No comments: