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By Pessoa, Fernando; Lisboa, Eugénio; Taylor, Len Clive

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These words could also be applied to Pessoa, so long as lie is not confused with imagination or exactness with rigidity. The poetry of Reis is precise and simple as a line-drawing; Pessoa’s exact and complex like music. Complex and various, it moves in different directions: the prose, the Portuguese poetry and the English poetry (the French poems have to be set aside as insignificant). The prose writings, which have still to be published in full, can be divided in two main categories: those signed with his own name and those of his pseudonyms, principally the Baron of Tieve, an aristocrat fallen on hard times, and Bernardo Soares, ‘impregnated with commerce’.

The mask of innocence which Caeiro turns to us is not that of wisdom: to be wise is to resign oneself to the knowledge that we are not innocent. Pessoa, who did know it, was nearer to wisdom. 2 Caeiro lives in the timeless present of children and animals; the Futurist Campos in the now. For the first, his hilltop retreat is the centre of the world; the other, cosmopolitan, has no centre, exiled in that nowhere which is everywhere. Nonetheless, they do resemble one another; they both practice free verse; both trample on the Portuguese language; neither avoids the prosaic.

Pessoa conceived Mensagem as a ritual; that is, as an esoteric book. If one looks at its external perfection, this is his most complete book. But it is a made-up book, by which I do not want to suggest that it is insincere but that it was born of the poet’s speculations, not his intuitions. At first glance it is a hymn to the glories of Portugal and a prophecy of a new empire (the Fifth), which will not be material but spiritual; its dominions will extend beyond historic space and time (a Mexican reader immediately recalls the ‘cosmic race’ of Vasconcelos).

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