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This review is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

AFTER PESSOA Poems of Fernando Pessoa, translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown. New York: The Ecco Press, 1986, London: W.W. Norton & Co.,1989.£7.50 pbk.

The centenary of Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) has come and gone. Events included a week-long conference and exhibition at UNESCO headquarters; publications included an excellent special issue of the Paris literary monthly Europe and a good effort by Numbers (Cambridge, England) which contains the first complete English translation - by Michael Schmidt - of the long essay (1961) by Octavio Paz. And yet Pessoa remains out of print in his mother tongue, a strange situation for a poet regarded by Portuguese-speakers as their greatest since Camões.

This solitary man in a dark suit who throughout his adult life never left Lisbon is an archetype of the modern Western poet who, lacking the nerve of his Romantic forebears, practises a form of ventriloquism: Je est un autre. The poet as not-me, the poem as dramatic monologue goes back a long way; but what was a tributary in the 19th century became the mainstream in the 20th. The first third of our century, at least, is the age of the mask, the persona; it is the age too of the poet whose name is derived from the same Latin word. Pessoa goes further than Cavafy, Pound, Eliot: the exiled Byzantine nobleman, Bertrand de Born, J. Alfred Prufrock are called up for only one or two poems, whereas for Pessoa the mask becomes an alter ego, like Chatterton's Thomas Rowley or Larbaud's A.O. Barnabooth, to whom he returns for poem after poem. But Pessoa goes further still, creating up to nineteen ...


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