Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fernando Pessoa A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems Edited and translated by Richard Zenith Penguin, 2006 If I had to name my favorite ten writers, Fernando Pessoa would be at least four of them. Not satisfied by making poetry, he made poets as well, each with his own history and style. This book is thus one of the world’s great anthologies, like the Bible, a chorus in different voices and it deserves to be read in that way. Here is Alberto Caeiro, the sage, who sees in things only the things themselves and announces, “All it takes to be complete is to exist.” And here is the sad and wise Ricardo Reis who counsels us to “Let’s love with greater calm / Our uncertain life”. These are Fernando Pessoa’s “heteronyms”, but here also is Fernando Pessoa himself, no slouch as a poet. My wife, whose name is Solitude, Keeps me from being glum. Ah, what good it does my heart To have this non-existent home! If you are shopping for a volume of Fernando Pessoa in English, it is useful to know that this book (published by Penguin in 2006) and Fernando Pessoa & Co (published by Grove in 1999), are both translated by Richard Zenith, but contain almost totally different poems. If you love Pessoa, you’ll want them both but, if you can only buy one at a time, this volume seems to me the most essential. Frankly, how people manage to live their lives without these poems is a mystery to me. How did I get by before I read Pessoa? I can’t remember. For Pessoa’s prose -- most of all for selections from the diary of the assistant bookkeeper Bernardo Soares -- read Zenith’s Selected Prose. Also, if you are a fan of Pessoa, it is thrilling to read Jose Saramago’s novel A Year in the Life of Ricardo Reis but, be warned, Saramago’s time-traveling stunt will change the way you read the poems forever.  

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