(My review on goodreads)
While reading the introduction I briefly thought that I was reading some crazy invention by GGM: a young boy whose mother has remarried after the death of his father, and who is taken from his native Lisbon to Durban, South Africa, where he learns English and quickly rises to the top of his class and wins various awards and honors for his essays. By the time he is in his late teens, and back in Lisbon, he has developed a kind of megalomania, fancying himself the savior of European literature - a literature whose epicenter will move from France and Germany to Portugal. He invents alter egos, heteronyms he called them - each with their own name, biography, philosopy, and writing style, and begins to write and publish under their names, as well as his own. He tries and fails to set up a publishing house and a literary magazine. He falls in love, once, and leaves her before things get serious (was he homosexual? it sometimes seems so). He was a believer in astrology and automatic writing. Above all, an egotist.
The poems (there are hundreds of them) span a wide range of styles and topics - the heteronyms had diverse interests, after all. I quite liked his stoic poems - but then, I always enjoy reading stoic philosophy and essays, perhaps because I am by nature the opposite of stoic. The poems were short - typically 20-30 lines, and got right to the point. And there were a number of other poems in which Pessoa (or one of his heteronyms) expresses the wish to get behind all the ways that we think about things and reach the things themselves. This was in contrast to the many poems in which Pessoa expresses the view that all that matters is sensation.
The poems that Pessoa liked best were the ones inspired by Walt Whitman: the Maritime Ode and the Ode to Walt Whitman (or I think that was the title of it). Maybe if you like Walt Whitman you, too, would like those poems. I found them annoying and ridiculous and I wish for Pessoa’s sake that he had never heard of Walt Whitman.
Overall I’m glad to have read this, but I will never feel the need to go back and re-read, and would never recommend this book to someone I like.
If that seems harsh, I should clarify: I think the translator and editor did an outstanding job. It’s a really good selection (as far as I can tell). But it really does get tedious about halfway through, even though the poems continue to vary in style throughout.