Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa

by Fernando Pessoa Translated from Portuguese by Richard Zenith

“Zenith’s selection [of Pessoa’s writings] is beautifully translated, compact while appropriately diverse, and another of its virtues is that it gives an account of a life that makes up in fascination what it lacks in outward event. Because there is no biography of Pessoa in English, Zenith’s confessedly ‘heavily editorial intervention’ –a chronological arrangement and lavish contextualization of these selected notes, fragments, letters and pieces of planned books–serves as the next best thing.” –Benjamin Kunkel, Los Angeles Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date March 15, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5915-1
  • Dimensions 5.50" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

Washington Post and Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year

Though known primarily as a poet, Fernando Pessoa, a writer of “remarkable genius” (Washington Post) wrote prose widely, in several languages and in every genre. Now newly expanded and revised by award-winning translator and Pessoa biographer Richard Zenith, The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa spans fiction and drama, playful intellectual inquiry, Platonic dialogue, and bitter intellectual scrapping between Pessoa and his many literary alter egos (“heteronyms”). In these pieces, the heteronyms launch movements and write manifestos, and one of them attempts to break up Pessoa’s only known romantic relationship. Also included is a generous selection from Pessoa’s masterpiece The Book of Disquiet. This is an important record of a crucial part of the literary canon.


“Zenith’s selection [of Pessoa’s writings] is beautifully translated, compact while appropriately diverse, and another of its virtues is that it gives an account of a life that makes up in fascination what it lacks in outward event. Because there is no biography of Pessoa in English, Zenith’s confessedly ‘heavily editorial intervention’—a chronological arrangement and lavish contextualization of these selected notes, fragments, letters and pieces of planned books—serves as the next best thing.”—Benjamin Kunkel, Los Angeles Times

Praise for Fernando Pessoa

“A modern master to rank alongside Joyce, Kafka, Beckett.”Sunday Times (UK) 

“Beautifully translated, compact while appropriately diverse.”Los Angeles Times

“[A] delightful collection . . . [Pessoa] is the modernist’s modernist: an inspired amalgam of Lewis Carroll, Aristophanes, Erasmus, Voltaire.”Washington Times


“I was a poet animated by philosophy”

I was a poet animated by philosophy, not a philosopher with poetic faculties. I loved to admire the beauty of things, to trace in the imperceptible and through the minute the poetic soul of the universe.

Poetry is in everything–in land and in sea, in lake and in riverside. It is in the city too–deny it not–it is evident to me here as I sit: there is poetry in this table, in this paper, in this inkstand; there is poetry in the rattling of the cars on the streets, in each minute, common, ridiculous motion of a workman who [on] the other side of the street is painting the signboard of a butcher’s shop.

Mine inner sense predominates in such a way over my five senses that I see things in this life–I do believe it–in a way different from other men.

There is for me–there was–a wealth of meaning in a thing so ridiculous as a door key, a nail on a wall, a cat’s whiskers. There is to me a fullness of spiritual suggestion in a fowl with its chickens strutting across the road. There is to me a meaning deeper than human fears in the smell of sandalwood, in the old tins on a dirt heap, in a matchbox lying in the gutter, in two dirty papers which, on a windy day, will roll and chase each other down the street.

For poetry is astonishment, admiration, as of a being fallen from the skies taking full consciousness of his fall, astonished at things. As of one who knew things in their soul, striving to remember this knowledge, remembering that it was not thus he knew them, not under these forms and these conditions, but remembering nothing more.

“The artist must be born beautiful”

The artist must be born beautiful and elegant; for he that worships beauty must not himself be unfair. And it is assuredly a terrible pain for an artist to find not at all in himself that which he strives for. Who, looking at the portraits of Shelley, of Keats, of Byron, of Milton, and of Poe, can wonder that these were poets? All were beautiful, all were beloved and admired, all had in love warmth of life and heavenly joy, as far as any poet, or indeed any man, can have.

“I have always had in consideration”

I have always had in consideration a case which is extremely interesting and which brings up* a problem not the less interesting. I considered the case of a man becoming immortal under a pseudonym, his real name hidden and unknown. Such a man would, thinking upon it, not consider himself really immortal but an unknown, [destined] to be immortal in deed. “And yet what is the name?” he would consider. Nothing at all. “What then,” I said to myself, “is immortality in art, in poesy, in anything whatsoever?”

Three Prose Fragments
Charles Robert Anon

Ten thousand times my heart broke within me. I cannot count the sobs that shook me, the pains that ate into my heart.

Yet I have seen other things also which have brought tears into mine eyes and have shaken me like a stirred leaf. I have seen men and women giving life, hopes, all for others. I have seen such acts of high devotedness that I have wept tears of gladness. These things, I have thought, are beautiful, although they are powerless to redeem. They are the pure rays of the sun on the vast dung-heap of the world.

* * *

I saw the little children …

A hatred of institutions, of conventions, kindled my soul with its fire. A hatred of priests and kings rose in me like a flooded stream. I had been a Christian, warm, fervent, sincere; my emotional, sensitive nature demanded food for its hunger, fuel for its fire. But when I looked upon these men and women, suffering and wicked, I saw how little they deserved the curse of a further hell. What greater hell than this life? What greater curse than living? “This free will,” I cried to myself, “this also is a convention and a falsehood invented by men that they might punish and slay and torture with the word “justice,” which is a nickname of crime. “Judge not,” the Bible has it–the Bible; “judge not, that ye may not be judged!””

When I had been a Christian I had thought men responsible for the ill they did–I hated tyrants, I cursed kings and priests. When I had shaken off the immoral, the false influence of the philosophy of Christ, I hated tyranny, kinghood, priestdom–evil in itself. Kings and priests I pitied because they were men.

I, Charles Robert Anon, being, animal, mammal, tetrapod, primate, placental, ape, catarrhina, ” man; eighteen years of age, not married (except at odd moments), megalomaniac, with touches of dipsomania, d”g”n”r” sup”rieur, poet, with pretensions to written humor, citizen of the world, idealistic philosopher, etc. etc. (to spare the reader further pains)–

in the name of TRUTH, SCIENCE, and PHILOSOPHIA, not with bell, book, and candle but with pen, ink, and paper–

pass sentence of excommunication on all priests and all sectarians of all religions in the world.

Excommunicabo vos.
Be damned to you all.

Reason, Truth, Virtue per C. R. A.

“I am tired of confiding in myself”

July 25, 1907

I am tired of confiding in myself, of lamenting over myself, of pitying mine own self with tears. I have just had a kind of scene with Aunt Rita* over F. Coelho.* At the end of it I felt again one of those symptoms which grow clearer and ever more horrible in me: a moral vertigo. In physical vertigo there is a whirling of the external world about us; in moral vertigo, of the interior world. I seemed for a moment to lose the sense of the true relations of things, to lose comprehension, to fall into an abyss of mental abeyance. It is a horrible sensation, one that prompts* inordinate fear. These feelings are becoming common, they seem to pave my way to a new mental life, which shall of course be madness.

In my family there is no comprehension of my mental state–no, none. They laugh at me, sneer at me, disbelieve me; they say I wish to be extraordinary. They neglect to analyze the wish to be extraordinary. They cannot comprehend that between being and wishing to be extraordinary there is but the difference of consciousness being added to the second. It is the same case as that of myself playing with tin soldiers at seven and at fourteen years; in one [moment] they were things, in the other things and playthings at the same time; yet the impulse to play with them remained, and that was the real, fundamental psychical state.
I have no one in whom to confide. My family understands nothing. My friends I cannot trouble with these things; I have no really intimate friends, and even were there one intimate, in world’s ways, yet he were not intimate in the way I understand intimacy. I am shy and unwilling to make known my woes. An intimate friend is one of my ideal things, one of my daydreams, yet an intimate friend is a thing I never shall have. No temperament fits me; there is no character in this world which shows a chance of approaching what I dream of* in an intimate friend. No more of this.

Mistress or sweetheart I have none; it is another of my ideals and one fraught, unto the soul of it, with a real nothingness. It cannot be as I dream. Alas! poor Alastor! Shelley, how I understand thee! Can I confide in Mother? Would that I had her here. I cannot confide in her either,* but her presence would abate much of my pain. I feel as lonely as a wreck at sea. And I am a wreck indeed. So I confide in myself. In myself? What confidence is there in these lines? There is none. As I read them over I ache in mind to perceive how pretentious, how literary-diary-like they are! In some I have even made style. Yet I suffer nonetheless. A man may suffer as much in a suit of silks as in a sack or in a torn blanket.

No more.

[An Unsent Letter to Clifford Geerdts] Faustino Antunes

[I am writing you about the] late Fernando Ant”nio Nogueira Pessoa, who is thought to have committed suicide; at least he blew up a country house in which he was, dying he and several other people–a crime (?) which caused [a] great sensation in Portugal at the time (several months ago). I have been requested to inquire, as far as is now possible, into his mental condition and, having heard that the deceased was with you in the Durban High School, must beg you to write me stating frankly how he was considered among the boys at the said institution. Write me as detailed an account as possible on this. What opinion was held of him? Intellectually? Socially? etc. Did he seem or did he not seem capable of such an act as I have described?

I must ask you to keep, as far as possible, silence in this matter; it is, you understand, very delicate and very sad. Besides, it may have been (how I wish it may have been!) an accident, and in that case our hasty condemnation would itself be a crime. It is just my task, by inquiring into his mental condition, to determine whether the catastrophe was a crime or a mere accident.

An early reply will [be] very much obliged.

Two Prose Fragments
Alexander Search

Bond entered into by Alexander Search, of Hell, Nowhere, with Jacob Satan, Master, though not King, of the same place:

1. Never to fall off or shrink from the purpose of doing good to mankind.

2. Never to write things, sensual or otherwise evil, which may be to the detriment and harm of those that read.

3. Never to forget, when attacking religion in the name of truth, that religion can ill be substituted and that poor man is weeping in the dark.

4. Never to forget men’s suffering and men’s ill.

October 2nd, 1907
Alexander Search

” Satan
(his mark)


30 October 1908

No soul more loving or tender than mine has ever existed, no soul so full of kindness, of pity, of all the things of tenderness and of love. Yet no soul is so lonely as mine–not lonely, be it noted, from exterior but from interior circumstances. I mean this: together with my great tenderness and kindness an element of an entirely opposite kind enters into my character–an element of sadness, of self-centeredness, of selfishness, therefore, whose effect is two-fold: to warp and hinder the development and full internal play of those other qualities, and to hinder, by affecting the will depressingly, their full external play, their manifestation. One day I shall analyze this, one day I shall examine better, discriminate, the elements of my character, for my curiosity about all things, linked to my curiosity about myself and my own character, will lead to an* attempt to understand my personality.

It was on account of these characteristics that I wrote, describing myself, in “A Winter Day”:*

One like Rousseau …
A misanthropic lover of mankind.

I have, as a matter of fact, many, too many, affinities with Rousseau. In certain things our characters are identical. The warm, intense, inexpressible love of mankind, and the portion of selfishness balancing it–this is a fundamental characteristic of his character and, as well, of mine.

My intense patriotic suffering, my intense desire of bettering the condition of Portugal provokes in me–how to express with what warmth, with what intensity, with what sincerity!–a thousand plans which, even if one man could realize them, he would have to have one characteristic which in me is purely negative–the power of will. But I suffer–on the very brink of madness, I swear it–as if I could do all and was unable to do it, by deficiency of will.

Besides my patriotic projects–writing of “Portuguese Regicide” to provoke a revolution here, writing of Portuguese pamphlets, editing of older national literary works, creation of a magazine, of a scientific review etc.; other plans consuming me with the necessity of being soon carried out–Jean Seul projects,* critique of Binet-Sangl”,* etc.–combine to produce an excess of impulse that paralyzes my will. The suffering that this produces I know not if it can be described as on this side of insanity.

Add to all this other reasons still for suffering, some physical, others mental, the susceptibility to every small thing that can cause pain (or even that to a normal man could not cause pain), add to this other things still, complications, money difficulties–join all this to my fundamentally unbalanced temperament, and you may be able to suspect what my suffering is.

One of my mental complications–horrible beyond words–is a fear of insanity, which itself is insanity. (…)

Rule of Life

1. Make as few confidences as possible. Better make none, but, if you make any, make false or indistinct ones.

2. Dream as little as possible, except where the direct purpose of the dream is a poem or a literary product. Study and work.

3. Try to be as sober as possible, anticipating sobriety of body by a sober attitude of mind.

4. Be agreeable only by agreeableness, not by opening your mind or by discussing freely those problems that are bound up with the inner life of the spirit.

5. Cultivate concentration, temper the will, make yourself a force by thinking, as innerly as possible, that you are indeed a force.

6. Consider how few real friends you have, because few people are apt to be anyone’s friends.

7. Try to charm by what is in your silence.

8. Learn to be prompt to act in small things, in the trite things of street life, home life, work life, to brook no delay from yourself.

9. Organize your life like a literary work, putting as much unity into it as possible.

10. Kill the Killer.

Translation copyright ” 2001 by Richard Zenith. Introduction copyright ” 2001 by Richard Zenith. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.