From Publishers Weekly
Translator Zenith's new selection of Portugal's major 20th century poet is more inclusive than any to date and includes works from all of Pessoa's alter-egos (each has his own biography, poetics and politics). Alberto Caeiro, the self-educated nature poet and shepherd, is a realist who is nonetheless given to flights of fantasy and idealism: "To think a flower is to see and smell it, / And to eat a fruit is to know its meaning." Ricardo Reis, a physician and literary descendant of Horace, wants a world that matches his classic ideals, and Zenith includes many odes to this effect. Alvaro de Campos is Pessoa's poet of great feeling and Whitmanesque abundance: "If only I could be all people and all places." The persona of Fernando Pessoa describes the effects of all this shape-shifting: "To be myself is not to be. / I'll live as a fugitive / But live really and truly." The absence of the original poems to compare to Zenith's translations is a loss; nevertheless, this a well-organized, generous and lucidly translated selection of Portugal's greatest modern poet.
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*Starred Review* Eight years ago, Fernando Pessoa & Co., a 300-page volume of Richard Zenith's translations of Portugal's great modernist poet, was one of the events of the year in poetry. Fortunately, Pessoa (1888-1935) was so prolific that only four short poems reappear in Zenith's new 100-pages-longer selection. To further prove himself no slouch, Zenith has written a new introductory essay for this book, explaining again Pessoa's partition of his poetry-writing consciousness into four distinct personae: Alberto Caeiro, a pastoral poet who died young; Caeiro's disparate disciples, stoic, classical Ricardo Reis and ebullient bisexual engineer and Whitman apostle, Alvaro de Campos; and the nostalgic "Fernando Pessoa--himself," as Zenith denominates the persona that bears Pessoa's name. There were additional "heteronyms," as Pessoa called his noms de plume, including some that wrote poems in English (which Pessoa learned as a boy in South Africa) and the bookkeeper who penned the prose work, The Book of Disquiet; Pessoa created biographies for them all. All four of Pessoa's principal Portuguese poet-personalities are obsessed with time, which apparently flows but is physically apprehensible only as an elusive point. Each wrote quite differently from the others, and as Zenith renders them, all wrote brilliantly. Particularly entertaining in this book are de Campos' lengthy odes, which are both moving tributes to and hilarious parodies of Whitman. Ray Olson
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