The Surprise of Being

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935), Portugal’s greatest poet since Camões, is a central figure of European Modernism and its perception of a collapse of the post-Romantic ‘I’ and of Western culture. Deeply introspective, seeking objectivity through ‘depersonalisation’, he wrote in various distinct personae. This selection is the first in English to concentrate entirely on poems written in Pessoa’s own name.

Jaime H. da Silva writes in his Introduction: ‘The translators have poetically presented a faithful version of the most confounding of Pessoa’s personae. Moreover, they have organised a collection which is representative of Pessoa’s themes and styles, and shows an evolution in his poetry and a summing-up. Insight into Self and into Self’s self-deceptions becomes the constant of those poems which deal with the problem of Being and Non-being… It is naïve, even primitive, awe, not understanding, that Pessoa magically conjures…’

The main body of these translations was awarded the British Comparative Literature Association’s Translation Prize for 1985. With others now added, they are published in parallel with the original texts.


‘The translators are faced with a daunting task indeed – to render this most brilliant and complex of poets into inventive, readable English. This they have done admirably.’ – Daniel Pires and Margaret Tejerizo, New Comparison

‘A welcome compilation … The Surprise of Being is undoubtedly indispensable.’ – John Pilling, PN Review