Fernando Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888 and was brought up in Durban, South Africa. He matriculated at the University of Cape Town, where he won the Queen Victoria Prize for English Essay. In 1905 he returned to Lisbon where he matriculated at the University, and continued to read and write in English. He published in 1918 35 Sonnets and in 1922 the three parts of his English Poems, all composed many years before. The rest of his life passed uneventfully in Lisbon. He earned a pittance from a number of commercial firms, composing free verse and classical odes in the intervals of translating the firm’s foreign correspondence. Some of his poems were published in literary journals. Pessoa also wrote prose on questions of aesthetics, and sketches for detective novels. The only book published in his lifetime was Mensagem, a collection of poems on patriotic themes which won a consolation prize in a national competition. Pessoa also wrote under three pseudonyms, Alberto Caeiro, Alvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis, whose biographies he invented.
He wrote under 75 pseudonyms, many of which he developed into ‘heteronyms’, characters endowed with their own biographies, physiques, personalities, political views, religious attitudes and literary pursuits, all capable of reviewing each other’s work in the literary journals of the time. He was a leading light in Portugal’s Modernist movement, and he also invented several of his own movements, including ‘Intersectionism’ and ‘Sensationism’. Pessoa’s literary genius went largely unrecognized until after his death in 1935.