The Machine and the Garden: Walt Whitman and Fernando Pessoa’s Álvaro de Campos

by Reinaldo Silva

      This essay examines Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as a catalyst producing an eruption of multiple voices within the Pessoa self. This literary encounter, a sort of poetic “annunciation” on the Pessoa body, immediately leads to the births of Alberto Caeiro and Álvaro de Campos, alter egos/pseudonyms in which traces of Whitman are visibly present. I will concentrate on the Campos “heteronym” who had seen in Whitman the “Medium of Modern Times.” In his screening of Whitman’s celebration of technological achievements in mid-nineteenth century America, coupled with the futurist impact of the early twentieth century, Pessoa forges a poetic voice deeply infatuated with and eager to praise the marvels of progress and machinery in a country, Portugal, which at the time (1914-16) was not actively participating in the industrial revolution and still far from defining itself as overwhelmingly industrialized and developed.

      Although Walt Whitman (1819-92) and Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) never met each other, it is now impossible to think of Pessoa without having Whitman in the back of one’s mind, and vice versa. This view has become a commonplace, but it is in fact a relatively recent one. The critical interest in the Whitman presence in Pessoa’s heteronymic voices (namely those of Alberto Caeiro and Álvaro de Campos) in particular has grown. I attempt to address this issue and view the Campos heteronym in a radically new light. Briefly, Campos assimilates from Whitman his own celebration of technology and industrialism in mid-nineteenth century America. Along with this Whitmanian theme, Pessoa is strongly influenced by the early twentieth-century futurist literary movement and immediately crafts his own hymns to technology, especially in such poems as “Triumphal Ode,” “Maritime Ode,” “Salutation to Walt Whitman” and “Passagem das Horas,” all written between 1914-16 and belonging to his so-called Whitmanian phase. Although it has been pointed out by a few critics that Pessoa, through the voice of Campos, is celebrating technology and industry in a country that is not actively participating in the industrial revolution, this reference has not been adequately expanded and analyzed. The aim of this essay is precisely to unveil the social and economic context from which this voice emerges, to shed light on the Portuguese social reality that Campos refuses to talk about or simply conceals.




      Apart from the few published studies focusing on the literary influence of Walt Whitman on Fernando Pessoa (Caeiro and Campos), Pessoa’s own literary criticism and random notes show how far the American bard helped to shape his poetic voice.[1] Although this study does not aim at highlighting Whitman’s presence in the Caeiro heteronym, it is worth noting briefly what Pessoa (here through the voice of Ricardo Reis, the most classicist voice of Pessoa) had to say about the notorious Whitmanian presence in Caeiro: "To whom can Caeiro be compared? To very few poets…The very few poets to whom Caeiro may be compared, either because he merely reminds, or might remind us of them,or because he may be conceived of as having been influenced by them, whether we think it seriously or not, are Whitman, Francis Jammes and Teixeira de Pascoaes. He resembles Whitman most… "(Pessoa, Páginas Íntima e de Auto-Interpretação, 335-36). Caeiro claims that although both poets are sensationists, Caeiro’s sensationism is of a type different from Whitman’s. The difference, though it seems subtle and difficult to explain, is nevertheless quite clear. It lies in this: Caeiro seizes on a single subject and sees it clearly; even when he seems to see it in a complex way, it will be found that is but some means to see it all the more clearly. Whitman strives to see, not clearly, but deeply. Caeiro sees only the object, striving to separate it as much as possible from all sensations or ideas not, so to speak, part of the object itself. Whitman does the exact contrary: he strives to link up object with all others, with many others, with the soul and the Universe and God (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 370).

      At the level of temperament, the poets differ radically: " Even when he thinks, Whitman’s thought is a mode of his feeling, or absolutely a mood, in the common decadent sense. Even when Caeiro feels, his feeling is a mode of this thought" (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 370). They also hold divergent views about their relationship to their fellow man: "Whitman’s violent democratic feeling could be contrasted with Caeiro’s abhorrence for any sort of humanitarianism, Whitman’s interest in all things human, with Caeiro’s indifference to all that men feel, suffer or enjoy" (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 371). Although the poetry of both men seems to share a lack of rhythm, Caeiro, whose poems also are in free verse, notes that " Whitman has really a sense of metrical rhythm; it is of a special kind, but it exists. Caeiro’s rhythm is noticeably absent. He is so distinctly intellectual, that the lines have no wave of feeling from which to derive their rhythmical movement"(Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 371).

      While Caeiro manifests a certain eagerness to discard all that might recall the master, Campos reacts quite differently for he strives to give Whitman a giant welcome hug. He is not ashamed to confess the admiration he has for Whitman:

Álvaro de Campos is excellently defined as a WaltWhitman with a Greek poet inside. He has all the powerof intellectual, emotional and physical sensation that characterized Whitman. But he has the precisely opposite trait – a power of construction and orderly development of a poem that no poet since Milton has attained. Álvaro de Campos’ Triumphal Ode, which is written in the Whitmanesque absence of stanza and rhyme (and regularity) has a construction and an orderly development which stultifies that Lycidas, for instance can claim in this particular. The Naval Ode,which covers no less than 22 pages of Orpheu, is a very marvel of organisation. No German regiment ever had the inner discipline which underlies that composition, which, from its typographical aspect, might almost be considered as a specimen of futurist carelessness. The same considerations apply to the magnificent Salutation to Walt Whitman, in the third Orpheu (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 142).

      Like Whitman, Campos attempts to feel everything in every way: "He applies himself to feeling the town as much as he feels the country, the normal as he feels the abnormal, the bad as he feels the good, the morbid as the healthy…. He is the undisciplined child of sensation…. Álvaro de Campos has no shadow of an ethics; he is non-moral, if not positively immoral, for, of course, according to his theory it is natural that he should love the stronger better than the weak sensations, and the strong sensations are, at least, all selfish and occasionally the sensations of cruelty and lust" (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 341-42).

      Campos, however, confesses that he has nothing of Whitman’s camaraderie: "he is always apart from the crowd, and when feeling with them it is clearly and very confessedly to please himself and give himself brutal sensations. The idea that a child of eight is demoralised (Ode II, ad finem) [Ode Triunfal] is positively pleasant to him, for the idea of that satisfies two very strong sensations – cruelty and lust" (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 342-43).

      Of all the traits of Whitman’s poetry, though, the one that seems to have captured Pessoa’s/Campos’ attention most is the embodiment of progress. As a representative of a world in constant change, Whitman will, in Pessoa’s opinion, outlast all other poets: "A magnificent type of poet who will survive by representativeness is Walt Whitman. Whitman has all modern times in him, from cruelty [?] to engineering, from humanitarian tendencies to the hardness of intellectuality – he has all this in him. He is far more permanent than (Schiller or) Musset, for instance. He is the medium of Modern Times" (Pessoa, Páginas de Estética e de Teoria e Crítica Literárias,273).

      Pessoa, too, manifests an intense desire to become the “medium of Modern Times.” By way of forging the Campos heteronym, he attempts to share with Whitman that role. That is why Campos is the most cosmopolitan, urban, and true admirer of progress of all the voices composing the entire heteronymic spectrum. As an individual, he is aware that he possesses the requisites expected of all true modern men. At times, his tone of voice betrays his overtly narcissistic character and a tendency to boast about his intellectual and ultra-refined personality. Apart from his thorough knowledge of the Portuguese language, Campos also knows how to speak English. Even if he never states it openly, he is fully aware that his bilingualism allows him to consider himself “international”:


     I was born in a Portuguese province,

     And I’ve known some English people

     Who say I speak their language perfectly.

(“Opium Eater”)

In addition, he has traveled and studied engineering abroad:


     I pretended I studied engineering.

     I lived in Scotland. I visited Ireland

(“Opium Eater”)


      Although he confesses that he was a mediocre college student who pretended to be studying engineering, this statement seems to be rather misleading for he knows his trade quite well. At least his odes, especially “Triumphal Ode,” contradict this view of himself as “Always a second-rate student” (“Opium Eater”). Self-contradicting like Whitman, Campos immediately gives us the impression that he is the most refined and civilized being on earth:


     And I who love modern civilisation, I who embrace

        the machines with all my heart,

     I, the engineer, the civilized mind, the man

        educated abroad

(“Maritime Ode”)

      At times a dandy and somewhat trivial, Campos is thoroughly convinced of his own universalism: “My very monocle says I belong / To a universal type” (“Opium Eater”). So deeply infatuated with his master, Campos cannot avoid expressing his total identification with Whitman. In an ecstasy, Campos addresses Whitman to remind him of their oneness:


    Look at me: you know that I, Álvaro de Campos,

        ship’s engineer,

     Sensationist poet,

     Am not your disciple, am not your friend, am not

        your singer,

     You know that I am you, and you are happy

     About it!

("Salutation to Walt Whitman")

      This mood of oneness and intense admiration for Whitman, however, was ephemeral (Baker 317). Temporally speaking, it is located around 1914-16 when Campos wrote at least the following four poems: “Triumphal Ode” in March 1914, “Maritime Ode” in 1914, “Salutation to Walt Whitman” on 11 June 1915, and “Passagem das Horas” on 5 May 1916. A few more poems contain clear echoes of Whitman; these four are the ones commonly ascribed to Campos’ Whitmanian phase.

      During this period, Pessoa used Campos as something of a blotter to absorb passages in Whitman’s poetry in which he spasmodically celebrated machinery and the industrial achievements in America. Yet, Campos’ hysterical celebration of industrialism is counterbalanced by Whitman’s brief and random industrial snapshots disseminated throughout Leaves of Grass (mainly in such poems as “To a Locomotive in Winter,” “Song of the Broad-Axe,” and “Song of the Exposition”). In reference to this point, Rainer Hess asks in which of Whitman’s poems is there a “glorification of machinery in such an exalted and frenetic tone as is the permanent case of Pessoa/Campos?” (210; my translation). What Hess seems to overlook here is that Pessoa/Campos is writing under the influence of futurism, whereas Whitman is simply regarded as a precursor of futurism by the founders of that movement, namely by the Italian Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944). Campos essentially extracts from Whitman’s poetry the American portrait of a young and robust country caught in the midst of the industrial revolution. Leaves of Grass is to him a reservoir of images from where he can obtain the nourishment to satisfy his hunger for progress. Therein, he can truly visualize a new country pulsating with life, in constant transformation, with factories, the latest inventions, and most of all, the crowds strolling in Manhattan or sailing on Brooklyn Ferry.      

      Campos weaves his own hymn to technology. In addition, he believes himself to have been elected in order to fulfill this mission for he immediately seizes for himself the role of spokesman:


     My lips are dry, o great modern noises,

     From hearing you too close by,

     My head is burning through wanting to sing you

        in an excess

     Of expression of all sensations,

     With a contemporary excess of you, o machines!

                                                                        (“Triumphal Ode”)


      In his celebration of modern civilization, Campos informs his readers that he will not discriminate against anyone or anything. He seems to derive the very meaning for his own existence from his role as passionate lover of all that is simply labeled modern:


     I love you all, everything, just like a beast.

     I love you carnivorously,

     Pervertedly and twisting my gaze

     On you, o things great, banal, useful and useless,

        o things modern through

     O my contemporary things, current and future form

     Of the immediate system of the Universe!

     The new metallic and dynamic Revelation of God!

                                                                        (“Triumphal Ode”)

      Destined to remain a bachelor throughout his entire life, Campos’ intense emotions are directed exclusively to machinery and modern civilization: “And I who love modern civilization, I who embrace the machines with all my heart” (“Maritime Ode”). Campos even goes as far as to show his pride in belonging to an epoch profoundly marked by progress:


     All this today is what’s always been, except

        that there’s trade;

     And the commercial purpose of the great steamers

     Makes me boast of this age I live in!

     The variety of people aboard passenger ships

     Fills me with the modern pride of living in an age

        when it’s so easy

     For races to come together, cover distances,

        see everything so easily,

     Thus realizing and enjoying so many dreams in

        one’s lifetime.

(“Maritime Ode”)


      Campos achieves an apotheosis in his feeling of pride, especially when he contrasts his own time with that of the past. He makes it clear that his epoch is far more developed than all previous ones. Yet, his own rhetoric betrays a feeling of due credit to all past generations for having prepared the path that would lead to his own modern civilization:


     At the piercing light of the big electric bulbs of

        the factory

     I am feverish and I write.

     I write gnawing my teeth, a philistine to the

        beauty of this,

     To the beauty of this which was totally unknown

        to the Ancients….

     And Plato and Virgil are inside the machines and

        the electric lights

     Simply because there was a time past and Virgil

        and Plato were human,

     And from the fiftieth century, perhaps,

        pieces of Alexander the Great,

     Atoms that are bound to be feverish to the mind of

        the Aeschilus of the hundredth century.

(“Triumphal Ode”)


      Campos’ belief is that Whitman should also be listed among the pioneers of modern civilization. His “Salutation to Walt Whitman” is the medium through which he deliberately communicates his feelings of admiration and respect to his master:


     O singer of concrete absolutes, always modern

        and eternal,

     Fiery concubine of the scattered world,

     Great pederast brushing up against the

        diversity of things,

     Sexualized by rocks, by trees, by people, by

        their trades,

     Itch for the swiftly passing, for casual

        encounters, for what’s merely observed,

     My enthusiast for what’s inside everything,

     My great hero going straight through Death by

        leaps and bounds,

     Roaring, screaming, bellowing greetings to God!


     Singer of wild and gentle brotherhood with


     Great epidermic democrat, up close to it all in

        body and soul,

     Carnival of each and every action, baccanalia of

        all intentions,

     Twin bother of every sudden impulse,

     Jean-Jacques Rousseau of the world hell-bent to

        produce machinery,

     Homer of all the insaisissable of wavering


     Shakespeare of the sensation on the verge of

        steam propulsion,

     Milton-Shelley of the dawning future of


     Incubus of all gestures,

     Spasm penetrating every object-force,

     Souteneur of the whole Universe,

     Whore of all solar systems…

(“Salutation to Walt Whitman”)

      While acknowledging their important contribution to mankind, Campos subtly rejects their view of literature (obviously, excluding Whitman). He is not interested in painting idyllic landscapes or in depicting romantic love scenes. In his opinion, literature has a far more important goal to achieve: it should reflect a world in a constant state of change. Literature must now open its doors to the smells of factories and to the noises of roaring engines. It should capture the very poetry contained in the machine:


     Poetry hasn’t lost out a bit. Moreover, we now

        have the machine

     With its own poetry as well, and a totally new

        way of life,

     Business-like, worldly, intellectual, sentimental,

     With which the machine age has endowed our


(“Maritime Ode”)


      In this light, Campos has been seen as a mouthpiece for some of Marinetti’s beliefs contained in his “Manifesto of Futurism.” Along with the Italian futurists, Campos, too,

"will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer an enthusiastict crowd" ( Marinettie 42).

In his celebration of the age of machinery, Campos longs to identify with or become the machine itself:

  Ah, to be able to express myself totally as an

        engine does!

     To be complete like a machine!

     To be able to go triumphantly through life

        like a latest model motor car!

     To be able at least to penetrate myself

        physically in all this,

     To tear myself apart, open up completely, to

        become susceptible

     To all perfume of oils and heat and coal

     Of this stupendous, black, artificial and

        insatiable flora!

(“Triumphal Ode”)

The machine, indeed virtually anything modern, is to Campos an object of sexual attraction:


     O factories, o laboratories, o music-halls, o


     O battleships, o bridges, o floating docks –

     In my turbulent and incandescent mind

     I possess you as I would possess a beautiful


     I completely possess you as you possess a woman

        you do not love.

     Whom you meet casually and think most


(“Triumphal Ode”)

      If Whitman had really intended his “barbaric yawp[s]” to be heard “over the roofs of the world” (“Song of Myself,” section 52), it can be argued that his wish is completely fulfilled, as Pessoa/Campos, in Lisbon, proves to be a careful listener of such cries coming from the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, Pessoa’s underlining of this Whitmanian line in one of his copies of Leaves of Grass shows to what extent such cries had grasped his imagination. Whitman’s yawps, along with the explosive rhetoric of the futurists, led Pessoa/Campos to intersperse his poems of the Whitmanian phase with interjections, onomatopoeias, noises of modern civilization, and “noisy” verbs. “Triumphal Ode” and “Maritime Ode” are perhaps the noisiest poems ever written in the Portuguese language:


     O wheels, o cogwheels, a never-ending r-r-r-r-r-r-!


     Roaring, creaking, whispering, thundering, grating


     Hey there streets, hey there squares, oh hey there

        la foule!


     Hilla! Hilla! Halloa!


     Here! Here! Here! Here now!


     Up there, up there, up there, up there,

     Look there! Look now! Look!


(“Triumphal Ode”)

      In his attempt to capture on paper the sounds of modern civilization through the inclusion of certain technical and graphical devices, Campos is a true admirer of progress. In “Maritime Ode,” he deliberately uses a typographic technique recommended by Marinetti:[2]


     Yah-yah-yah-yah! Yah-yah-yah-yah! Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!

     Everything screams! Everything is screaming!

        Winds, waves, ships,

     High tides, topsails, pirates, my soul, blood, and

        the air, the air!

     Ha-ha-ha-ha! Yah-yah-yah-yah! Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah-

        yah! Everything sings itself into a scream!


               YO-HO-HO AND A BOTTLE OF RUM!

     Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Yah-yah-yah-yah! Yah-yah-yah-yah!

     Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! Hohohohohohoh!




     Darby Mc Graw-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw.



(“Maritime Ode”)

      Campos also uses this technique in his “Salutation to Walt Whitman”:


     Entryway to everything!

     Bridge to everything!

     Highway to everything!

     Your omnivorous soul,

     Your soul that’s bird, fish, beast, man, woman,

     Your soul that’s two where two exist,

     Your soul that’s one becoming two when two are one,

     Your soul that’s arrow, lightning, space,

     Amplex, nexus, sex and Texas, Carolina and New York,

     Brooklyn Ferry in the twilight,

     Brooklyn Ferry going back and forth,

     Libertad! Democracy! The Twentieth Century about to


     Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

       BOOM! (“Salutation to Walt Whitman”)




      Although Campos succeeds in convincing us of his expertise in technological matters, does he ever ask himself whether his Portuguese readers would themselves easily identify with what he so voraciously praises? Did it ever cross his mind that perhaps his own country might not be prepared to thoroughly grasp his message? Or was it just that his vision of modern society was perhaps too advanced and nowhere present in his own homeland?

      If one of the main attributes of literature is mimesis, then it can be argued without any hesitation that Whitman’s portrayal of mid-nineteenth century America as an industrialized nation in Leaves of Grass entirely fulfills that requirement. In other words, his vision of America as a “great cathedral sacred industry” (“Song of the Exposition”), in Leaves of Grass is, in essence, a faithful re-creation of what he actually had witnessed in his own country. A passionate lover of everything he sets his eyes on, Whitman could not avoid celebrating the industrial transformations his country was then undergoing:


     The shapes arise!

     The shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries,


     Shapes of the two-threaded tracks of railroads,

     Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast

        frameworks, girders, arches,

     Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake and

        canal craft, river, craft,

     Ship-yards and dry-docks along the Eastern and

        Western seas…. (“Song of the Broad-Axe,” section 9)

      Although a relatively small group of nations in the western hemisphere were at the time experiencing the effects of the industrial revolution, Whitman could not refrain from expressing his joy since his own country was then one of the very few industrial leaders:


     With latest connections, works, the inter-

        transportation of the world,

     Steam-power, the great express lines, gas,


     These triumphs of our time, the Atlantic’s

        delicate cable,

     The Pacific railroad, the Suez canal, the Mont

        Cenis and Gothard and Hoosac tunnels, the

        Brooklyn bridge,

     This earth all spann’d with iron rails, with

        lines of steamships threading every sea,

     Our own rondure, the current globe I bring.


     Mark the spirit of invention everywhere, thy

        rapid patents,

     Thy continual workshops, foundries, risen or


     See, from their chimneys how the tall flame-

        fires stream.

(“Song of the Exposition,” sections 7 and 8)


      During his lifetime, Whitman was lucky enough to have witnessed two major events in the history of industrial progress, namely the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853 and the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 held in Philadelphia. Paul Zweig argues that Whitman’s participation in the New York exhibition provided him with poetic insight as well as a clear picture of numerous industrial achievements:

The exhibits arrived from all over Europe and America: every kind of manufactured product and raw material; quantities of art work; ‘philosophical machinery’, including the daguerreotype; examples of the latest technology and industry; decorative items such as perfumes, clothes, hair dyes…. Among them came Walt Whitman who would return often over the next year, wandering inside the broad arms of the glass and cast-iron cross…. This was Whitman’s element: the crowds and the soft gas lights; the eclectic mingling of commerce, art, and science…. The Crystal Palace stood for the wealth, progress, and democracy of this new age…. He spent days and evenings at the Crystal Palace, enjoying the bands, the art, and the gas lights; enjoying, above all, the festive concentration of modernity displayed as a living ‘catalogue’, a ‘list-poem’ of man’s works in all their randomness. As the Crystal Palace announced a new age of productive labor, an age of the common man and the consumer living lives of epic ordinariness, so Whitman, too, would announce this age in another way. (Zweig 210-11)

      Despite having written “Song of the Exposition” before the opening of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia (Scheidl 27), Whitman went there further to marvel at “how far the United States had come in just one hundred years toward fulfilling its destiny as the light of the world” (Kaplan 350).

      Campos, too, is a great admirer of progress, but to which physical landscape does he refer in his odes? Can Pessoa, the heteronymic orchestrator, claim that Campos’ vision is a faithful re-creation or mimetic representation of his own Portugal in the early twentieth century? Can his readers easily identify the industrial scenario therein depicted as typically Portuguese?

      Although Campos may have briefly referred to Rua do Ouro in his “Salutation to Walt Whitman” as well as to Almada and the Tagus river in Lisbon in his “Maritime Ode,” his hymn to technology, “Triumphal Ode,” is not rooted in Portuguese soil. Since Campos asserts that the poem was written in London in June, 1914, and since he had studied naval engineering in Glasgow, it is easy to conclude that the industrial landscape therein portrayed is a British one.

      Such a conclusion, however, would be misleading, for Campos is simply a product of Pessoa’s imagination, and Pessoa himself divided his entire life between only Portugal (early childhood and as an adult) and South Africa (later childhood and as an adolescent), never traveling to any other foreign country. The very embodiment of industrial progress, Campos had to seek his own nourishment elsewhere in order to feed his intense industrial appetite. Although Ludwig Scheidl refers to Pessoa’s enthusiasm for technology and modernity as if it were grounded in Portuguese soil, specifically in Lisbon, the fact is that if he had chosen to remain within the geographical boundaries of Portugal, he either would not have found the quantity of machinery he longed for or simply would not have found it at all (21-22). In addition, in forging a European setting and using it as a subterfuge in his odes, Pessoa attempts to conceal the economic and technological backwardness in which his own country was, at the time, plunged. It is not in Portugal, but elsewhere in western Europe that his concept of modern civilization could be found:


     European hours, productive and pressed

     Between machinery and useful occupations!

     Great cities which have come to a stop in the cafés,

     In the cafés – the oasis of noisy futility

     Where the noises and the gestures of the useful

     Are crystallized and precipitate

     And the wheels and the sprockets and the

        wooden-bearings of the Progressive!

(“Triumphal Ode”)


      In one of his outbursts, Campos suddenly becomes more precise as to where he believes the shrine of modern urban civilization is geographically located—in England (London) and France (Paris):


     International and transatlantic activity,


     Lights and feverish wastes of time in bars, in


     At the Longchamps and the Derbys and the Ascots,

     And Piccadillys, and Avenues de l’Opera that enter

     Into my very soul!

(“Triumphal Ode”)

      An expert in English culture and traditions, Campos cannot resist a brief reference to the famous horse races in England: “Get up there jockey who won the Derby” (“Triumphal Ode”). One can easily infer from these brief passages that Pessoa deliberately used Campos as a mask to conceal the very fact that Portugal was not actively participating in the industrial revolution in the early twentieth century. His criticism and notes, however, introduce us to a different Pessoa, one who would openly comment on the economic conditions in his own country. Although his biographer tends to depict him as someone often distracted and aloof from reality (Simões 331-35), Pessoa was in fact an astute observer of Portugal’s position in international economics, for he openly states that "Portugal as a great economic power is perhaps far more difficult to envision… as an economic power we have absolutely no tradition; or if we do have it, it is a negative one" (Quadros 257-58; my translation). In striving to understand the causes that had deterred the nation from keeping up with progress, Pessoa ironically concludes that it has to do with the very idiosyncrasies of the Portuguese psyche: " Nothing is less idle than a Portuguese. The only idle part of the nation is the working part of it. Hence their lack of evident progress" (Pessoa, Páginas Íntimas, 144).

      The search for the explanation as to why Pessoa had deliberately given birth to a poetic voice thoroughly alienated from Portuguese reality is not simple. Previous critics only briefly mention or sporadically allude to this issue in their criticism. José Augusto Seabra states that  

We could point out several other distinctive ties between the author of “Triumphal Ode” and that of Leaves of Grass. It would not surprise us if we’d only take into account the different poetic experiences that separate the one poet who celebrates a civilization and a still young continent with no history, in which progress and technology are positive attributes and in constant development, to a poet who looks exclusively to machinery to obtain sensations, hence, dodging a civilization in a state of alienation and in crisis. (Seabra 135-36; my translation)


      Neil Larsen and Ronald Sousa shed a bit more light on this issue, although their depiction of the economic and social conditions of Portugal during Campos’ Whitmanian phase is somewhat superficial. Their view is that in Campos’ “Triumphal Ode,” the ‘mundo moderno’ [modern world] that he [Campos] wildly extols is nowhere identified as Portuguese. It is to be seen as the ‘Londres’, ‘London’, affixed to the end of the poem, but in reality it is undoubtedly modeled on Lisbon, a strictly commercial center with ‘Londres’ as its hidden counterpart, the principal economic force that forms Lisbon’s dependent, overwhelmingly-commercial material presence… (Larsen and Sousa 109).

      Compared to the rest of the country, Lisbon was far more developed and could even boast of its flourishing commerce. Yet, at the time, it was far from being considered industrialized. In referring to Lisbon in 1915 as a “drowsy” place (Simões 304), Pessoa’s biographer seems to imply that the inhabitants themselves were then plunged in a sort of siesta time. The overwhelming clanking of metallic equipment along with Campos’ hysterical screams throughout his odes seems to have rudely “awakened” them.

      Unprepared to cope with Campos’ poetic vision, a fierce opposition from the Lisbon circles immediately ensued. Pessoa and all other contributors to the Orpheu journal were immediately labeled insane, degenerate, and dangerous, as well as being tarred as drug addicts (Simões 239). The publication of Orpheu immediately generated an uproar in the Lisbon dailies. Suddenly, Pessoa was ferociously ridiculed in an endless wave of sarcastic newspaper articles. It is worth including an excerpt (in form of interview) to see how far Pessoa’s ego had been attacked:

Just between us, I’ve always considered practically all poets as a bunch of cast aside madmen just because they can think and write in a different way than we do. Of course, these guys’ insanity is far more visible. That guy who thinks he’s a driving-belt, a steam machine piston and an electric bulb reminds me of that joke in which the fool thought he was a pissing pot. The obsession is quite similar. The difference is that this one is inclined to movement whereas the other one was attracted to perfumes. The one I talk about has a distinctive attribute: he is an eminent national poet. See how he says somewhere along the lines: ‘To be idle is my perdition’. This guy is one of my buddies – or even better, he’s just like us, a true Portuguese specimen. He’s lucky, though, because he doesn’t have to earn a living and provide for the family; he amuses himself contemplating his existence, ‘an urn at dusk’, gliding ‘through the Suez canal’, ‘more and more inside the Mallstrom’. Unfortunately, I don’t have the means, otherwise, my dear friend, I’d spend my time listening to those guys. There’s no doubt about their being interesting. At least their circle doesn’t irritate anyone and has the advantage of protecting the typographical industry. (Quoted in Simões 240; my translation).


      In dismissing the whole Orpheu group as a bunch of lunatics, the journalists’ attitude clearly suggests that they did not identify with what Campos had so intensely celebrated in his odes. In resorting to sarcasm and ridicule, they might have been trying to give Pessoa some kind of hint–perhaps that Campos as celebrator of technology in a non-industrialized society was simply an aberration. Certainly, the Portuguese response illuminates the poverty of potential progress in comparison to the reply of England to futurist ideas. While Wyndham Lewis and the American Ezra Pound countered with a grass-roots, industrially based Vorticism to both combat and surpass the Italian mode, the Portuguese had only pre-industrial feelings (Wees 6-7). Although Campos seems to be misleading in light of his deliberate refusal to show us the other side of the coin, it is, nonetheless, worth concentrating on the historical context from which such a voice emerged, especially the period around 1914-16. At this time, Portugal was essentially an agrarian country and far from even aspiring to achieve an industrial status. This fact can be clearly visualized through the following chart (Wheeler 161 and Serrão 133):

Percentage of People Employed in sectors of Economy,







      It would be legitimate to expect an increase in the percentage of people employed in the industrial sector as well as a boom in industry around 1930, but none of this actually occurred. In 1911, at least 75.1 percent of the entire population was considered illiterate while the rate of illiteracy for women was even higher at 77.4 percent (Marques, History of Portugal, 134 and Serrão 136).

      If Campos presents us with an image of intense industrial activity in his odes (especially in “Triumphal Ode”), that image does not represent actual historical circumstances, as Portugal was industrially far behind other European nations. Industrial activity within the nation included mostly the canned fish (especially sardines) industry and textiles, the latter being located mostly in the North. The most relevant industrial sites were geographically located in the areas of Oporto, Douro Litoral and Minho (in the Northwest) as well as in Barreiro, facing Lisbon in the southern bank of the Tagus river (Marques, History of Portugal, 122). The products were to be consumed within the country and in the overseas colonies.

      Although the Republican revolution of October 5, 1910, aimed at improving the standards of life of each citizen, this goal does not seem to have been accomplished; the population was gradually emigrating to Brazil. It has been estimated that in 1911 at least 60,000 discontented people from the rural areas in the North and center of Portugal left for Brazil. This was to continue in the next two years: at least 90,000 (1912) and 80,000 (1913) people flocked to the Portuguese speaking South American country to begin a new life (Marques, História de Portugal, 187). Other important factors contributed to this mass migration during and after this period. In 1915 the two major Portuguese cities, Lisbon and Oporto, experienced widespread famine mainly among the underprivileged classes. The shortage of supplies of wheat and other food products led to mass riots between the years of 1915 and 1917. At a particular time, the government was compelled to intervene in an attempt to curb such social turmoil by way of declaring a state of martial law (Wheeler 126-7). In January of 1912, the first general strike after the Republican revolution took place. Hundreds of people were arrested in Lisbon, and the Worker’s Union headquarters closed down. Until at least 1911, the population of Lisbon and Oporto swelled enormously. Lodging and food were scarce and expensive. The workers were expected to labor for at least twelve or fourteen hours daily and were prey to many diseases, especially tuberculosis (Wheeler 40).

      It is not the case that Pessoa was insensitive to the myriad problems surrounding him and his fellow citizens. The truth is that Pessoa himself could be listed among these unprotected and suffering people; he, too, had felt in his own flesh what it meant to be poor and with few or no material possessions. Yet, he attempts to cope with his situation by resorting to alienation. At least through Campos’ eyes he could dream of being in a far more beautiful and developed society.

      At least while he was writing as Campos, Pessoa could feel the beat of life in an industrialized nation. In addition, in deliberately choosing London as the setting for his “Triumphal Ode,” Pessoa is subtly striking at another idiosyncrasy of the Portuguese psyche. In alluding to England, France or even Whitman’s America as industrialized and developed nations, and not Portugal, he is himself betraying his sense of the inferiority complex Portugal suffers when its citizens compare its lack of development with the advancement of foreign nations. There was in Portugal no basis for a mimesis of modernity, so Pessoa found what he needed in Whitman and futurism and in the voice of Campos through which he lives otherwise, elsewhere.              




[1] Eduardo Lourenço argues that Pessoa’s reading of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass immediately led to the outburst of his inner voices and to the creation of the heteronymic spectrum. Out of this volcanic eruption, the voices of Alberto Caeiro and Álvaro de Campos (the ones in which the presence of the American bard is strongly felt) emerge to somehow continue and even develop the debate formerly begun by their master:
"From the meeting of Pessoa with Walt Whitman’s poetry
stems…the totality of the heteronymic architecture…But to him the heteronyms…are the result of the deflagration of Pessoa’s universe confronted with Walt Whitman’s. Alberto Caeiro and Álvaro de Campos were to Pessoa the way into which he could incorporate the dazzling impact of Whitman….It is believed that the discovery of Walt Whitman is located in a time close to the heteronymic explosion, it is worth mentioning between the end of 1913 and the beginning of 1914….Contrarily to what had happened with other poets, the rendezvous with Whitman’s poetry won’t be for Pessoa an occasion for mere formal or external influence…but a complete perturbation of his creative mechanism and vision" (Lourenço 155-56; my translation).
Susan Margaret Brown conjectures that Pessoa’s contact with Whitman’s Leaves of Grass had occurred even earlier than most tend to claim (between late 1913 and early 1914), that “Pessoa’s knowledge of Whitman came directly from his reading of the texts and most probably started as early as 1909” (68). She bases this argument on her own inspection of Pessoa’s edition of The Poems of Walt Whitman, the Penny Poets XXVII, Master Library Series published in London by the Review of Reviewer’s Office. This book is not dated; however, it is signed by Alexander Search, one of Pessoa’s personae dating back to his adolescent years (1903-1909). Search is one of his voices during the period in which he was a schoolboy in Durban, South Africa, and in Lisbon during and after his enrollment in the Curso Superior de Letras (study in the curriculum of Arts). Besides this copy, there is still another one in Pessoa’s library containing all the poems of Whitman’s definitive edition of Leaves of Grass, save for “Sands at Seventy” and “Good-bye My Fancy.” This book, entitled Leaves of Grass, The People’s Library Edition, London: Cassel and Co., Ltd., is signed “Fernando Pessoa” with the date “16.5.1916.”

[2] That Pessoa had a thorough knowledge of futurist aesthetics can be further attested through a close inspection of a letter dated 13 August 1915 sent to him from Paris by his friend Mário de Sá-Carneiro:

"At the Sagod gallery, the cubist-futurist temple that I have told you about in one of my letters, I bought a volume yesterday: I POETI FUTURISTI. It’s an anthology which includes Marinetti and many other poets: Mario Bétuda, Libero Altomare, etc., etc. As soon as I read  the book (one week), I’ll send it to you as a present. I have already found there a few Fu fu…cri-cri…corcurucu…Is-holá…, etc., highly commendable" (Sá-Carneiro 57; my translation).

In Marinetti’s avant-garde aesthetics contained in his “Manifesto of Futurism,” he assures us that “A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath – a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot – is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace” (Marinetti 41). Pessoa/Campos responds to this in his poetry by claiming that:



     A budget is as natural as a tree

     And a parliament as beautiful as a butterfly.

    (“Triumphal Ode”)


Or when he imitates Marinetti, assuring us that


     Newton’s binomial is as beautiful as the Venus de


     The trouble is few people are aware of it.







Works Cited

Baker, Badiaa Bourenane. “Fernando Pessoa and Edgar Allan Poe/ Fernando Pessoa and Walt Whitman.” Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português XV (1980): 247-321.

Brown, Susan Margaret. The Poetics of Pessoa’s Drama em Gente: The Function of Alberto Caeiro and the Role ofWalt Whitman. Diss. U of North Carolina, 1987. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1987. 8722269.

Hess, Rainer. “Fernando Pessoa e Walt Whitman.” Aufsatze zur Portuguiesischen Kulturgeschichte 4 (1964): 181-211.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon,1980.

Larsen, Neil and Ronald W. Sousa. “From Whitman (to Marinetti) to Álvaro de Campos: A Case Study in Materialist Approaches to Literary Influence.” Ideologies and Literature: A Journal of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Studies. 4.17 (1983): 94-115.

Lourenço, Eduardo. “Walt Whitman e Pessoa.” Quaderni Portoghesi 2 (1977): 155-84.

Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. Marinetti: Selected Writings. Ed. R. W. Flint. Trans. R. W. Flint and Arthur A.Coppotelli. New York: Farrar, 1971.

Marques, A. H. de Oliveira. História de Portugal. 2 vols. Lisboa: Palas Editores, 1976.

---. History of Portugal. 2 vols. New York: Columbia UP, 1972.

Pessoa, Fernando. Obra Poética. 3 vols. Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores, 1986.

---. Páginas de Estética e de Teoria e Crítica Literárias. Ed. Georg Rudolf Lind and Jacinto do Prado Coelho. Lisboa: Ática, 1973.

---. Páginas Íntimas e de Auto-Interpretação. Ed. Georg Rudolf Lind and Jacinto do Prado Coelho. Lisboa: Ática, n.d.

Pessoa in translation:

---. The Keeper of Sheep. Trans. Edwin Honig and Susan Margaret Brown. New York: Sheep Meadow, 1986.

---. Poems of Fernando Pessoa. Trans. and ed. Edwin Honig and Susan Margaret Brown. New York: Ecco, 1986.

---. Selected Poems. Trans. Jonathan Griffin. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1974.

---. Selected Poems. Trans. Jonathan Griffin. 2nd ed. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1982.

---. Selected Poems. Trans. Peter Rickard. Austin: U of Texas P, 1971.

---. Sixty Portuguese Poems. Trans. F. E. G. Quintanilha. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 1971.

Quadros, António. Fernando Pessoa. Lisboa: Editora Arcádia, n.d. Sá-Carneiro, Mário de. Cartas a Fernando Pessoa. 2 vols. Lisboa: Ática, 1973.

Scheidl, Ludwig. “A Componente Whitmaniana nas Odes de Álvaro de Campos.” Biblos 55 (1978): 1-35.

Seabra, José Augusto. Fernando Pessoa ou o Poetodrama. São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 1974.

Serrão, Joel. Do Sebastianismo ao Socialismo em Portugal. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 1973.

Simões, João Gaspar. Vida e Obra de Fernando Pessoa: História duma Geração. Amadora: Livraria Bertrand, 1973.

Wees, William C. Vorticism and the English Avant-Garde.Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1972.

Wheeler, Douglas L. Republican Portugal: A Political History 1910-1926. Madison, WI: The U of Wisconsin P, 1978.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: Norton, 1965.

Zweig, Paul. Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet. New York: Basic, 1984.