Ricardo Reis was a born in Porto, Portugal in 1887. He was of average height and had dark hair. At a Jesuit school is where he was educated and he worked as a doctor. He eventually left his homeland for Brazil since he was a monarchist and disliked that Portugal had become a Republic.
Another interesting thing about Ricardo Reis was that he never existed but was a character created by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. He had many such heteronyms, each with their own life stories and personalities. They also had different styles of writing and favoured different themes.
First thing I’d like to say about this book is that since it is a Swedish translation of the poems, it makes it impossible for me to give a truly fair assessment of them. Poetry doesn’t translate well and a lot of the “music” in the words simply gets lost. So, take my review with a grain of salt.
The most prominent thing I noticed about Ricardo’s poetry is that the theme of mortality and the impermanence of human existence runs through the entire collection. The inevitably of death is always there, hanging like a shadow over the poet’s life. Reis’ seems to have a nearly pathological obsession with reminding himself that he is going to die to the point where I as a reader was wondering how many more ways one can use poetic words to remind oneself of death.
Reis’ answer to the reality of mortality is both stoic and epicurean. He accepts the inevitably of what awaits us all and his solution it to simply enjoy life. That enjoyment in his opinion seems to mean a kind of “going with the flow”, to just be and not take one’s existence too seriously.
To me that sounds boring as hell. Such hippie, flower-in-the-hair passivity is the exact opposite of what I want to do with my short time on earth. But I can’t deny how beautifully Reis writes about his sentiments and his melancholy is relatable no matter how one best copes with mortality. There is a reason Pessoa is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection of poems. Like all great poetry, it asks the grand questions and forces you to think about them and to search into yourself for the answers. I can recommend this work of art and am looking forward to read more of Fernando Pessoa’s poetry.