One writer, four voices and a translator: translating Pessoa's heteronyms
Isabel Etxeberria Ramírez


On January 13, 1935, Fernando Pessoa wrote a letter to writer and literary critic Adolfo Casais Monteiro in which, among other things, he described how his heteronym Alberto Caeiro came into existence. According to Pessoa in his missive, he had been trying to create new heteronyms for quite a while without success when on March 8, 1914, in a burst of inspiration, the poet Alberto Caeiro appeared and emerged and, following him, two more of Pessoa's most important heteronyms: Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos.

Fernando Pessoa's work provides an excellent opportunity to discover what kinds of reflections and observations the translator carries out, how he or she analyzes the characteristics of the text to be translated, and what decisions he or she makes in order to reflect those characteristics in the target language. Through the literary game of the heteronyms, a single flesh and blood person takes on the roles of a number of ficticious writers, and invents for each a voice and a unique and characteristic manner of expression. The anthology of Pessoa's poems that translator Iñigo Roque prepared for publishing house Denonartean is a good testing ground for studying the translator's analysis of the distinctive characteristics of the text since it provides the opportunity, for the first time in the Basque language, to analyze and compare a good number of poems by three of Pessoa's heteronyms. It was previously possible to read Pessoa in Basque, thanks to the translations of individual poems published in various books and magazines by Joseba Sarrionandia, Ana Iribar, Josetxo Azkona, Joakin Balentzia, Gerardo Markuleta, Xabier Galarreta and Luigi Anselmi. But in Iñigo Roque's anthology Poemak pluralean, we find for the first time poems in sufficient number to identify the characteristics of each heteronym, all translated by a single translator: 14 poems by Alberto Caeiro, 23 by Ricardo Reis, 8 by Álvaro de Campos, and 19 by the orthonym Fernando Pessoa.