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Miguel Torga

Miguel Torga was born in the village of São Martinho de Anta (near Sabrosa, birthplace of Magellan) on the road from Porto to Bragança. He was baptized in the Roman Catholic faith as Adolfo Correia da Rocha, but published only one book under that name, his first volume of poems ominously entitled "Ansiedade" ("Anxiety") in 1928. Then he adopted the pen-name of Miguel Torga - Miguel in veneration to Cervantes, Unamuno and Montaigne, Torga from the dialect name of a particularly appropriate image for a man of such ineradicable convictions and rigorous artistry.

His education in Jesuit seminaries made of him a lifelong atheist. At an early age, he was uprooted from his "marvellous kingdom" and sent to Brazil to work as an underpaid labourer on an uncle's cofee plantations. When he returned to Portugal, he entered the venerable School of Medicine at the University of Coimbra, where he graduated in 1933, and started practising in his beloved home village before moving to Coimbra in 1940. At the same time, he was beginning a very active literary career, collaborating on the avant-garde reviewPresença untill 1930, and founding the libertarian review "Sinai" and the short-lived politically angled "Manifesto" (1936) in which he expressed violent opposition to the rising tide of Fascism in Europe. His extreme left-wing stance was to draw upon him the wrath and disfavor of the autorities, leading to the banning of his works and several periods in the dictator Salazar's jails. Yet he continued his healing mission, largely for the poor and the persecuted, and went on writting poetry, novels and short stories that became classics. In the end, he wrote in fiercely independent solitude, rejecting all literary groups and salons in order to preserve his intellectual and artistic freedom. His tenacity of purpose informed all aspects of his life with scrupulous professional integrity and artistic conviction. He declared, "Medicine is a duty, literature a discipline", and indeed duty and discipline are what make his work outstanding cohesive and monumentally eclectic. With his grimly handsome features topped usually by a black beret, he often referred to himself as the monolith, sometimes qualified by "granitic". Yet he was a man of exquisite courtesy and sensitivity.

Torga went on producing and paying for (in both senses) prose works and small collections of lyrical and indomitably individual poetry , culminating in the "Poemas Ibéricos" of 1965. But there are also poems about the gifts that land brings us - wines, bread, olives, wool, linen. For all Torga's work is deeply rooted in his native health, in the earth and rocks of a country exiled to the edge of Europe. His passionate love and reverence for his native land can be seen even more clearly in a deeply imaginative prose work, "Portugal", a masterly anti-guidebook guidebook. And so it goes on, a constant stream of fresh, conversational, enchanting talk that is also among the purest prose ever written. It is impregnated with a universal sense of ancient mysteries and mythological forces investing the agricultural and pastoral life of the peasants. His superb short stories express with dramatic intensity the superhuman vision the grim lives of rural folk. In the sixth volume of "The creation of the World" Torga's epigraph is :"The universal is the local without walls. He wrote for all men".

Miguel Torga became the patriarch of Portuguese letters. He was awarded the International Grand Prize for Poetry in 1976, and the Prix Camoes in 1982. In 1992, he was paid homage by France, with the Esquirol Prize for foreign literature. The Jornal de Coimbra proudly reported the presence at the ceremony of President Mario Soares, who presented Torga with rare editions of Montaigne, Montesquieu and the first portuguese edition of Don Quixote with engravings by Gustave Doré. Jorge Amado was there from Brazil to pay a supreme tribute, declaring: "It's a scandal that there has never been a Nobel prizewinner from Portugal. That prize should go to Miguel Torga".  

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