Torga, Miguel

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TORGA, Miguel

Pseudonym for Adolfo Correia da Rocha. Nationality: Portuguese. Born: São Martinho da Anta, 12 August 1907. Education: Schools in São Martinho da Anta, and in Brazil, 1913-16, 1924-25; University of Coimbra, graduated as doctor 1933. Career: Physician, São Martinho da Anta, Vila Nova de Miranda do Corvo, Leiria. Beginning 1940 physician in Coimbra. Awards: International grand prize for poetry (Belgium), 1976; Montaigne prize; Morgado de Mateus prize; Almeida Garrett prize; Diário de Notícias prize; Camões prize, 1989; Association of Portuguese Writers Vide Literária prize, 1992; Prémio do Correspondentes Estrangeiros, 1992. International Miguel Torga prize named for him. Died: 17 January 1995.


Short Stories

Pão ázimo. 1931.

Bichos. 1940; revised edition, 1970; as Farrusco the Blackbird and Other Stories, 1950.

Montanha: contos. 1941; enlarged edition, as Contos da montanha, 1955, 1969, 1976, 1982; as Tales and More Tales from the Mountain, 1995.

Rua: contos. 1942; revised edition, 1967.

Novos contos da montanha. 1944; enlarged edition, 1952, 1959, 1967, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984.

Pedras lavadas. 1951; revised edition, 1958.

Tales from the Mountain (selection). 1991.


A criação do mundo: os dois primeiros dias. 1937; revised edition, 1948, 1969, 1981.

O terceiro dia da criação do mundo. 1938; revised edition, 1952, 1970.

O quarto dia da criação do mundo. 1939; revised edition, 1971.

O senhor Ventura. 1943; revised edition, 1985.

Vindima. 1945; revised edition, 1965, 1971.

O quinto dia da criação do mundo. 1974.

O sexto dia da criaçāo do mundo. 1981.


Teatro: Terra firme, Mar. 1941; revised edition of Mar, 1977, 1983.

Terra firme (produced 1947). Included in Teatro, 1941; revised edition, 1977.

Sinfonia. 1947.

O Paraíso. 1949.


Ansiedade (as Adolfo Correia da Rocha). 1928.

Rampa. 1930.

Tributo. 1931.

Abismo. 1932.

O outro livro de Job. 1936.

Lamentação. 1943.

Libertação. 1944.

Odes. 1946; revised edition, 1951, 1956, 1977.

Nihil Sibi. 1948.

Cântico do homen. 1950.

Alguns poemas ibéricos. 1952.

Penas do Purgatório. 1954.

Orfeu rebelde. 1958; revised edition, 1970.

Câmara ardente. 1962.

Poemas ibéricos. 1965.

Antologia poética. 1981; revised edition, 1985.

Torga (selection). 1988.


A terceira voz. 1934.

Diário 1-15. 1941-90.

Portugal. 1950; revised edition, 1967.

Traço de uniâo. 1955; revised edition, 1969.

Fogo preso. 1976.

Lavrador de palavras e ideias. 1978.

Trás-os-Montes, illustrated by Georges Dussaud. 1984.

Camões. 1987.


Critical Studies:

Humanist Despair in Torga by Eduardo Lourenço, 1955; "Torga: A New Portuguese Poet," in Dublin Review 229, 1955, and "The Art and Poetry of Torga," in Sillages 2, 1973, both by Denis Brass; "The Portuguese Revolution Seen through the Eyes of Three Contemporary Writers" by Alice Clemente, in Proceedings of the Fourth National Portuguese Conference, 1979; "Madwomen, Whores and Torga: Desecrating the Canon?" by Maria Manuel Lisboa, in Portuguese Studies 7, 1991; "Miguel Torga" by Gerald M. Moser, in World Literature Today: A Literary Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma, Winter 1997.

* * *

Miguel Torga is well known for the quality of his work in both poetry and short stories. Many of his best stories have been translated by Ivana Carlsen in Tales from the Mountain, which offers a representative selection of his narrative technique and choice of subject. In his stories Torga achieves a harmonious match between form and content. Indeed, because of the brevity of the tales, the reader might almost overlook the care with which they have been crafted. Torga exploits the stylistic possibilities of the short story to great effect, making the fullest possible use of its potential for concentration, intensity, and unity of impression. In the majority of his tales the narrator selects and freezes a particular moment in time, either revealing a way of life ("Mariana," "Fronteira") or illustrating an outstanding quality in his characters, such as the personal courage of a man who goes hunting in the belief that he will be killed in a hunting accident ("The Hunt") or that of Gonçalo fighting off the wolf ("Young May"). The short story permits the writer to pinpoint a key moment, such as the loss of childhood innocence and illusion ("Sesame," "The Gift") or the unmasking of a deep-seated jealousy.

An enormous range and diversity of characters are depicted in Tales from the Mountain. Torga chooses as his protagonists the men, women, and children of Trás-os-Montes. His stories never focus on the experiences of a character in isolation. People are always shown in their wider relationship to the community to which they belong, even when they have been ostracized or rejected ("The Leper," "Peace of Mind"). Sometimes two or three characters are given prominence, for example, the unhappy lovers in "Destinies," and sometimes he opts for a collective protagonist, as with the villagers in "The Leper." His stories have in common the same setting—the remote, backward, inward-looking region of Trás-os-Montes in northeastern Portugal. This does not, however, impose limitations on his creativity or artistry. Setting is as important an actor in the tales as any of his characters, conditioning the way the villagers and peasants live and die. The clear delineation of a geographical, physical, and social space also allows the author to explore in depth the issues and themes that arise within that space. Torga focuses on a microcosm and reaches conclusions about human behavior, experiences, characteristics, and emotions that far transcend the local and regional and have a universal applicability.

Torga is particularly concerned with the social structures, customs, moral values, and laws, both written and unwritten, that bond and bind the families, communities, and villages of the north. It would be simplistic, however, to see a merely deterministic relationship between the harsh environment, oppressive sociopolitical structures, and behavior of Torga's protagonists and antagonists. Rather, he demonstrates that many qualities that might be perceived as negative are undoubtedly those qualities that have enabled his northern peasants to survive the deprivation and isolation of their far-flung communities. Among the things he conveys with piercing clarity are his love of the land, his sense of belonging to the mountains and valleys, the joy that men experience in going hunting and feeling at one with nature ("Mariana," "The Hunt," "The Hunter," "The Shepherd Gabriel").

Torga's writing is characterized by great integrity. Notwithstanding his love for the inhabitants and the landscape of Trás-os-Montes, he does not flinch from showing the darker, more bestial side of his people, and he writes about them without illusions. Never an actor in his own narratives, he maintains a discreet presence. He looks into the community with the privileged insight of one who knows it extremely well, and he is able to produce a third-person omniscient narrator who selects key moments and incidents for our attention without uttering explicit moral judgments or criticism of his people.

Not a few of his characters are driven by violence, among them Lopo in "Lopo," both Grande and Issac in "Alma Grande," Lomba in "Peace of Mind," the Gomes woman in "Witchcraft," and the villagers in "The Leper." His villagers, in fact, are more than a little reminiscent of the villagers in Bernardo Santareno's O Crime de Aldeia Velha. And yet for every negative element there is a reverse, a positive. Although Torga shows people driven by hatred and the desire for revenge, these are balanced against other, more positive elements. If the villagers in "The Leper" are capable of violence and inhumanity, those in "Sesame" have a sense of community that sustains them throughout the harsh months of winter in the mountains. Or there is the figure of the mother, for instance, strong, nurturing, protective of her young, like Mariana in the story of the same name. In "Renewal" Felisberta shows strength and the determination to save her only surviving child, Pedro, after an influenza epidemic has killed her husband, daughters, and grandchildren. Teodosia weeps for her inarticulate son who cannot bring himself to declare his love for Natalia and so loses her.

It is not difficult to understand why Torga's writing did not find favor with the censors or, indeed, why he should have been arrested and imprisoned during the Salazar period in Portugal. The picture he presents of Portugal is too stark and too brutal, in many ways akin to the universe of Santareno, whose plays also were subject to censorship. His is no idealized vision of a happy people working the land and finding contentment. His vignettes of country life have little of the idyllic. Instead, he tends to depict the lawless and the outlawed, characters who more often than not are seen to challenge or get around the law, like the village of smugglers in "Fronteira." No reader can forget Torga's description of the police and their brutal treatment of the innocent suspects in "The Confession." The idea of imprisonment is present in several of his stories, the physical jail to which people may be condemned unjustly or the figurative space in which people's spirits are held captive, the prison of oppression, fear, loneliness, or guilt. At the same time the forces of law and order are often reluctant to intervene when they should protect the people ("Peace of Mind"). As Torga wrote in the preface to Novos contos da montanha, "Social hardships have been added to the natural adversities, and the law walks hand in hand with the south wind to dry up the eyes and the springs."

Torga's characters refuse to conform to the conventional morality of the day, particularly the prevailing sexual mores. In fact, he seems to exhibit greater warmth and sympathy for his fecund earth-mother Mariana than for the virginal, puritanical Marília of "Mariana." Nor is there any criticism, explicit or implicit, of the unmarried mother Matilde in "Revelation" or of the healthy young protagonist of "The Shepherd Gabriel" who trains his flock to graze in other people's fields and who services a young girl—a "creature in heat"—in the same way that his ram would mate with a ewe. The hunter Tafona ("The Hunter") holds the village gossip at gunpoint to allow a young couple to make love uninterrupted in the field. Likewise, there are the wily, picaresque figures of Gimpy ("Gimpy"), Faustino ("The Theft"), and Garrinchas ("Christmas"). Humor, it must be said, is an important element of Torga's narrative. In "The Hunt" even the antagonists' dogs growl at one another.

Like the other principal institutions of society, the church, responsible for education and pastoral care, is also found wanting for frequently failing to offer succor and comfort to its flock. This is witnessed, for example, by the demoralizing effect achieved by tolling the church bells in "Renewal" or by the lonely old age and even lonelier death imposed on Felisberto in "The Sacristan's Position." It is clear that the church has done little or nothing to eradicate superstitions and beliefs that have not altered since the Middle Ages ("Witchcraft"). Only on rare occasions does Torga show the potential of the church to help and heal the people, as in "The Lord" when the priest intervenes to save Filomena and deliver her baby.

The Portuguese title of an early collection of short stories, Bichos, is very suggestive. Bicho has several possible meanings: any kind of animal, worm, grub, vermin, insect, ugly person, or ugly customer. Of the 14 stories, four have as their protagonist a human being, and each of these is in some way abnormal. Ramiro the shepherd does not speak or communicate with other human beings; Magdalen is an unnatural mother; Nicholas the entomolo-gist is a Kafkaesque figure who virtually metamorphoses into one of the insects he collects; and Jesus, it is suggested, is the son of a virgin mother. Thus, all of the protagonists of the collection are bichos of one kind or another, either literally or figuratively. In the English translation of Bichos, Farrusco the Blackbird and Other Stories, a certain ambivalence may have been lost, but more weight has been given to clarity and accessibility. In some ways this may be due to a conscious adherence to the western European fable tradition, in which we find titles such as "The Fox and the Raven" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper." Onomatopoeia is lost in one or two instances—for instance, "Cega-Rega" becomes the less evocative "The Cicada"—and the symbolism of some of the animals' names disappears, but this is an inevitable consequence of the act of translation.

These tales are inevitably read in the light of the Bible, Aesop's fables, the medieval bestiary tradition (see De bestiis et aliis rebus, a work found in fourteenth-century Portuguese under the title Livro das Aves) that finds its continuation in sermons and popular tales, and, inevitably, La Fontaine's seventeenth-century Fables choisies, among other texts. Although Torga shares the didactic, moralizing intention of these works, he by no means adheres to traditional views and conceptions. In some instances he seems to be rewriting the myths and subverting the status quo. Thus, Bambo the toad is neither evil nor malign, and Vincent the Crow is not a bird of ill omen but rather a symbol of all that is strong and courageous.

Although Torga is anthropomorphic in the literal sense, his animals are not the saccharine specimens that adorn the conventional Christmas card. Farrusco the Blackbird and Other Stories contains the same mixture of grim humor and pathos that is so essential an ingredient of Tales from the Mountain. Thus, Don Juan the Rooster is well aware of what fate has in store for him—a starring role in this year's harvest pie. Torga's animals are sentient creatures, subject to the same feelings and emotions as human beings. Mago the Cat and Miura the Bull experience feelings of pain and humiliation, and Morgado the Mule's faces death with full consciousness of his master's ingratitude and betrayal. More than one of his characters—Don Juan the Rooster and Mago the Cat, for example—take pride in the ability to procreate. One message that comes through very strongly is that animals are no better and no worse than the human beings to whom they are supposedly inferior. Ramiro, who commits murder when one of his ewes is accidentally killed, is the exact opposite of the protagonist in "The Shepherd Gabriel," but he may well be an adult version of the youthful protagonist of "O Sésamo." Farrusco the Blackbird does not approve of the cuckoo's behavior and sets out to redress the balance, while Vincent protests against injustice. "Farrusco the Blackbird" is considered by many to be the best story in the collection, and it is the subject of several penetrating critical studies.

The themes, motifs, and symbols of Farrusco the Blackbird and Other Stories are identical to those found in Torga's Tales from the Mountain and New Tales from the Mountain. Universal values are expressed by apparently regional preoccupations: the harshness of life in Trás-os-Montes; the natural cycle of birth, life, and death; and the eternal struggle between good and evil, although the author's perception of these does not always correspond to traditional Catholic dogma. Torga demonstrates in Farrusco the Blackbird and Other Stories the same preoccupation with balance and economy and with characterization and symbolism (the recurring symbol of the mountain, for example), with the search for evocative, poetic language, and with the all-important ending, which is not always pleasing, is sometimes shocking, but is never inappropriate in the literary universe he has constructed.

More than anything, Torga's stories are an author's testament to the enduring resistance of his people, despite what he called "four decades of oppression." If their most notable quality is perhaps the ability not to succumb, one of Torga's lasting literary and human achievements has certainly been to immortalize their strengths and weaknesses with honesty, compassion, humor, and affection.

—Patricia Anne Odber de Baubeta