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Luís de Camões is world famous as the author of the great Renaissance epic The Lusíads, but his large and equally great body of lyric poetry is still almost completely unknown outside his native Portugal. In The Collected Lyric Poems of Luís de Camões, the award-winning translator of The Lusíads gives English readers the first comprehensive collection of Camões's sonnets, songs, elegies, hymns, odes, eclogues, and other poems—more than 280 lyrics altogether, all rendered in ...
Luís de Camões is world famous as the author of the great Renaissance epic The Lusíads, but his large and equally great body of lyric poetry is still almost completely unknown outside his native Portugal. In The Collected Lyric Poems of Luís de Camões, the award-winning translator of The Lusíads gives English readers the first comprehensive collection of Camões's sonnets, songs, elegies, hymns, odes, eclogues, and other poems—more than 280 lyrics altogether, all rendered in engaging verse.
Camões (1524-1580) was the first great European artist to cross into the Southern Hemisphere, and his poetry bears the marks of nearly two decades spent in north and east Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, and Macau. From an elegy set in Morocco, to a hymn written at Cape Guardafui on the northern tip of Somalia, to the first modern European love poems for a non-European woman, these lyrics reflect Camões's encounters with radically unfamiliar peoples and places. Translator Landeg White has arranged the poems to follow the order of Camões's travels, making the book read like a journey. The work of one of the first European cosmopolitans, these poems demonstrate that Camões would deserve his place among the great poets even if he had never written his epic.
"Bringing a fresh, substantial selection of the lyrical poetry of Luks de Camoes into English, White's objective is to capture the 'naturalness and lucidity' of the poet's language. Accompanying more than 150 sonnets are songs, odes, eclogues, elegies, hymns, eights (octavas), and a sestina, the widest range of Camoes's lyrical poetry rendered in English since Richard Burton's more than a century ago."—K. D. Jackson, Choice
Of all Renaissance poets, Luís de Camões was the most widely travelled. Born in Portugal, he served in his twenties as a soldier in North Africa, losing an eye in fighting with the Berbers. Between 1553 and 1567, he served in India and beyond, joining expeditions to the Red Sea, along the Malabar Coast, and to islands further east, and holding administrative posts in India and Macau. So far as the English-speaking world is concerned, the best-known product of these journeys was The Lusíads (1572), Camões's epic account of Vasco da Gama's pioneer voyage to India. Beginning with Sir Richard Fanshawe's superb translation of 1655, there have been at least eighteen versions in English, culminating in the Oxford World's Classics translation of 1997. But in Portugal, Camões is equally loved for his lyric poems-sonnets, songs (redondilhas), elegies, hymns (canções), odes, eclogues, and others-that have never been translated in full and are virtually unknown outside his home country.
Approximately half of this lyric poetry,including examples of all the main forms, was written during his years of travel. There are elegies written in Morocco in the late 1540s. There is a hymn, written circa 1555, at Cape Guardafui on the northern tip of Somalia at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, and other hymns, elegies, sonnets, odes, and an eclogue written in India and further east. What makes this poetry unique is that Camões was the first great European artist to cross the equator and face the challenges to language and form in describing the unfamiliar people and places he encountered. An ode, "Aquele moço fero" (p. 196), and the song "Aquela cativa" (p. 253) are the first poems by a modern European poet about love for a non-European woman. It seems anomalous, to put it no more strongly, that such profoundly cosmopolitan work remains virtually unknown outside Portugal.
This volume collects these poems in English translation. But the question at once arises, collects from where? Apart from The Lusíads, Camões published only three poems in his lifetime. The first edition of the Rimas appeared in 1595, fifteen years after the poet's death. It contained 58 sonnets, 75 songs, 8 eclogues, 4 elegies, 5 odes, 10 hymns, and 3 poems in ottava rima. Expanded collections followed, in 1598 and 1616, the latter including for the first time poems retrieved from India. But even this early, poems were being published under Camões's name that are no longer believed to be his. Two editors, living two centuries apart, were crucial to this process: namely, Faria e Sousa, the many-sided Renaissance humanist, and the Visconde de Juromenha. In their respective editions of 1685 and 1860-1869, they attributed to Camões pretty well any poems they admired from the period. The fat tomes that resulted not only obscured his own genius, but made his relationship with contemporary poets virtually invisible. Diogo Bernardes, for example, published his own lyrics in 1595, only to have his better poems attributed to the master. By the time Teófilo Braga came to coordinate the tercentenary celebrations of his death, Camões was being credited with no less than 380 Sonnets, 21 hymns, 27 elegies, 11 oitavas, 13 odes, 15 eclogues, and 5 sestinas.
Much scholarship was expended during the early twentieth century in cutting these attributions by roughly half, not least by recognizing the achievements of Camões's fellow poets. These included such figures as Sá de Miranda and his pupil António Ferreira, Jorge de Montemor, Andrade de Caminha, Frei Agostinho da Cruz, and Manuel de Portugal, to whom Camões addressed a fine ode (p. 291). It is a significant historical fact that the process of paring down the Camões canon was accomplished at a time when other Portuguese heroes were being puffed beyond recognition as founding fathers of Salazar's Estado Novo. While Camões was being celebrated as the original and ultimate spokesman of the regime, Camões scholarship was quietly revealing his true dimensions as a poet committed to no politician's cause. Given it was The Lusíads that first created the concept of Portugal as a nation greater than its actual kings, a concept that took wing after the Restoration of 1640, any dispute about the Camões canon becomes implicitly a dispute about the national inheritance. Did Camões really write those poems (included in this selection) about his youth beside the Mondego River, the only sizeable Portuguese river in which no Spanish water flows? Or should they be attributed to Diogo Bernardes? Did he really write those ultra-orthodox Catholic sonnets (not included in the present volume)? Or were they foisted upon him by Faria e Sousa? Even today, in Portugal's liberal democracy, there is no firm agreement on exactly what Camões wrote or did not write, and among the bewildering variety of editions of the Rimas on sale in Lisbon bookshops, there are none whose contents are identical.
In preparing this translation, I have followed Álvaro J. da Costa Pimpão's pruned edition of 1944 (reissued 1994). I have omitted a handful of poems: namely juvenilia, poems with flawed texts, or (rarely) poems that are just a little dull.
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Equally, there are few certainties in Camões's biography. An entry in the register of Lisbon's India House for 1550 reads as follows: "Luís de Camões, son of Simão Vaz de Camões and Ana de Sá, residents of Lisbon, in Mouraria, squire, aged 25 years. Accepted on the guarantee of his father, travelling by the man-of-war S. Pedro dos Burgalese." This tells us, far from conclusively, he was born in 1524-25, that his rank was that of escudeiro, literally "shield-bearer" or squire, belonging to the lower orders of the nobility, and that his father's name carried weight with the India House. Perhaps he was born in Mouraria, where his parents were living in 1550. Mouraria, over-looked by Castelo São Jorge on its rocky summit, was in those days the Arab district of Lisbon. Later it was where Portuguese Africa slaves, liberated in 1761, made their home, and where in the 1840s Fado, that most distinctive sound of Portugal, was born. Artistically, it would feel right if Camões were born in Mouraria, but no proof exists.
For some reason, possibly because he was still in Africa, Camões failed to sail on the S. Pedro dos Burgales. A further entry in the India House register, this time for 1553, refers to one Fernando Casado, a squire resident in Lisbon, and continues: "in his place was Luís de Camões, son of Simão Vaz de Camões and Ana de Sá, squire, receiving 2,400 reis like the others." This time, he was sailing under compulsion. In the previous year at Corpus Christi, one of Lisbon's biggest festivals, he had brawled with Gonçalo Borges, keeper of the King's harness, and wounded him with a sword-thrust. Initially jailed in the Tronco Prison, he was released on payment of a fine of 4,000 reis and an undertaking to proceed to India as a common soldier.
It was not the first time he had been so sentenced. Willingly or otherwise, he may have spent some months in Punhete, an exquisite town in the Tagus valley, now called Constância. The evidence for this is some lines from the elegy "O Sulmonense Ovídio, desterrado" (p. 80) describing a type of river-craft found there. The elegy itself was written in Morocco, where he was dispatched in 1547 to the garrison at Ceuta, originally captured by the Portuguese in 1415 as the first step in their acquisition of a sea-borne empire. Legend and all Camões's biographers claim that both these "exiles" were consequences of the court's disapproval of his pursuit of an heiress, Caterina de Ataide. There are several poems referring to "Natercia," and several more about a love condemned by differences in rank.
Camões spent up to three years in Ceuta. Then in 1553, after his spell in the Tronco prison, he sailed to India on the Sâo Bento, the only ship of four to survive the outward voyage that year. He was twenty-nine years old when he arrived in Goa, and had three years of military service before him. Almost immediately, he took part in Vice-Roy Afonso de Noronha's expedition against the Sultan of Chembe, dubbed the "Pepper King," describing this action at the climax to his elegy "O Poeta Simónides, falando" (p. 148). Then, between February and November 1554, he sailed with the huge armada commanded by D. Fernando de Meneses to the Persian Gulf. Later, this "Ilustre e dino ramo dos Meneses" (p. 285) was flattered with a sonnet ("so the Red Sea, from that time on / became so only with the blood of Turks"). At the time, writing his "Junto um seco, fero e estéril monte" (p. 192), he was overwhelmed with the futility of his existence in "the most tedious place in all nature," where he "whiled away wretched days ... toilsome, full of grief and resentment."
By 1556, however, he was released from "having to pursue dreadful Mars" and was appointed to the post of "Trustee for the Property of the Deceased and Absent in Macau," which the Portuguese had captured just two years earlier. It was his first ever opportunity to prosper. Long afterwards, in a personal intervention in The Lusíads, he complained bitterly of the injustice of his summary dismissal from this position. We cannot know for sure what went wrong, but it is hard to imagine Camões as a trustee, or indeed as a businessman of any kind. He was careless even with his manuscripts, and perhaps the charges of embezzlement arose from the haphazard nature of his bookkeeping. The same stanza of The Lusíads describes being shipwrecked in the mouth of the Mekong River:
Gently, compassionately, he will receive On his broad bosom these Cantos, snatched Soaking from sad, wretched shipwreck, Surviving treacherous shoals, and hunger And countless other dangers, when An unjust mandate is imposed on him Whose lyre, played with such sweet dexterity, Will bring him fame, but not prosperity.
Once again he was jailed ("Em prisões baixas fui um tempo atado" [p. 224]) and, when finally he was cleared of any financial irregularities, he was jailed yet again for being unable to pay his debts.
Given that most of the meager records of Camões's life refer to episodes when he was in desperate trouble, the absence of records for the succeeding years is probably a good sign. In a letter home, he summed up Goa as "the mother of evil villains and wicked stepmother of honest men." Yet this cannot be the whole story. Though the Portuguese Empire was already overextended, leading Camões to draw contrasts between his own times and former glory, Goa was no colonial backwater. Among his friends, acquaintances, and rivals were some of the most distinguished men of the day. Much of his greatest poetry was written in "India and Beyond," including the bulk of The Lusíads and many of his finest sonnets. It also includes the genial banter of "Se não queries padecer" (p. 260), in which five friends are invited to a dinner party, promising "roasted crumbs of nothing / with zero as a piquant sauce," along with other teasing verse addressed to various ladies, and the deeply felt stanzas addressed to Barbara. When he left Goa in 1567, however, he was still destitute, getting only as far as Moçambique Island on the East African coast, unable to afford to travel further. In 1569, the historian Diogo do Couto (1542-1616) found him stranded there, surviving on the charity of friends. He coordinated a fund to pay the older man's outstanding debts and for a passage to Lisbon on the Santa Clara. Couto makes a tantalizing reference to O Parnaso de Luís de Camões, a book "de muita erudição, doutrina e filosofia," which was stolen from him and has disappeared.
Lisbon in the spring of 1570 was plague-bound, and the sixteen-year-old King Sebastião, who had succeeded to the throne two years earlier, was widely regarded as mad. Camões's mother was still alive, perhaps still living in Mouraria, but legend has the poet living in poverty at Alcântara on the Tagus, along with one black servant. The Lusíads (1572) brought him a small pension from the king "for the adequacy of the book he wrote on Indian matters." The evidence of his final poems, with their eulogy of possible patrons, is that he longed for greater recognition and suitable employment.
Six years after The Lusíads appeared, with its closing appeal for the imperial adventure to be rekindled, Sebastião led an army of over 20,000 of Portugal's finest men to catastrophic defeat at Alcácer-Kebir in Morocco. The outcome was that the Portuguese throne passed to Philip II of Spain. Legend declares Camões's last words to have been, "All will see that so dear to me was my country I was content to die not only in it but with it." But even the date of his death is uncertain, perhaps 10 June 1580, perhaps exactly one year earlier. According to Josepe Índio, the Dominican priest who was at his bedside, he was laid to rest in a borrowed shroud. The church of Santa Ana, his final home, was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. For the tercentenary celebrations of 1880, what were assumed to be his remains were reburied in the monastery of the Jerónimos at Belém.
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So much for the facts. Evidently, they tell us little for sure about far the most important aspect of Camões's life, his poetry. The Lusíads did not take contemporaries by surprise. His friends and acquaintances were well aware of the verse circulating in manuscript, and one of his odes, "Aquele único exemplo" (p. 266), had been published in 1563 as preface to Garçia de Orta's Colóquio dos Simples e Drogas da India, a pioneer study of India's medicinal plants. But court records, together with the odd glimpse in the memoirs of his contemporaries, throw little light on the sources of Camões's poetry.
Somewhere in his youth, perhaps at Coimbra University, he acquired a profound and extensive knowledge of Latin literature. Virgil and Ovid, in particular, left lasting imprints. So broad was his knowledge that some of his classical references effectively function as riddles. How many of his readers back in the 1570s would have been able to identify "the bright lover of the adulterous Larissen" mentioned at the start of canto 10 of The Lusíads? The reference is to the sun god, Apollo, who had an affair with Coronis of Larissa, in the course of which she was unfaithful to him, so that Camões is describing, with appropriate wit, dawn rising over the Island of Loves.
More is involved here than university-educated men showing off. Camões lived at a time when the established classics still provided a sure guide to life. To imitate classical writers, demonstrating their continuing relevance by giving familiar passages a modern twist, was to offer contemporary readers both instruction and delight. The Lusíads is a Christian epic, but Virgil's Aeneid provided much of its framework. Ovid's Metamorphoses supplied a number of myths involving Arabia, the Indian Ocean, and India itself, giving Camões a "tradition" on which to build, and simultaneously allowing him to claim these places had been colonized by European imaginations long before the arrival of the "Moors," the arch-enemy of The Lusíads. This method has its origins in the lyric poems, though, once Camões's travels began, it was the Ovid of the Tristia, those poems of banishment to the barren coast of the Black Sea, that nourished the fertility of the Elegies.
Excerpted from The Collected Lyric Poems of Luís de Camões by Luís de Camões
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PART ONE: Before Africa 23
PART TWO: Before India 91
PART THREE: India and Beyond 155
PART FOUR: Portugal 277
Notes to the Poems 333
Suggested Further Reading 353
Index of First Lines in English 357
Index of First Lines in Portuguese 363