Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Luis de Camoes: Selected Sonnets edited and translated by William Baer

Luís de Camões, Portugal's greatest poet, is known to English-language readers for The Lusíads (1572), his epic based on Vasco da Gama's pioneering voyage to India. Since Sir Richard Fanshawe's splendid translation of 1655, there have been at least 17 English translations, culminating in the Oxford World's Classics version of 1997.

In sharp contrast, Camões' lyrics - his sonnets, elegies, songs, rounds, odes and eclogues - are virtually unknown outside Portugal. They exist in English in a milk-and-water selection by Lord Strangford (1803), in the skilful Seventy Sonnets by JJ Aubertin (1881), and in the explorer Richard Burton's eccentric Lyricks of 1884. Burton made it his ambition to write as Camões would have written had he been born English in 1524 - that is, pre-Shakespeare, pre-Spenser, using a language he has to cobble together from such sources as Wyatt and Surrey. The result is magnificently unreadable.

Yet Camões' lyrical poetry has a double fascination. First, four decades before Shakespeare was writing lines like "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun", Camões was "out-Petrarching" Petrarch, creating poems of wonderfully lucid wit and beauty. Second, the lyrics chart his progress towards being the poet who would write The Lusíads, as he left behind the Arcadian nymphs and shepherds of his juvenilia and engaged with the challenge of his experiences in Africa and India. He was the first great European poet to cross the equator and find a style to encompass different people and landscapes.

You can find the review here

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