Thursday, October 23, 2008

Luis de Camoes: The Collected Lyric Poems

Eric Ormsby reviews The Collected Lyric Poems of Luís de Camões.
In its great century, Portugal commanded an empire extending from Brazil to India. Vasco da Gama reached the coast of India in 1498, and in 1500 Pedro Cabral first sighted Brazil. But the imperial glory was short-lived. In 1580, Philip II of Spain invaded and added Portugal to his kingdom, where it remained unhappily for another 60 years.

But Portugal lost more than its independence in that year. For in 1580, Luís de Camões, later acclaimed as the national poet, died in Lisbon and was cast along with other victims of the plague into a common grave. In "The Lusiads," his great epic of a new world, Camões immortalized the exploits of da Gama, to whom he was distantly related, while in hundreds of shorter poems, he griped — and griped beautifully — about his own disastrous life. To be the national poet of Portugal, the country where the melancholy "fado" was born, is perhaps inevitably to be a laureate of hard luck.
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