The Embark & The Goodbye: Luis de Camoes

Poetry from Portugal: The Embark & The Goodbye by Luis de Camoes

actorBelem Jeronimos Monastery
from Ploughing the Sea: Poems from the Lusiadas
by Luis de Camoes
Canto IV: 86-93

Having done everything practical
To make ready for so long a voyage,
We prepared our souls to meet death
Which is always on a sailor’s horizon.
To God on high who alone sustains
The heavens with his beloved presence,
We asked His favour that He should endorse
Our every enterprise and steer our course.

The holy chapel from which we parted
Is built there on the very beach,
And takes its name, Belem, from the town
Where God was given to the world as flesh.
O King, I tell you, when I reflect
On how I parted from that shore,
Tormented by so many doubts and fears,
Even now it is hard to restrain my tears.

Portuguese explorers statue near Belem
That day, a vast throng from the city
(As friends, as family, others
only to watch), crowded the shore,
Their faces anxious and dismayed
Looking on, as in the holy company
Of a thousand zealous monks
With heartfelt intercessions on our lips
We marched in solemn file towards the ships.

The people considered us already lost
On so long and uncertain of a journey,
The women with piteous wailing
The men with agonizing sighs;
Mothers, sweethearts, and sisters, made
Fretful by their love, heightened
The desolation and the arctic fear
We should not return for many a long year.

One such was saying: “O my dear son,
My only comfort and sweet support
In this my tottering old age, now
Doomed to end in grief and pain,
Why do you leave me wretched and indigent?
Why do you travel so far away,
To be lost at sea as your memorial,
And bloated fish as your only burial?”

Or one bareheaded: “O dearest husband,
But for whose love I could not exist,
Why do you risk on the angry seas
That which belongs to me, not you?
Why, for so dubious a voyage, do you
Forget our sweet affection?
Is our passion, our happiness so frail
As to scatter in the wind swelling the sail?”

As these piteous, loving speeches
Poured from gentle, human hearts,
The old and the children took them up
In the different manner of their years.
The nearest mountains echoed them,
As if stirred by nearest sympathy,
While tears as many as the grains of sand
Rained without ceasing on the white strand.

As for us, we dared not lit our faces
To our mothers and our wives, fearing
To be harrowed, or discouraged
From the enterprise so firmly begun,
And I decided we should all embark
Without the customary farewells,
For, though they may be love’s proper course,
They make the pain of separation worse.

published 1752

Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes (1525-1580) led quite an adventurous life, which included traveling to India and China by ship. His hands-on experience enriches his epic poem The Lusiads about Vasco de Gama on the voyage which ultimately connected Europe to India. He is such an important figure to the Portuguese that his birthday is Portugal Day and his tomb is at the Jeronimos Monastery (pictured–with an actor from a Portuguese Ren era play waiting in the wings!). More to come about and from Camoes!

For more poetry, ride the Monday Poetry Train!

PS I send my gratitude to Enoforum Wine for the copy of the book from which I quote. I was admiring it in the book store at the monastery and trying to find it on the shelf to buy it when it was quickly purchased for me along with a collection by Fernando Pessoa. Enoforum Wines recognizes that a wine is more than the grapes; it even includes the poetry of the people who make the wine and live on the land. I agree. Thank you!

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