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.
It happens in the space of a single poem in the elegy, "O Poeta Simonides", describing in part his own voyage to India. As he leaves the Tagus, the nymphs Galateia, Panopeia and Melanto accompany him, surfing in their scallop shells, and he chats with them companionably. But they have to turn back, unable to cope with the Atlantic. Within three tercets, he is in a new hemisphere under constellations he doesn't recognize, as gales tear "the concave sails from the masthead / the rigging whistled in the uproar / the blaspheming of the shocked / mariners curdled the atmosphere". A touch of Ovid here, but more of a maturing poet hunting a new style for unprecedented experiences.
William Baer's bilingual version offers us the first substantial selection of Camões' sonnets for more than a century, and should be welcomed for that reason alone. The range of the sonnets is amply demonstrated, along with an unpretentious introduction, attractive illustrations and useful notes.
But even a labour of love can be laborious, and what's wrong with these versions is visible at 20 paces. Camões' Portuguese, in its wit, lucidity and extreme economy of expression, occupies the left-hand pages. Baer's English - normally the more succinct of the two languages - sprawls over the right hand as diction and prosody are sacrificed in the search for rhymes. Rhyme is an important resource, and no one's entirely happy to see 14 lines of blank verse masquerading as a sonnet. But so too are controlled rhythms, restrained but musical vocabulary, and a sensitive regard to each poem's shape. Aubertin compared it to translating Mozart, and one has with Camões just that sense of fragile but robust perfection. It's not to be caught in English by pursuing one quality at the expense of all the others.
In poem after poem, Baer expands on the original. "Pasmadas" (astonished) becomes "stunned and terrified"; "tears" become "watery tears"; "fresca" becomes "sweet and fresh"; and so on as he provides the various possible translations indicated in the dictionary all too obviously at his elbow.
One of Camões' most haunting sonnets, "Quando o sol encoberto vai mostrando", has him pacing a beach in India, conjuring the vision of the loved one left behind. The Portuguese has "Aqui a vi os cabelos concertando; / ali, co a mão na face, tão fermoso; / aqui, falando alegre, ali cuidosa" and so on, where even a non-speaker can recognize tightly balanced clauses. Baer gives us: "Sometimes, over there, I watched her combing / her hair, and over there, I saw her touch her face. / Sometimes she worried, but mostly she spoke with grace / and charm - sometimes standing, sometimes roaming / the beach; sometimes, sitting right there, she'd gaze / at me, raising her gentle luminescent / eyes - often content, sometimes in pain, / or sadness, although at other times, she'd amaze / me with her laugh ... "
These are not sonnets, rather prose-cribs chopped up, with slack rhythms and conventional diction, crucified on the rhyme scheme. Despite the lavish academic encomiums that accompany this volume, Camões' lyrics await a poet's translation.
Recension from The Guardian
Isto porque mais vale que falem, mesmo que digam mal, o que interessa é fazer publicidade!