translated by Landeg White
Under The Peepal Tree 2017
Luís de Camões (1524-1580) was the first great European artist to cross into the Southern Hemisphere, and his poetry bears the mark of nearly two decades spent in India, north and east Africa, the Persian Gulf and Macau. His The Lusíads is world famous, but his large and equally great body of lyric poetry is almost unknown outside Portugal. 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 addressed to a non-European woman, these lyrics reflect Camões’s encounter with radically unfamiliar places and peoples. The bulk of those years – from 1554 to 1568 – were spent in Goa where at least half of his poetry, including The Lusíads, seems to have been composed. He arrived not as a Viceroy, Governor or Admiral, not an authority figure of any kind, but as a convict soldier, sentenced for an assault in Lisbon to military service overseas. He was jailed on three occasions (see the cover picture) and when he left he was almost certainly fleeing the Inquisition. This book collects, with degrees of certainty from the absolute to the tentative, the lyric poems Camões wrote in Goa. They are translated from Portuguese, but they are very far from representing Portuguese colonial culture, which he at times wrote of with great scorn. Above all, they should be enjoyed as poetry, transcending place and time but of added interest given the place and time they were written.