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The Presence of Camões

The Presence of Camões: Influences on the Literature of England, America, and Southern Africa

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Presence of Camões
    Book Description:

    Of the great epic poets in the Western tradition, Luis Vaz de Camões (c. 1524- 1580) remains perhaps the least known outside his native Portugal, and his influence on literature in English has not been fully recognized. In this major work of comparative scholarship, George Monteiro thus breaks new ground, focusing on English-language writers whose vision and expression have been sharpened by their varied responses to Camões.

    Introduced to English readers in 1655, Camões's work from the beginning appealed strongly to writers. The young Elizabeth Barrett's Camonean poems, for example, inspired Edgar Allan Poe to appropriate elements from Camões. Herman Melville's reading of Camões bore fruit in his career-long borrowings from the Portuguese poet. Longfellow, T.W. Higginson, and Emily Dickinson read and championed Camões. AndCamões as epicist and love poet is anéminence grisein several of Elizabeth Bishop's strongest Brazilian poems. Southern African writers have interpreted and reinterpreted Adamastor, Camões's Spirit of the Cape, as both a symbol of a dangerous and mysterious Africa and an emblem of European imperialism.

    Recognizing the presence of Camões leads Monteiro to provocative rereadings of such texts as Dickinson's "Master" letters, Poe's "Raven," Melville's late poetry, and Bishop'sQuestions of Travel.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5686-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Of the great epic poets in the grand Western tradition, Luis Vaz de Camões remains the least known outside of his native land, and of the premier Western epics, hisOs Lusiadasenjoys the unenviable distinction of being, hands down, epic poetry’s best kept secret. Yet a century and a half after his death Voltaire named Camões the “Portuguese Virgil,” and in the nineteenth century he was sometimes called the “Portuguese Plutarch.”¹

    Camões has always had the respect of poets and scholars. During the Portuguese poet’s lifetime the Italian poet Torquato Tasso dedicated a tributary sonnet to him, and in...

  6. 1 Tasso’s Legacy
    (pp. 7-16)

    Os Lusíadaswas first “made English” by Sir Richard Fanshawe, a diplomat with considerable service in Spain. He brought out his translation of Camoes’s work in 1655. Just over a century later, in 1776, William Julius Mickle published his considerably longer version of this poem, motivated, he said, by his desire “to give a poem that might live in the English language.”¹ Over time Mickle’s version has proven to be the best-known of the several English translations ofOs Lusíadas,more often reprinted than the earlier Fanshawe translation or than any succeeding version. But Fanshawe’s version has had its modern...

  7. 2 William Hayley’s Patronage
    (pp. 17-25)

    William Hayley’s importance in the story of Camões in England and the United States is tripartite: he commissioned the first portrait of Camões done in England; hisEssay on Epic Poetrydirected an American poet to William Julius Mickle’s translation ofOs Lusíadas; and while greatly admiring Camões’s epic, he took the lead in calling attention to Camões’s achievement as a lyric poet.

    The entry on William Hayley in S. Foster Damon’sA Blake Dictionarybegins: “HAYLEY (William, 1745-1820), poet, biographer, connoisseur, and patron, is remembered today chiefly as the man who persuaded Blake to live near him at Felpham...

  8. 3 Elizabeth Barrett’s Central Poem
    (pp. 26-40)

    There is not much modern commentary on Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Catarina to Camoëns.” Its reputation seems long ago to have fallen to a very low estate.¹ Indeed, it is exceedingly difficult for anyone, a century and a half after the poem’s first publication inGraham’s Magazinein 1843, to argue with great conviction for its intrinsic worth. Yet this poem of 152 lines—nineteen stanzas of eight lines each—in which the lovely and loved lady, who would die during the absence of the poet, “is supposed to muse thus while dying,” merits something more than the silence to which...

  9. 4 Poe’s Knowledge
    (pp. 41-50)

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry was known and admired by two of America’s greatest fiction writers of the first sixty years of the nineteenth century, Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe. Whereas Melville also knew Camões’s work directly, it was through Poe’s intense reading of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry that he suffered his Camonean influence. Yet Poe also knew of Camões more directly, however, and that matter should be attended to before turning to what might be called his Camonean reading of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

    Under “Marginalia,” in theUnited States Magazine, and Democratic Reviewin 1844, Poe included this item:...

  10. 5 Melville’s Figural Artist
    (pp. 51-81)

    Of Herman Melville’s interest in the life and works of Luis de Camões there exists ample evidence. First, there continues to sing out from the pages of his novelWhite-Jacket(1850) the cries of the “matchless and unmatchable Jack Chase,” who appears to have been the young sailor Melville’s beau ideal: “For the last time, hear Camoens, boys!”¹ Secondly, from the pages of Melville’s encyclopedic novelMoby-Dick(1851) come unmistakable references to Camões’s poem of empireOs Lusiádas(1572), “the great epic of the ocean.”² Third, among the books in Melville’s library (including books owned by Melville or known to...

  11. 6 Longfellow’s Taste
    (pp. 82-92)

    No American writer’s life could have been more different from Melville’s than that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Surely, he had no need to lament his fate, for his popularity and reputation was intact at the time of his death in 1882. He felt no need, as Melville did, to write poems about the great neglected poets such as Tasso and Camões. Indeed, at the time of his death there was no more famous or esteemed poet in the United States than the author ofEvangeline(1847),Hiawatha(1855),The Courtship of Miles Standish(1858), and several universally admired lyrics.


  12. 7 Higginson and Dickinson Tributes
    (pp. 93-101)

    “She was much too enigmatical a being for me to solve in an hour’s interview,” recalled Thomas Wentworth Higginson several years after Emily Dickinson’s death in 1886, “and an instinct told me that the slightest attempt to direct cross-examination would make her withdraw into her shell; I could only sit still and watch as one does in the woods; I must name my bird without a gun, as recommended by Emerson.”¹ Yet, notwithstanding his bemusement before this rare creature of nature and despite his inability during her lifetime to accept as fully realized poetry “the beautiful thoughts and words” she...

  13. 8 Elizabeth Bishop’s Black Gold
    (pp. 102-119)

    In the early 1950s Elizabeth Bishop reviewed two books on Emily Dickinson, both for theNew Republic. Her review ofEmily Dickinson’s Letters to Doctor and Mrs. Josiah Gilbert Hollandappeared in August 1951, and her review ofThe Riddle of Emily Dickinsona year later.¹ Bishop liked Theodora Van Wagenen Ward’s “beautifully edited” volume of the poet’s letters to the Hollands. She did not like Rebecca Patterson’s book of “literary detective-work,” though the book dealt with lesbianism, a subject that was very much on Bishop’s mind at the time, according to her biographer.² In Dickinson’s letters to the Hollands...

  14. 9 The Adamastor Story
    (pp. 120-131)

    Elizabeth Bishop drew on Canto IX ofOs Lusíadasfor the notion of the “Island of Love” that she imagined was the land of “Santa Cruz” (Canto X, 140) the first Portuguese—“Christians, hard as nails, / tiny as nails, and glinting, / in creaking armor”—were culturally (though anachronistically) prepared to find when they landed in the place they called Rio de Janeiro, thinking they had come upon the mouth of a river.¹

    If Bishop found it natural for Portuguese sailors to expect to find a Camonean paradise in Rio de Janeiro, it is significant that Camões did not...

  15. 10 “Alma Minha Gentil” in English
    (pp. 132-152)

    It is not known when William Wordsworth composed “Scorn not the Sonnet,”¹ but by the time he published it, in 1827, Camoes’s lyric poetry had been available in English, and much appreciated, for at least two generations. Various translations of Camoes’s sonnets, odes,redondilhas,and songs had been published by William Hayley, Felicia Hemans, Lord Viscount Strangford, Robert Southey, and John Adamson. InEnglish Bards and Scotch Reviewers(1809) Byron had already criticized Strangford’s translations and possibly Southey’s as well. Of Strangford he wrote: “Think’st thou to gain thy verse a higher place / By dressing Camoens in a suit...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 153-180)
  17. Index
    (pp. 181-190)