‘The Waterspout’ – a translation of Luis Vaz de Camões

 

The below is a translation by Mark McGuinness of a section of Os Lusíadas (‘The Luciads’), an epic poem by the 16th-century Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camões (c. 1524/25 – 1580).

 

Os Lusíadas is widely regarded as the most important work of Portuguese-language literature and is frequently compared to Virgil’s Aeneid. The work celebrates the discovery of a sea route to India by the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama.

 
The original Portuguese follows Mark’s translation. 
 


 
 

    The Waterspout

 

Luis Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas, Canto V, 121-184

 

To tell you all the dangers of the sea,
Surpassing everything we know by far —
Fearful storms exploding suddenly,
Quick lightning bolts that set the air on fire,
Black showers, nights as dark as ebony,
And thunderclaps that cause the world to tear —
Would be a great mistake, a vain exertion,
Even if I possessed a voice of iron.

For I have seen those things the common sailors
Whose minds are shaped by their experience
Perceive as real, beyond all doubt, forever,
Judging such matters only by appearance;
Those things that men whose faculties are sharper,
Who use their reason and the tools of science
To study Nature’s hidden mysteries
Dismiss as figments or as fallacies.

I’ve seen with my own eyes the living flame
That seamen look on as a holy portent
Appear at times of storm and hurricane,
Of pitch-black tempest, tears and bitter torment.
And neither was it any less insane,
Miraculous or worthy of amazement,
Watching the sea clouds use a giant siphon
To suck up surface water from the ocean.

I saw it clearly (and I don’t presume
My eyes deceived me) rising in the sky:
A little vapour and a subtle fume
Set spinning by the wind and dragged awry.
From there a tube reached to the heavens’ dome.
It was so slender that the naked eye
Struggled with effort to make its outline out:
It seemed to be the same stuff as the clouds.

Then bit by bit it grew and grew, until
Its girth was like a masthead, only wider.
Here it narrowed, there its throat would swell
Each time it swallowed up great gulps of water;
It wavered with the waves that rose and fell.
Above, a cloud grew thicker, weightier,
Becoming still more laden and enlarged
By the liquid mass with which it was engorged.

As a purple leech’s body may be seen
Glued to the lips of an unsuspecting beast
(Who picked it up while drinking from a fountain),
Sucking another’s blood to quench its thirst;
The more it drinks the more its form will thicken,
And fill and swell until it’s fit to burst:
Just so that mighty column, filling, gained
In size, as did the black cloud it sustained.

But once its thirst was slaked and it was bulging,
It lifted its appendage from the water
And flew at last across the sky, while sprinkling
The ocean on the ocean as a shower;
The waves that had been stolen now returning
Back to themselves, without their salty flavour.
Now see, you authors and authorities,
What things are found in Nature’s mysteries!

If the philosophers of old, who travelled
In search of secrets to so many lands,
Had witnessed all the marvels I beheld,
Hoisting my sail to meet the various winds,
What stories would their writings now unfold!
What revelations about stars and signs!
What wonders, what amazing properties!
And every word the truth, no trace of lies.

 
 


 
 

    Original text

 

Luis Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas, Canto V, 121-184

 

Contar-te longamente as perigosas
Coisas do mar, que os homens não entendem:
Súbitas trovoadas temerosas,
Relâmpados que o ar em fogo acendem,
Negros chuveiros, noites tenebrosas,
Bramidos de trovões que o mundo fendem,
Não menos é trabalho, que grande erro,
Ainda que tivesse a voz de ferro.

Os casos vi que os rudos marinheiros,
Que têm por mestra a longa experiência,
Contam por certos sempre e verdadeiros,
Julgando as cousas só pela aparência,
E que os que têm juízos mais inteiros,
Que só por puro engenho e por ciência,
Vêem do mundo os segredos escondidos,
Julgam por falsos, ou mal entendidos.

Vi, claramente visto, o lume vivo
Que a marítima gente tem por santo
Em tempo de tormenta e vento esquivo,
De tempestade escura e triste pranto.
Não menos foi a todos excessivo
Milagre, e coisa certo de alto espanto,
Ver as nuvens do mar com largo cano
Sorver as altas águas do Oceano.

Eu o vi certamente (e não presumo
Que a vista me enganava) levantar-se
No ar um vaporzinho e subtil fumo,
E, do vento trazido, rodear-se:
Daqui levado um cano ao pólo sumo
Se via, tão delgado, que enxergar-se
Dos olhos facilmente não podia:
Da matéria das nuvens parecia.

Ia-se pouco e pouco acrescentando
E mais que um largo masto se engrossava;
Aqui se estreita, aqui se alarga, quando
Os golpes grandes de água em si chupava;
Estava-se coas ondas ondeando:
Em cima dele uma nuvem se espessava,
Fazendo-se maior, mais carregada
Co'o cargo grande d’água em si tomada.

Qual roxa sanguessuga se veria
Nos beiços da alimária (que imprudente,
Bebendo a recolheu na fonte fria)
Fartar co’o sangue alheio a sede ardente;
Chupando mais e mais se engrossa e cria,
Ali se enche e se alarga grandemente:
Tal a grande coluna, enchendo, aumenta
A si, e a nuvem negra que sustenta.

Mas depois que de todo se fartou,
O pó que tem no mar a si recolhe,
E pelo céu chovendo enfim voou,
Porque coa água a jacente água molhe:
As ondas torna as ondas que tomou,
Mas o sabor do sal lhe tira e tolhe.
Vejam agora os sábios na escritura,
Que segredos são estes de Natura.

Se os antigos filósofos, que andaram
Tantas terras, por ver segredos delas,
As maravilhas que eu passei, passaram,
A tão diversos ventos dando as velas,
Que grandes escrituras que deixaram!
Que influição de signos e de estrelas!
Que estranhezas, que grandes qualidsades!
E tudo sem mentir, puras verdades.

 
 

Mark McGuinness

About Mark McGuinness

Mark McGuinness was awarded Third Prize in The Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation (2016). His own poems have appeared in places including Ambit, Anthropocene, Brittle Star, Magma, Oxford Poetry, The Rialto and Stand. He hosts the poetry podcast A Mouthful of Air.