Poetry with Professora Elizabeth: Mar Português

With the end of Portuguese school in sight and a class full of students with a decent grasp on how to work with regular verbs in the present tense, I decided to take a break from this spring’s conjugation gauntlet and instead expose them to Portuguese as it’s seen in the wild. No more textbooks; it’s time for real Portuguese words written by real Portuguese people for real Portuguese people.

Today’s the last day of Portuguese school for the year. Check out my class’s first foray in Portuguese poetry, A Cozinha da Avô. In honor of Fernando Pessoa’s birthday, today I’m sharing our class’s journey to understanding “Mar Português.”

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Poetry with Professora Elizabeth: A Cozinha da Avo

Portuguese school is coming to an end for the year. After driving my children through the gauntlet of conjugating -ar, -er, and -ir verbs (along with the lonely pôr, the only -or verb) in the present tense, I wanted to take it easy for the remaining weeks.

Then I got a text message from the preschool teacher.

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Fridays with Fernando: Mar Português

Fernando Pessoa statue in the Jardim das Poetas. Oeiras, Portugal. Fernando Pessoa stencil in the Bairro Alto. Lisbon, Portugal.

My blog’s tagline is “Things I know and love include: Portugal, quidditch, books & brews, and my life in San Jose.” But even though Portugal is first in that sentence, I write about quidditch way more.

As much as I’ve invested a lot of myself into the sport, that’s not all who I am or all I want to be known for. That’s is why I’ve been trying to diversify my writing lately. While I may not have written as much Portuguese content, my culture is a big part of who I am. If you’re reading this, I’m probably your token Portuguese friend. You know, the person who comes to mind when you come across anything Portuguese related.

If you’ve heard me talk about anything Portuguese for any length of time, I’ll eventually start gushing about my literary boyfriend: Fernando Pessoa. I’ve written about his work from time to time but I wanted to make a regular feature out of it. So, Fridays with Fernando was born.

I’ll save a tl;dr post about his life and work for another week. For today, I want to give you a taste of why this man’s words are always on my lips.

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Happy World Poetry Day, everyone! Here’s one of my favorites: As Ilhas Afortunadas by Fernando Pessoa.

And here’s a quick translation (with some creative liberties on my part) for my non-Lusophone readers out there:

What voice comes in the sound of the waves,
That is not the voice of the sea?
It is the voice of someone speaking to us,
But if we listen to it, it goes quiet
Because it was overheard.

And only if, half asleep
We listen without knowing how to hear,
She whispers hope to us
At which, like a child,
We smiling at in our sleep.

They are the fortunate islands,
The lands without a place,
Where the Lost King lives, waiting.
But if we wake up,
The voice goes silent, and there is only the sea.

Nevoeiro

As I started Week 2 of the Darkest Timeline, I left the house and walked out into a veil of fog that silenced the usual morning noises and shrouded the usual morning sights. It felt like a fitting way to start a week in a newly unfamiliar world.

Unrepentant fangirl that I am, I had a Fernando Pessoa quote immediately leap to mind to describe how I felt. No, not my usual “Tudo vale a pena se a alma e pequena/Everything is worth (the effort) if the soul is not small.” A very different poem came to mind:

Nevoeiro
Nem rei nem lei, nem paz nem guerra,
Define com perfil e ser
Este fulgor baço da terra
Que é Portugal a entristecer —
Brilho sem luz e sem arder
Como o que o fogo-fátuo encerra.

Ninguém sabe que coisa quer.
Ninguém conhece que alma tem,
Nem o que é mal nem o que é bem.
(Que ânsia distante perto chora?)
Tudo é incerto e derradeiro.
Tudo é disperso, nada é inteiro.
Ó Portugal, hoje és nevoeiro…

Fog 
Neither king nor law, neither peace nor war
Defines the profile or self
Of this dull flame of the earth.
Portugal is saddening –
Shining without light, without burning
An extinguishing will-o’-the-wisp.

No one knows what they want.
No one knows what soul they have,
Neither what is evil nor what is good.
(What distant anxiety weeps nearby?)
Everything is uncertain and final.
Everything is dispersed, nothing is whole.
O Portugal, today you are fog.

 

This poem comes at the end of Mensagem, a collection of poems by Fernando Pessoa. Mensagem is an update of Os Lusiadas, which is Portugal’s version of The Aeneid. (The translation is mine. I did it in less than an hour, so forgive me if I sacrificed the poetry a bit to make it clearer for an English-speaking audience.)

Or, for everyone out there who isn’t a student of epic poetry as a nation building exercise, Mensagem was written as an examination of Portugal’s glorious past in the face of an uncertain future. Luis de Camoes wrote Os Lusiadas as Portugal was reaching his peak during the Age of Discovery. It was the tale of Vasco da Gama’s journey to India just as The Aeneid was about Aeneas’s journey from Troy to Rome. The Aeneid tells the story of how one man founded Rome, but Os Lusiadas tells Vasco da Gama’s story as the crowning glory of an entire people’s accomplishments. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but at the time it was the equivalent of the moon landing. Vasco da Gama took one long voyage for a man (and his crew), but a giant leap for mankind.

Os Lusíadas was written by Camoes for King Sebastian. It was written to recount Portugal’s greatness, but also to warn the young king that it was his responsibility to maintain that legacy. Instead, Sebastian pursued madness, zealotry. He died somewhere in North Africa, his body never found, in a hopeless attempt to convert the heathen Moors. Heirless, his dynasty died with him. Portugal became part of the Spanish Habsburg empire for eighty years, beginning the long and slow decline that would define the Portuguese psyche ever since.

Fernando Pessoa wrote during a very different time. It was the Estado Novo dictatorship, and one of the regime’s favorite forms of propaganda was to hearken back the Age of Discovery. Pessoa wrote Mensagem for a contest being run by the Secretariat of National Propaganda. They loved it so much that he won in a category they had to create because Mensagem didn’t quite fit the parameters of the contest.

Here’s the thing: Mensagem isn’t a propaganda message. It’s a fucking wake up call. I left off the end of the poem: É a hora! (Portuguese. It’s the hour! or It’s time!) Valete, Frateres. (Latin: Farewell, brothers. or Live long and prosper.)

I feel like we’re living in that hour now. It’s the hour—but what hour is it? Our finest, or our last?

There’s a longing for a better past in the face of an uncertain future in Portuguese literature. Saudade. I’ve always thought it was beautiful, in part because I could never find anything like it in American literature. (Okay, mayyyybe Southern Gothic.)  America never suffered a setback that it couldn’t recover from.

Portugal’s fall was self-inflicted by a mad king. I worry that America’s will be the same.

Dia de Portugal, Camões, e das Comunidades Portuguesas: Part 2

Luís_de_Camões_por_François_Gérard

Luis de Camões wasn’t some poet scribbling down his musings from his ivory tower. He was a certified badass. He’s not winking at you; he lost his eye fighting the Moors in Ceuta! His military service also took him to Goa, and later he was offered a position in Macau. On his way back home to Portugal, he was shipwrecked near Cambodia. According to legend, Camões let his lover drown because he was using both hands to hold the only manuscript of Os Lusiadas, the Portuguese national epic, out of the water!

The name Os Lusiadas comes from Lusitania, the Roman province that more or less matches Portugal’s borders today. Portuguese still refer to themselves as Lusitanians. Luso- is the prefix used to denote a thing as being Portuguese, in the same way that Sino- is used for Chinese.

Lusitania_SPQR

Check out the opening lines of Canto I:

As armas e os Barões assinalados
Que da Ocidental praia Lusitana
Por mares nunca de antes navegados
Passaram ainda além da Taprobana,
Em perigos e guerras esforçados
Mais do que prometia a força humana,
E entre gente remota edificaram
Novo Reino, que tanto sublimaram.

Translation by me, more literal than lyrical:

The arms and Heroes marked
That the western Lusitanian shore
By seas never before navigated
Yet passed beyond Taprobana,
Through dangers and grueling wars
More that what was promised by human strength,
And amongst remote peoples they built
A New Kingdom, a sublimation of both.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, check out the opening lines of Virgil’s Aeneid, translated from Latin by A.S. Kline:

I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate,
first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to
Lavinian shores – hurled about endlessly by land and sea,
by the will of the gods, by cruel Juno’s remorseless anger,
long suffering also in war, until he founded a city
and brought his gods to Latium: from that the Latin people
came, the lords of Alba Longa, the walls of noble Rome.
Muse, tell me the cause: how was she offended in her divinity,
how was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a man,
noted for virtue, to endure such dangers, to face so many
trials? Can there be such anger in the minds of the gods?

The key difference between Os Lusiadas and the Aeneid is revealed in the opening line. Aeneas writes of “arms and the man” (emphasis mine). Os Lusiadas, on the other hand, speaks of “arms and heroes“. While the great Greek and Roman epics are about singular men, Os Lusiadas is the story of the Portuguese people as a whole. Their epic journey is the conquest of the seas and the founding of the Portuguese Empire, just as the Aeneid is the chronicle of Aeneas’s journey and his founding of the Roman Empire.

While Juno is Aeneas’s enemy and Venus is his patroness in the Aeneid, in Os Lusiadas the divine clash is between Neptune and Venus. She advocates for the Portuguese to Jupiter, while Neptune tries to defend his dominion over the seas. Considering that the Age of Discoveries is the only thing American school children learn about the Portuguese in school, I think we all know which side Jupiter chose.

The two epics are further paralleled by their structure. They both start in medias res. Aeneas arrives in Carthage and then tells Dido about how he got there. In Os Lusiadas, Vasco da Gama arrives on the east coast of Africa after rounding the Cape of Good Hope. There, the King of Mombas welcomes him and asks how da Gama and his crew arrived. Instead of telling his story, da Gama recounts Portugal’s history, and how it led to him and his historic voyage.

This democratization of the epic is why I think it’s a better example of a national epic than the Aeneid. Virgil makes his poem all about Aeneas because he’s trying to get in the good graces of Emperor Augustus. Camões, on the other hand, makes it about the Portuguese people who came before and after da Gama. It’s about the nation, not just one man.

The last canto of the poem describes da Gama and his men returning home, but not before a pit stop at Venus’ Isle of Love. Canto X is so steamy that it was censored out of the poem during the Estado Novo dictatorship! Okay, it’s really not that bad; dictators are just prudes. It’s a shame though, because the sea goddess Tethys (who also becomes da Gama’s lover) predicts the accomplishments of Portuguese explorers yet to come. Os Lusiadas was published about eighty years after da Gama’s journey, so Camões had the benefit of hindsight when writing those divine predictions.

He also had foresight. Portugal was reaching its peak as a world power when Camões finished Os Lusiadas, which ends with a warning to King Sebastian to maintain Portugal’s glory. Instead, the young, heirless, and allegedly mad king died fighting the Moors in Africa at the Battle of Alcacer Quibir, and Portugal fell into the hands of Sebastian’s closest relative, Phillip of Spain. Elizabethan scholars might know him as Bloody Mary Tudor’s husband. Portugal would remain a Spanish possession for eighty years, but would never return to her former glory.

The impact of Camões on the Portuguese language and psyche can’t be underestimated. He is to Portuguese what Shakespeare is to the English language. Portuguese is even called “a lingua de Camões” because it is his language. Every Portuguese author after him was inspired but him. His fingerprints are all over the Portuguese literature that came after him.He also wrote plays (they’re okay) and love poetry (surprisingly beautiful). I’ll leave you now with my favorite love poem of his:

Amor é fogo que arde sem se ver;
É ferida que dói e não se sente;
É um contentamento descontente
É dor que desatina sem doer;

É um não querer mais que bem querer;
É solitário andar por entre a gente;
É nunca contentar-se de contente;
É cuidar que se ganha em se perder;

É querer estar preso por vontade;
É servir a quem vence, o vencedor;
É ter com quem nos mata lealdade.

Mas como causar pode seu favor
Nos corações humanos amizade,
Se tão contrário a si é o mesmo amor?

My translation:

Love is the fire that burns unseen;
The wound that aches unfelt;
It’s a discontent contentment
The pain that maddens painlessly;

It’s not wanting more than to be wanted;
It’s solitude surrounded by people;
It’s never settling for contentment;
It’s care that is gained in the losing;

It’s wanting to be willfully imprisoned;
It’s serving who conquers, the conqueror;
It’s what kills us loyally.

But how could your favor cause
Human friendship in our hearts,
If love is so contrary to itself?

Dia de Portugal, Camões, e das Comunidades Portuguesas: Part 1

Once upon a time when I was attempting to blog about my summer studying in Portugal, I wrote about Dia de Portugal. Shoutout to my buddy Patrick for remembering my old blog and reminding me of that post and how much it means for me to share this day with people.

Unlike the Fourth of July, Dia de Portugal isn’t the anniversary of Portuguese independence. Portugal has a couple of days that you could call an independence day:

  • June 24, 1128: The Battle of São Mamede: Dom Alfonso Henriques beats his mother and her lover in battle, takes over the County of Portugal
  • July 26, 1139: Dom Alfonso Henriques acclaimed King of Portugal, because who wants to be a Count when you can be a King?
  • October 5, 1143: Kingdom of Castile and Leon (not Spain! Spain wouldn’t exist for a few hundred years!) recognize Portugal
  • May 13, 1179: Pope Alexander III recognizes Dom Alfonso Henriques as King of Portugal
  • December 1, 1640: Portugal, which had become part of the Spanish Hapsburg empire after the death of King Sebastian I, declares independence from Spain
  • April 25, 1974: Carnation Revolution, Estado Novo dictatorship overthrown

So, for those of you keeping score at home: Portugal is way older than Spain. It also is not part of Spain, though it was for eighty years that we don’t like to talk about. Now you know better, and you can never ask me if Portugal is a part of Spain again. Cool? Cool.

With all these choices, Portugal did something different. Portugal Day instead marks the death of Luis de Camões. He wrote Os Lusíadas, the Portuguese national epic. (Think the Portuguese version of Virgil’s Aeneid.) As if I wasn’t already proud of being Portuguese, the literature major part of me that will never die loves that Portugal celebrates itself not on the anniversary of a battle for independence, but in memory of a poet. For more about Camões, check out Part 2 of this post.

After 1974, the day was expanded to include the Portuguese communities abroad. As a Portuguese-American, this is my day, too! There are nearly 1.5 million Americans of Portuguese descent… which is only about 0.5% of the American population. I like to think we make up for it by being loud and proud of our immigrant heritage.

In spite of our small numbers, we impacted American culture more than you realize.  John Phillip Sousa? He might have written Stars and Stripes forever, but his father was Portuguese! Emeril Lagasse? BAM! His mom’s Portuguese. Steve Perry? Don’t Stop Believin’ that he’s one of my people, too. I could go on, but I’m starting to sound like the Wikipedia page on Portuguese-Americans. Yes, that’s a thing.