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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Canzon of Life

By Luís de Camões (c. 1524–1580)

Translation of Sir Richard Francis Burton

COME here! my confidential Secretary

Of the complaints in which my days are rife,

Paper,—whereon I gar my griefs o’erflow.

Tell we, we twain, Unreasons which in life

Deal me inexorable, contrary

Destinies surd to prayer and tearful woe.

Dash we some water-drops on muchel lowe,

Fire we with outcries storm of rage so rare

That shall be strange to mortal memory.

Such misery tell we

To God and Man, and eke, in fine, to air,

Whereto so many times did I confide

My tale and vainly told as I now tell;

But e’en as error was my birthtide-lot,

That this be one of many doubt I not.

And as to hit the butt so far I fail

E’en if I sinnèd her cease they to chide:

Within mine only Refuge will I ’bide

To speak and faultless sin with free intent.

Sad he so scanty mercies must content!

Long I’ve unlearnt me that complaint of dole

Brings cure of dolours; but a wight in pain

To greet is forcèd an the grief be great.

I will outgreet; but weak my voice and vain

To express the sorrows which oppress my soul;

For nor with greeting shall my dole abate.

Who then shall grant me, to relieve my weight

Of sorrow, flowing tears and infinite sighs

Equal those miseries my Sprite o’erpower?

But who at any hour,

Can measure miseries with his tears or cries?

I’ll tell, in fine, the love for me design’d

By wrath and woe and all their sovenance;

For other dole hath qualities harder, sterner.

Draw near and hear me each despairing Learner!

And fly the many fed on Esperance

Or wights who fancy Hope will prove her kind;

For Love and Fortune willed, with single mind,

To leave them hopeful, so they comprehend

What measure of unweal in hand they hend.

When fro’ man’s primal grave, the mother’s womb,

New eyes on earth I oped, my hapless star

To mar my Fortunes ’gan his will enforce;

And freedom (Free-will given me) to debar:

I learnt a thousand times it was my doom

To know the Better and to work the Worse:

Then with conforming tormentize to curse

My course of coming years, when cast I round

A boyish eye-glance with a gentle zest,

It was my Star’s behest

A Boy born blind should deal me life-long wound.

Infantine tear-drops wellèd out the deep

With vague enamoured longings, nameless pine:

My wailing accents fro’ my cradle-stound

Already sounded me love-sighing sound.

Thus age and destiny had like design:

For when, peraunter, rocking me to sleep

They sung me Love-songs wherein lovers weep,

Attonce by Nature’s will asleep I fell,

So Melancholy witcht me with her spell!

My nurse some Feral was; Fate nilled approve

By any Woman such a name be tane

Who gave me breast; nor seemed it suitable.

Thus was I suckled that my lips indrain

E’en fro’ my childhood venom-draught of Love,

Whereof in later years I drained my fill,

Till by long custom failed the draught to kill.

Then an Ideal semblance struck my glance

Of that fere Human deckt with charms in foyson,

Sweet with the suavest poyson,

Who nourisht me with paps of Esperance;

Till later saw mine eyes the original,

Which of my wildest, maddest appetite

Makes sinful error sovran and superb.

Meseems as human form it came disturb,

But scintillating Spirit’s divinest light.

So graceful gait, such port imperial

Were hers, unweal vainglory’d self to weal

When in her sight, whose lively sheen and shade

Exceeded aught and all things Nature made.

What new unkindly kind of human pain

Had Love not only doled for me to dree

But eke on me was wholly execute?

Implacable harshness cooling fervency

Of Love-Desire (thought’s very might and main)

Drave me far distant fro’ my settled suit,

Vext and self-shamed to sight its own pursuit.

Hence sombre shades phantastick born and bred

Of trifles promising rashest Esperance;

While boons of happy chance

Were likewise feignèd and enfigurèd.

But her despisal wrought me such dismay

That made my Fancy phrenesy-ward incline,

Turning to disconcert the guiling lure.

Here mine ’twas to divine, and hold for sure,

That all was truest Truth I could divine;

And straightway all I said in shame to unsay;

To see whatso I saw in còntrayr way;

In fine, just Reasons seek for jealousy

Yet were the Unreasons eather far to see.

I know not how she knew that fared she stealing

With Eyën-rays mine inner man which flew

Her-ward with subtlest passage through the eyne

Little by little all fro’ me she drew,

E’en as from rain-wet canopy, exhaling

The subtle humours, sucks the hot sunshine.

The pure transparent geste and mien, in fine,

Wherefore inadequate were and lacking sense

“Beauteous” and “Belle” were words withouten weight;

The soft, compassionate

Eye-glance that held the spirit in suspense:

Such were the magick herbs the Heavens all-wise

Drave me a draught to drain, and for long years

To other Being my shape and form transmew’d;

And this transforming with such joy I view’d

That e’en my sorrows snared I with its snares;

And, like the doomèd man, I veiled mine eyes

To hide an evil crescive in such guise;

Like one caressèd and on flattery fed

Of Love, for whom his being was born and bred.

Then who mine absent Life hath power to paint

Wi’ discontent of all I bore in view;

That Bide, so far from where she had her Bide,

Speaking, which even what I spake unknew,

Wending, withal unseeing where I went,

And sighing weetless for what cause I sigh’d?

Then, as those torments last endurance tried,

That dreadful dolour which from Tartarus’s waves

Shot up on earth and racketh more than all,

Wherefrom shall oft befall

It turn to gentle yearning rage that raves?

Then with repine-ful fury fever-high

Wishing yet wishing not for Love’s surceàse;

Shifting to other side for vengeänce,

Desires deprivèd of their esperance,

What now could ever change such ills as these?

Then the fond yearnings for the things gone by,

Pure torment sweet in bitter faculty,

Which from these fiery furies could distill

Sweet tears of Love with pine the soul to thrill?

For what excuses lone with self I sought,

When my suave Love forfended me to find

Fault in the Thing belovèd and so lovèd?

Such were the feignèd cures that forged my mind

In fear of torments that for ever taught

Life to support itself by snares approvèd.

Thus through a goodly part of Life I rovèd,

Wherein if ever joyed I aught content

Short-lived, immodest, flaw-full, without heed,

’Twas nothing save the seed

That bare me bitter tortures long unspent.

This course continuous dooming to distress,

These wandering steps that strayed o’er every road

So wrought, they quencht for me the flamy thirst

I suffered grow in Sprite, in Soul I nurst

With Thoughts enamoured for my daily food,

Whereby was fed my Nature’s tenderness:

And this by habit’s long and asperous stress,

Which might of mortals never mote resist,

Was turned to pleasure-taste of being triste.

Thus fared I Life with other interchanging;

I no, but Destiny showing fere unlove;

Yet even thus for other ne’er I’d change.

Me from my dear-loved patrial nide she drove

Over the broad and boisterous Ocean ranging,

Where Life so often saw her èxtreme range.

Now tempting rages rare and missiles strange

Of Mart, she willèd that my eyes should see

And hands should touch, the bitter fruit he dight:

That on this Shield they sight

In painted semblance fire of enemy,

Then ferforth driven, vagrant, peregrine,

Seeing strange nations, customs, tongues, costumes;

Various heavens, qualities different,

Only to follow, passing-diligent

Thee, giglet Fortune! whose fierce will consumes

Man’s age upbuilding aye before his eyne

A Hope with semblance of the diamond’s shine:

But, when it falleth out of hand we know,

’Twas fragile glass that showed so glorious show.

Failed me the ruth of man, and I descried

Friends to unfriendly changèd and contràyr,

In my first peril; and I lackèd ground,

Whelmed by the second, where my feet could fare;

Air for my breathing was my lot denied,

Time failed me, in fine, and failed me Life’s dull round.

What darkling secret, mystery profound

This birth to Life, while Life is doomed withhold

Whate’er the world contain for Life to use!

Yet never Life to lose

Though ’twas already lost times manifold!

In brief my Fortune could no horror make,

Ne certain danger ne ancipitous case

(Injustice dealt by men, whom wild-confused

Misrule, that rights of olden days abused,

O’er neighbour-men upraised to power and place!)

I bore not, lashèd to the sturdy stake,

Of my long suffering, which my heart would break

With importuning persecuting harms

Dasht to a thousand bits by forceful arms.

Number I not so numerous ills as He

Who, ’scaped the wuthering wind and furious flood,

In happy harbour tells his travel-tale;

Yet now, e’en now, my Fortune’s wavering mood

To so much misery obligeth me

That e’en to pace one forward pace I quail:

No more shirk I what evils may assail;

No more to falsing welfare I pretend;

For human cunning naught can gar me gain.

In fine on sovran Strain

Of Providence divine I now depend:

This thought, this prospect ’tis at times I greet

My sole consoler for dead hopes and fears.

But human weakness when its eyne alight

Upon the things that fleet, and can but sight

The sadding Memories of the long-past years;

What bread such times I break, what drink I drain,

Are bitter tear-floods I can ne’er refrain,

Save by upbuilding castles based on air,

Phantastick painture fair and false as fair.

For an it possible were that Time and Tide

Could bend them backward and, like Memory, view

The faded footprints of Life’s earlier day;

And, web of olden story weaving new,

In sweetest error could my footsteps guide

’Mid bloom of flowers where wont my youth to stray;

Then would the memories of the long sad way

Deal me a larger store of Life-content;

Viewing fair converse and glad company,

Where this and other key

She had for opening hearts to new intent;—

The fields, the frequent stroll, the lovely show,

The view, the snow, the rose, the formosure,

The soft and gracious mien so gravely gay,

The singular friendship casting clean away

All villein longings, earthly and impure,

As one whose Other I can never see;—

Ah, vain, vain memories! whither lead ye me

With this weak heart that still must toil and tire

To tame (as tame it should) your vain Desire?

No more, Canzon! no more: for I could prate

Sans compt a thousand years; and if befall

Blame to thine over-large and long-drawn strain

We ne’er shall see (assure who blames) contain

An Ocean’s water packt in vase so small,

Nor sing I delicate lines in softest tone

For gust of praise; my song to man makes known

Pure Truth wherewith mine own Experience teems;

Would God they were the stuff that builds our dreams!