Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Introductory to India


By Luís de Camões (c. 1524–1580)

(From The Lusiad)
Translated by W. J. Mickle

VAST are the shores of India’s wealthful soil;

Southward sea-girt she forms a demi-isle:

His caverned cliffs with dark-browed forests crowned,

Hemodian Taurus frowns her northern bound:

From Caspia’s lake the enormous mountain spreads,

And bending eastward rears a thousand heads:

Far to extremest sea the ridges thrown,

By various names through various tribes are known:

Here down the waste of Taurus’ rocky side

Two infant rivers pour the crystal tide,

Indus the one, and one the Ganges named,

Darkly of old through distant nations famed:

One eastward curving holds his crooked way,

One to the west gives his swoln tide to stray:

Declining southward many a land they lave,

And widely swelling roll the sea-like wave.

Till the twin offspring of the mountain sire

Both in the Indian deep ingulfed expire.

Between these streams, fair smiling to the day,

The Indian lands their wide domains display,

And many a league, far to the south they bend,

From the broad region where the rivers end,

Till where the shores to Ceylon’s isle oppose,

In conic form the Indian regions close.

To various laws the various tribes incline,

And various are the rites esteemed divine:

Some as from heaven receive the Koran’s lore,

Some the dread monsters of the wild adore;

Some bend to wood and stone the prostrate head,

And rear unhallowed altars to the dead.

By Ganges’ banks, as wild traditions tell,

Of old the tribes lived healthful by the smell;

No food they knew, such fragrant vapors rose

Rich from the flowery lawns where Ganges flows:

Here now the Delhian, and the fierce Patan

Feed their fair flocks; and here, an heathen clan,

Stern Decam’s sons the fertile valleys till,

A clan, whose hope to shun eternal ill,

Whose trust from every stain of guilt to save,

Is fondly placed in Ganges’ holy wave;

If to the stream the breathless corpse be given

They deem the spirit wings her way to heaven.

Here by the mouths, where hallowed Ganges ends,

Bengala’s beauteous Eden wide extends;

Unrivalled smile her fair luxurious vales:

And here Cambaya spreads her palmy dales;

A warlike realm, where still the martial race

From Porus famed of yore their lineage trace.

Narsinga here displays her spacious line;

Her sons in native gold and ruby shine:

Alas, how vain! these gaudy sons of fear,

Trembling, bow down before each hostile spear.

And now behold;—and while he spoke he rose;

Now with extended arm the prospect shows,—

Behold these mountain-tops of various size

Blend their dim ridges with the fleecy skies;

Nature’s rude wall, against the fierce Canar

They guard the fertile lawns of Malabar.

Here from the mountain to the surgy main,

Fair as a garden spreads the smiling plain:

And lo! the Empress of the Indian powers,

There lofty Calicut resplendent towers;

Hers every fragrance of the spicy shore,

Hers every gem of India’s countless store:

Great Samoreem, her Lord’s imperial style,

The mighty Lord of India’s utmost soil:

To him the kings their duteous tribute pay,

And at his feet confess their borrowed sway.

Yet higher towered the monarch’s ancient boast;

Of old one sovereign ruled the spacious coast.

A votive train, who brought the Koran’s lore,

What time great Perimal the sceptre bore;

From blessed Arabia’s groves to India came:

Life were their words, their eloquence a flame

Of holy zeal: fired by the powerful strain

The lofty monarch joins the faithful train,

And vows, at fair Medina’s shrine, to close

His life’s mild eve in prayer and sweet repose.

Gifts he prepares to deck the Prophet’s tomb,

The glowing labors of the Indian loom,

Orixa’s spices and Golconda’s gems:

Yet, ere the fleet the Arabian ocean stems,

His final care his potent regions claim,

Nor his the transport of a father’s name;

His servants now the regal purple wear,

And high enthroned the golden sceptres bear.

Proud Cochim one, and one fair Chalé sways,

The spicy isle another lord obeys:

Coulam and Cananoor’s luxurious fields,

And Cranganore to various lords he yields.

While these and others thus the monarch graced,

A noble youth his care unmindful passed:

Save Calicut, a city poor and small,

Though lordly now, no more remained to fall;

Grieved to behold such merit thus repaid,

The sapient youth the king of kings he made,

And honored with the name, great Samoreem,

The lordly titled boast of power supreme.

And now great Perimal resigns his reign,

The blissful bowers of Paradise to gain;

Before the gale his gaudy navy flies,

And India sinks forever from his eyes.

And soon to Calicut’s commodious port

The fleets, deep-edging with the wave, resort:

Wide o’er the shore extend the war-like piles,

And all the landscape round luxurious smiles,

And now her flag to every gale unfurled,

She towers the Empress of the eastern world:

Such are the blessings sapient kings bestow,

And from thy stream such gifts, O Commerce, flow.

From that sage youth, who first reigned king of kings,

He now who sways the tribes of India springs.

Various the tribes, all led by fables vain,

Their rites the dotage of the dreamful brain.

All, save where Nature whispers modest care,

Naked they blacken in the sultry air.

The haughty nobles and the vulgar race

Never must join the conjugal embrace;

Nor may the stripling, nor the blooming maid,

O lost to joy, by cruel rites betrayed!

To spouse of other than their father’s art,

At Love’s connubial shrine unite the heart:

Nor may their sons, the genius and the view

Confined and fettered, other art pursue.

Vile were the stain, and deep the foul disgrace,

Should other tribe touch one of noble race;

A thousand rites and washings o’er and o’er

Can scarce his tainted purity restore.

Poleas the laboring lower clans are named;

By the proud Nayres the noble rank is claimed:

The toils of culture and of art they scorn,

The warrior’s plumes their haughty brows adorn;

The shining falchion brandished in the right,

Their left arm wields the target in the fight;

Of danger scornful, ever armed they stand

Around the king, a stern barbarian band.

Whate’er in India holds the sacred name

Of piety or lore, the Brahmins claim:

In wildest rituals, vain and painful, lost,

Brahma their founder as a God they boast.

To crown their meal no meanest life expires,

Pulse, fruit, and herbs alone their board requires.