Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Voyage of Vasco de Gama

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI. 1876–79.

Miscellaneous: The Ocean

The Voyage of Vasco de Gama

By Luís de Camões (c. 1524–1580)

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

FROM Leo now, the lordly star of day,

Intensely blazing, shot his fiercest ray;

When, slowly gliding from our wishful eyes,

The Lusian mountains mingled with the skies;

Tago’s loved stream, and Cintra’s mountains cold

Dim fading now, we now no more behold;

And, still with yearning hearts our eyes explore,

Till one dim speck of land appears no more.

Our native soil now far behind, we ply

The lonely, dreary waste of seas, and boundless sky.

Through the wild deep our venturous navy bore,

Where but our Henry ploughed the wave before;

The verdant islands, first by him descried,

We passed; and, now in prospect opening wide,

Far to the left, increasing on the view,

Rose Mauritania’s hills of paly blue:

Far to the right the restless ocean roared,

Whose bounding surges never keel explored:

If bounding shore (as reason deems) divide

The vast Atlantic from the Indian tide.

Named from her woods, with fragrant bowers adorned,

From fair Madeira’s purple coast we turned:

Cyprus and Paphos’ vales the smiling loves

Might leave with joy for fair Madeira’s groves;

A shore so flowery, and so sweet an air,

Venus might build her dearest temple there.

Onward we pass Massilia’s barren strand,

A waste of withered grass and burning sand;

Where his thin herds the meagre native leads,

Where not a rivulet laves the doleful meads;

Nor herds nor fruitage deck the woodland maze;

O’er the wild waste the stupid ostrich strays,

In devious search to pick her scanty meal,

Whose fierce digestion gnaws the tempered steel.

From the green verge, where Tigitania ends,

To Ethiopia’s line the dreary wild extends.

Now, past the limit which his course divides,

When to the north the sun’s bright chariot rides,

We leave the winding bays and swarthy shores,

Where Senegal’s black wave impetuous roars;

A flood, whose course a thousand tribes surveys,

The tribes who blackened in the fiery blaze

When Phaeton, devious from the solar height,

Gave Afric’s sons the sable hue of night.

And now, from far the Libyan cape is seen,

Now by my mandate named the Cape of Green;

Where, midst the billows of the ocean, smiles

A flowery sister-train, the Happy Isles,

Our onward prows the murmuring surges lave;

And now, our vessels plough the gentle wave,

Where the blue islands, named of Hesper old,

Their fruitful bosoms to the deep unfold.

Here, changeful Nature shows her various face,

And frolics o’er the slopes with wildest grace:

Here, our bold fleet their ponderous anchors threw,

The sickly cherish, and our stores renew.

From him, the warlike guardian power of Spain,

Whose spear’s dread lightning o’er the embattled plain

Has oft o’erwhelmed the Moors in dire dismay,

And fixed the fortune of the doubtful day;

From him we name our station of repair,

And Jago’s name that isle shall ever bear.

The northern winds now curled the blackening main,

Our sails unfurled, we plough the tide again:

Round Afric’s coast our winding course we steer,

Where, bending to the east, the shores appear.

Here, Jalofo its wide extent displays,

And vast Mandinga shows its numerous bays;

Whose mountains’ sides, though parched and barren, hold,

In copious store, the seeds of beamy gold.

The Gambia here his serpent-journey takes,

And through the lawns a thousand windings makes;

A thousand swarthy tribes his current laves

Ere mix his waters with the Atlantic waves.

The Gorgades we passed, that hated shore,

Famed for its terrors by the bards of yore;

Where but one eye by Phorcus’ daughters shared,

The ’lorn beholders into marble stared;

Three dreadful sisters! down whose temples rolled

Their hair of snakes in many a hissing fold,

And, scattering horror o’er the dreary strand,

With swarms of vipers sowed the burning sand.

Still to the south our pointed keels we guide,

And through the austral gulf still onward ride:

Her palmy forests mingling with the skies,

Leona’s rugged steep behind us flies;

The Cape of Palms that jutting land we name,

Already conscious of our nation’s fame.

Where the vexed wave’s against our bulwarks roar,

And Lusian towers o’erlook the bending shore:

Our sails wide swelling to the constant blast,

Now by the isle from Thomas named we passed;

And Congo’s spacious realm before us rose,

Where copious Layra’s limpid billow flows;

A flood by ancient hero never seen,

Where many a temple o’er the banks of green,

Reared by the Lusian heroes, through the night

Of pagan darkness, pours the mental light.

O’er the wild waves, as southward thus we stray,

Our port unknown, unknown the watery way,

Each night we see, impressed with solemn awe,

Our guiding stars, and native skies withdraw,

In the wide void we lose their cheering beams,

Lower and lower still the pole-star gleams.

Till past the limit, where the car of day

Rolled o’er our heads, and poured the downward ray:

We now disprove the faith of ancient lore;

Boötes’ shining car appears no more.

For here we saw Calisto’s star retire

Beneath the waves, unawed by Juno’s ire.

Here, while the sun his polar journeys takes,

His visit doubled, double season makes;

Stern winter twice deforms the changeful year,

And twice the spring’s gay flowers their honors rear.

Now, pressing onward, past the burning zone,

Beneath another heaven and stars unknown,

Unknown to heroes and to sages old,

With southward prows our pathless course we hold:

Here, gloomy night assumes a darker reign,

And fewer stars emblaze the heavenly plain;

Fewer than those that gild the northern pole,

And o’er our seas their glittering chariots roll;

While nightly thus, the lonely seas we brave,

Another pole-star rises o’er the wave:

Full to the south a shining cross appears,

Our heaving breasts the blissful omen cheers:

Seven radiant stars compose the hallowed sign

That rose still higher o’er the wavy brine.

Beneath this southern axle of the world

Never, with daring search, was flag unfurled;

Nor pilot knows if bounding shores are placed,

Or, if one dreary sea o’erflow the lonely waste.

While thus our keels still onward boldly strayed,

Now tossed by tempests, now by calms delayed,

To tell the terrors of the deep untried,

What toils we suffered, and what storms defied;

What rattling deluges the black clouds poured,

What dreary weeks of solid darkness lowered;

What mountain-surges mountain-surges lashed,

What sudden hurricanes the canvas dashed;

What bursting lightnings, with incessant flare,

Kindled, in one wide flame, the burning air;

What roaring thunders bellowed o’er our head,

And seemed to shake the reeling ocean’s bed:

To tell each horror on the deep revealed,

Would ask an iron throat with tenfold vigor steeled:

Those dreadful wonders of the deep I saw,

Which filled the sailor’s breast with sacred awe;

And which the sages, of their learning vain,

Esteem the phantoms of the dreamful brain:

That living fire, by seamen held divine,

Of Heaven’s own care in storms the holy sign,

Which, midst the horrors of the tempest plays,

And on the blast’s dark wings will gayly blaze;

These eyes distinct have seen that living fire

Glide through the storm, and round my sails aspire.

And oft, while wonder thrilled my breast, mine eyes

To heaven have seen the watery columns rise.

Slender, at first, the subtle fume appears,

And writhing round and round its volume rears;

Thick as a mast the vapor swells its size,

A curling whirlwind lifts it to the skies;

The tube now straightens, now in width extends,

And, in a hovering cloud, its summit ends:

Still, gulp on gulp, in sucks the rising tide,

And now the cloud, with cumbrous weight supplied,

Full-gorged, and blackening, spreads and moves more slow,

And, waving, trembles to the waves below.


And now, their ensigns blazing o’er the tide,

On India’s shore the Lusian heroes ride.

High to the fleecy clouds resplendent far

Appear the regal towers of Malabar,

Imperial Calicut, the lordly seat

Of the first monarch of the Indian state.

Right to the port the valiant Gama bends,

With joyful shouts, a fleet of boats attends:

Joyful, their nets they leave, and finny prey,

And, crowding round the Lusians, point the way.