MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO’S “PORTUGAL”-ONE TITLE, TWO POEMS
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Spain’s much-honored writer-philosopher, was an enthusiastic Lusophile, one who travelled widely in Portugal. His essays on Portuguese life and its literature comprise the first part of Por tierras de Portugal y de España, a collective volume published in 1911. In that same year, on the first of February, Unamuno published a poem entitled “Portugal” in the portuense journal, A Águia, edited at the time by the Portuguese poet-philosopher Teixeira de Pascoaes. This sonnet was itself preceded by an earlier poem, also entitled “Portugal,” written in 1907. While Unamuno considered the earlier poem finished enough to send off copies to friends, he did not publish it during his lifetime.
Besides a formal difference-the 1907 poem runs to fifteen lines, the 1911 poem to fourteen-the poems exhibit a major shift in theme and message. The earlier poem ends with a reference to dirges sung to a glorious but lost past, while the later one concludes with a telling reference to King Sebastian and, implicitly, to sebastianismo. Drawing on the metaphorical import of the late-sixteenth-century popular belief that Portugal’s young king, lost in Africa, was destined to return triumphantly to redeem his people, the second poem turns from the plainly elegiac import of the first poem regarding the same historical episode. This change in the second of these two poems entitled “Portugal”-a thematic and tonal shift-may well the influence on the poem due to Unamuno’s acquaintance with Teixeira de Pascoaes. It is plausible to think that it nods in the direction of the prophet’s gospel of saudosismo, the salvific spiritual characteristic of the Portuguese, as a basis, ultimately, for believing in the possibility of a nova renascença for Portugal.
The texts of Unamuno’s poems, designated here as “Portugal ” and “Portugal ,” are drawn from Obras Completas, VI: Poesia (Madrid: Escelicer, 1969), pp. 821 and 362-63, respectively. The translations are mine.
Portugal, Portugal, tierra descalza,
acurrucada junto al mar, tu madre,
de trágicos amores,
mientras tus pies desnudos las espumas
tu verde cabellera suelta al viento
-cabellera de pinos rumorosos-
los codos descansando en las rodillas,
y la cara morena entre ambas palmas,
clavas tus ojos donde el sol se acuesta
solo en la mar inmensa,
y en el lento naufragio así meditas
de tus glorias de Oriente,
cantando fados quejumbrosa y lenta.
Porto, 26 de junho, 1907.
Portugal, Portugal, barefoot land,
huddled by the sea, your mother,
weeping bitter-sweet longings
of tragic love,
while the salt foam
bathes your naked feet,
your green hair free in the wind
-the hair of murmuring pines-
your elbows resting on your knees,
your dark face in the palms of your hands,
you fix your eyes on the sun
leaning alone on the immense sea,
and on this slow foundering you ponder
the glories of the Orient,
singing fados, slowly, dirge like.
Del atlántico mar en las orillas
desgreñada y descalza una matrona
se sienta al pie de sierra que corona
triste pinar. Apoya en las rodillas
los codos y en las manos las mejillas
y clava ansiosos ojos de leona
en la puesta del sol; el mar entona
su trágico cantar de maravillas.
Dice de luengas tierras y de azares
mientras ella sus pies en las espumas
bañando sueña en el fatal imperio
que se le hundió en los tenebrosos mares,
y mira cómo entre agoreras brumas
se alza Don Sebastián rey del misterio.
Salamanca, 28 de setiembre, 1910.
On Atlantic shores, at the foot
of a mountain crowned by sorrowing
pines, sits a matron,
disheveled and barefoot.
Elbows on her knees and hands
to her face, she fixes a lioness’
anxious eye on the setting sun.
The sea moans in awe and tragedy.
She dreams, feet washing in the sea-
foam that tells of distant lands,
of the mishaps of a doomed empire
that sank into the depths, and of
the auguring mists from which will rise
King Sebastian, the keeper of mystery.
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil– Sao Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot.