Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poetic Justice

Magnet # 265:  Portuguese Flag

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Congratulations to the Portuguese, who are currently celebrating one of the biggest events in their calendar - Portugal Day.  This event does not honor the country's creation or independence, but rather the death of one of its greatest heroes - poet Luis de Camoes, who passed away on June 10 in 1580.  They would have probably held it on his birthday, but that date is unknown.  Camoes wrote Os Lusiadas, an epic poem that honored his country's history and accomplishments, and it's been embraced by his countrymen (and women) ever since.  Portugal Day may only be an official holiday in its country of origin, but it has spread across the world and is now held in nations such as Brazil, England, Canada, and the United States.

Oddly enough, one of the biggest Portugal Day celebrations isn't held anywhere near the nation - it's across the Atlantic Ocean, in Newark, New Jersey.  Ever since 1979, they have thrown a Portugal Day Festival on Ferry Street, one of the most important streets in the city's Ironbound section.  It's popular with both Portuguese-Americans and those of other descent.  The celebrations are usually spread out over an entire week, culminating in the street festival, which is held on the Saturday or Sunday closest to June 10.  Unfortunately, it looks as though the festival won't take place this year because of fighting between the organizers and City Hall.  And some residents claim the weeklong festival has become disruptive to their lives and has very little to do with Portuguese culture.  It's too bad they can't just cut back a bit and try to get back to the roots of the event - it seems like they're throwing out the baby with the bath water by doing away with the event entirely.  Regardless, Portugal Day events will still continue in other parts of the world.

Luis de Camoes was a pretty colorful character.  He was born to Simao Vaz de Camoes, who soon left his family to try to get rich in India, and ended up dying in Goa.  But his mother remarried and Camoes continued his education with the help of an uncle, studying at the University of Coimbra and having access to classical works that were usually denied other students.  But he fell in love and managed to insult the king of  Portugal and was exiled from Lisbon as a consequence.  Before long, Camoes began to crave adventure and journeyed with the militia to Ceuta in southern Spain.  There, he lost his right eye in a battle with the Moors.  When he finally returned home to Portugal, he was thrown in prison after he wounded a member of the Royal Stables.  Thanks to his mother's intervention, he was released, but he would have to join the militia once again.  This time, Camoes traveled to Goa, where his father had passed away.  He fought in battles both in India and other nations and was once again imprisoned - this time for debt.  But he continued to write, eventually beginning the work that was to make him a legend in Portugal - Os Lusiadas.  He was later in a shipwreck and legend has it that he swam with one hand while holding the manuscript above the water to save it, although he lost a lover in the accident.  He was able to return home and publish the epic work that would cement his reputation long after his death.  Camoes passed away in Lisbon in 1578 as the Spanish advanced on his beloved homeland, claiming that he was dying with his nation.  But when Portugal gained its independence in 1640, Camoes became one of its greatest heroes and the day he passed was immortalized.  I have to wonder, are there any other poets that are so beloved and important in their country as to have a national holiday established to celebrate their lives?  I certainly can't think of any.  Heck, even Shakespeare doesn't get a holiday in England and he's considered to the the greatest poet and playwright of all time.  One fact is certain - Camoes' has become a figure that is larger than life in his beloved Portugal, and his life will be celebrated there for many years to come.


  1. I am surprised to hear of a poet being made a hero in any country. I found this post very interesting.

  2. Thanks - it surprised me, too!