May Love Seek Out New Arts

A morte de Camões (Death of Camões), Domingos Sequeira, 1825


Busque Amor novas artes, novo engenho,
para matar-me, e novas esquivanças;
que não pode tirar-me as esperanças,
que mal me tirará o que eu não tenho.

Olhai de que esperanças me mantenho!
Vede que perigosas seguranças!
Que não temo contrastes nem mudanças,
andando em bravo mar, perdido o lenho.

Mas, conquanto não pode haver desgosto
onde esperança falta, lá me esconde
Amor um mal, que mata e não se vê.

Que dias há que n’alma me tem posto.
um não sei quê, que nasce não sei onde,
vem não sei como, e doi não sei porquê.

Luís Vaz de Camões




May Love seek out new arts, devise a plot
to kill me, and discover new disdain;
for robbing me of hope will be in vain,
since it can scarcely take what I’ve not got.

Behold the kind of hopes on which I stand!
And see how perilous my certainties!
For I fear neither change nor enmities,
ploughing the sea, lost far from any land.

And yet, although one cannot pay grief’s toll
where hope is gone, still Love has hidden there
for me an ill, that kills and can’t be seen;

how long ago did Love place in my soul
I don’t know what, born I don’t know where,
come I don’t know how, nor why it aches so keen.

Translation by Richard Zenith

A Poem Full of Spiritual Symbolism

Adoração dos Magos (Adoration of the Magi), Domingos Sequeira, 1828


Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats


The Magi is a poem about people who, upon reaching old age, or perhaps just older age, turn to God and the spiritual world for fulfillment and happiness. This poem is quite aptly named The Magi, as the term “magi” refers to the three wise men of biblical times. The three wise men were rich and powerful in their own right, yet they chose to honor the Baby Jesus. Likewise, these people are wealthy, learned and successful and are turning to God for solace. They are choosing to honor and revere him in the hopes of finding everlasting peace and happiness. After writing The Dolls, Yeats looked up into the blue sky and imagined that he could see “stiff figures in procession”. Perhaps after imagining these figures, Yeats debated within himself whom these pictures could represent. Yeats then went on to write The Magi, a poem which is full of symbolism, a literary technique that he greatly valued.

Perhaps Yeats wrote this poem out of frustration with his own life. Maybe he felt that he also was one of the “pale, unsatisfied ones”. He may have been struggling with the strains brought upon him by success. He may also have been going through a time of indecision in regards to his own spiritual life. Whatever the reason for his writing The Magi, Yeats wrote a poem rich in symbolism and imagery that many people could then, and can now, relate to on a very personal level.