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The Captive of Belém

Santa Maria de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal, was famed as the place from which many of the great Portuguese explorers sailed. This is the place from which Vasco da Gama set sail for India in 1497. It was from here that Miguel Corte-Real set sail and explored Greenland in 1499. In 1500, Gaspar Corte-Real set off again with his brother Miguel. The two split their ships, and Gaspar’s small fleet vanished (carvings on the Dighton Rock in Massachusetts suggest that Miguel Corte-Real might have reached New England). In May 1502, Miguel set out on an expedition to find his brother, and he, too, disappeared. The last surviving brother, Vasco Corte-Real, desperately wanted to lead a fleet in search of his brothers, but D. Manuel I, King of Portugal would not allow it. The last brother was crest fallen, and his spirit remains on the riverbanks in Belém to this day, as immortalized by Fernando Pessoa:

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One of their ships was lost

In the undefined sea.

 

In the faith and the law

Of discovery, he went in search

Of his brother in the endless sea and dark mist

 

 

Time passed neither first nor second

Returned from the profound end

For the unknown sea to the nation for which they gave the

Enigma that they had become.

 

And the third begged the kind

Permission to find them, and the king declined.

 

As a captive, they hear him pass

The manor servants.

And when they see him,                                                                                                                             

They see the figure of fever and bitterness

With eyes fixed, red with anxiety

Staring at the printed blue distance.

We want to go find them, from this our vile prison

It is the search for who we are, in the distance

From us, with anxious fever.

We raise our hands to God,

But God does not give us license to set off.

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