Thursday, 16 July 2015

Garcilaso, revisited

and fickle time will alter everything,
if only to be constant in its habit.

— Garcilaso de la Vega, excerpt from “Sonnet XXIII,”

More or less, with this tiny "painting" I tried to represent what I imagine while reading the last poem of this post

***Listening to Una Mattina by Ludovico Einaudi***


I think Renaissance men were really cool. These days we tend to focus on one specific thing and specialize in it. To me, personally, this can be a problem: I am an indecisive person and I like to try everything. I find it very hard to choose one or two things to devote yourself for the rest of your life. Today I'm into letters (and thankfully I consider history and art history to be close to that), but I've always also been curious about biology and the situation on the outer space, it's hard to consider it plenty of it with just reading about it. I'd like to try to investigate those things too, why must I choose something without trying it all?
That's why Renaissance men are awesome. They didn't just conform with one specialty, they were good at many, different, things.

If there's some aspect I have to highlight from my country, that is literature, especially poems, especially old. They are so different and describe such different things that I can't help it but feel compelled by the unknown.

Warning! If you're not too fond of literature or history, which means, a lot of text, refrain from this. We'll be going through history, an artistic movement, and... poems! <3.

Maybe you're not familiar with Spanish literature, then this is going to be new to you!, and if you are already familiar with it but didn't particularly enjoy it or understand it, I try to break it down in a simple way here to deliver it more easily.

My favourite periods of Spanish literature have to be Renaissance and Romanticism. Old times that evoke ideals as well as beauty and things I've never seen or could imagine if it weren't for history sound fantastic. And I love fantasy. I like other periods too, but it's not the period so much but a particular poet, like Federico García Lorca or Juan Ramón Jiménez.

1. Presentation 

Let's travel back to the time when men used to ride horses to battle and made loyalty oaths to their lords. When men used to kill each other for a bit of land (huh wait, are you sure we're going back??) and social classes were everything. To the time when maps were expanded based on recent expeditions or hypothesis, portraits were painted and women were burnt alive for witchcraft.

The Golden Age (XVI and XVII centuries) was the period of biggest splendor of the Spanish Empire, under the dinasty of the Austriacs. It comprises the realm of Carlos I, Felipe II, Felipe III, Felipe IV and Charles II (a king famous for his fragility). With Carlos I Spain was a superpower, but still does not beat France nor England when it comes to the sea.

Around this time Columbus is meant to "discover" America (1492), the Canary Islands are conquered (1493) and William Shakespeare lived. 

In this context we find Garcilaso, who is a knight of the Order of Santiago (like Manrique and Quevedo), friend of Carlos I, and also a man of many arts.

2. Introduction to the period: the sixteenth century 

The sixteenth century is the maximum splendor of the Spanish Empire, world power of the time, which owns all of Europe except France and England, in addition to the American colonies, newly discovered. The Spanish Renaissance went through two stages:
  • Pre-renaissance (XV century): trends and humanistic knowledge of Greco-Roman antiquity are developed but not a total restoration occurs. 
  • Full Renaissance: with two very distinct periods: the early Renaissance corresponds to the reign of Carlos I, 1517-1555. It is characterized by the influence of Greek and Latin and Italian literature and has a pagan character. The political successes and the new approach of life cause more optimism in all art forms. The main theme is love and mythology (YAY!). In this stage of military wars belongs Garcilaso de la Vega. The Second Renaissance, corresponds to the reign of Felipe II, 1555-1598. When, as a reaction against the Protestant Reformation in Spain, he reacts defending Catholic orthodoxy in the arts and letters; a movement called Counter-Reformation that makes ascetic, religious and mystical themes become the trend, so, religion replaces the courtier as human ideal. At this stage of cultural war belong Fray Luis de León and San Juan de a Cruz. 

 3. Introduction to current: The Renaissance (XVI-XVII) 

Ideologically opposed to medieval theocentrism, Renaissance bets for an anthropocentric worldview and culture. The philosophy of humanism, places man at the center of intellectual reflection and artistic expression and, without losing sight of his destination to Heaven, encourages him to enjoy earthly pleasures offered by the Creation, as if being a divine work, life becomes a time to enjoy the beauty in all its forms. The artist is devoted to life and seeks fame and recognition through his art. Humanism also promotes the study of Greek and Latin classical languages, making the work of the great philosophers and writers of antiquity as well as its vision of the world well-known. The Renaissance originated in Italy in the fourteenth century, and spread to Europe through works of Francesco Petrarca, which will influence the work of Garcilaso de la Vega. So in short, artistically speaking, it was the time of the Dolce Stil Novo in Spain (in Italy it took off two centuries before).

4. The lyric of the Renaissance 

Medieval eight-syllable and alexandrine verses are replaced by the combined hendecasyllable with heptasyllable. The rhyme keeps always its consonance, resulting sonnets, lyres, octaves, stanzas, silvas and triplets chains. Thematically, the early Renaissance bears more of a profane character. It revolves around a new conception of love taken from Petrarca and his style creation, Dolce Stil Novo. Petrarca, on his behalf, takes the ideas Plato explains in his dialogue The Banquet. For Plato, love is a desire for beauty. The man begins to desire for it in beautiful bodies, but then discovers inner or spiritual beauty, that leads to a desire for Absolute Beauty and ultimately to God, the author of that beauty. Renaissance poets devote their platonic love to a lady who stands out for her intellectual and spiritual qualities, the donna angelicata (Petrarchism), who the poet does not possess physically. The suffering that this causes spiritualizes and ennobles the man and takes him closer to God. The theme of platonic love, in the Renaissance, appears linked to mythology, extracted from the Metamorphosis of Latin poet Ovidius (great book by the way). 
Another important issue is beauty, manifested in nature. Feminine beauty is described with the descriptio puellae: a woman with long blond hair and blue eyes, white skin and neck and hands stylized and elegant. The beauty of the landscape, locus amoenus, is also described following the model of the Latin poets Virgil and Horace: a place that offers eternal beauty for the five senses, in eternal spring. To highlight the beauty, Renaissance descriptions are always idealized. The enjoyment of beauty, life and love is expressed on the issues of Carpe Diem and Collige Virgo Rosas (maiden grab roses of love). The Renaissance style is characterized by its harmony, natural simplicity and beauty. 

“As the nightingale with a mournful song
complains, hidden among the leaves, lamenting
the merciless farmer, who with heartless stealth
robbed the nest of all her tender fledglings
while she was absent from the well-loved branch,
and the pain of the nightingale 
fills her throat, turns to melody
utterly altered and changed,
and the night remains silent and does not restrain
her devoted lamentations and complaints,
and brings heaven and the stars
to bear witness to her terrible grief:
in this same manner I now give free reign
to my sorrow, and I lament in vain
the harsh ire, the pitiless wrath of Death,
who thrust a cruel hand deep into my heart
where she did find and steal my dearest love,
for there love had her nest and her abode.
O Death so full of fury!”

—  from “Eclogue I” by Garcilaso de la Vega, trans. from the Spanish by Edith Grossman. The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance (W.W. Norton & Co, 2006)

Found a picture where he doesn't look like an alien!

5. Life and work of Garcilaso de la Vega 

Garcilaso de la Vega lived between 1501 and 1536. Early fatherless, he grew up in court with the KIng Carlos I, in Toledo, which made him the perfect Renaissance courtier: skilled in battle and letters, cult and an artist. In 1525 he married Elena Zuñiga, with which he acquired social position and had children. After marriage he met a maiden from lady Isabel of Portugal entourage, future wife of Carlos I. This lady was Isabel Freyre, who would leave her stamp on eclogues and other compositions as his absolute muse. He travelled to Naples with the emperor and came into contact with Italian Renaissance lyric. Following Petrarca in his Canzionere, who had dedicated his poems to his donna angelicata, Laura, Garcilaso writes for Isabel Freyre, who married another man and died giving birth. 
Garcilaso was exiled by the king on a Danube island because he attended a prohibited wedding. After being pardoned, he died in combat raiding a fortress in Provence, Nice. As a punishment, the king ordered to kill all its inhabitants (you don't realize what you had until you lose it then you get pissed, huh?). Garcilaso alternated his warrior duties with his literary activity (the war, and letters, something typical of the Renaissance period). 
In 1526, visiting Barcelona, ​​he holds a conversation with the poet Juan Boscán who convinces him to write poetry, but the Italian way. From the formal point of view, the most characteristic of this poetry was the use of hendecasyllable (11 syllables), and the use of some verses, like the sonnet, the triplets and the silva. The most characteristic theme of this Italianate poetry is love. This arises from the contemplation of feminine beauty, a reflection of the spiritual beauty of the lady that impresses the soul of the beholder. It also treats mythological and nature themes

We can observe three stages in the work of Garcilaso: 

  • First stage: Castilian tradition compositions are characterized by the use of octosyllable and its conceptual and abstract language, allegories in which love is associated with war or hunting, The "love" feeling is connected with the troubadour lyric: the lover is the servant of a woman with the characteristics of a feudal lord. What is new is that the lady has become a cruel lady, who despises her lover mercilessly, so he becomes a martyr lover, who ends up committing  suicide (I remember that the first time I heard this 4 years ago I found it amusing, sorry). 
  • Second stage (transition): Garcilaso, after the conversation with Boscán and Navagiero, decided to adopt the new Italian metric which includes the excellence of the "Dolce Stil Novo": the sonnet (Curiosity! The Marqués de Santillana attempts to adapt the sonnet to Castilian in the fifteenth century but who achieved it was Garcilaso de la Vega in the sixteenth century, giving it the shape that is still cultivated in our days). The content, however, is still linked to the poetry inspired from Chansonniers.
  • Third stage: during his stay in Naples, Garcilaso deepens his knowledge of the authors of the " Dolce Stil Novo ", Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, and incorporates into his poetry the themes of platonic love, seen as a way of purification through worship of the donna angelicata; mythology, which focuses on those myths related to love and suffering, and nature, inspired by the Greek and Latin bucolic poets such as Horatius, Virgilius and Teocritus (Curiosity! bucholism has to do with pastoral themes in a more or less idealized landscape and has its origin in Teocritus of Siracusa). The Italianate poetic production of Garcilaso is brief: 3 eclogues, 5 songs, two elegies, 1 epistle (letter in verse, addressed to Juan Boscán) and 40 sonnets. He didn't publish any of his work while alive: his entire poetic production was kept with Juan Boscán and was published in 1542 (7 years after his death), along with his poems. 

Soneto V

Escrito está en mi alma vuestro gesto, 
y cuanto yo escribir de vos deseo;
vos sola lo escribisteis, yo lo leo 
tan solo, que aun de vos me guardo en esto.

En esto estoy y estaré siempre puesto; 
que aunque no cabe en mí cuanto en vos veo, 
de tanto bien lo que no entiendo creo, 
tomando ya la fe por presupuesto.

Yo no nací sino para quereros; 
mi alma os ha cortado a su medida; 
por hábito del alma mismo os quiero.

Cuando tengo confieso yo deberos; 
por vos nací, por vos tengo la vida, 
por vos he de morir, y por vos muero.

-Garcilaso de la Vega

All of Garcilaso's work is lyrical, because he focuses on the expression of feelings. In this case, the sonnet expresses the pain felt by the poet for the death of Isabel Freyre and melancholy, so the subgenre would be the elegy, the lamentation over the death of a loved one. 

Looking at a sonnet

Hermosas ninfas, que, en el río metidas,
contentas habitáis en las moradas
de relucientes piedras fabricadas
y en columnas de vidrio sostenidas;

agora estéis labrando embebecidas
o tejiendo las telas delicadas,
agora unas con otras apartadas
contándoos los amores y las vidas:

dejad un rato la labor, alzando
vuestras rubias cabezas a mirarme,
y no os detendréis mucho según ando,

que o no podréis de lástima escucharme,
o convertido en agua aquí llorando,
podréis allá despacio consolarme.

Beautiful nymphs who through the river pass,
living in contentment on your own
in your mansions built of shimmering stone
and upheld by columns made of glass:

now, one embroiders lovely trifles as
another weaves a cloth of delicate tone;
and now, a few of you go off alone,

each telling of the life and loves she has;

for a while, put your work aside

and lift your golden heads to look at me,

and I won't keep you long, I confide;

you'll be too sad to listen, or I'll be

changed to water crying at your side,

and then there will be time for sympathy. 

I like this poem because Greek mythology, duh.

In this sonnet the poet pleads the nymphs for attention and to listen to the story of his inconsolable misery while they are getting on with their usual occupations.
The predominant form of utterance is the description, which is subjectively expressed in a direct style and in first person,  showing the immense sadness of his soul.

First, he invokes the nymphs and describes their dwellings (first stanza) and activities (second quartet), then he asks them to listen and reveals the reason for his invocation (two last triplets).

In regards to the structure of the content, Renaissance sonnets have a symmetrical structure: it responds to a desire for harmony and balance at the same time. The quartets are usually descriptive. The triplets tend to enclose a meditation or contemplation, an advice or a philosophical reflection. Although the poem is rich in rhetoric figures it is not hard to understand. It has a simple vocabulary and overall gives a sense of balance, as is typical of the Renaissance 

In this poem, we find the Renaissance topics. Renaissance aesthetic ideals, integrated in the harmonic beauty of nature (locus amoenus). Regarding both mythological beings (beautiful nymphs who dwell happily...) and the idealized nature (shiny stones, glass columns who remind us of the Greek past). The theme of love is a central axis, which in this case reflects the inconsolable misery of the poet.

To conclude, Garcilaso truly embodies the values of the Renaissance man. He is a man of war (dies defending his king, even though he exiled him) and a poet (in contact with the Italian Renaissance literary movement). Regarding courtly love, he mourns the death of his muse (Isabel Freyre), as did Francesco Petrarca with Laura. Versatile cool guy right here!

Thank you Garcilaso for this trip!

And thank you for reading! Now you've got a master on Garcilaso de la Vega, show it around proudly ;)

See you,


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