Today we have a sonnet by Gongora, likely written in the late 1500s, and it is striking the use of allusion rather than direct description and the resulting ambiguity lends it an air of mystery or ambivalence. The title both describes and interprets the body of the poem, ” On a sick traveller who fell in love in the place where he was given shelter”. But who is the sick traveller and with whom he falls in love remains unstated.
De un caminante enfermo que se enamoró donde fue hospedado (1594)
Descaminado, enfermo, peregrino,
en tenebrosa noche, con pie incierto,
la confusión pisando del desierto,
voces en vano dio, pasos sin tino.
Repetido latir, si no vecino,
distinto oyó de can siempre despierto,
y en pastoral albergue mal cubierto
piedad halló, si no halló camino.
Salió el Sol y, entre armiños escondida,
soñolienda beldad con dulce saña
salteó al no bien sano pasajero.
Pagará el hospedaje con la vida;
más le valiera errar en la montaña
que morir de la suerte que yo muero.
The first stanza of the sonnet sets an atmospheric scene, with the barefoot, sick pilgrim wandering outside on a dark night, calling out for help. There is an economy of description which allows each reader to visualise the scene In his or her own way and imagine the desolate plight of the poor pilgrim, or traveller.
The second stanza adds to the atmospherics, by introducing the sound of a dog barking in the distance which guides the pilgrim to a lonely country inn, where he could find help.
The third stanza is where love makes its appearance. Day breaks, the sun appears and a smiling beauty begins to take care of the sick pilgrim.
The consequence, or all the consequences, are summed up in the final three line stanza – because he has fallen in love, the pilgrim pays for his lodging with his life, now beholden to the newly found loved one. The mystery deeepens in the final two lines, where the poet says it was better for the traveller to have remained wandering lost in the mountains than to die like the poet. So is this a poem describing a direct experience of the poet Gongora, either falling in love literally or perhaps a religious awakening? The reader must decide, and that is part of the beauty of this mysterious sonnet.
The Poetry Dude