Aqui la envidia y mentira

Apparently, Fray Luis de Leon was not always on good terms with the religious hierarchy – perhaps he was insufficiently focussed on rooting out heretics instead of elevating his own soul. Anyway, he must have spent some time in prison, on the evidence of this short poem, written on his release from a prison cell.


Aquí la envidia y mentira
me tuvieron encerrado.
Dichoso el humilde estado
del sabio que se retira
de aqueste mundo malvado,

y con pobre mesa y casa
en el campo deleitoso
con sólo Dios se compasa
y a solas su vida pasa
ni envidiado ni envidioso.

From <;

In the first two lines he puts the blame for his incarceration on the envy and lies of others – an entirely plausible supposition at the time of denunciations to the Spanish Inquisition. But he goes on in the rest of the poem to take comfort from the advantages of prison, which are rather similar to those enjoyed by a hermit in a rough cave. These are – withdrawal from the cares of the world, rough living conditions, communion with God, and the state of being neither envied nor enviable.

As a man of religious faith, Fray Luis probably found it easier than most of us to be stoical about these unhappy circumstances. But what is just as admirable in my view is the economy of expression and the precision of language he uses in this poem to convey his experience. This is one of his shortest poems, among those I have read, but it has just as much impact as many of his longer pieces.

The Poetry Dude


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