Garcilaso was chronologically the first, I think, of Spain’s great poets pf the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, pre-dating Fray Luis de Leon, Quevedo and Gongora. He was a soldier poet, and died in battle in Italy. This sonnet, on the theme of enjoy life while you are young because age will inevitably come and wither youthful beauty and vigour, is a direct precursor of Gongora’s “Mientras por competir con tu cabello”, (see post here on October 2nd 2014), both in the subject matter, the rhythms and the images. Look at both poems and compare…
Garcilaso de la Vega
En tanto que de rosa y azucena
se muestra la color en vuestro gesto,
y que vuestro mirar ardiente, honesto,
enciende al corazón y lo refrena;
y en tanto que el cabello, que en la vena
del oro se escogió, con vuelo presto,
por el hermoso cuello blanco, enhiesto,
el viento mueve, esparce y desordena:
coged de vuestra alegre primavera
el dulce fruto, antes que el tiempo airado
cubra de nieve la hermosa cumbre;
marchitará la rosa el viento helado.
Todo lo mudará la edad ligera
por no hacer mudanza en su costumbre.
The first two stanzas paint the picture of a young lady in the prime of her youth with rose and lily colours in her cheeks, a way of looking which gladdens the heat, blonde hair blowing in the wind over a beautiful neck. This is very similar to the imagery in Gongora’s later sonnet and is a lead in to the final two stanzas in which the same conclusions are reached. The message is enjoy life while you are young before the ravages of age whither youthful beauty and vigour.
These themes are of course commonplace throughout poetry, and especially of this time. You can find them equally in Shakespeare, for example. But this is a fine example at all levels – language, imagery, rhythm and elegance.
To be enjoyed like a fine bottle of vintage wine.
The Poetry Dude