Ya formidable y espantoso suena

Just as the rich noblemen of the baroque period acknowledged death and mortality with a skull portrayed amidst the trappings of luxury, so poets were also not afraid to deal with the inevitability of death. Quevedo has several poems on this theme. Here the title equates death to a wonderful and fearsome dream, and the poem goes on to expand on this image. Some people find it useful to meditate on their own death regularly, as it focusses our mind on leaving a positive legacy – what better way to stimulate these thoughts than through a poem such as this.

 
Ya formidable y espantoso suena
Francisco de Quevedo

Ya formidable y espantoso suena
dentro del corazón el postrer día,
y la última hora, negra y fría,
se acerca, de temor y sombras llena.

Si agradable descanso, paz serena,
la muerte en traje de dolor envía,
señas da su desdén de cortesía:
más tiene de caricia que de pena.

¿Qué pretende el temor desacordado
de la que a rescatar, piadosa, viene
espíritu en miserias añudado?

Llegué rogada, pues mi bien previene;
hallame agradecido, no asustado;
mi vida acabe y mi vivir ordene.

From <http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/poesia/esp/quevedo/yaformi.htm&gt;

The opening stanza echoes the title, and then describes someone’s last day or last hour, cold and black, full of fear and darkness. This is the death scene of a horror movie, or an Edgar Allan Poe story, where death is to be feared rather than death as a peaceful transition to a better place, accompanied by the consolations of religion. Fray Luis de Leon or San Juan de la Cruz would surely not have written poems about dying in this way.

But then in the second stanza Quevedo changes tack and we see death as bringing peace and rest, being more like a caress than pain. So the poet has created an opposition of ideas in the first two stanzas, bringing a certain suspense, which the reader hopes to see resolved in the final six lines of this sonnet.

And indeed we find the second option wins out. Lines 9 to 11 pose the rhetorical question of what use is fear of the spirit which is in fact coming to rescue the soul in misery. In fact there is nothing to fear in death, which is the conclusion of the final three lines. The dying poet is now grateful not frightened, his life is coming to an end in an orderly fashion.

Quevedo did write some poems of death which were darker and more pessimistic than this, most likely when he was really dying. We will come to one or more of these in later posts.

The Poetry Dude

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