Virtud, hija del cielo,

Although a religious poet and priest, with themes of faith in much of his poetry, Fray Luis de Leon also had patrons and benefactors from the wealthy nobility to whom he would occasionally pay tribute in verse, presumably in order to keep them happy and keep the funds flowing. Such a benefactor seems to have been don Pedro Portocarrero, to whom this poem is dedicated, and who is portrayed here as a paragon of all the virtues.

Fray Luis de León

ODA II – A DON PEDRO PORTOCARRERO
Virtud, hija del cielo,
la más ilustre empresa de la vida,
en el escuro suelo
luz tarde conocida,
senda que guía al bien, poco seguida;

tú dende la hoguera
al cielo levantaste al fuerte Alcides,
tú en la más alta esfera
con las estrellas mides
al Cid, clara victoria de mil lides.

Por ti el paso desvía
de la profunda noche, y resplandece
muy más que el claro día
de Leda el parto, y crece
el Córdoba a las nubes, y florece;

y por su senda agora
traspasa luengo espacio con ligero
pie y ala voladora
el gran Portocarrero,
osado de ocupar el bien primero.

Del vulgo se descuesta,
hollando sobre el oro; firme aspira
a lo alto de la cuesta;
ni violencia de ira,
ni blando y dulce engaño le retira.

Ni mueve más ligera,
ni más igual divide por derecha
el aire, y fiel carrera,
o la traciana flecha
o la bola tudesca un fuego hecha.

En pueblo inculto y duro
induce poderoso igual costumbre
y, do se muestra esc
el cielo, enciende lumbre,
valiente a ilustrar más alta cumbre.

Dichosos los que baña
el Miño, los que el mar monstruoso cierra,
dende la fiel montaña
hasta el fin de la tierra,
los que desprecia de Eume la alta sierra.

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/fray-luis-de-leon-oda-ii—a-don-pedro-portocarrero.htm&gt;

 
The first three stanzas are addressed to the quality of virtue, an unusual and prized quality, and give several examples of its beneficial effects. I note particularly the fifth line of the first stanza, “senda que guía al bien, poco seguida;’, which is a clear echo of the reference to “la escondida senda” from Fray Luis’s most famous ode, La Vida Retirada, posted here on September 28th, 2014. It is also interesting to see that the classical mythological references to Hercules (Alciades) and Leda are coupled with uniquely Spanish references to El Cid and the rise of the city of Cordoba.

The next four stanzas praise the great Portocarrero for having followed this rare and difficult path of virtue. He is described as daring to follow this middle way of virtue, unmoved by either anger, violence or deceit.

Finally the poem praises the good example such virtuous leadership has on ordinary people, who tend to follow the role models of their leaders; and then draws attention to how lucky are the people who live under Portocarrero’s leadership – this seems to be in Galicia in Northwest Spain, where the river Mino and Finisterre (el fin de la tierra) are located.

Apart from the subject matter, elegantly and poetically expressed in a very high quality example of this genre, this poem works exceptionally well when read aloud – it has a delightful sonority and rhythm. Try it.

The Poetry Dude

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s