Here is a pleasing poem – one of my favourite mid-19th century French poets, Nerval, writing about one of my favourite countries – Spain. I don’t know any facts about occasions when Nerval might have visited Spain, but the visit must have certainly captivated him. At that time Spain was less economically and socially developed than its neighbours and so was approached with some trepidation by travellers. But here, Nerval plays up that country’s fascinations, its landscapes and walled cities and its exotic history.
Mon doux pays des Espagnes
Qui voudrait fuir ton beau ciel,
Tes cités et tes montagnes,
Et ton printemps éternel ?
Ton air pur qui nous enivre,
Tes jours, moins beaux que tes nuits,
Tes champs, où Dieu voudrait vivre
S’il quittait son paradis.
Autrefois ta souveraine,
L’Arabie, en te fuyant,
Laissa sur ton front de reine
Sa couronne d’Orient !
Un écho redit encore
À ton rivage enchanté
L’antique refrain du Maure :
Gloire, amour et liberté !
Gérard de Nerval.
It is interesting that the title of the poem is just Spain, in the singular, but the first line refers to the country in the plural. I have never seen this usage elsewhere, it reminds me of the French custom of referring to India in the plural (Les Indes). I suppose it is for similar reasons, to reflect the diversity of geographical features, cultures and civilzations which go to make up these countries.
The first stanza establishes the poet’s rapture from his experience of Spain, described as the country of beautiful skies, cities, mountains and eternal spring (Nerval was obviously not in Castille or Andalusia in July or August…). The second stanza goes further saying that Spain would be God’s residence if he left paradise, because of Spain’s pure air, her fields, and her days. He draws attention to Spain’s renowned night life, saying the days are less beautiful than the nights. I can imagine Nerval spending all night in some bar or bodega with music and dancers, enjoying the local tipple.
The final two stanzas remind us of the time in Spain’s history when much of the country, particularly the south and west were part of the Muslim world, having been conquered as part of the Islamic expansion in the eighth century. This lasted almost 800 years, until the Moors were finally defeated and expelled from Granada in 1492. But this is clearly a period which lives on in Nerval’s image and experience of Spain, and he imagines the Moorish cry of glory, love and freedom echoing out from the buildings and landscapes of Spain.
I think this poem could still be used on the tourist brochures for Spain.
The Poetry Dude