Like yesterday’s posting of the poem by Salvador Espriu, this sonnet by Garcilaso also seems to be a musing on death and its meaning. As far as I know, Garcilaso was not afflicted by age or illness, but, as a soldier, he knew that death was always possible. And, in fact, he was indeed killed in a military action in southern Italy. It was a commonplace in those days for people to want to be reminded of their mortality (hence the skull you can often see in elaborate portraits of the nobility), but in Garcilaso’s case, this was a common reality.
Garcilaso de la Vega
Por ásperos caminos he llegado
a parte que de miedo no me muevo;
y si a mudarme a dar un paso pruebo,
y allí por los cabellos soy tornado.
Mas tal estoy, que con la muerte al lado
busco de mi vivir consejo nuevo;
y conozco el mejor y el peor apruebo,
o por costumbre mala o por mi hado.
Por otra parte, el breve tiempo mío,
y el errado proceso de mis años,
en su primer principio y en su medio,
mi inclinación, con quien ya no porfío,
la cierta muerte, fin de tantos daños,
me hacen descuidar de mi remedio.
The sonnet is about the inevitability of death, or perhaps, to be more precise, the poet’s realisation of the inevitability of death. He has arrived at this point in his life travelling rough roads (the school of hard knocks) and now realises that death is inevitable. It is the voice of experience coming to terms with the human condition, an attitude which would be applauded by contemporary sensibilities, but which was particularly appropriate for Garcilaso personally, in his role as a military commander.
The poem is constructed very artfully – with series of alliterations in several places, and with the echoing of vowel sounds within lines. Like a fine wine, you can read and re-read it and appreciate the different tones and depths of the language and the structure.
Read it again and enjoy…
The Poetry Dude