Al mar desierto en el profundo estrecho

Fernando de Herrera was a contemporary of Gongora’s, but usually thought to be more directly inspired by Italian poetic traditions than the other 16th century Spanish poets featured on this blog. I have to confess that this distinction is somewhat lost on me as I am quite unversed in the styles and content of the Italian poets.

Anyway, here is a sonnet on a nautical theme. It looks and sounds good to me.

Al mar desierto en el profundo estrecho
entre las duras rocas, con mi nave
desnuda tras el canto voy suäve,
que forçado me lleva a mi despecho.

Temerario deseo, incauto pecho,
a quien rendí de mi poder la llave,
al peligro m’ entregan fiero y grave;
sin que pueda apartarme del mal hecho.

Veo los uesos blanquear, y siento
el triste son de la engañada gente;
y crecer de las ondas el bramido.

Huir no puedo ya mi perdimiento;
que no me da lugar el mal presente,
ni osar me vale en el temor perdido.

From <;

Overtly, the sonnet is about a ship running on to the rocks and getting wrecked, with the poet putting himself at the centre of the action to describe how he is relentlessly dragged to his fate, unable to save himself or his comrades. However, there is a classical allusion, which might have been more obvious to contemporary readers than most readers of today. I certainly didn’t get it until the second reading. In the third line, we learn that the ship is following a song, and then subsequently that the ship cannot save itself and is doomed. This, then, is the story of the Sirens, from Homer’s Odyssey – there is an island where the irresistible singing of the spirits of the island lures ships onto the rocks and all perish. The song, then, is the song of the Sirens, and the poet is the ship’s captain who knows his fate, who sees the whitened bones along the shoreline, but is powerless to flee. The poem captures the moment when the captain and sailors know their fate, but can do nothing to change it, or escape.

The Poetry Dude


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