Here is a gloomy, even somewhat apocalyptic sonnet from Gongora, recounting strange and disturbing visions of the world at the time of the great flood linked to the legend of Noah’s Ark. And the payoff line is that, however weird and scary are the poet’s visions of the world, they are much less fearful than his own internal cares. A great reminder that we all carry our own outlook with us, which might be positive and optimistic or timorous and pessimistic.
The poem is addressed to one Celalba, the device being to let the reader know that here the poet is revealing his inner feelings to a lover, someone very close to him. The reader is thus eavesdropping on the poet’s true state of mind.
Cosas, Celalba mía, he visto extrañas:
cascarse nubes, desbocarse vientos,
altas torres besar sus fundamentos,
y vomitar la tierra sus entrañas;
duras puentes romper, cual tiernas cañas,
arroyos prodigiosos, ríos violentos,
mal vadeados de los pensamientos,
y enfrenados peor de las montañas;
los días de Noé, gentes subidas
en los más altos pinos levantados,
en las robustas hayas más crecidas.
Pastores, perros, chozas y ganados
sobre las aguas vi, sin forma y vidas,
y nada temí más que mis cuidados.
In the first line, the poet grabs Celalba’s attention, and the reader’s, with the line “I have seen strange things”. There follows a sequence of what we might call today extreme weather events – clouds bursting, winds whipping up, tall buildings brought down and volcanoes erupting. The sequence continues in the next four lines – solid bridges braking as if they were frail white hairs, prodigious and unstoppable streams and rivers.
Then in the ninth line, we get a reference to Noah and realise that this is the poet’s vision of the great storm that preceded the Ark. But the focus here is not on Noah rescuing the animals, two by two, but on the devastation caused by the storm and the rising waters. The poet sees people lifted up to the top of tall pine trees and great hedges. He sees shepherds with their dogs and their flocks floating in the water, probably drowned. It is a scene of destruction and hopelessness. But then in the last line comes the kicker – none of this was as fear-inducing to Gongora than his own cares.
Yet another wonderfully economical and evocative sonnet from one of the great masters of the form.
The Poetry Dude