¿Miras este Gigante corpulento

Here is a sonnet from Quevedo which takes up the theme that appearances are deceptive, that we should not draw conclusions from the outside appearance of someone, necessarily superficial. The truth is often different. It is a kind of morality tale, in this way. You could interpret it as a satire of the powerful, the elite, who seem like giants with their power, influence and dominance, but in fact it is all illusion. Like the Wizard of Oz, perhaps.


¿Miras este Gigante corpulento
Que con soberbia y gravedad camina?
Pues por de dentro es trapos y fajina,
Y un ganapán le sirve de cimiento.

Con su alma vive y tiene movimiento,
Y adonde quiere su grandeza inclina,
Mas quien su aspecto rígido examina
Desprecia su figura y ornamento.

Tales son las grandezas aparentes
De la vana ilusión de los Tiranos,
Fantásticas escorias eminentes.

¿Veslos arder en púrpura, y sus manos
En diamantes y piedras diferentes?
Pues asco dentro son, tierra y gusanos.

Francisco de Quevedo

In both the first and second four -line stanzas there is a symmetry whereby the first two lines depict the outward, impressive appearance, and the second two lines contrast the inner, hollow truth, that underneath the proud and imposing exterior there is an inner decay and emptiness. Many public figures are like this, because they have to be constantly creating and recreating an impression of omniscience, power and invulnerability as a façade against challenge and subversions. This would have been just as true in the time of Philip 4th, when Quevedo was alive, as it is today with  almost any political leader.

In fact, Quevedo explicitly links this concept with tyrants in the first of the three-line stanzas – their apparent power is but vain illusion. And then the final three lines compare their outward pomp, dressed in purple, with diamonds and precious stones on their fingers, with their inner decay.

Maybe this is the equivalent of that confidence-boosting advice often given to young and inexperienced employees, that they should imagine their bosses naked.


The Poetry Dude


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