Mario, el ingrato amor, como testigo

Garcilaso, was a soldier-poet, commanding Spanish forces in Italy in the mid-1500s, and finally being killed in action there. This poem is dedicated to a friend, Mario, and is written after being wounded in the arm, although the sub-title opens the way to some doubt over whether this wound was real or a poetical device, when it says “according to some”. No matter, whether real or contrived, the idea drives the poem’s subject – the wound may cause the poet to write unworthy verse to his friend, but his poetic energy and talent will win the day.
And it is another sonnet, of course, number 35 of the collection posthumously assembled by Garcilaso’s friend and fellow poet Juan de Boscan.


Soneto Xxxv
Garcilaso de la Vega
A Mario, estando, segun algunos dicen, herido en la lengua y en el brazo

Mario, el ingrato amor, como testigo
de mi fe pura y de mi gran firmeza,
usando en mí su vil naturaleza,
que es hacer más ofensa al más amigo;

teniendo miedo que si escribo o digo
su condición, abato su grandeza;
no bastando su fuerza a mi crüeza
ha esforzado la mano a mi enemigo.

Y ansí, en la parte que la diestra mano
gobierna. y en aquella que declara
los conceptos del alma, fui herido.

Mas yo haré que aquesta ofensa cara
le cueste al ofensor, ya que estoy sano,
libre, desesperado y ofendido.
Garcilaso de la Vega

From <;

The first eight lines express the poet’s fear that he will write a verse to his friend Mario which is unworthy, and which will offend by not doing justice to his friend’s great virtues. In the next three lines, he gives the explanation, which is that he has been wounded in the hand, and it is the right hand which he uses to declare the nobility of the soul – so how will he be able to praise his friend with such a handicap. But in the final three lines, Garcilaso declares he will overcome this adversity and even make it cost his attacker dear, as he will emerge stronger, free, and energised by having been attacked. The response of a warrior indeed, and it is great that this energy is out into great poetry. I am also reminded, of course, of that other great writer, Cervantes, who also was wounded in the hand at the battle of Lepanto and went on to write one of the greatest literary creations ever, Don Quijote.

The Poetry Dude


Belle ” à damner les saints ” , à troubler sous l’aumusse

This is a funny portrait by Verlaine of “une grande dame” – how would we best portray that idea in English, since the concept is ironic, not literal? I’m not sure exactly, but perhaps the type of rich, entitled, woman of a certain age used to dominating all around her in a totally self-centred way, I’d better not give any real life examples. The poem skewers the looks, deportment and behaviour of the aging super-model, the patrician aristocrat, the fading trophy wife of a powerful politician… I hope Verlaine had someone real in mind when he wrote this, but we can all substitute our own candidates.

Une grande dame

Belle ” à damner les saints ” , à troubler sous l’aumusse
Un vieux juge ! Elle marche impérialement.
Elle parle – et ses dents font un miroitement –
Italien, avec un léger accent russe.

Ses yeux froids où l’émail sertit le bleu de Prusse
Ont l’éclat insolent et dur du diamant.
Pour la splendeur du sein, pour le rayonnement
De la peau, nulle reine ou courtisane, fût-ce

Cléopâtre la lynce ou la chatte Ninon,
N’égale sa beauté patricienne, non !
Vois, ô bon Buridan : ” C’est une grande dame ! ”

Il faut – pas de milieu ! – l’adorer à genoux,
Plat, n’ayant d’astre aux cieux que ses lourds cheveux roux
Ou bien lui cravacher la face, à cette femme !

Paul Verlaine

From <;

This woman could lead a saint to damnation, and make a judge tremble under his wig. She has an imperial presence and her accent is exotic, it could be italian or it could be Russian, a bit like the evil woman in most James Bond movies. Here eyes are cold, Prussian blue, and hard as diamonds (of which she undoubtedly must have a vast collection), her breasts and skin put Cleopatra in the shade. So what must we do? Either get down on our knees and worship her, taking her red hair for our north star, or spit in her face…

I’m sure this great woman would have plenty of people ready to do both. Thank you, Verlaine.

The Poetry Dude




O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem, 

For today’s poem we return to the master sonneteer, at least in the English language, as momentum builds up to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his passing. This sonnet, number 54, praises the craft of the poet in transforming transient beauty into a more permanent record of beauty, both in its subject matter and in itself. Shakespeare has covered all the angles, as you would expect from the greatest wordsmith in the English language.


O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.

The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:

But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

From <;

Brilliant. Beauty, the girl, the rose is self-evident and appreciated by the eye and in the moment. But it is the poet conveying the “sweet ornament of truth”, perpetuating the “sweet odour” which gives true beauty its everlasting impact. This is implicit throughout the sonnet, but becomes explicit, in case we had missed the point, in the final two lines – when beauty fades, as it must, the poem will still convey the beauty that once was.

The contrast in the body of the poem is between the true beauty of the rose and the illusory beauty of the “canker-blooms”, thorny weeds which nevertheless give off a sweet scent. People will enjoy the scent while it lasts but nobody will commemorate these weeds in verse, so they will “die to themselves” and then be forgotten.

And of course Shakespeare was right. Here we are appreciating the beauty of the girl and the rose through his poem 400 years or so later…

The Poetry Dude

Rien n’égale Paris ; on le blâme, on le louë ;

A lot of poetic ink has been used up with poems about Paris. I know I have posted quite a few on this blog, such as from Apollinaire, Deschamps, Marot, Nerval, Rimbaud, Senghor and Verlaine. Well today we can add another to this body of work, from the seventeenth century poet, Isaac de Benserade. A sonnet, about Paris.

Isaac de BENSERADE   (1613-1691)

Sur la ville de Paris

Rien n’égale Paris ; on le blâme, on le louë ;
L’un y suit son plaisir, l’autre son interest ;
Mal ou bien, tout s’y fait, vaste grand comme il est
On y vole, on y tuë, on y pend, on y rouë.

On s’y montre, on s’y cache, on y plaide, on y jouë ;
On y rit, on y pleure, on y meurt, on y naist :
Dans sa diversité tout amuse, tout plaist,
Jusques à son tumulte et jusques à sa bouë.

Mais il a ses défauts, comme il a ses appas,
Fatal au courtisan, le roy n’y venant pas ;
Avecque sûreté nul ne s’y peut conduire :

Trop loin de son salut pour être au rang des saints,
Par les occasions de pécher et de nuire,
Et pour vivre long-temps trop prés des médecins.

From <;

In the fourteen lines of the sonnet, Benserade portrays the city of Paris fittingly as a contrast between a place of great vitality and opportunity and a place of squalor and disappointment. All human life and experience can be found, as is set out in the fist four lines, with the contrast between those pursuing fun or self-interest with those killing and stealing, being hanged or broken on the wheel. The second four lines reinforce these contrasts and the diversity of the city from the places of pleasure to the mud in the gutters.

The final six lines give some specific examples of the tribulations of life in Paris – the courtier is at a loss if the king is not present in the city, while anyone seeking sainthood is too close to sin to achieve it, and those who wish for a long life are too close to doctors to survive them in a city like Paris.

But for all the turbulence and contrasts, Paris remains a fascinating city and I am sure the poet would not have swapped it for anywhere else.

The Poetry Dude

Tres cosas me tienen preso

This poem by Baltasar del Alcazar, writing in the sixteenth century) is uplifting, and I totally relate to the sentiments expressed. The poet expresses his love for three things, tres cosas, – his lover, the beautiful Ines; ham; and eggplant with cheese. (And why not all three at the same time, indeed?)

Tres Cosas
Baltasar del Alcazar

Tres cosas me tienen preso
de amores el corazón,
la bella Inés, el jamón,
y berenjenas con queso.

Esta Inés, amantes, es
quien tuvo en mí tal poder,
que me hizo aborrecer
todo lo que no era Inés.
Trájome un año sin seso,
hasta que en una ocasión
me dio a merendar jamón
y berenjenas con queso.

Fue de Inés la primer palma;
pero ya juzgarse ha mal
entre todos ellos cuál
tiene más parte en mi alma.
En gusto, medida y peso
no le hallo distinción:
ya quiero Inés, ya jamón,
ya berenjenas con queso.

Alega Inés su bondad,
el jamón que es de Aracena,
el queso y la berenjena
la española antigüidad.
Y está tan en fiel el peso
que, juzgado sin pasión,
todo es uno, Inés, jamón,
y berenjenas con queso.

A lo menos este trato
destos mis nuevos amores
hará que Inés sus favores
nos los venda más barato.
Pues tendrá por contrapeso
si no hiciere razón,
una lonja de jamón
y berenjenas con queso.

From <;

The four-line first stanza sets up the premise of the poem’s argument, and is then followed by four eight-line stanzas developing it further. In the first stanza the poem describes how he was totally besotted by Ines for a whole year, hating everything that wasn’t her, until one day someone (Ines?) served him up some ham and eggplants with cheese.

The second stanza takes the story forward, telling how the poet still loved Ines, but found it more and more difficult to work out what he loved the most, between Ines, ham and eggplant with cheese, the answer depending on the moment.

In the third stanza the poet praises the goodness of Ines, the provenance of the ham, from Aracena, and the fact that the eggplant and cheese are traditional Spanish dishes. These qualities are all so superior that the poet conflates them into one object of his love.

And then in the final stanza the poet realises that the advantage of loving all three is that Ines will not act unreasonably as the sole object of his desires, as the poet can always turn to the ham and eggplant with cheese for his satisfaction.

Its always good to have choices…

The Poetry Dude

Dad would turn up the stereo

Here is a sad little poem written by a woman looking back at a lonely childhood moment, perhaps indicative of a lonely childhood in total. But feelings are implied, not explicit, as the poem enumerates the external clues as to the situation and the protagonists struggle with it. And there is a poignant contrast between the optimistic implications of the title, “Midsummer” and the tone of disappointment and disillusion of the moment described in the poem

Claire Collett

Dad would turn up the stereo
sit on the back steps
to smoke and drink gin.
He’d play
Jack Teagarden and Lady Day-
talking to himself
as if my mother was still
there to disagree.
Unnoticed, I’d balance
on a thin window ledge,
watch the one constant
light on Fairwood common.
I’d listen to my father
argue himself silent
then pour another drink,
Billie’s voice rising
cool, bitter as magnolia,
thick in the gaining dark.

So this is the experience of a child of a broken marriage, or possibly a child who’s mother has died. In any event, the only parent present is the father, drinking too much, escaping into music and talking to himself, probably wallowing in life’s dead-ends and failures. The music on the stereo is jazz, with the songs of Billie Holiday linking the father’s experience with another life of promise brought down by drugs and alcohol.

Seems like the odds are stacked against the young girl whose point of view is expressed in the poem, albeit without judgement or self-pity. She is unnoticed, and perhaps wants to remain so.

The Poetry Dude

On dirait ton regard d’une vapeur couvert;

This poem by Baudelaire is a wonderful evocation of the inscrutability of his lover, illustrated by the elusive patterns and colours of the sky – always shifting, always changing, you can never quite pin it down or define it. The swirling of the mist obscures the sky and the lover – the mystery and the magic is never resolved – and can probably never be.

Ciel brouillé

On dirait ton regard d’une vapeur couvert;
Ton oeil mystérieux (est-il bleu, gris ou vert?)
Alternativement tendre, rêveur, cruel,
Réfléchit l’indolence et la pâleur du ciel.

Tu rappelles ces jours blancs, tièdes et voilés,
Qui font se fondre en pleurs les coeurs ensorcelés,
Quand, agités d’un mal inconnu qui les tord,
Les nerfs trop éveillés raillent l’esprit qui dort.

Tu ressembles parfois à ces beaux horizons
Qu’allument les soleils des brumeuses saisons…
Comme tu resplendis, paysage mouillé
Qu’enflamment les rayons tombant d’un ciel brouillé!

Ô femme dangereuse, ô séduisants climats!
Adorerai-je aussi ta neige et vos frimas,
Et saurai-je tirer de l’implacable hiver
Des plaisirs plus aigus que la glace et le fer?

— Charles Baudelaire

From <;

While there is fascination and beauty in the mystery of the sky and of the lover’s eyes, there is also tension and the implicit sense of danger and disillusion, as the unknown and the unforeseen tauten the nerves and nag at the poet’s spirit. This leads to the questioning in the last stanza of whether the poet can still be in love with his chosen one in colder climes, under a winter sky. The expectation is probably not – Baudelaire is a poet of the languid pleasures of warm, exotic climates and his love will probably fade and change like the mist across the sky.

The Poetry Dude