Aunque en ricos montones

 

Today let’s enjoy Fray Luis’s sixteenth century rant against a corrupt and grasping judge. Presumably the poet or one of his circle must have been on the wrong side of this judge’s demands or decisions. Its just a pity that Fray Luis did not name the judge – but presumably his circle of readers would have known who was the target of the poem. And since this kind of situation still exists today in too many jurisdictions, we can use the same arguments of Fray Luis to highlight the corruption in public office.

 

ODA XVI – CONTRA UN JUEZ AVARO

Fray Luis de Leon

 

Aunque en ricos montones

levantes el cautivo inútil oro;

y aunque tus posesiones

mejores con ajeno daño y lloro;

 

y aunque cruel tirano

oprimas la verdad, y tu avaricia,

vestida en nombre vano,

convierta en compra y venta la justicia;

 

aunque engañes los ojos

del mundo a quien adoras: no por tanto

no nacerán abrojos

agudos en tu alma; ni el espanto

 

no velará en tu lecho;

ni huirás la cúita y agonía,

el último despecho;

ni la esperanza buena en compañía

 

del gozo tus umbrales

penetrará jamás; ni la Meguera,

con llamas infernales,

con serpentino azote la alta y fiera

 

y diestra mano armada,

saldrá de tu aposento sola una hora;

y ni tendrás clavada

la rueda, aunque más puedas, voladora

 

del Tiempo hambriento y crudo,

que viene, con la muerte conjurado,

a dejarte desnudo

del oro y cuanto tienes más amado;

y quedarás sumido

en males no finibles y en olvido.

 

 

 

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/fray-luis-de-leon-oda-xvi—contra-un-juez-avaro.htm>

 

The first two and a half stanzas set up the portrait of an avaricious and grasping judge, piling up mountains of gold at the expense of others’ distress, suppressing truth, treating justice as a commodity to be bought and sold and seeking approval and acceptance from the rich and high-born We can all recognize this figure, and not only among judges. Using public office as a means of private gain goes back to the Romans and beyond and is still prevalent today, even in countries where we assume the rule of law for all is accepted. Just look at the news headlines almost any day.

 

I wonder if this poem was also associated with Fray Luis’s own imprisonment on charges of heresy – he spent about four years in prison in the mid 1570s on charges of heresy before being eventually exonerated and released.

 

The rest of the poem enumerates the unpleasant consequences for the judge of his corruption and avarice – sharp thistles in his soul, being unable to sleep at night, mortality, lack of capacity for enjoyment; the Meguera, in Greek mythology the instrument of divine vengeance, will never leave his side; and he will be unable to stop the passage of time, bringing death and the loss of all the gold he has accumulated. The judge will finish up with eternal suffering, presumably in hell, while he will be forgotten on earth.

 

I am guessing the judge would have been motivated by more immediate incentives though.

 

The Poetry Dude

Folgaba el Rey Rodrigo

This poem is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is not typical of Fray Luis, most of whose poems were contemplative, meditative and uplifting to the soul. I have posted a number of examples on this site. Secondly it explores a defining moment in Spain’s history, the events which led to the Moorish invasion of Spain in the early 700s. Within a very short s[ace of time the Moors had conquered three quarters of Spain and were halfway up France before being turned back and driven back across the Pyrenees. But they stayed in Spain for almost 800 year before finally being expelled in 1492, very recently of course for Fray Luis. Those 800 years were of course full of skirmishes, battles and sieges as the Spanish constantly tried to dislodge the Moors and reduce their presence in Spain.

So the poem recounts the prophesy of the river Tagus, foreseeing the calamity, the deaths and destruction that were to follow the one event which triggered the invasion. The Visigothic King Rodrigo is seducing Cava, the beautiful daughter of a powerful Count. As revenge, the count goes to see the Muslim ruler in Tunis and asks him to help overthrow and kill the King. Which the ruler, one Musa, agrees to, leading to the invasion of 711 and the death of the King in battle. What nobody had anticipated however was that the Moors would continue their conquest and settle in Spain, leading to the 800 year war which followed, and whose conclusion was very recent in Fray Luis’s lifetime.

So it is a prophecy written with the benefit of hindsight…

This is a longish poem, compared to some of the others posted here, but well worth staying with it until the end.

ODA VII – PROFECÍA DEL TAJO

Folgaba el Rey Rodrigo
con la hermosa Cava en la ribera
del Tajo, sin testigo;
el río sacó fuera
el pecho, y le habló desta manera:

«En mal punto te goces,
injusto forzador; que ya el sonido
oyo, ya y las voces,
las armas y el bramido
de Marte, de furor y ardor ceñido.

¡Ay! esa tu alegría
qué llantos acarrea, y esa hermosa,
que vio el sol en mal día,
a España ¡ay cuán llorosa!,
y al cetro de los Godos ¡cuán costosa!

Llamas, dolores, guerras,
muertes, asolamientos, fieros males
entre tus brazos cierras,
trabajos inmortales
a ti y a tus vasallos naturales;

a los que en Constantina
rompen el fértil suelo, a los que baña
el Ebro, a la vecina
Sansueña, a Lusitaña:
a toda la espaciosa y triste España.

Ya dende Cádiz llama
el injuriado Conde, a la venganza
atento y no a la fama,
la bárbara pujanza,
en quien para tu daño no hay tardanza.

Oye que al cielo toca
con temeroso son la trompa fiera,
que en África convoca
el moro a la bandera
que al aire desplegada va ligera.

La lanza ya blandea
el árabe crüel, y hiere el viento,
llamando a la pelea;
innumerable cuento
de escuadras juntas veo en un momento.

Cubre la gente el suelo,
debajo de las velas desparece
la mar; la voz al cielo
confusa y varia crece;
el polvo roba el día y le escurece.

¡Ay!, que ya presurosos
suben las largas naves. ¡Ay!, que tienden
los brazos vigorosos
a los remos, y encienden
las mares espumosas por do hienden.

El Éolo derecho
hinche la vela en popa, y larga entrada
por el Hercúleo Estrecho
con la punta acerada
el gran padre Neptuno da a la armada.

¡Ay, triste! ¿y aun te tiene
el mal dulce regazo? ¿Ni llamado
al mal que sobreviene,
no acorres? ¿Ocupado,
no ves ya el puerto a Hércules sagrado?

Acude, acorre, vuela,
traspasa la alta sierra, ocupa el llano;
no perdones la espuela,
no des paz a la mano,
menea fulminando el hierro insano.»

¡Ay, cuánto de fatiga,
ay, cuánto de sudor está presente
al que viste loriga,
al infante valiente,
a hombres y a caballos juntamente!

Y tú, Betis divino,
de sangre ajena y tuya amancillado,
darás al mar vecino
¡cuánto yelmo quebrado,
cuánto cuerpo de nobles destrozado!

El furibundo Marte
thcinco luces las haces desordena,
igual a cada parte;
la sexta, ¡ay!, te condena,
¡oh, cara patria!, a bárbara cadena.

 
From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/fray-luis-de-leon-oda-vii—profecia-del-tajo.htm&gt;

 

So the first stanza of the poem gets right to the heart of the matter. We see King Rodrigo fornicating with Cava on the banks of the river Tagus, with no witnesses, or so he thinks. But the river itself, personified as a prophetic voice, appears and begins to tell the King what terrible consequences will follow his act.

The rest of the poem, 15 stanzas out of the total of 16, consists of the prophecy itself, the river Tagus enumerating the disasters and misfortunes that will inevitably fall on Spain following King Rodrigo’s dastardly act.

Stanzas 2 to 5 are general warnings of fire, death and destruction to be visited on the poor people of Spain of whatever condition. In Stanza 6, the prophecy gets specific, with the Count crying for vengeance. Stanzas 7 to 11 describe the Count’s appeal to the Moors, their agreement, the preparation of a great invasion fleet, and their setting sail across the Meditterranean with a favourable southern wind at their backs.

In Stanzas 12 and 13, the river pleads with the King to go and prepare to meet the Moors in battle, to occupy the plain where they will land and turn them back. This is the end of the speech by the River.

The final three stanzas are in the voice of the poet, recounting how the King is tired from his amorous efforts, nothing will be done, the river Betis, in the south of Spain will be red with the blood and broken helmets of the defeated Spaniards and the country will be condemned to live under the yoke of the barbarian.

The Poetry Dude

¡Oh ya seguro puerto 

This is one of the classic poems from Fray Luis de Leon dealing with contemplation, withdrawal from life’s routine cares and the joys of solitary meditation, which are compared with the cares and perils of everyday life. The theme is similar to his “Vida Retirada” poem, posted on this blog on September 28th 2014. Check that one out again, as well as reading this, they are both very fine poems.

 

ODA XIV 
AL APARTAMIENTO 

 

¡Oh ya seguro puerto
de mi tan luengo error! ¡oh deseado
para reparo cierto
del grave mal pasado!
¡reposo dulce, alegre, reposado!;

techo pajizo, adonde
jamás hizo morada el enemigo
cuidado, ni se asconde
invidia en rostro amigo,
ni voz perjura, ni mortal testigo;

sierra que vas al cielo
altísima, y que gozas del sosiego
que no conoce el suelo,
adonde el vulgo ciego
ama el morir, ardiendo en vivo fuego:

recíbeme en tu cumbre,
recíbeme, que huyo perseguido
la errada muchedumbre,
el trabajar perdido,
la falsa paz, el mal no merecido;

y do está más sereno
el aire me coloca, mientras curo
los daños del veneno
que bebí mal seguro,
mientras el mancillado pecho apuro;

mientras que poco a poco
borro de la memoria cuanto impreso
dejó allí el vivir loco
por todo su proceso
vario entre gozo vano y caso avieso.

En ti, casi desnudo
deste corporal velo, y de la asida
costumbre roto el ñudo,
traspasaré la vida
en gozo, en paz, en luz no corrompida;

de ti, en el mar sujeto
con lástima los ojos inclinando,
contemplaré el aprieto
del miserable bando,
que las saladas ondas va cortando:

el uno, que surgía
alegre ya en el puerto, salteado
de bravo soplo, guía,
apenas el navío desarmado;

el otro en la encubierta
peña rompe la nave, que al momento
el hondo pide abierta;
al otro calma el viento;
otro en las bajas Sirtes hace asiento;

a otros roba el claro
día, y el corazón, el aguacero;
ofrecen al avaro
Neptuno su dinero;
otro nadando huye el morir fiero.

Esfuerza, opón el pecho,
mas ¿cómo será parte un afligido
que va, el leño deshecho,
de flaca tabla asido,
contra un abismo inmenso embravecido?

¡Ay, otra vez y ciento
otras seguro puerto deseado!
no me falte tu asiento,
y falte cuanto amado,
cuanto del ciego error es cudiciado.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/frayluis1.htm#ODA XXIII – A LA SALIDA DE LA CÁRCEL>

The poem begins with the poet seeking a safe harbour, a place where he can set aside long-standing cares, errors and past evils and find a deep peace. And then, for the next couple of stanzas, the place of refuge becomes a mountain, where he can climb away from the crowds and live like a hermit, alone and in peace. This is a bit like the image of the wise Buddhist monk who lives on the mountain and meditates.

There follows a series of stanzas in which ordinary life is depicted as a shipwreck at sea, where all are struggling to stay alive but doomed to drown as the ship breaks up on the rocks. They will lose all their wealth and possessions even as they have bound their lives to accumulating and keeping them. Again the Buddhist notion of detachment comes through here, or rather the perils of attachment bringing only misery and loss. Curious that this should be articulated from the pen of a Catholic priest in Spain.

The final stanza ends the poem with a plea from the poet to find his safe harbour, where he can finally be free of chasing blindly after the errors of existence and yearning for illusory objectives.

To detachment – it is an inspiring aspiration, for all times

The Poetry Dude

Agora con la aurora se levanta

Here is a very nice sonnet from one of my favourite poet-priests of the sixteenth century, Fray Luis de Leon, the bard of Salamanca. And on a quite unpriestly subject – the irrational exuberance of the illusion of love, followed by the inevitable let down as reality steps in.

Fray Luis de León

AGORA CON LA AURORA
Agora con la aurora se levanta
mi Luz; agora coge en rico nudo
el hermoso cabello; agora el crudo
pecho ciñe con oro, y la garganta;

agora vuelta al cielo, pura y santa,
las manos y ojos bellos alza, y pudo
dolerse agora de mi mal agudo;
agora incomparable tañe y canta.

Ansí digo y, del dulce error llevado,
presente ante mis ojos la imagino,
y lleno de humildad y amor la adoro;

mas luego vuelve en sí el engañado
ánimo, y conociendo el desatino,
la rienda suelta largamente al lloro.

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/fray-luis-de-leon-agora-con-la-aurora.htm&gt;

A big part of the charm of this poem is its momentum, carried along by the open vowel sounds and repetition of “agora”, 6 times in the first eight lines. This creates a sense of urgency and also suspense in the poem which carries the reader forward and stops him from being tempted to linger on particular words or constructions.

It is dawn, right now, and the light catching the lover’s hair and neck and breasts covers them with a golden aura. This is the impossible dream of love as an ideal, flawless, at one with the golden dawn. The first eight lines are focussed entirely on this interaction between the dawn’s light and the poet’s loved one, you could easily imagine this as a painting with the sun’s rays illuminating the face of a renaissance beauty. In the ninth line, the poet enters more directly, describing how he adores this ideal vision, even while acknowledging that he is in error.

But then in the final three lines, he confronts reality, it is just a vision, an ideal which is imagination has conjured up. Realising the impossibility of the beauty he has described, the poet gives way to tears.

The Poetry Dude

En vano el mar fatiga

Fray Luis de Leon takes on a moral question, fitting his status as a Catholic priest, but also this was a fairly common theme of poetry at this time – the vanity and ultimate pointlessness of pursuing worldly goods, riches, fame and power. The title, On Avarice, refers not just to seeking to keep wealth in an unproductive way, but also to making the pursuit of wealth one’s main purpose in life. Compare also the Rubai Yat of Omar Khayyam in which similar sentiment is the main theme of the poem – however in the case of Fray Luis the alternative to avarice would be the religious life, whereas in the Persian classic it would be taking pleasure in the moment with wine, women and song.

Fray Luis de León

ODA V – DE LA AVARICIA
A FELIPE RUIZ

En vano el mar fatiga
la vela portuguesa; que ni el seno
de Persia ni la amiga
Maluca da árbol bueno,
que pueda hacer un ánimo sereno.

No da reposo al pecho,
Felipe, ni la India, ni la rara
esmeralda provecho;
que más tuerce la cara
cuanto posee más el alma avara.

Al capitán romano
la vida, y no la sed, quitó el bebido
tesoro persiano;
y Tántalo, metido
en medio de las aguas, afligido

de sed está; y más dura
la suerte es del mezquino, que sin tasa
se cansa ansí, y endura
el oro, y la mar pasa
osado, y no osa abrir la mano escasa.

¿Qué vale el no tocado
tesoro, si corrompe el dulce sueño,
si estrecha el ñudo dado,
si más enturbia el ceño,
y deja en la riqueza pobre al dueño?

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/fray-luis-de-leon-oda-v—de-la-avaricia.htm&gt;

The very first words of the poem set the tone – vanity, in the sense of worthless endeavour, is what has driven the great Portuguese maritime expeditions, seeking to tap into the riches of Asia. This first example is very contemporary, Vasco da Gama was of the same era as Fray Luis and must have been one of the most famous men in Europe at this time. The Molucca islands had been reached by the Portuguese earlier in the sixteenth century and were at the origin of the lucrative trade in eastern spices.

In the next stanza there are both historical and mythical references to the dangers of avarice. The Roman captain who was killed after pursuing Persian treasure would be Crassus, who, after being killed in battle against the Persians, had molten gold poured into his mouth by his enemies. And then Tantalus was famously subject to one of the torments of Hades, standing in a pool of water which drained out of his reach each time he bent to quench his thirst. These examples would have been familiar to Fray Luis’s educated readers of the time, and so the poem could be made more interesting by being as allusive as possible.

The final example, in the third stanza is of the miser who works hard to keep his gold but can never enjoy it because he dares not open his hand to use it for productive or enjoyable pursuits.

So the final stanza poses the question, already answered by everything else in the poem – of what use is it to hold treasure if it leads to anxiety, stress, unease and in fact impoverishes the experience of its owner.

Thus the poet claims the high ground, although I doubt any of his readers rushed to relinquish their wealth as a consequence.

The Poetry Dude

Aqui la envidia y mentira

Apparently, Fray Luis de Leon was not always on good terms with the religious hierarchy – perhaps he was insufficiently focussed on rooting out heretics instead of elevating his own soul. Anyway, he must have spent some time in prison, on the evidence of this short poem, written on his release from a prison cell.

 
ODA XXIII 
A LA SALIDA DE LA CÁRCEL

Aquí la envidia y mentira
me tuvieron encerrado.
Dichoso el humilde estado
del sabio que se retira
de aqueste mundo malvado,

y con pobre mesa y casa
en el campo deleitoso
con sólo Dios se compasa
y a solas su vida pasa
ni envidiado ni envidioso.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/frayluis1.htm&gt;

In the first two lines he puts the blame for his incarceration on the envy and lies of others – an entirely plausible supposition at the time of denunciations to the Spanish Inquisition. But he goes on in the rest of the poem to take comfort from the advantages of prison, which are rather similar to those enjoyed by a hermit in a rough cave. These are – withdrawal from the cares of the world, rough living conditions, communion with God, and the state of being neither envied nor enviable.

As a man of religious faith, Fray Luis probably found it easier than most of us to be stoical about these unhappy circumstances. But what is just as admirable in my view is the economy of expression and the precision of language he uses in this poem to convey his experience. This is one of his shortest poems, among those I have read, but it has just as much impact as many of his longer pieces.

The Poetry Dude

Alma, region luciente

In regularly rhymed five line stanzas our sixteenth century Catholic priest and poet, Fray Luis de Leon, gives us a vision of heaven. You can almost imagine this scene as a painting , perhaps by El Greco. In the most fervently Catholic country in Europe at the height of the Counter-reformation, all media were fair game for propagating the marvels of Catholic religious faith. So let’s read of the heavenly scene and wonder if it would have reinforced our faith at that time, in that place….

 
ODA XIII
 DE LA VIDA DEL CIELO 

 

Alma región luciente,
prado de bienandanza, que ni al hielo
ni con el rayo ardiente
fallece; fértil suelo,
producidor eterno de consuelo:

de púrpura y de nieve
florida, la cabeza coronado,
y dulces pastos mueve,
sin honda ni cayado,
el Buen Pastor en ti su hato amado.

Él va, y en pos dichosas
le siguen sus ovejas, do las pace
con inmortales rosas,
con flor que siempre nace
y cuanto más se goza más renace.

Y dentro a la montaña
del alto bien las guía; ya en la vena
del gozo fiel las baña,
y les da mesa llena,
pastor y pasto él solo, y suerte buena.

Y de su esfera, cuando
la cumbre toca, altísimo subido,
el sol, él sesteando,
de su hato ceñido,
con dulce son deleita el santo oído.

Toca el rabel sonoro,
y el inmortal dulzor al alma pasa,
con que envilece el oro,
y ardiendo se traspasa
y lanza en aquel bien libre de tasa.

¡Oh, son! ¡Oh, voz! Siquiera
pequeña parte alguna decendiese
en mi sentido, y fuera
de sí la alma pusiese
y toda en ti, ¡oh, Amor!, la convirtiese,

conocería dónde
sesteas, dulce Esposo, y, desatada
de esta prisión adonde
padece, a tu manada
viviera junta, sin vagar errada.

 
From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/frayluis1.htm#ODA XIII – DE LA VIDA DEL CIELO>

This vision of heaven depicts God as a shepherd leading his flock to the highest places on the mountain and there regaling them with sweet harmonious music. This is a place with no cares, no sorrows, only sweet harmony.

The poem ends with the poet longing for jus a portion of this bliss to be brought down to earth where the poet’s soul is imprisoned, so that he can enjoy at least a taste of the rapture of eternal bliss.

This poem is a good example of the art of religious or mystic poetry as refined by Fray Luis in the mid 1500s.

 
The Poetry Dude