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.
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