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.
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
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