¿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.

DESENGAÑO DE LA EXTERIOR APARIENCIA, CON EL EXAMEN INTERIOR Y VERDADERO

¿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

Vivir es caminar breve jornada,

Here is a poem from Quevedo meditating on the brevity of life and the inevitability of death – a memento mori, for the moral instruction of his readers. Life is but a brief day’s journey, indeed, you xan find this idea in many poems, and paintings, so here is Quevedo’s version.

 
Vivir es caminar breve jornada
Francisco de Quevedo

Vivir es caminar breve jornada,
y muerte viva es, Lico, nuestra vida,
ayer al frágil cuerpo amanecida,
cada instante en el cuerpo sepultada.

Nada, que siendo, es poco, y será nada
en poco tiempo, que ambiciosa olvida;
pues de la vanidad mal persuadida,
anhela duración, tierra animada.

Llevada de engañoso pensamiento,
y de esperanza burladora y ciega,
tropezará en el mismo monumento.

Como el que divertido el mar navega,
y sin moverse vuela con el viento,
y antes que piense en acercarse, llega.

From <http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/poesia/esp/quevedo/vivires.htm&gt;

It is a sonnet, and all is summed up in the first line, with the subsequent sections of the poem reinforcing the main point. We see the rapid passage from birth to the grave; we see the illusions of the ambitious and vain who crave longevity, forgetting their mortality. We see people travelling by sea who arrive at their destination before they realise it. Death will come quickly for all, and then the cycle will begin again.

The Poetry Dude

Madre, yo al oro me humillo,

I wonder if Abba’s hit song, “Money, money, money” was inspired by this Quevedo poem, or is t just the continuity of the poetic tradition working in mysterious ways? I suppose Benny and Bjorn might have come across Paco Ibanez singing the poem, as he did so marvellously, as you can listen to here (thank you YouTube)

Anyway, all that is well and good, but perhaps we still need poets like Quevedo to remind us that money makes the world go round but there’s plenty not to like about people who flaunt too much of it.

 
Francisco de Quevedo
Poderoso caballero es don dinero

 
Madre, yo al oro me humillo,
Él es mi amante y mi amado,
Pues de puro enamorado
Anda continuo amarillo.
Que pues doblón o sencillo
Hace todo cuanto quiero,
Poderoso caballero
Es don Dinero.

Nace en las Indias honrado,
Donde el mundo le acompaña;
Viene a morir en España,
Y es en Génova enterrado.
Y pues quien le trae al lado
Es hermoso, aunque sea fiero,
Poderoso caballero
Es don Dinero.

Son sus padres principales,
Y es de nobles descendiente,
Porque en las venas de Oriente
Todas las sangres son Reales.
Y pues es quien hace iguales
Al rico y al pordiosero,
Poderoso caballero
Es don Dinero.

¿A quién no le maravilla
Ver en su gloria, sin tasa,
Que es lo más ruin de su casa
Doña Blanca de Castilla?
Mas pues que su fuerza humilla
Al cobarde y al guerrero,
Poderoso caballero
Es don Dinero.

Es tanta su majestad,
Aunque son sus duelos hartos,
Que aun con estar hecho cuartos
No pierde su calidad.
Pero pues da autoridad
Al gañán y al jornalero,
Poderoso caballero
Es don Dinero.

Más valen en cualquier tierra
(Mirad si es harto sagaz)
Sus escudos en la paz
Que rodelas en la guerra.
Pues al natural destierra
Y hace propio al forastero,
Poderoso caballero
Es don Dinero.

 
From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/poderoso-caballero-es-don-dinero.htm&gt;

Money is indeed a powerful fellow, but he doesn’t buy love, health or happiness. Take that Senor Quevedo.

The Poetry Dude

De quince a veinte es niña; buena moza

Instead of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man (from As You Like It), here are Quevedo’s seven ages of women, (except the careful reader will notice that Quevedo has eight ages of women, dividing their lives into five year intervals from 15 to 55). I think most people would see this as very much written from the man’s point of view – the characteristics of women at their various age points are not necessarily positive, although that is not always the case. I sense an appreciation of women between the ages of 20 and 30, but after that, everything gets more difficult.

 
A LA EDAD DE LAS MUJERES

De quince a veinte es niña; buena moza
de veinte a veinticinco, y por la cuenta
gentil mujer de veinticinco a treinta.
¡Dichoso aquel que en tal edad la goza!

De treinta a treinta y cinco no alboroza;
mas puédese comer con sal pimienta;
pero de treinta y cinco hasta cuarenta
anda en vísperas ya de una coroza.

A los cuarenta y cinco es bachillera,
ganguea, pide y juega del vocablo;
cumplidos los cincuenta, da en santera,

y a los cincuenta y cinco echa el retablo.
Niña, moza, mujer, vieja, hechicera,
bruja y santera, se la lleva el diablo.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/quev1.htm&gt;

In fact, the whole of the sonnet sequences nicely from youthful innocence and charm in the first four lines, covering the years from 15 to 30; the next four lines cover the years from 30 to 40 and portrays woman as becoming more disputatious and contrarian, and even possible fodder for the Spanish Inquisition (although nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…). The next 3 lines cover the period from 45 to 50, where she is too clever for her own good and wants people to believe she is some kind of saint. The final three lines take her past 55, when all she wants is to be some sort of icon. But then the kick in the tail comes in the final two lines and sum up what Quevedo was really trying to convey about women, with a great sequence of nouns building a cumulative impact. Girl, maid, woman, old woman, sorceress, witch, false saint, let the devil take her at whatever stage…

So I guess this is the opposite of a love poem.

The Poetry Dude

Ya formidable y espantoso suena

Just as the rich noblemen of the baroque period acknowledged death and mortality with a skull portrayed amidst the trappings of luxury, so poets were also not afraid to deal with the inevitability of death. Quevedo has several poems on this theme. Here the title equates death to a wonderful and fearsome dream, and the poem goes on to expand on this image. Some people find it useful to meditate on their own death regularly, as it focusses our mind on leaving a positive legacy – what better way to stimulate these thoughts than through a poem such as this.

 
Ya formidable y espantoso suena
Francisco de Quevedo

Ya formidable y espantoso suena
dentro del corazón el postrer día,
y la última hora, negra y fría,
se acerca, de temor y sombras llena.

Si agradable descanso, paz serena,
la muerte en traje de dolor envía,
señas da su desdén de cortesía:
más tiene de caricia que de pena.

¿Qué pretende el temor desacordado
de la que a rescatar, piadosa, viene
espíritu en miserias añudado?

Llegué rogada, pues mi bien previene;
hallame agradecido, no asustado;
mi vida acabe y mi vivir ordene.

From <http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/poesia/esp/quevedo/yaformi.htm&gt;

The opening stanza echoes the title, and then describes someone’s last day or last hour, cold and black, full of fear and darkness. This is the death scene of a horror movie, or an Edgar Allan Poe story, where death is to be feared rather than death as a peaceful transition to a better place, accompanied by the consolations of religion. Fray Luis de Leon or San Juan de la Cruz would surely not have written poems about dying in this way.

But then in the second stanza Quevedo changes tack and we see death as bringing peace and rest, being more like a caress than pain. So the poet has created an opposition of ideas in the first two stanzas, bringing a certain suspense, which the reader hopes to see resolved in the final six lines of this sonnet.

And indeed we find the second option wins out. Lines 9 to 11 pose the rhetorical question of what use is fear of the spirit which is in fact coming to rescue the soul in misery. In fact there is nothing to fear in death, which is the conclusion of the final three lines. The dying poet is now grateful not frightened, his life is coming to an end in an orderly fashion.

Quevedo did write some poems of death which were darker and more pessimistic than this, most likely when he was really dying. We will come to one or more of these in later posts.

The Poetry Dude

Ah de la vida!…Nadie me responde?

In contrast to du Bellay’s sonnet on the satisfactions of old age, posted on this site yesterday, here is the other side of the coin from Quevedo, reflecting on the miseries of old age after a wasted life. Glass half full, glass half empty, you take your choice…

 
Ah de la vida…

Francisco de Quevedo

“¡Ah de la vida!”… ¿Nadie me responde?
¡Aquí de los antaños que he vivido!
La Fortuna mis tiempos ha mordido;
las Horas mi locura las esconde.

¡Que sin poder saber cómo ni a dónde
la salud y la edad se hayan huido!
Falta la vida, asiste lo vivido,
y no hay calamidad que no me ronde.

Ayer se fue; mañana no ha llegado;
hoy se está yendo sin parar un punto:
soy un fue, y un será, y un es cansado.

En el hoy y mañana y ayer, junto
pañales y mortaja, y he quedado
presentes sucesiones de difunto.

From <http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/poesia/esp/quevedo/ah_de_la_vida.htm&gt;

The poem is a succession of lamentations on life having eaten up the poet and spat him out, leaving him wondering where his time has gone, and surrounded by calamity and misfortune. The third stanza in its elegant gloominess and despair could be right out of a Samuel Beckett play (if Beckett had written in Spanish). The line “soy un fue, y un sera, y un es cansado” is a wonderful expression of ultimate world-weariness. Only death is the way out, as Quevedo concludes in the final line.

The Poetry Dude

Es hielo abrasador, es fuego helado,

Quevedo’s definition of love would be instantly familiar to readers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century; in fact he is making fun of the almost universal use of paradoxical opposites to depict the contradictions and confusions of the state of being in love. Whether you read Shakespeare, or Gongora, Ronsard or Marvell, you will find this kind of imagery trotted out to depict being in love. So this poem accumulates examples in every line and it ends up being a humorous skit on the poetic style of the time.

Francisco de Quevedo
Definición del amor

 
Es hielo abrasador, es fuego helado,
es herida que duele y no se siente,
es un soñado bien, un mal presente,
es un breve descanso muy cansado.

Es un descuido que nos da cuidado,
un cobarde con nombre de valiente,
un andar solitario entre la gente,
un amar solamente ser amado.

Es una libertad encarcelada,
que dura hasta el postrero paroxismo;
enfermedad que crece si es curada.

Éste es el niño Amor, éste es su abismo.
¿Mirad cuál amistad tendrá con nada
el que en todo es contrario de sí mismo!

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/definicion-del-amor.htm&gt;

You can go through each line and instantly see the poetic oppositions – ice and fire, pain and numbness, dreaming and wakefulness, fatigue and rest, and this just in the first quatrain of the sonnet. And so on through the penultimate stanza of the sonnet.

And in the final three lines the poet points the finger at Cupid, saying how could he be a friend of anybody if he is completely made up of contradictions and opposites. So the takeaway is that love is not to be trusted, which might be a fair enough conclusion in any age and in any style.

The Poetry Dude