Category Archives: Spanish Literature

Góngora. Brief Biography of a Gambler, Rebel, Poet.

Luis de Góngora y Argote. Brief Biography.
Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561-1627) was one of the most prominent/ outstanding poets of Spain’s Golden Age, a period of remarkable literary achievements in prose fiction, drama and verse. In poetry, Góngora has traditionally been seen as the culmination of a rich trajectory beginning with Garcilaso de la Vega (1501-36) and progressing via figures such as Fray Luis de León (1527-91), San Juan de la Cruz (1542-91) and Fernando de Herrera (c. 1534-97), to name a few.

Portrait of Góngora by Diego de Velázquez

During his day, Góngora was rivalled only by the poet-dramatist Lope de Vega (1562-1635) and the multi-talented Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645). The former held a lukewarm and grudging admiration for Góngora but the latter was a bitter critic and implacable enemy.

Born in Córdoba to a noble family, Góngora was known as an aficionado of card playing and bullfighting from his early years. At the age of 15, he attended the University of Salamanca for four years with apparently little enthusiasm, and returning to Córdoba without a degree. Soon after his return, he accepted a Church office as prebendary, a post an uncle of his renounced in his favour. Although not a priest, as prebendary Góngora could be expected to officiate and serve in the church, for which he received a stipend (a fixed sum paid periodically for services). However, his religious vocation and dedication were clearly wanting to judge from the criticisms directed at him by the Bishop of the Cathedral: he was accused of absenteeism, of talking during prayers, of going to bullfights and of associating with actors and writing frivolous verse. He received a small fine as punishment. 

Nevertheless, his rebellious/ irreligious behaviour did not preclude him travelling widely on business for the cathedral. Significant were trips in 1602 to Valladolid (when it was the temporary capital of Spain, 1601-06) and in 1609 to Madrid (once again the permanent capital).

He continued to live in Córdoba until 1617 when thanks to the Duke of Lerma he was named to a royal chaplaincy in the court of King Philip III in Madrid, a position that required him to be ordained a priest. By now, he had already established himself as a poet of note and his visits to the centres of power allowed him rub shoulders with both literary, social and political heavyweights, including the Count of Villamediana, the Count of Lemos and the powerful and influential Duke of Lerma, the king’s favourite.

He spent most of the last ten years of his life in Madrid where, despite the favours of his protectors –first Lerma and, following Lerma’s fall, the Count-Duke of Olivares— Góngora found himself in financial difficulties. Most galling for Góngora was the purchase of the house in which he lived by his arch enemy, Quevedo, for the sole purpose of evicting him from it.

In 1627, following a serious illness, Góngora returned to Córdoba where he died on May 23 of the same year.

For a long time, Góngora ’s poetry was divided into two parts, his early poetry being viewed as “easy” and his later considered “difficult.” The former was identified as being inspired by popular or folk poetry associated with traditional, native verse forms such as letrillas, romances and romancillos. His later verse is the kind that made him most famous and earned him enemies and supporters. Its complex, highly ornate style and esoteric/ obscure allusions has given rise to the term gongorismo and is best represented by his two most celebrated works: La fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (“The Tale of Polyphemus and Galatea”) and Soledades (“Solitudes”), both completed in 1613.

Sources.
Gaylord, Mary Malcolm “The Making of Baroque Poetry” in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed. Gies, David T Cambridge 2009, pp. 222-37.
Rivers, Elias ed  Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain Prospect Heights Illinois 1988 (With English prose translations of the poems.)
Robbins, Jeremy The Challenges of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature New York 1998.
Walters, D. Gareth  The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry Cambridge 2002.
Wardropper, Bruce   Spanish Poetry of the Golden Age  New York 1971

Góngora and Gongorismo or the Art of Obscurity.

Góngora and Gongorismo.
Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), a major poet of Spain’s Golden Age (broadly speaking the 16th and 17th centuries) remains one of the most celebrated and influential names in Spanish literature.

For a long time, his verse was divided into two parts: his early poetry was viewed as “easy” and his later considered “difficult.” The former –which earned him the title of Prince of Light– was identified as poetry inspired by popular or folk poetry and associated with traditional, native verse forms such as letrillas, romances and romancillos. His later verse –responsible for his dubious title of Prince of Darkness– was the kind that made Góngora enemies and supporters and for which he is most famous. It is a complex poetic style traditionally identified as beginning in 1610 with his Oda a la toma de Larache (“Ode on the capture of Larache” -Larache, a harbour town in north west Morocco), and culminating in his two most celebrated works: La fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (“The Tale of Polyphemus and Galatea”) and Soledades (“Solitudes”), both completed in 1613.

Nowadays, however, most scholars accept the artistic unity of Góngora ’s poetry and recognise that the characteristics of his later verse were present from early on, but intensified to such an extreme degree that they gave rise to the distinctive term gongorismo.

But gongorismo was not an isolated phenomenon and in fact has become synonymous with a poetic development known as culteranismo. This was a neologism coined in the early 17th century by detractors of Góngora combining the word culto (“elevated,” “cultivated”) with luterano (“Lutheran”) a derogatory and potentially dangerous term in Catholic Spain which cast on its practitioners the questionable distinction of being –in a literary context— heretical and alien.

What was culteranismo/ gongorismo? Accused in a letter in 1615 by an unidentified “friend” who criticised the Soledades as a violent distortion of the language and thereby being a poor example for others, Góngora defended himself, making clear that his poem was directed at an educated minority. Even more, he prided himself on the obscurity or deliberate difficulty of the poem and on excluding the ignorant or illiterate. What distinguished the intelligent reader, Góngora argued, was the ability to speak in such an elevated manner that it would sound like Greek to the ignorant. It was a stance he defended with the dismissive: Pues no se han de dar las piedras preciosas a animales de cerda, translated loosely by the biblical saying “Do not cast your pearls before swine.”

Poetry was, Góngora further claimed, a useful tool to sharpen the mind or wits and the discerning reader of the Soledades would be able to go beyond the surface and discover the mysteries the poem contained.

Góngora pride in his achievement is evident in the claim he made, in the same defence of the Soledades, that thanks to him the Spanish language had risen to the perfection and greatness of Latin.

Góngora ’s reference to Latin can give us a lead into what gongorismo or culteranismo was. Latin’s prestige as a language was bolstered not only by its imperial association but also –especially for poets of the 16th and 17th centuries– by its literary heritage. It was the language of Virgil, Horace, Ovid whose works (together with those of their Italian heirs, e. g. Petrarch 1304-74, Ludovico Ariosto 1474-1533, Torquato Tasso 1544-95) were avidly studied and mined for thematic and stylistic inspiration by Spanish poets of the Golden Age. By the time Góngora was writing, Golden Age verse –especially as practiced by the so-called Sevillian school– had developed a progressively more complex syntax and structure, with the Sevillian poet Fernando de Herrera (1534-97) being its most prominent promotor.

Herrera’s contribution. In an edition that Herrera published in 1580 on the verse of Spain’s first great Golden Age poet, Garcilaso de la Vega, he advocated in his commentaries to the poems the extensive use of rhetorical and oratorical devices. Poets should be unafraid to display their erudition through classical and mythological allusions, obscure learned references, neologisms, and inclusion of foreign words. Especially encouraged was the abundant use of metaphors and adjectives. The objective of all this was to demonstrate the poet’s learning and awaken in readers’ surprise and pleasure.

Góngora, like Herrera, was an Andalusian and in his Polifemo and Soledades he took Herrera’s recommendations to an extreme. Especially notable is the extraordinary accumulation of metaphors but perhaps the most difficult obstacle for readers was the notorious use of hyperbaton, the dislocation of the normal word order, whereby related articles of speech were separated –article from noun, noun from adjective etc. Its extreme application and labyrinthine quality ensured the obscurity and deliberate difficulty that Góngora was happy to acknowledge.

Góngora ’s pride in elevating Spanish to the level of Latin reflects not only his admiration for classical literature but also what he believed to be his contribution to both the language and literature of Spain. His Polifemo, while acknowledging his high regard of Ovid’s story, was also his way of challenging or emulating his Roman model. In its weaving of the Ovidian tale of love and violence within an omnipresent, all-pervading Nature –with which the mythical figures of Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus are regularly commingled/ fused through metaphor– Polifemo demonstrated that the Spanish language had the flexibility and rhetorical ammunition necessary to equal Latin, its classical model. Equally important for Góngora, Polifemo was a way of demonstrating his erudition and agudeza (“cleverness” “wit” or “intellect”), which in turn was intended to awaken the readers’ surprise, wonder and amazement, or admiratio, a word much used in the Baroque world of the time.

The Soledades are even more labyrinthine than the Polifemo thanks to the use of silvas, an irregular combination of heptasyllables and hendecasyllable –7- and 11-syllable lines– whose lack of strophic structure and recognisable rhyme contrast with the strict rhyme pattern and stanza form imposed by the octavas rimas in which the Polifemo was written. The Soledades, depicting Nature in all its variety, may have been inspired by the Georgics of Virgil or Horace’s bucolic idealism, but their free-flowing syntactical and strophic structure are Góngora’s way of both imitating their Latin linguistic heritage and also of capturing Nature’s endless variety. The resulting linguistic obscurity, then, imitates the challenge of penetrating Nature’s all-embracing diversity.

Both Polifemo and the Soledades are verbal paintings of Nature on a grand scale with contrast the basic aesthetic component: beautiful and ugly, harmonious and violent, large and small, dark and light, silence and noise, distance and proximity, abundance and scarcity, movement and stillness. Both works depict a vibrant, everchanging, unstable world and as such are very much part of the Baroque culture of uncertainty. Furthermore, both demand the active participation of the reader to decipher the hidden correspondences and links both verbal and in Nature. Passive reaction is not possible for the engaged reader because the Baroque world is a world of impact and immediacy.

Final note. The linguistic dexterity displayed in gongorismo/ culteranismo is also very much evident in another parallel literary development of the Baroque: conceptismo. For long seen as opposing culteranismo, based largely on the bitter rivalry of their two main exponents –Góngora and Quevedo—conceptismo in fact had much in common with culteranismo. Culteranismo appealed more to the senses with an abundant use of the stylistic features underlined above while conceptismo played around more with ideas (often using dense word play, extravagant puns, ingenious metaphors). [As examples of conceptismo, see Quevedo’s letrilla, Poderoso caballero/ es don Dinero or the sonnet, Ah de la vida! … ?Nadie me responde?] But both culteranismo and conceptismo sought novelty through ingenuity; both aspired to impress the reader creating surprise and wonder. And both Góngora and Quevedo were equally capable of practicing both styles. 

Sources.
Gaylord, Mary Malcolm “The Making of Baroque Poetry” in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed. Gies, David T Cambridge 2009, pp. 222-37.
Rivers, Elias ed.  Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain Prospect Heights Illinois 1988 (With English prose translations of the poems.)
Robbins, Jeremy The Challenges of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature New York 1998.
Walters, D. Gareth  The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry Cambridge 2002.
Wardropper, Bruce   Spanish Poetry of the Golden Age  New York 1971
For readers of Spanish, the following is a useful description of gongorismo: https://www.candelavizcaino.es/literatura/gongorismo.html

 

Luis de Góngora. Andeme yo caliente/…1581

Luis de Góngora. Andeme yo caliente/…1581.
Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), a major poet of Spain’s Golden Age (broadly speaking the 16th and 17th centuries) remains one of the most celebrated names in Spanish literature. However, because of the complex poetic style of his two greatest poems, La fábula de Polifemo and the Soledades (both completed in 1613), Góngora’s name quickly became identified with obscure, difficult verse for which he was attacked by many contemporary poets/ writers at the same time that he was admired by others. His most vocal and implacable enemy was the multitalented Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645).

What was it that roused the anger of Góngora’s critics? They attacked him for violently distorting the Spanish language with an abundance of rhetorical devices which rendered the poems unclear and earned him the title of Prince of Darkness. These rhetorical devices included the use of neologisms, classical and mythological allusions, obscure learned references, the accumulation of metaphors and hyperbaton (a dislocation of the normal word which in the Polifemo and Soledades is regularly violent).  

This complex poetic style, known as culteranismo or gongorismo, was intended to demonstrate Góngora’s erudition, evoke the readers’ wonder and amazement (or admiratio) and dignify the Spanish language elevating it to the perfection and greatness of Latin.

The Polifemo and Soledades, however, represent only a small percentage of Góngora’s poetic output and his earlier and youthful verse earned him the more favourable label of Prince of Light. The following poem, Andeme yo caliente/ y ríase la gente, is one of the most popular of Góngora’s early poems. 

Composed in 1581, Andeme yo… is an irreverent interpretation of the famous second Epode of the Roman poet Horace (65BC-8BC), entitled Beatus ille… “Blessed is he…”, which became a standard piece to translate (e. g. Fray Luis de León), or imitate or emulate (Garcilaso de la Vega, Fray Luis, Lope de Vega) in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The basic premise of the Beatus ille was the benefits that would accrue to the man who fled the corruption of urban living and the sought the solitude and simple pleasures of the countryside. It is an idyllic picture of the daily rhythm of home life where man works the land, tends the fruit trees and vines, hunts and manages the livestock while his virtuous wife watches over the home, cares for their children and prepares simple meals. Dwelling in harmony with nature, they reap the rewards of their endeavours from a bounteous land.

 What we can conclude from the pleasures of country life portrayed by Horace is its moral superiority over urban existence: simply put town life is corrupt, country life is untainted. It’s an old theme, but Horace’s version became a favourite in Spain’s Golden Age.

 [However, and this is a big “however,” there is a nasty and cynical sting at the very end of Horace’s poem, regularly ignored by his imitators: the description of simple rustic joys is totally punctured when we learn that the narrator is a money lender who cannot resist the call of the city and is back in business!!]

 Andeme yo caliente       A                            As long as I’m comfortable
y ríase la gente.               A                                let the people laugh.            

1. Traten otros del gobierno      b                   Let others deal with governing
del mundo y sus monarquías,   c                   the world and its kingdoms,
mientras gobiernan mis días     c                   while my days are governed
mantequillas y pan tierno,         b                   (by) butter and soft bread,
y las mañanas de invierno          b                 and on Winter mornings
naranjada y aguardientes,          A                 orange juice and brandy
y ríase la gente.                          A                     let the people laugh.

2. Coma en dorada vejilla                              Let the Prince eat on golden
el Príncipe mil cuidados,                                a thousand worries
como píldoras dorados;                                 (tasting) like pills of gold;
que yo en mi pobre mesilla                            while I at my modest little table
quiero más una morcilla                                 prefer a black sausage
que en el asador reviente,                             which is bursting on the spit,
y ríase la gente.                                                 let the people laugh.                        

3. Cuando cobra las montañas                     When January covers
de blanca nieve el enero,                              the mountains with snow,
tenga yo lleno el brasero                               let me have my brasier full
de bellotas y castanas,                                  of acorns and chestnuts,
y quien las dulces patrañas                           and someone to tell me the nice
del Rey que rabio me cuente,                       stories of the King who went mad,
y ríase la gente.                                                 let the people laugh.

4. Busque muy en hora buena                       Let the merchant –and good luck
el mercador nuevos soles;                             to him—seek new suns (i. e. countries);
yo conchas y caracoles                                  I (will look for) shells and snails
entre la menuda arena,                                  in the fine sand, (while)
escuchando a Filomena                                 listening to the Nightingale
sobre el chopo de la fuente,                           in the poplar by the spring,
y ríase la gente.                                                  let the people laugh.

5. Pase a media noche el mar,                      Let Leander cross the sea
y arda en amorosa llama,                              at midnight, burning in flames
Leandro por ver su dama;                             of love, in order to see his lady;
que yo más quiero pasar                               I prefer to cross the white
del golfo de mi lagar                                      and red stream (flowing) from
la blanca y roja corriente,                              the gulf of my winepress,
y ríase la gente.                                                 let the people laugh.

6. Pues Amor es tan cruel                              Since Love is so cruel
que de Píramo y su amada                            that he makes out of a sword
hace tálamo una espada,                               a bridal bed where Pyramus
do se junten ella y él,                                     and his lady are joined together,
sea mi Tisbe un pastel                                   let my Thisbe be a cake
y la espada sea mi diente,                             and my sword be my teeth,
y ríase la gente.                                                 let the people laugh.

Form. The poem is written as a letrilla, a poetic form with many variants but which in its basic structure usually opens with a refrain (called estribillo) most commonly consisting of two lines rhyming AA (as here), followed by a variable number of stanzas/strophes. Each stanza normally ends with the last line of the estribillo. The length of the stanzas is usually five lines rhyming bcccb followed by one line the rhyme of which returns to the estribillo, thus bcccbA, then follows the refrain A or AA depending on the poet.

So, the rhyme pattern of Andeme yo caliente/ y ríase la gente is AA  bccbbA  A. To take another example, Quevedo’s celebrated letrilla, Poderoso caballero/ es don Dinero (A powerful knight/ is Sir Money) has the following rhyme scheme: AA bccbbA AA (an extra A because both lines of the refrain are repeated).  

Theme. The six stanzas set out a series of contrasts between situations that reflect power and insatiable desires and the tranquility enjoyed by the narrating “I”/poet. In the first three stanzas, it is rulers who are burdened by cares, in the fourth it is the (greedy) merchant in search of new sources of wealth. The final two stanzas switch focus rather unexpectedly from the material wealth pursued by the powerful and rich to another form of pursuit: that of the mythical lovers Leander and Pyramus in search of their respective ladies, Hero (only alluded to) and Thisbe. Of course, what these lovers have in common with those pursuing material rewards is that their quest is condemned to failure, even death in both of these cases. And against this series of failed or frustrated pursuits, the narrating “I” enjoys the tranquility and pleasures of the countryside untroubled by greed or passion.

Each stanza follows a similar structural pattern, first presenting the frustration experienced from unattainable material or amorous quests to be then followed the happiness the “I” feels with the humble possessions provided by nature. He remains completely indifferent to power, wealth (gold) and even love.

Nevertheless, despite the moralising dimension of the Beatus ille… as seen for example in Fray Luis de León’s Que descansada vida, Góngora’s version undercuts that moralising dimension with its ironic and burlesque perspective. The Beatus ille… theme, given its popularity, was ripe for satire and irreverent treatment, and Góngora (already well known for his love of the “good” life of the city: gambling, bullfighting, the theatre) was especially unlikely to have seriously contemplated/ entertained withdrawing to the countryside!

What provides the groundwork for the irreverence is the ridiculous comparison between the “majestic, the heroic, the romantic … and the comic rusticity” (Wardropper 134) enjoyed by the “I”/ the poet. Opposed to the idea of majesty evoked by kings (monarquías) and princes or the adventures of the merchant is the series of rustic words that deflate or ridicule completely any aura of greatness. Words like mantequilla, pan, morcilla, bellotas, castañas, conchas y caracoles and colloquialisms such as del Rey que rabio (“the king who went mad,” a folkloric allusion, st. 4) and muy en hora buena (“and all the best to him,” st.5) demystify by “contact” the world of the wealthy and powerful. The same goes for the lovers whose pedigree goes back to Classical literature. Their legendary tales are demythified and their deaths are rendered comical by the poet’s preference to swim in the wine produced by his winepress, the lagar of st. 5, or use his teeth to take a bite out of Thisbe, salaciously converted into a cake or pastry, pastel (st. 6). These words belong to the downstairs world of the kitchen and the popular literature that reflects it.

Indeed, the refrain that opens the poem and immediately sets its irreverent tone, Andeme yo caliente/ y ríase la gente, springs from popular literature and was evidently well known. It appears, for example, in Don Quixote, Part II, Chptr. 50 when Sancho Panza’s daughter, Sanchica, boasts about her new status as the daughter of a “governor.” As long as she can travel in her coach with her feet up, she couldn’t care less what others said. So Andeme yo … etc. [It is significantly a chapter in which the local priest expresses astonishment at the endless number of proverbs that Sancho and his family know.]

But not only is the refrain of popular origin, so too is the verse form, the letrilla. Letrilla lines are normally octosyllabic –8 syllables, as here– or hexasyllabic –6 syllables and are indicative of Spanish traditional folkloric origin (as opposed to the hendecasyllable or heptasyllable –11 syllables or 7 syllables– of Italian provenance).

So in the refrain, the rustic vocabulary and the comical comparisons we have the downstairs world rubbing shoulders with the upstairs world of royalty, commerce and Classical literary figures. But laughter does not become nobility, the serious pursuit of wealth or tragedy, according to the principles of expected social behaviour at the time. For example, “the high-born and nobles cannot provoke laughter…  So, the low born are the ones who provoke laughter.” So when these elevated figures are ridiculed, they are humiliated and lose prestige or seriousness.

What Góngora has done in Andeme yo caliente/ … is bring together two worlds normally separated by their social status. The Beatus ille … with its moral dimension and tendency to advise men is serious literature but here undermined by comic comparison and the languid pleasures of rustic pursuits.

A final indicator of irreverence is that the letrilla was minor poetic form previously used mainly in religious or rustic verse. It’s use immediately signals a satiric or burlesque intent, especially after a refrain that clearly expressed a “couldn’t care less” attitude.

By using the letrilla, Góngora was in the vanguard of a revitalization of popular poetry, the best-known example of which was the romance or ballad. It was part of a general reawakening to the wealth of traditional Spanish verse that cultured poets had largely relegated to second place to Italianate verse following its introduction by Garcilaso de la Vega and his Catalan friend Joan Boscà (Juan Boscán in Castilian) in the late 1520s. Like the romance, the letrilla featured widely in the verse and drama of cultured writers during the 17th-century Baroque period.

Sources.
Rivers, Elias ed.  Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain Prospect Heights Illinois 1988 (With English prose translations of the poems.)

Jones, R.O. A Literary History of Spain. The Golden Age: Prose and Poetry. London, New York 1971.
Robbins, Jeremy The Challenges of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature New York 1998.
Walters, D. Gareth The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry Cambridge 2002.
Wardropper, Bruce   Spanish Poetry of the Golden Age  New York 1971.

Fray Luis de León. Noche Serena and the Path to Truth.

Fray Luis de León. Noche serena.
Like his contemporary, the great mystic poet, San Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the Cross), Fray Luis’s poetic output was very modest. Like San Juan, too, Fray Luis is now much better known for his verse than for his devotional prose works.

Statue of Fray Luis de León at the University of Salamanca.

Fray Luis collected but did not publish his poems, although they circulated in manuscript form until finally published by Francisco de Quevedo in 1631 as antidote to the perceived excesses of culteranismo, the highly elaborate and complex poetic style of Quevedo’s literary enemy, Luis de Góngora and his followers (gongorismo is another term sometimes used). As you will see when reading Noche serena, the poem is remarkably easy to read and follow with vocabulary and ideas accessible to ordinary readers. It is an excellent example of the art of communication, of choosing words carefully for their suitability, musicality and proportion, i. e. knowing how to “select and how to put words together” (escoger y saber juntar las palabras, to paraphrase a contemporary of his, Ambrosio de Morales, 1546). 

Fray Luis’s composed 23 original poems, most of which were written in liras, an Italian stanza form introduced into Spain by Garcilaso de la Vega and very widely used. The lira is composed of five lines with a combination of heptasyllables and hendecasyllables (7 and 11 syllables), with the following consonantal rhyming scheme: aBabB, (lower case = heptasyllable, upper case = hendecasyllable). Noche serena is an example of this stanza form.

Noche serena (Peaceful Night) is one of several of Fray Luis’s poems that are anthology favourites. Like so much of his verse, Noche serena centres on the contrast between the sordidness, deception and brevity of earthly life and the eternal beauty and harmony of the heavens.

Structurally, Noche serena can be divided into two generally balanced halves, the first (Stanzas 1-8) focussing on the contrast between the beauty of the heavens and the baseness and seductive powers of the earth, with emphasis falling on the latter. The half concludes with an appeal to people to wake up and recognise how inconsequential the earth is compared to the heavens. The second half (stanzas 9-16) focusses entirely on the heavens and concludes with a description of the celestial bliss awaiting those who have followed the ordered journey through the cosmos to that place where Amor sagrado (“Sacred/Holy Love” i. e. God) dwells.

Noche serena.
1. Cuando contemplo el cielo
de innumerables luces adornado,
y miro hacia el suelo,
de noche rodeado, en sueño y en olvido sepultado,

2. El amor y la pena
despiertan en mi pecho un ansia ardiente,
despiden larga vena
los ojos hechos fuente;
la lengua dice al fin con voz doliente:

Translation: 1, When I contemplate the sky/ adorned with endless lights,/ and look towards the earth/ surrounded by darkness (and) buried in sleep and oblivion, 2. love and pain/ awaken in my breast a blazing longing,/ my eyes, become fountains/ pour out a flood of tears;/ (and) finally my tongue says in a sorrowful voice:

The first half opens with two stanzas which establish its framework: night leads Fray Luis to contemplate the contrast between the star-filled heavens and the earth buried in sleep and darkness. The operative word appears in the first line: contemplo (“I contemplate”). The result of that contemplation is what unfolds in the rest of the poem.

Night here plays two roles: the peaceful night of the title reveals the presence of the stars, but the night in line 4 serves as a metaphor for the ignorance in which the earth is submerged. Compare San Juan’s Noche oscura where night is seen positively (dichosa-“joyous,” amable-“pleasing”) because it allows the soul to escape and unite with its Beloved (God).

This contrast –light and darkness—is the source of the love and grief with which the second stanza opens. They also prompt a tearful yearning that points to the frustration Fray Luis feels, a frustration which leads him to address the heavens, source of light and beauty:

3. Morada de grandeza,
templo de claridad y hermosura
el alma que a tu alteza
nació ?qué desventura
la tiene en esta cárcel baja, escura?

4. ?Qué mortal desatino
de la verdad aleja ansí el sentido
que de tu bien divino
olvidado, perdido,
sigue la vana sombra, el bien fingido?

Translation: 3. Dwelling place of greatness/ temple of brightness and beauty/ my soul to your greatness/ born ?what misfortune/ keeps it in this lowly and dark prison? 4. What mortal blunder/ so separates my senses from the truth/ that forgetting (and) lost to/ your divine riches/ they pursue empty shadows and false riches?

The address and the two questions both dramatize, in stanzas 3 and 4, Fray Luis’s bewilderment that the soul –born for higher things—, and the senses –by means of which man should be able to capture and recognise the reality of the world around him—, have been led astray. The soul has been confined in a prison, a common image of the earth in religious verse (but which has added impact here since Fray Luis was himself imprisoned for four years by the Inquisition). The senses have been diverted from the truth and seduced by empty shadows and false treasures.

The result of this is that man has given himself completely over to sleep, with no thought for his destiny, and is unaware of the silent passage of the heavens that is robbing him of his life.

5. El hombre está entregado
al sueño, de su suerte no cuidando;
y con paso callado
el cielo, vueltas dando,
las horas del vivir le va hurtando.

Translation: 5. Man is given over/ to sleep, disregarding his destiny;/ and (meanwhile) with silent step/ the heavens, going around,/ are robbing him of his hours of life.

Fray Luis’s frustration now breaks out in two stanzas which open with direct exclamatory appeals, !Ay!…. First, he urges people to wake up from their sleep and recognise the danger that their souls –meant for greatness—might be living in shadows and deception. Second, he implores them to lift their eyes to the eternal heavens the sight of which will awaken them to the passing fancies of this seductive life.

6. !Ay!, !despertad mortales!
Mirad con atención en vuestro daño.
?Las almas inmortales,
hechas a bien tamaño,
podrán vivir de sombra y solo engaño?

7. !Ay!, levanted los ojos
a aquesta celestial eterna esfera:
burlaréis los antojos
de aquesa lisonjera
vida, con cuanto teme y cuanto espera,

Translation: 6. !Ay! wake up mortals!/ Pay careful attention to your loss./ ?Can (our) immortal souls,/ created for such great glory,/ live on shadows and illusion alone?/ 7. !Ay! lift up your eyes/ to this celestial (and) eternal sphere:/ (and) you will escape the whims/ of that seductive/ life, with all its fears and hopes.

The first part of the poem concludes with a rhetorical question that confirms the baseness of the earth compared to the greatness of the heavens, which contain all that is superior, in the past, present and future.

8. ?Es más que un breve punto
el bajo y torpe suelo, comparado
a aqueste gran trasunto,
do vive mejorado
lo que es, lo que será y lo que ha pasado?

Translation: 8. ?Is the low and graceless earth/ more than a brief spot compared/ to this great heavenly state,/ where, in an improved form, exists/ what is, what will be and what has been?

The second half (stanzas 9-16), which is devoted entirely to a description of the heavens, opens with an indirect question that projects us upwards to the heavens.

9. ?Quién mira el gran concierto
de aquestos resplandores eternales,
su movimiento cierto,
sus pasos desiguales
y en proporción concorde tan iguales:

Translation: 9. ?Who can look at the great concert/ of these eternal lights,/ their fixed movement,/ their unequal pace/ (and) yet so equal in their harmonious proportion: ...

The contemplation (“I contemplate”) of stanza 1, which led to a recognition of the baseness of earthly life compared to the beauty of the heavens, now changes to the act of looking: ?quién mira (“who can look…?”). At the same time, the “I” of stanza 1 expands the field of association to include all people. The “I” cannot conceive that anyone looking at the heavens could … what?

The answer cleverly “hangs in the air” until stanza 13, by which time we have been taken on a journey progressively from the moon to the outer galaxies of stars in the order allotted to them according to the cosmos as described by the Greek astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy: la luna (“the moon”), la luz do el saber llueve (= “Mercury”), la graciosa estrella/ de amor (= “Venus”), el sanguinoso Marte (“bloody Mars), el Júpiter benino (“kindly Jupiter”), Saturno (Saturn) and la muchedumbre/ del reluciente coro (= “the outermost stars”).

Finally, in stanza 13, a second question –again using the verb mirar (“to look”)– signals that we have reached the end of the journey and that we have now reached the object of both contemplation and seeing. But there is one further reminder of what we have left behind with the second question: ?Quién es el que esto mira (“who can look at all this”). Who can indeed look at the wonders of the heavens and still cherish the baseness of the earth, and doesn’t groan and sigh with the effort of trying to free the soul from what keeps it exiled from such treasures?

The final three stanzas (14-16) describe the conclusion of the journey. The increased emotion is underlined by the rapid repetition of aquí (“here”) and the end of the journey conveyed by words suggesting stillness: asentado (“seated”), asiento (“seat”), está (“is”), rodeado (“surrounded”). This is where God is found, although Fray Luis –keeping within the classical template established in the journey— does not mention God by name. Rather, he turns to the (Neo)Platonic idea of Love (Amor), here qualified by sagrado (“holy”) which provides the touch of Christian orthodoxy.

The penultimate stanza (15) maintains the sense of stillness and, alluding only briefly to the significant absence of darkness, focusses on the “immense beauty” and “extremely pure light” emanating everywhere. The final line –“Eternal springtime flowers here.”– prepares us for what is appropriately the climax of the poem, which Fray Luis carries off magnificently:

16. !Oh campos verdaderos!
!Oh prados con verdad dulces y amenos!
!Riquísimos mineros!
!Oh deleitosos senos!
!Repuestos valles, de mil bienes llenos!

Translation: 16. !Oh true fields!/ !Oh meadows sweet and pleasant with truth!/ !Extremely rich mines!/ !Oh havens of delight!/ !Hidden valleys stocked with endless riches!  

This is the end of the journey and all movement has vanished completely, thanks to the complete absence of verbs and the abundance of adjectives, seven in total. The painful tears related to earthly life have given way to joy, the intensity of which is movingly conveyed in the series of exclamations and the anaphora !oh…! (ll. 1,2,4. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of successive lines or phrases).

Both the exclamations and anaphora also give structural unity/ harmony to the beauty that the light of the preceding stanza reveals. But these technical features alone are not sufficient to capture the celestial bliss experienced at the end of the journey. In order for readers (or listeners –poetry should be read aloud!) to be able to visualise the scene of heavenly paradise, Fray Luis makes use of something that they could relate to: nature.

The Bible itself make plentiful use of nature images and in the secular world pastoral literature was very much in vogue during the Renaissance.  Concrete words drawn from pastoral descriptions of the natural world –”fields,” “meadows,” “valleys,” “havens” (senos)–, give “body” to the abstract terms used so far (contento, paz, Amor sagrado, hermosura, luz). But at the same time, Fray adds two related words in the first two lines that balance the abstract with the concrete: verdaderos and verdad. These fields and meadows in paradise are not described as “green,” but “true” or “real” (although their relationship to verde -“green”- is fortuitously suggested in both verdaderos, and verdad!).

Of course, the escape from earthly baseness and ascent through the Ptolemaic cosmos to the “true fields” etc. point to the journey as a spiritual experience. No one doubts the Christian context within which Fray Luis worked, and yet nowhere is that spiritual experience related to any readily identifiable Christian context. Terms such as “God,” “heaven,” “paradise,” for example, are conspicuously absent. On the contrary, it is via classical allusions and names that the soul undertakes the journey upwards and heaven is seen as “immense beauty” and God as “Sacred Love”, terms which are more in keeping with Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophies.

Uniting Neo(Platonic) terminology to the Christian message –here the ascent of the soul to heaven— is the result of the humanistic search for order and meaning. Christian thinkers found within classical philosophy strands of thought applicable to their message, especially the Platonic concept that the beauty of the visual world or earth was a reflection of the world of Ideas or Truth, or for Neoplatonists, Love. Contemplation of earthly beauty: fields, meadows, valleys, etc. led to recognising in them reflections of true beauty: hence true fields, meadows and valleys.

Sources.
Gies, David T. ed. The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature Cambridge 2009.
Jones, R. O.  A Literary History of Spain: The Golden Age: Prose and Poetry London, New York. 1971.
Rivers, Elias Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, Prospect Heights, Illinois 1966, reissued 1988. (Has very useful English prose translations).
Walters, D. Gareth  The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry Cambridge 2002.
Wardropper, Bruce   Spanish Poetry of the Golden Age  New York 1971.
Image of Fray Luis at the University of Salamanca By Victoria Rachitzky – originally posted to Flickr as Salamanca, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=109365352
January 13, 2023: Fray Luis would undoubtedly be moved by photos of the awesome beauty and magnificence of the heavens as seen through the lens of the James Webb telescope. For examples, see https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-64051171 published by the BBC Britain.

Fray Luis de León 1527-91. Life and Work.

Fray Luis de León 1527-91.
Born in the village of Belmonte (in the province of Cuenca, Castile-La Mancha), Fray Luis de León is regarded as a key literary figure in Spain’s Golden Age (approx. 1500-1700): an outstanding scholar and influential exponent of humanistic thought and one of its most celebrated poets, even though his poetic output was very modest.

Fray Luis de León. By Francisco Pacheco c. 1599.

At the age of 14, he entered the University of Salamanca where, with the exception of a short period at the University of Alcalá de Henares, he spent all his academic life.

In 1544, he took vows as an Augustinian friar and over time held various chairs and a vice rectorship at Salamanca.  In 1551, he attended the Council of Trent (Trento, in Northern Italy), a series of meetings between 1545 and 1563 called by the Catholic Church to counter the spread of Protestantism.

Pugnacious by nature, Fray Luis found himself caught up in academic controversies and petty jealousies, including sharp tensions between the Augustinians and their arch rivals, the Dominicans. This came to the fore especially following his unauthorised translation with commentary of the Song of Songs into Spanish between 1561 and 1562, and over his defence of the superiority of the Hebrew text over the Vulgate (the Latin Bible used by the Catholic Church) to clarify matters of ambiguity, doubt or perceived error in the Old Testament. He himself alludes to the unfriendly atmosphere and narrow-minded jealousies when he says “we all lived as if at war on account of the claims and competitions, and for that reason we all had enemies (Mirrer-Singer, 42. Transl. mine.)

The questioning of the authority of the Vulgate, particularly at a time when Protestantism was a threat to the Catholic Church, left Fray Luis open to accusations of heresy, especially since he was a converso (i. e. of Jewish descent). In 1572, he was denounced to the Inquisition and imprisoned in Valladolid for over four years, during which time his health suffered owing to the harsh conditions. His only consolation was that he was allowed to read and write in his cell; out of this emerged several poems and chapters of De los nombres de Cristo (On the Names of Christ, pub. 1583, revised 1585), on the meaning of Christ’s various names taken from both Old and New Testaments.

Fray Luis’s lecture room,  Salamanca.

On his return to Salamanca, Fray Luis is said to have begun his first lecture with the words: “As I was saying yesterday … “ If true, these words signalled that he was prepared to continue as he had before his imprisonment, ready once again to defend himself and his ideas.

Despite his controversial academic career and combative personality, in 1579 Fray Luis was elected to the University’s most prestigious chair, the professorship of Theology/ Holy Scripture.

During his lifetime, Fray Luis’s only published work in Spanish was De los nombres de Cristo. Around 1580, he collected but did not publish his poetry. It was eventually published in 1631 by Francisco de Quevedo as an antidote to the perceived excesses of culteranismo or gongorismo (the poetry of Luis de Góngora, 1561-1627, and his followers).

Fray Luis spent the last years of his life editing the works of St. Teresa de Avila (1515-82), Carmelite nun and prominent religious reformer who, with San Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the Cross), is considered the leading mystic writer of Spain’s Golden Age.

Fray Luis and the Dissemination of the Bible’s Message.
Although a classical scholar, Fray Luis felt the need to popularise the message of the Bible in a way that was accessible and understandable to a wider cultured audience with little or no knowledge of Latin. That meant translating the Bible into Spanish, or at least parts of it.  His unauthorised translation of the Song of Songs (1561-62) was an example of this; it was a translation into Spanish written for a cousin, Isabel Osorio, a nun who could not read Latin..

However, since the Council of Trent reaffirmed that the Latin Vulgate was the only authorised version of Holy Scripture allowed, translations of the Bible or parts of the Bible were inadmissible. And within the University of Salamanca, there was strong opposition from conservative factions, the result of which was for Fray Luis, imprisonment, as we have seen.

Nevertheless, Fray Luis did not stop writing commentaries in Spanish of biblical texts, which may be seen as his way of circumventing direct opposition to the Council of Trent’s authority while at the same time exposing a wider audience to the Bible’s message in their own language. Such is the case of his Exposición del Libro de Job, Explanation of the Book of Job, a translation and extensive commentary composed over several years, beginning in 1571. De los nombres de Cristo is not a translation of a biblical text but a treatise in Spanish in which, through the dialogue of three friends, readers might understand the significance of the various names attributed to Christ in the Bible, e. g. shepherd, road, mountain, husband, prince of peace…  

But although Fray Luis was an exponent of popularising the Bible, he was at the same time careful to underline the dangers inherent in unsupervised reading and was especially conscious of the threat of Protestantism which offered false interpretations of the Bible. Hence the importance of the commentaries, which were in effect guides for the uninitiated.

Another biblically inspired work in Spanish, La perfecta casada (The Perfect Wife, 1583), is an extended commentary on Chapter 31 of Solomon’s Proverbs. Written for his newly married niece, La perfecta … was intended as a moral and practical guide to a wife’s duties within marriage, both as spouse and mother. It quickly became a popular wedding gift for young women. 

Fray Luis’s biblical and theological scholarship was based on a formidable knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, both the languages and their cultures, as well as Italian Renaissance thought. He translated Virgil’s Eclogues and part of his Georgics in addition to selected Odes by Horace (including the famous Beatus ille… “Blessed is he…”), fragments of the Greeks Pindar and Euripides, and a few pieces by Petrarch and Pietro Bembo. Platonism, “Christianised” by the Neoplatonists of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, lent itself well to Fray Luis’s view of nature as a reflection of an ideal, higher moral and spiritual beauty or harmony. His retreat to the countryside in, for example, De los nombres de Cristo and many poems, also allows him to combine Neoplatonic and Christian ideas with the Horatian (Latin) praise for the simple life while condemning political corruption, commercial avarice, and moral failings.

Fray Luis Intellectual, Escapist or Mystic?
The theological and intellectual disputes Fray Luis was engaged in confirm his combative personality but his works, especially his verse, betray a strong inner need for the peace and tranquility of the natural world, which can be found in the countryside, or the ordered and harmonious progression of the heavens. The serenity of the countryside offers an escape from the pettiness and avarice of urban life as does the contemplation of the mysteries of the heavens.

Fray Luis’s escapism, however, had a purpose: it was a withdrawal from worldly life with its trivialities in order to argue for spiritual values or to lead an active, intellectual pursuit of knowledge. For Fray Luis was an enormously curious individual, which is one of the main reasons why it is an oversimplification to call him a mystic poet. There are moments when he seems close to the mystic union with God but his intellectual curiosity asserts itself, so that God in effect becomes the answer to the numerous questions that are unanswerable in our earthly life. When he sees God, he will be given the answers to all the questions that surround him on earth. Fray Luis was a religious and very spiritual Christian but as a mystic he is quite far from his great contemporary, San Juan de la Cruz.

Fray Luis and Language.
Although his knowledge of biblical and classical cultures made Fray Luis one of Spain’s most celebrated humanistic scholars, his success also owed much to his command of the Spanish language. His prose is direct, logical and elegant, and accessible to or understandable by ordinary people, which was his aim. He was, in short, a master at communicating his message.

Likewise, his poetry –although imbued with classical and biblical spirit— combines clarity of thought and expression. Nevertheless, this clarity did not suppose simplicity of ideas. For example, in perhaps his most famous poem, De la vida retirada (“On the Withdrawn Life”), the image of the “hidden/path” with which the poem opens can allude to 1. the literal path/road to La Flecha, the retreat outside Salamanca belonging to the Augustinian Order, 2. the hidden path by means of which the soul escapes, or 3. the symbolic image of Christ as the true path.

The attention/ care Fray Luis gave to his translations reflected his humanistic interest in his own language. Respect for the ancient languages did not mean disdain for his own. On the contrary, Fray Luis vigorously defended the use of the vernacular, like many of his contemporaries. In his dedication to Book 3 of De los nombres de Cristo, he expressed surprise that some readers of the first two parts were amazed that a theologian like him had written about religious matters in romance (i. e. Spanish/Castilian). Some refused to read his works for that reason, but would have read them had they been written in Latin. Fray Luis attacked this linguistic snobbery and the low esteem in which some held their native language and their assumption that to speak romance was to speak like common people. Nevertheless, at the same time that he defended his native tongue, he recognised the need to write well, choosing words carefully for their suitability, musicality and proportion, i. e. knowing how to “select and how to put words together” (escoger y saber juntar las palabras, to paraphrase a contemporary of his, Ambrosio de Morales, 1546).

Sources.
Gies, David T. ed. The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature Cambrdige, New York 2009.
Mirrer-Singer, Louise  “Fray Luis de León’s Rhetoric in the Exposicion de Job” Pacific Coast Philology. Vol 13 (Oct. 1978), pp. 51-59. Accessed via JSTOR. Trans. Mine.
Rivers, Elias Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, Prospect Heights, Illinois 1966, reissued 1988. (Has very useful English prose translations).
Walters, D. Gareth  The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry Cambridge 2002.
Image of Fray Luis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_de_Le%C3%B3n
Fray Luis’s Lecture Room: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_de_Le%C3%B3n

Angel Ganivet (1865-1898). Idearium español. 1897.

Angel Ganivet (1865-1898). Idearium español.
This post deals with the contribution of Angel Ganivet to the so-called “problem of Spain” precipitated by events in the 19th century, especially during approximately the last 25 years. The 19th century was a period of convulsive political and social occurrences which underlined Spain’s impotence on the world scene and its internal malaise. In Idearium español, Ganivet basically argues for a new form of imperialism or colonialism based on cultural domination to replace territorial control which was being lost by Spain during the 19th century.

The humiliating defeat of Spanish forces to the United States in 1898 and the loss of its last overseas colonies provoked an outpouring of writings analysing the causes for and seeking solutions to the country’s social and political degeneration or impotence. Among the writers was a literary group that came to be known as the Generation of 1898 (or ’98). But the concerns of the Generation of ’98 were not new nor unique. They were preceded by several writers and activists who expressed their distress and offered their solutions in different ways. We have looked at two ways that the “problem of Spain” was addressed in  Generation of 1898. Precursors and the “Problem of Spain.” The following looks at Angel Ganivet’s solution penned in his essay Idearium español, published in 1897.

Angel Ganivet

Brief Biography.
Born in Granada in 1865, into a modest, middle class family, Ganivet distinguished himself intellectually from an early age. He had a special aptitude for languages. Besides Greek and Latin, he also studied French and German, took up Arabic and wrote a doctoral thesis on the importance of Sanskrit, which he defended successfully in 1889. This was actually his second thesis, having earlier written one on contemporary Spain which was, however, rejected.

In 1891, Ganivet competed with Miguel de Unamuno for the chair of Greek at the University of Salamanca. He was unsuccessful, but he and Unamuno maintained a friendly and dialectic contact through public correspondence that appeared in newspapers and periodicals. The correspondence appeared in book form in 1912, under the title El porvenir de España (The Future of Spain).

In 1892, Ganivet met Amelia Roldán Llanos, who became his mistress and by whom he had a daughter (who died in infancy) and a son. In the same year, he won a position as vice-consul in Antwerp (Belgium). He remained there until 1895 when he was promoted to consul in Helsinki. Three years later, he was appointed consul to Latvia. Amelia, from whom he had in the meantime been alienated, followed him there against his wishes. On the day she arrived, November 29, 1898, Ganivet committed suicide, drowning himself (on his second attempt!) in the River Dvina in Riga (Latvia’s capital).

Ganivet’s private life was not as happy as his intellectual and career success might lead us to expect. He was a conflicted and pessimistic individual, blunt to some people and an introvert to others. Ethically unbending, he also indulged in sexual pursuits from which he contracted syphilis. His father committed suicide when Ganivet was 9, and Amelia had a brief affair in Barcelona while he was in Antwerp. Both events affected him deeply.

Ganivet was more a spiritual individual than a religious man. For him, spiritual regeneration was the desired end for Spain, which could be achieved by the application of reason and a sceptical approach to religion, an approach that did not allow him, for example, to accept Catholic dogma. If anything, his religion was that of ideas rather than organised religion. Predictably, then, he did not think highly of the Papacy, which he criticized for sowing discord in Christian countries (110) and for its intrusion in secular matters. 

Works.
Most of Ganivet’s major works were written in Finland and in a relatively short period. Besides Idearium español, Ganivet also wrote two novels, La conquista del reino de Maya por el último conquistador español, Pío Cid (1897, The Conquest of the Kingdom of Maya by the last Conquistador, Pío Cid), and Los trabajos del infatigable creador Pío Cid (1898, The Labours of the Indefatigable Creator Pío Cid). In both, the names of the hero, Pío Cid, combine the two sides that Ganivet saw in the history of Spain, the man of action (Cid) and the pious, spiritually inclined individual (Pío) whose weapons were discussion and persuasion.

While in Helsinki, Ganivet also wrote a series of articles for El Defensor, a Granada newspaper, which were later collected and published under the title Granada la Bella (1896, Granada the Beautiful). At the same time, he authored — again for El Defensor— 22 essays about Finland. These were published as Cartas finlandesas (Letters from Finland) in 1898.

IDEARIUM ESPANOL (1897).
Published in 1897 when Ganivet was only 32, Idearium español first appeared anonymously with only the dedication to his father, Francisco Ganivet Morcillo, hinting at the identity of the author.

The Roots of Spain’s Spirit.
The Idearium is divided into three untitled sections (A: 9-74; B: 75-123; C: 124-148). Ganivet first traces historical and geographical factors that combined to forge Spain’s national identity or more specifically its spirit. 

Going back to Roman times, Ganivet saw in the stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (born in Cordoba c. 4 BC, died 65 AD) a man of indestructible spirit who refused to admit defeat by anything alien to his nature. In addition, Senequism for Ganivet was infused with noble, just and humanitarian doctrines (13). These qualities, Ganivet believed, epitomised the Spanish character or spirit (10). Furthermore, they coincided with and were therefore easily absorbed by Christianity which, with the help of its evangelical passion, eventually replaced the old Roman religions (15-16).

The “Arab invasion” resulted in what Ganivet calls “the most original and fruitful creation of our religious spirit:” i. e. Christianity’s resistance seen in terms of “permanent war” i. e. the Reconquista (18). But the several centuries of war and close contact also had other consequences on Christianity which gave rise, according to Ganivet, to “the most distinct tendency in Spain’s religious spirit”: mysticism, a combination of Christian military religiosity and Arab sensuality.

Turning to geography (30), Ganivet theorizes that land has a profound influence on the psychology or spirit of a nation (31). It is a substratum deeper and longer lasting even than religion (31). For Ganivet, land can be divided into three forms: continents, peninsulas and islands, each with its peculiar spirit (32).

The characteristic of continental peoples is resistance, peninsular peoples are independent and islanders are aggressive (32-33). He offers as example of the latter, England, whose history is one of permanent aggression projected outwards through its naval power. His example of continental peoples is France for whom patriotism is a guiding principle because, bordering several countries, it has always fought defensive (and offensive) frontier battles (35).

Spain is a peninsular nation, but since it is almost an island Spaniards have grown up believing they are also islanders (37)! As a result, Spain’s history is “an endless series of invasions and expulsions, a constant war of independence” (37) that has produced aggressive individuals resistant to organisation. He gives as examples the Lusitanian guerrilla fighter, Viriatus, the Cid (43) and the individuals who conquered America (44). Spain, he points out, did not employ an army in its conquest of America, but groups of individual soldiers (49) susceptible to insubordination (49) and hostile to being organised. Ideally, Spaniards would like to own a legal card proclaiming: Este español está autorizado para hacer lo que le dé la gana” (“This Spaniard is authorised to do whatever he wants” 55).

Spaniards are self confident individuals whose love of independence leads them to pay no attention to others (69). There is no middle ground for them (67). This has also led to a longstanding lack of leadership (138) which has seen Spain expend its energies on heroic and vain exploits beyond its borders with the result that it is now no more than a “hospital for invalids and a breeding ground for beggars” (72).

The Road to Recovery?
If Spain is to recover its international prestige, it must do so by restoring its spiritual life (139). This can be achieved only by the application of intelligence, inner or spiritual energy, and ideas.

Force is not the answer to Spain’s current misery and poverty (125), and a country’s greatness is not measured by the extent of its territory or the number of its inhabitants (119) but on its spiritual energy and the richness of its ideas. This is, in a rather convoluted way, a defence of Spain’s colonial conquest of the Americas, especially in view of European criticism. The conquest was not carried out by a militarily organised army but by “legitimate guerrilla fighters” (44), “a few adventurers” (45), “heroes” (45) driven by idealism, a “fuerza ideal” (45).

Ganivet rejects the colonisation of old, which meant conquest of territory, and is even more opposed to modern colonisation which is based on commerce (115, 116) and exploitation. To overcome another political power, Spain must fight to win by ideas (114).

Predictably, given Spain’s past colonial exploits, Ganivet’s attention is focused on Spain’s relationship with Latin America, i. e. on those countries which were once its colonies and those that still belonged to Spain (Cuba and Puerto Rico, although in 1898 these too were lost). He rejects a political confederation of Hispano-American states as unworkable and favours an intellectual or spiritual confederation. But this depends on Spain: it must generate ideas as the basis of the unity, and these must be offered freely if they are to have effect (98).

Ganivet does not, then, advocate a return to the Spain’s colonial past but neither does he favour rejecting that past entirely. Rather, guided by intelligence he seeks a new beginning aimed at creating a “family” union of Hispanic countries infused with “our [i. e. Spain’s] ideals” (128). This would win Spain something more important than land (128). But to achieve this, Spain must recover its intellectual prestige (100) and its spiritual energy: “Spain has to begin a new evolution soon … which is a continuation of traditional Spain … [and] what we must take from the tradition is … [its] spirit” (120). It was that spiritual energy, and not its physical strength, that was the source of Spain’s past triumphs (106). Spain’s ships, he argues, weren’t manned only by sailors, they were driven by ideas (106).

So, what is to be done?
What Spain must not do is imitate French, English, or German ideas (126). On the contrary, it must seek ideas within its own borders (123). It must look within itself because the wholesale absorption of ideas from other countries implies a loss of what is authentically Spanish, leaving Spain in the state of abjection in which she has long stagnated.

Where will Spain’s Ideas come from?
Unfortunately, Spain’s Catholic education system has failed to inspire ideas: “… Catholic education has condemned us to intellectual atrophy …” ( 130) which might explain why Ganivet does not advocate a role for the Church in his call for a spiritual regeneration.

What about secular, free education? Sadly for Ganivet, free education has followed the wrong path: “We’ve chosen the wrong direction …  free education is carrying us to rapid coarseness,” he declares (130). It is tempting to think that Ganivet’s criticism here alludes to the Institución Libre de Enseñanza founded in 1876 by a group of professors recently fired from Madrid University. Certainly, it is strange that a critic as perceptive as Ganivet has nothing to say about the Institución given its radical approach to and impact on education.

As for Spain’s universities, they are bereft of ideas. They are, together with the State and the Municipalities, “empty organisms” (131), waiting for everything to come from elsewhere (131). 

Is there a Solution?
 “If I were consulted as a spiritual doctor,” Ganivet says in what is possibly his most famous comment, “to provide a diagnosis of the illness which we Spaniards suffer from … I would say that the illness can be given the name of ‘not wishing,’ or in more scientific terms using the Greek word “abulia” which means the same: the disappearance or serious lack of will power” (131). In practical terms, he argues, “abulia” manifests itself in “el no hacer: doing nothing, apathy;” in intellectual terms it is characterised by “no atender: not paying attention, or indifference.” Spain, he claims, has for a long time been indifferent to what is going on in the world; it is interested in nothing.

Ganivet’s pessimistic analysis appears to leave little room for optimism, and yet he declares that he has faith in Spain’s spiritual future (144). At a time when other the imperial adventures of other European countries were seen as proof of Western superiority, Ganivet opts for a new type of leadership: the sharing of intellectual ideas and spiritual energy.

Where other European powers were expanding, Spain’s empire was contracting; it was the first to undergo a postcolonial adjustment. “Spain is the first European nation to be enlarged through expansion and conquest; it is the first to decline and complete its material evolution … and it is now the first to have to work on political and social restoration in a completely new way.” (126) This is Spain’s opportunity. This is its way of being ahead of the other European overseas powers, still obsessed by materialistic colonialism.

What the country needs to do is recover its faith in its own ideas and not seek elsewhere what it has within it (148). Spaniards must make a collective act of contrition which will produce “spiritual bread for us and our [Hispanic] family.” (148). Thanks to this rebirth, Spaniards will find a large number of brotherly nations i. e. Hispanic, which they can influence with their spirit and ideas.

Although he doesn’t say so, this is in effect another form of colonialism, in this case cultural hegemony which may also be seen as a “reaction to the threat of losing the last colonies” (Krauel 192).

Idearium español is a challenging read. It is a dense work compressing a great deal of detail in its approximately 150 pages (depending on the edition). But it suffers from repetition, inconsistencies, incongruities and lack of practicality, as many critics have pointed out. E. g. Ganivet defends the conquest of America as heroic and yet later he views it as an historical error (72) and a burden (108) which left the country a “hospital for invalids and a breeding ground for beggars” (72).  It also lacks critical balance in emphasising the loss of national character or spirit over the deficiencies of political or economic factors, which scarcely figure in the essay. That is, Ganivet has little to say about Spanish commercial exploitation from the very beginning of the country’s colonial ventures. On the other hand, he is critical of other European countries’ material exploitation of their colonies.

Idearium español is a work that shows Ganivet attempting to come to terms with Spain’s political inertia and the potential loss of what remained of its empire. It was written at a time when Spain was engaged in fighting a bloody war against Cuban rebels that went on intermittently from 1868 (1868-78, 1879-80, 1895-98). By the end of 1898, it had lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.

The loss of imperial power seen in terms of land and political control was hard for Ganivet to accept, so he adjusted his sights to retaining power through ideas, that is through Spanish ideas and ideals. His rejection of Spain’s physical colonialism is in fact forced upon him, given the loss of Latin American territory during the 19th century. As a result, he reanalyses the accomplishments of the 16th-century Spanish conquistadors and now attributes those triumphs to their ideas. Spain’s greatest successes, he says, were inspired more by “our spiritual energy” (106) rather than “our strength/force” (107).

As for Spain’s material failure in the 19th century (i. e. the loss of territory), it can be transformed into spiritual success provided Spaniards shake off their apathy. The Idearium is Ganivet’s attempt to awaken Spaniards to what has happened to them and to shake them out of their indifference so that they could, once again, to be in the forefront of a new imperial project: the empire of ideas, or in other words, Spain’s cultural values.

Sources.
Ganivet, Angel Idearium espanol Madrid: Espasa-Calpe 1981, 11th ed. In Spanish. Page numbers from this text appear in brackets.
Ginsberg, Judith Angel Ganivet London: Tamesis, 1985.
Krauel, Javier “Angel Ganivet’s Idearium español as Fin-de-Siecle Imperial Melancholia” in Revista Hispanica Moderna, 65.2 (2012), 181-97. Can be accessed at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/487638
Tulimirovic, Bojana “Angel Ganivet y el Idearium espanol: La cosmovision spiritual de la Espana del fin del Siglo in https://lateinamerika.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/fileadmin/sites/aspla/bilder/ip_2013/Bojana_Tuli_Ganivet_TRABAJO_FINAL.pdf
Photo of Ganivet:
By Manuel Compañy – (1903-12-05). “Actualidades”. Blanco y Negro (657). ISSN 0006-4572., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59951970

 

Generation of 1898. Precursors and the “Problem of Spain.”

The Generation of 1898. The “Problem of Spain.”
The Generation of 1898 was a group of literary intellectuals –first identified in 1913 by José Martínez Ruiz (better known as Azorín, 1873-1967)— who contributed significantly towards analysing the “Problem of Spain” (a catch phrase of the time).

There is no unanimous agreement regarding those who made up the Generation, but the following are generally considered members: essayist Azorín, novelist, poet, essayist, philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), novelist Pío Baroja (1872-1956), poet Antonio Machado, essayist Ramiro de Maeztu (of early days before becoming a Catholic fascist, 1874-1936), novelist, poet and dramatist Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936), and dramatist Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954).

These writers were inspired by a patriotic urge to uncover the causes of Spain’s political and social malaise and suggest remedies to cure that illness.  In this, they formed part of a wider group, known as regeneracionistas (regenerationists), who sought solutions that would help their country recover those qualities that had once made it Europe’s most powerful country.

Background.
What was it that triggered this intense preoccupation with Spain? Why the year 1898? Briefly, during the 19th century, Spain suffered the indignity of losing all that remained of its transoceanic empire at a time when its European rivals, Britain and France, were expanding their overseas territories. The loss culminated in 1898 in a humiliating defeat by the fledgling USA in the Spanish-American war; it quickly became known in Spain as El Desastre (The Disaster). The defeat crystalised in dramatic fashion Spain’s political impotence, and triggered an outpouring of writings questioning and analysing the country’s malaise.

However, this was nothing new. As the most powerful nation in Europe in the 16th century, with an empire over which the sun never set, it was predictable that at some time its glory would begin to dim, which would trigger enquiries over its demise. That started as early as the first years of the 17th century. Social and economic commentators known as arbitristas drew a picture of poverty and economic disparity far removed from the illusion of imperial greatness projected by Spain’s ruling class. Awareness continued in the 18th century in the writings of an enlightened, intellectual minority. It was a period when Spain –despite its huge empire– was reduced to a junior role in Europe as Britain, France and Austria called the shots. In the 19th century, political and social convulsions only emphasised the country’s degeneration or disintegration; it could not manage its own affairs leave alone control its colonies. Internally its geographical integrity was threatened by a renewed regionalism, externally it lost all its transoceanic territories.

The buzzword for the remedy sought against degeneration was “regeneration.” Different solutions were proposed depending on the political or social stripe of those advocating changes. Suggested changes included Europeanisation (following the industrial success of Spain’s northern neighbours), renovation of the political order and elimination of corruption, agrarian reform, spiritual reawakening, a crusade against the evils of liberalism, and an overhaul of an inefficient education system.

In this post, we’ll look at the approach to the “Problem of Spain” and the solutions sought to overcome the country’s malaise from two perspectives: 1. A practical approach through the creation of an educational institute; 2. A literary approach through prose fiction. Each demonstrates that the Generation of ‘98 was following a well-trodden path and that their concerns complemented those of that Generation. A third approach –an essay– can be read in Idearium español by Angel Ganivet (1865-1898).

Institución Libre de Enseñanza. Free Institute of Learning, 1876.
One of the most innovative steps towards solving Spain’s ills was the establishment in Madrid in 1876 of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (Free Institute of Learning) by professors who had been fired from their positions at the University of Madrid in 1875. Their goal was to create a secular and liberal alternative to the rote-learning educational system controlled by the Catholic Church. By initiating this, they hoped to arm Spain with leaders able to guide the country unhindered by restrictive and prejudiced policies inherited from the past.

Initially established as a free, independent university to advance the study of modern science and philosophy and prepare an elite for the modernisation of Spain, it soon ran into difficulties and turned its attention to primary and secondary education.  

The moving spirit behind the Institución was Francisco Giner de los Ríos (1839-1915) a liberally minded teacher much influenced by his mentor, Julián Sanz del Río (1814-69), who had been educated in Germany and introduced to the works of a little-known German philosopher, Christian Friedrich Krause (1781-1832).

Krausismo as adopted in Spain under Giner’s guidance placed great emphasis on moral and intellectual integrity. The Institución fostered an atmosphere where questioning of the status quo was encouraged and curiosity nurtured. Children were allowed to make up their own minds without prejudice and based on rational thought and deduction. Self-reliance was fostered and pupils were urged to practice punctuality and self discipline. Religion was not avoided, but no preference was given to a particular confession.

Modern, practical teaching methods were introduced and mere memorisation rejected. These pedagogical innovations were accompanied by a modern syllabus that included “courses on art, folklore and technical subjects; pupils were encouraged to play games and take excursions into the countryside” (Carr 470). They were taught to appreciate music and the culture of common people. The Institución sought to replace the traditional teacher-oriented dominance of the classroom by establishing a more personal contact between teacher and pupils. And, truly radical for the time, girls were accepted and allowed to participate in all activities, including outdoor sports, alongside boys.

The Institución Libre de Enseñanza was like a breath of fresh air in the stultified atmosphere of education at the time, where state education was severely ill-equipped and two thirds was in the hands of religious orders. Both Azorín and Antonio Machado enjoyed the benefits of its education.

The Institute’s influence was felt in the creation of a foundation for the Study of Historical and Scientific Research in 1907 to provide scholarships for students to study abroad. More far reaching in its impact was the establishment of the Residencia de Estudiantes (Students’ Residence) in Madrid in 1910. The Residencia would remain an intellectual centre until the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), lodging such celebrities as the poet/dramatist Federico García Lorca, painter Salvador Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel, and hosting numerous intellectuals invited to give lectures, e. g. composer Manuel de Falla, poets Pedro Salinas and Rafael Alberti and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Predictably, militant Catholics and right-wing politicians viewed the Institute and the Residence and the liberal, secular values they championed with considerable alarm. Some right-wing politicians even claimed that they contributed in creating the atmosphere leading to the Civil War. Predictably, with the outbreak of the War, the Institute was closed down and its assets confiscated.

Prose Fiction.
The last quarter of the 19th century witnessed a flowering of the realistic novel which developed from the attachment of Romanticism to costumbrismo (interest in and portrayal of local, folkloric customs and manners). Among the best-known authors are Emilia Bardo Bazán (1851-1921), Leopoldo Alas (Clarín, 1852-1901) and Vicente Blasco Ibañez (1867-1928), whose finest novels describe life –without Romantic nostalgia– respectively in Galicia, Asturias and Valencia.

Nevertheless, the most outstanding novelist was Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920), a prolific writer whose work portrays a vast panorama of Spanish society. Born in the Canary Islands, he moved to Madrid when 19, quickly abandoned his law studies and adapted himself to the pleasant life of the capital before settling down to become an acute observer of Spanish life and politics. He travelled widely in Spain and England and France, and was a great admirer of Charles Dickens and Honoré de Balzac with whom he has frequently been compared.

In 1876, the year the Institución Libre de Enseñanza was founded, Galdós published Dona Perfecta a novel of contemporary social life in rural Spain and one of the most widely read of his works. Set in the fictional town of Orbajosa, the plot centres on the conflict that arises after Pepe Rey, a young liberally-educated engineer, arrives to marry his cousin, Rosario. The marriage has been arranged by Doña Perfecta, Pepe’s aunt, a devout, wealthy and influential widow in a town dominated by narrow minded religiosity. Foremost among the religious cast is Don Inocencio, Doña Perfecta’s spiritual adviser and canon of the cathedral whose plans for his niece’s son to marry Rosario look to be foiled by Pepe Rey’s arrival. Don Inocencio’s sanctimonious and feigned inferiority vis a vis Pepe’s “modern” outlook allows him to twist Pepe’s words and negatively influence Doña Perfecta’s attitude towards her nephew. Predictably, Pepe –the outsider—soon finds himself battling the reactionary ideas of the Orbajosans. Obstacles grow to the proposed marriage prompting the frustrated Pepe to plot to elope with Rosario. However, he is tragically shot and killed, at the instance of Doña Perfecta, by one of her henchmen, and the luckless Rosario is consigned to an asylum.

Widely recognised as a thesis novel, Galdós converted the religious intolerance and narrowmindedness of the Orbajosans into a cautionary, allegorical tale of the dangers facing “modern” Spain (i. e. Pepe) in its struggle with the reactionary views of “old,” provincial Spain, Orbajosa (the etymology of which is possibly twofold: Urbs Augusta –Venerable Town—or equally appropriate Orb Ajosa – Garlic Town!).

Sources.
Barton, Simon A History of Spain New York 2nd. ed. 2009.
Carr, Raymond Spain 1808-1939 Oxford 1966.
Esdaile, Charles J. Spain in the Liberal Age: From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939 Oxford 2000.
Perez Galdos, Benito Doña Perfecta ed. Rodolfo Cardona, New York: Dell 1965. In Spanish.
Turner, Harriet “Benito Pérez Galdós” in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed, David T. Gies Cambridge 2009, pp. 392-409.
http://contenidos.educarex.es/mci/2004/30/WebQuest/faseprevia_archivos/www.sispain.org/english/language/1898.html

Generation of 1898. What Does the Term Mean?

Generation of 1898.

The Background.
Look up  “Generation of 1898 (or ’98, or the Spanish Generación del ‘98)” and you’ll find something like: a loose term used to describe a group of intellectuals/ writers who, faced with the “problem of Spain,” set about analysing the state of crisis and loss of political prestige that their country suffered at the turn of the 20th century.

But why 1898? That was the year when Spain suffered the loss of its last transoceanic territory, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, in a war against the USA. Called simply El Desastre (The Disaster) by Spaniards, the Spanish American War was a humiliating and costly defeat. It left Spain with only Morocco as the last remnant of its once huge empire at a time when its former European rivals were consolidating their presence worldwide.

The Disaster of 1898 served, then, as a dramatic and forceful reminder of Spain’s political downfall, when pretensions of being a world power were shattered once and for all and demoralised Spaniards of all persuasions looked for causes of and solutions to the country’s painful decay.

The decay was not only on an international scale. Internally, Spain was threatened by a revival of regionalism, especially in Catalonia and Euskadi (Basque Country), while socially it was undergoing an upheaval. There was widespread political corruption with fixed elections becoming progressively more farcical; social disaffection was reflected in the growth of anarchism and the birth of a socialist political party (the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol) in Madrid in 1879 and its union affiliate, the UGT: Unión General de Trabajadores) in 1888. Worker conditions were difficult and bread riots reflected the insecurity and instability of life in both rural and urban centres. There was anticlerical sentiment especially in Andalusia and Catalonia, and attempted assassinations and bombings in Barcelona. In 1897 Prime Minister Antonio Canovas was assassinated at the Santa Agueda spa resort, near Mondragón (southeast of Bilbao), in Euskadi.

Azorín in 1928.

This, then, is the background against which members of the Generation of 1898 grew up. That seems straightforward enough, but the trouble is that there is no unanimity on the usefulness of the term “Generation of ’98” nor even on who made up its membership.

The expression was first coined by José Martínez Ruiz (1873-1967), better known by his pseudonym Azorín, in a series of articles written in 1913. He included in his list of writers of the Generación del ’98, besides himself, the novelist, poet, essayist, philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), novelist Pío Baroja (1872-1956), essayist Ramiro de Maeztu (1874-1936, novelist, poet and dramatist Ramón del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936), dramatist Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954), and poet Ruben Darío (1867-1916).

Nevertheless, many scholars doubt or even reject the inclusion of Darío and Valle-Inclán as members of the Generation of ’98, and question the omission of the poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939), one of the writers most associated with the Generation. Baroja, whom Azorín included in his list, did not agree with the term at all and denied the existence of the Generation. It is a term that still generates discussions justifying or rejecting its existence.

In many ways, the problem with terminology starts with this list. It opened up a Pandora’s box because up to this moment all those Azorín classified as belonging to the Generation of ’98 were viewed as modernistas, a term very much in vogue at the time. But here we face another conundrum. What was Modernismo?

Generation of ’98 and Modernismo.
The 1899 Diccionario de la Lengua Castellana (now Diccionario de la Lengua Española) defined Modernismo as “excessive fondness for modern things, and scorn for the old, especially in the arts and literature” (translated from Spanish). That’s a broad definition and later attempts –often contradictory— have shown how elusive the term “Modernismo” is. The same goes for the “Generation of ’98.”

Azorín’s observations were predicated on what he perceived as a widespread protest and rebellion against Spain’s decay/ malaise which was both political and artistic. He recognised the need for both a literary renaissance (renacimiento literario) and a “new Spain” (una España nueva). Inspiration for the former included going beyond national borders, for example, to French Parnassian and symbolist writers (e. g. Theophile Gautier 1811-72, and Paul Verlaine 1844-96). The “new Spain” was to be found in a love for Spain’s ancient villages and countryside, an ideal which Azorín directly associated with the Generation of ’98: La generación de 1898 ama los viejos pueblos y el paisaje: “The Generation of 1898 loves the old villages and the landscape”(Tusón-Lázaro 68).

By the time Azorín penned his list in 1913, practitioners of Modernismo had become stigmatised as degenerates and social misfits. For example, they were accused of dandyism (the excessive importance attached to appearance and fashion), one outstanding exponent being Valle-Inclán, whose long hair, bohemianism and flamboyant style regularly caused a stir.  

But visual eccentricity was not the source of Modernismo; it was a complement to an aesthetic literary expression that rejected what was perceived as the utilitarian spirit and industrialism of the Restoration. On the one hand, it took flight in a world of exotic, ornamental escapism triggering sensorial experiences inspired by French Parnassianism, and on the other it sought escape in a world of intimate symbolism, for example, of internal, dreamy melancholy or languid sadness.

Generation of 1898.
Some critics still prefer the all-embracing word “Modernismo,” but the term “Generation of ’98” has become so entrenched in the literary history of Spain that it cannot be disregarded. And some writers fall into both camps as their work evolved and their interests broadened, which is one reason why there is no unanimity as to who belongs to the Generation of ’98.

Perhaps if any distinction can be gleaned between Modernismo and the Generation of ’98 it is that the former leans towards an aesthetic view of the world and life while the latter tends toward the spiritual and social concerns (within an historical-political framework) of Spanish society.  However, the practice of one does not preclude practice of the other. For example, Darío –considered one of the modernista poets par excellence– wrote a series of newspaper articles about conditions in Spain which he published as a book, España contemporánea, in 1901.  On the other hand, Antonio Machado –viewed as one of the most profound observers of Spain’s malaise— could evoke the dreamy melancholy and symbolist intimacy of modernist verse. See, for example, his poem: Anoche cuando dormía/soñé … !bendita ilusion! “Last night, as I was sleeping/ I dreamt … oh blessed illusion!”

Lists continue to be made of the members of the Generation of ’98, and those writers most regularly included are those put forward by Azorín, with the general exclusion of Darío and inclusion of Antonio Machado. So, we have Azorín, Unamuno, Baroja, the early Maeztu (he later became a Catholic fascist), Benavente, Valle-Inclán, and Machado. For us, this is essentially the group that makes up the Generation of ’98.

Is there any way to come closer to a definition of the Generation of ’98 while justifying the above list? One basic definer of the members of the Generation, and perhaps the most persuasive, is that they were essentially a literary group undertaking a literary regeneration. They converted the “problem of Spain” into poetry or prose fiction or dramas in a patriotic search for their country’s soul rather than in proposing political or social solutions.

However, an important detail to remember is that being primarily men of literature, the “problem of Spain” was not the only concern of these writers. In fact, there were other more universal themes that occupied their thoughts and to which they gave greater attention and which evolved in different directions over time. For example, in general terms, Machado and Azorîn were preoccupied by time and death, Unamuno with existentialist concerns regarding religious faith and doubt, many of Baroja’s heroes were men of action or rebels without seemingly a cause, while Maeztu moved from socialism to military authoritarianism etc. In other words, the “problem of Spain” was not a major player in their literary output.

Scholars have also noted, and used it as another possible definer of the Generation, that all these writers were relatively young at the turn of the century, the oldest being Unamuno, 36 years old. They formed, then, a group of contemporary literary writers.

Another detail, also noted by scholars, is that all but one were born in the peripheral areas of Spain: Azorîn was from the province of Alicante in the south, Unamuno, Baroja and Maeztu were Basques, Valle-Inclán a Galician, and Machado was born in Seville. That leaves Jacinto Benavente, born in Madrid. The significance of this detail will become evident in a later post, when we address the role of Castile in the works of the Generation of ’98.

Finally, we should keep very much in mind that these Generation of ’98 writers were by no means the only ones concerned with the problem of Spain.” Those outside the literary field are often referred to as regenerationists whose concerns were channelled via newspaper articles or books. A notable example is Joaquîn Costa (1844-1911), an articulate lawyer, historian and economist, who coined some of the most popular key slogans of the period: the country’s need for a cirujano de hierro (“iron surgeon”) and despensa y escuela (“food and schooling”). He also devised the catchphrase cerremos el sepulcro del Cid “let’s shut the Cid’s tomb” (alluding to Spain’s excessive attachment to the glories of its past). Another is Angel Ganivet, essayist, novelist and diplomat who committed suicide in Riga (then part of the Russian empire, now Latvia) in 1898.

By converting the “problem of Spain” into literature, the Generation of ‘98 offered a distinctive view of Spain, in which Castile –the geographic centre of the country and therefore its heart– played a prominent role. That role provided members of the Generation with food not only for a penetrating soul-searching of their country’s political and social decay but also for a profoundly intimate journey into their own souls. This is, perhaps, their most original contribution to a study of the “problem of Spain” and an essential component of their literary legacy. The first 36 years of the 20th century –up to the Civil War— have been called the Silver Age of Spanish Literature. The Generation of 1898’s contribution was fundamental.

Sources.
Brenan, Gerald The Literature of the Spanish People Cambridge 1951.
Casanova, Julián and Andrés, Carlos Gil. Twentieth-Century Spain Cambridge 2014.
Gies, David T. ed. The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature. Cambridge 2009.
Tuson, Vicente and Lazaro, Fernando Literatura Espanola Madrid 1987.
Image of Azorin: By Pascual Marín – This image belongs to the Marín Collection and was provided to GureGipuzkoa by Hauxe Source: Kutxa Fototeka (Kutxa Photograph Library). https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56187434

Quevedo. Bermejazo platero de las cumbres.

Quevedo. Bermejazo platero de las cumbres.
A Apolo siguiendo a Dafne:

1.  Bermejazo platero de las cumbres,
a cuya luz se espulga la canalla,
la ninfa Dafne, que se afufa y calla,
si la quieres gozar, paga y no alumbres.

5.  Si quieres ahorrar de pesadumbres,
ojo del cielo, trata de compralla:
en confites gastó Marte la malla,
y la espada en pasteles y en azumbres.

9.  Volvióse en bolsa Jupiter severo;
levantóse las faldas la doncella
por recogerle en lluvia de dinero.

12. Astucia fue de alguna dueña estrella,
que de estrella sin dueña no lo infiero:
Febo, pues eres sol, sírvete de ella.

Translation.
To Apollo pursuing Daphne:

Read-headed silversmith of the mountain tops,/by whose light the riffraff get rid of their fleas,/ the nymph Daphne who scarpers off and is silent, (i. e. silently)/ if you want to enjoy her, pay up and don’t light up.// If you want to save yourself grief/ eye of the sky, try to buy her:/ Mars sold his coat of mail for candies,/and his sword for pastries and jugs of wine.// Stern Jupiter turned himself into a purse;/ (and) the maiden lifted up her skirt/ to receive him in a shower of money.// That was (due to) the cunning of some go-between star,/ for I can’t imagine it of a star without a go-between:/ (well) Phoebus, since you are the sun, make use of her.

Structure: The poem is a sonnet, with each of its 14 lines a hendecasyllable (i.e. 11 syllables each line). It is made up of two quatrains, (i.e. each quatrain contains four lines), and two tercets (each made up of three lines). Sometimes we talk of the two quatrains together as an octave, and the two tercets together as a sestet.  If you have read Quevedo’s sonnet Ah de la vida or Góngora’s sonnet Mientras por competir…, you will recognise that this poem has exactly the same rhyme scheme: ABBA, ABBA, CDC, DCD.

For a short summary of Quevedo’s life, see Poderoso caballero/ es don Dinero.

Commentary. The title succinctly summarises the topic: the poetic “I” addresses Apollo, the sun god and god of music, archery and prophecy, in his pursuit of the river nymph, Daphne.

The myth was well known to Renaissance audiences: how Apollo, elated after his victory over the giant serpent, Python, reproached Cupid –Venus’s young son– when he saw him playing with his (Cupid’s) bow and arrows, weapons more appropriate for war than play. Cupid, annoyed by the reprimand, drew two arrows from his quiver, one gold tipped and sharp-pointed, the other tipped with lead and blunt. The golden arrow struck Apollo through the heart, leaving him desperately in love with Daphne; the leaden arrow struck Daphne leaving her totally immune to love. Apollo, lusting after her, chased Daphne who appealed to her father for help. He responded by transforming her into a laurel tree, just as Apollo was about to seize her.

The poem contains two other well-known myths (ll. 5-11), used to reinforce the bluntly stated advice offered to Apollo in the opening quatrain: that he pay Daphne if he wants to possess her. The first of the two myths refers to the adulterous relationship between Mars and Venus (Venus is alluded to only). Mars won Venus over and was able to enjoy her by selling his coat of mail.  The second myth follows in the first tercet (ll. 9-11): Jupiter, who in order to possess Danae (here alluded to as doncella), a princess imprisoned by her father, transforms himself into a shower of gold, penetrates the prison and impregnates her.

The final three lines underline the importance of a mediator or go-between –the dueña estrella— since success cannot be left to luck (estrella) alone. Apollo needs a dueña. Given the debased world portrayed in the sonnet, the dueña here may well allude to a go-between or pimp a la Celestina.  However, it is also possible that the dueña may also refer to money itself, the enabler, and the proof of its importance is in the success enjoyed by Mars and Jupiter. Hence, the exhortation to Apollo in the final line “make use of her.”

Analysis.
Bermejazo platero… is the first of two sonnets by Quevedo on the myth of Daphne and Apollo, the second being addressed to Daphne. Both are satirical or burlesque versions of earlier conventional Renaissance treatment where decorum and restraint reflected the respect owed to the classical sources, e. g. Garcilaso’s Sonnet XIII: A Daphne ya los brazos le crecían/ y en luengos ramos vueltos se mostraban.  “Daphne’s arms were already stretching/ and were seen to be changing into long branches.” [The sonnet concludes with a reflection on the unhappy outcome but which, with the first person “vi” (“I saw,” l.3), brings the myth down to a personal level. It suggests that the “I” sees in the Apollo-Diana myth a tale of unrequited love similar perhaps to his own experience.]

The satire begins immediately with the first word, Bermejazo, with the suffix (-azo) denoting pejoratively “huge” and even “ungainly.” Together with the root word bermejo/ red, there is a strong suggestion of antisemitism, especially within the context of the corrupting power of money. Quevedo was a known anti-Semite (see his picaresque novel, El Buscôn with its corrosive attack on Conversos (Jews converted to Christianity and/or their descendants) and red hair was traditionally associated with Judas –the iconic symbol of treachery and distrust– who sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver. So Apollo, who had significantly killed the python with a silver bow (hence platero), is by association not only reduced to human level, but to that of the despised Jew in Quevedo’s eyes.

The process of demythification—typical of the Baroque—continues in lines 2 and 3 where the unpoetic language of the “riffraff delousing themselves” destroys the seriousness which is implicit in the classical picture of Apollo pursuing Daphne. In this lowlife world of the riffraff, “nymph” was a common term for prostitute, so that Daphne is reduced to a slut hightailing it in a most inelegant fashion. It is a comical picture, underlined by the verb se afufa whose labiodental sound brilliantly evokes the puffing from the exertion of running.

And finally, the advice to Apollo to pay up if he wants to possess Daphne. The relationship is reduced to a commercial transaction, and nothing is more demystifying than money which is alien to the traditional world of gods and goddesses. It contaminates their world and brings them down to earth, demonstrating in effect that they are no different from humans. 

The scorn with which Quevedo treats Apollo is reinforced in line 6 where the god is addressed as ojo del cielo, where ojo was a common euphemism in the criminal underworld for “arsehole.”  The implication is clear: “you arsehole, stop running after Daphne, try paying her. That’s how you’ll succeed.”

The “I’s” advice to Apollo to buy Daphne’s favours then leads to two examples from classical mythology of successful purchases, at least in Quevedo’s caustic view. The first (ll. 7-8) is Mars who was able to seduce Venus with gifts.  But again, the treatment is irreverent. Mars has sold what most identifies him as warlike and therefore worthy of respect: his coat of mail and his sword, which are exchanged for candies, pastries and jugs of wine. In other words, his conquest depends on frivolous purchases rather than on any heroic or godlike accomplishments.

This example is followed by another demystified myth. Jupiter, who originally descended from a cloud in a shower of gold now becomes a shower of money willingly gathered in her lap by Danae (the doncella). By doing so, Danae reveals herself to be no more than a prostitute and her lifted skirt suggests her readiness for sex.

Money with its power to corrupt and debase (so brilliantly demonstrated in Quevedo’s famous letrilla, Poderoso caballero/ es don Dinero) is the silent protagonist of this sonnet. It enables commercial transaction and is vital for lovers in Quevedo’s sarcastic treatment. Without it lovers are impotent and ladies unreceptive.

The final three lines draw conclusions from the experience of Mars and Jupiter and apply them to Apollo (now addressed as Phoebus). Playing on the word estrella (star, fate, luck) and dueña (dueñas were chaperones who accompanied young girls in their paseos (walks in public). Although their role was to keep an eye on their wards, the dueñas were popularly viewed as enablers of trysts between those they chaperoned and the latters’ admirers. Hence they were also reputed to be go-betweens), the narrating “I” emphasises the need for a go-between: a dueña estrella. This has been interpreted as possibly referring to engaging a dueña, who will –for money—facilitate Apollo’s access to Daphne. More persuasive, however, is the idea that in this context dueña refers to money and go-between, both being necessary to ensure success. Apollo, the star (both estrella and sol, l.14) alone cannot succeed, he needs an accomplice, a dueña i. e. money. The last line closes the argument repeating the same kind of advice in line 4 (paga) and line 6 (trata de compralla): sirvete de ella (i. e. the dueña).

Much of the impact of Bermejazo platero… lies in readers’ knowledge of the original classical tales. The title A Apolo siguiendo a Dafne leads to certain expectations in line with earlier Renaissance treatment. In this sonnet, however, those expectations undergo a rapid and immediate reassessment as readers react to the irreverent picture of the relationship between the gods and their ladies. The demythification of the pagan gods leads to disillusion (desengaño), which is very much part of the Baroque world of the 17th century.

This new interpretation of the classical myths is also helped by Quevedo’s verbal dexterity where plays on words destabilise the certainty of a unidimensional world. All of this is part of conceptismo, a major literary development of the Baroque which sought to produce surprise and astonishment in readers and awaken their admiration for the poet’s ingenio (“cleverness”) and agudeza (‘wit” “subtlety”).

Conclusion.
The 17th century is a period of uncertainty as the familiar is subjected to new challenges. Apollo is no god but a red-headed arsehole, Mars sells his armour in return for candies and jugs of wine and Jupiter surrounds himself with money. And Venus and Danae and are no more than prostitutes. Money is fundamental in debasing myths. We see it, for example, in Don Quixote, Part II, Chptr 71, where Dulcinea is disenchanted thanks to Don Quixote’s money and not to any heroic deeds on his part. This is the world of knight-errantry turned upside down and brought down to earth. Similarly, the artist, Velázquez, brings the pagan gods down to our level in, e. g. The Forge of Vulcan or The Topers.

Velázquez. The Forge of Vulcan. 1630. Apollo informing Vulcan of Venus’s adultery with Mars. Venus was Vulcan’s wife.

Even in politics, Spain’s leadership in Europe was severely tested although it still strutted on the international stage as if it were still a great power.  It was all a façade, and nothing more than an appearance of greatness. And so it is with the world of classical gods: they are an illusion and really are no more than humans in disguise.

Sources.
Gaylord, Mary Malcolm “The Making of Baroque Poetry” in The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed. Gies, David T Cambridge 2009.

Price, R.M ed. An Anthology of Quevedo’s Poetry Manchester 1969.
Rivers, Elias ed  Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain Prospect Heights Illinois 1988 (With English prose translations of the poems.)
Terry, Arthur Seventeenth Century Spanish Poetry Cambridge UP 1993.
For those who read Spanish, the two following links are useful:
http://filologia-hispanica-uco.blogspot.com/2014/01/comentario-de-texto-poema-de-apolo.html
María José García Rodríguez http://www.tramayfondo.com/actividades/vii-congreso/las_diosas/downloads/garcia-rodriguez-maria-jose.pdf

Al-Andalus. Women Poets. Surprisingly Independent Voices.

Al-Andalus. Women Poets.
The poetry of al-Andalus (as the Moors called the land they occupied in the Iberian Peninsula) has several surprises for readers steeped in Western verse. Poetry was an integral facet of court life and poetic competitions allowed gifted poets to prosper, scale the social ladder and enjoy enviable social status. Predictably, panegyric verse (in praise of dignitaries) was extensively practiced to win the approval of rulers or influential military figures, and satires and scurrilous poems were penned against political enemies.

Love poetry, of course, was an important genre, but to Western eyes its frequent sensual and erotic content –with suggestive animal, tree and floral imagery— may be at first disconcerting. Perhaps disconcerting, too, is Arabic homoerotic verse which found wide acceptance despite religious injunctions against the practice of homosexuality. And featuring extensively are nature poems or poems in which nature –especially gardens—play an important role. In these, poets frequently paid special attention to small and often unpoetic objects (e. g. an inkwell, a thimble) to demonstrate that beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.

Surprising, too, is the lively activity of women poets compared to the small number of female poets in other medieval European countries. Writing in classical Arabic, some 39 or 40 women poets have been identified in al-Andalus, some by their works and others only by reference.

Why this should be so may owe something to the high esteem accorded in cultured circles in al-Andalus to women of all social levels who could entertain and recite poems. In fact, women slaves and courtesans were specifically instructed in singing and dancing in schools established for that purpose and they were much prized for their ability to entertain at a sophisticated level.

This general presence of women in cultured circles may, then, have facilitated the activity of women poets, although the number of the latter certainly does not approach that of male poets, nor is there a complete anthology or diwan of any of them. The most notable Andalusi women poets are the Umayyad princess Wallada bint al-Mustakfi (994-1091) of Córdoba, and Hafsa bint al-Hajj (1135?-1191), from a wealthy family of Berber origin living in Granada.  

Wallada bint al-Mustakfi (994-1091).
The princess Wallada is best known for her stormy love affair with the poet Ibn Zaydun (1003-70), frequently acclaimed as the most outstanding love poet of al-Andalus, and the one whose work is most frequently cited as evidence by Arabists of courtly love language prior to that of Provence. It was Wallada who inspired his Nuniyya or Poem in N (alluding to the rhyme scheme in ina), arguably the most famous love poem of al-Andalus, if not in all of Arabic literature, according to some scholars.

As a caliph’s daughter, Wallada would naturally have greater access to a cultured environment than most women, but from what we know of her life she appears to have been of an independent and unconventional spirit. Fair-skinned and blue-eyed (reflecting a partial Christian background) and leader of a literary salon in Cordoba, she scandalised the court with her disdain for the veil and her amorous relationship with another –socially inferior–woman, Muhja al-Qurtubiyya, daughter of a fruit vendor (Muhja was also a poet). 

Wallada’s poetry shows her to be bold and sure of her own worth. According to Arab sources, she had embroidered in gold on one border of her cape the words:
I am, by Allah, fit for high positions
And am going my way with pride!

On the other border was written:
Forsooth I allow my lover to kiss my cheek
And bestow my kisses on him who craves it. (From Segol 160)

The boldness of these words is confirmed by her actions, if what Ibn Zaydun says is true: that it was she who initiated their first secret meeting.  Certainly, her own words seem to support the intensity of her passion and her active encouragement of trysts. By doing this, she takes the initiative, thereby breaching convention and leaving her lover in a passive role, the position usually occupied by women:
When the evening descends, await then my visit,
because I see the night is the best keeper of secrets.
I feel a love for you, which –if the sun had felt a similar love,
she would not rise; and the moon, he would not appear;
and the stars, they would not undertake their nightly travel.
(Segol 161)

The need to be together is the passionate desire of lovers; their separation often the spur for some of the greatest love poems, with Ibn Zaydun’s Poem in N being such a case. Wallada may not have reached such lofty poetic flight, but in the following she does capture the nostalgia of absence:
Can there be a solution for us regarding this distance?
All lovers complain about the same thing.
I spent our rendez-vous hours during the winter burning in the embers of passion.
And how else, if I am separated from you and destiny has been quick in bringing what I feared.
The nights go by, and I don’t see the separation ending, and I don’t have the firmness to free myself from the slavery of passion.
May God water the land where you dwell with abundant and constant rains.

Love, however, did not always flow smoothly. Wallada reproached Ibn Zaydun, for example, for dallying with a black slave girl:
If you had been true in the love that there was between us,
you wouldn’t have loved nor preferred a slave of mine.
You have abandoned the branch that yields fruit of beauty, and have chosen a branch that bears no fruit.
You know that I am the Moon of the heavens, but you have chosen, to my chagrin, Jupiter*. (Jupiter: a play on the Arabic word meaning “the one who has been bought”)

Wallada’s metaphorical self-praise (she is “the branch that yields fruit of beauty”) alludes to the erotic pleasures she has to offer Ibn Zaydun unlike the sterility of the slave girl. In short, she is more beautiful and a far better lover. The “put down” is directed not only at the slave girl but also at Ibn Zaydun.

A much stronger language was in store when the romantic relationship of princess and subject eventually turned sour, with each insulting and vilifying the other. This may have been triggered when Wallada transferred her favours to one Ibn Abdus, Ibn Zaydun’s most powerful rival at court.  Matters did not improve for Ibn Zaydun; he spent some time in jail, quite possibly at the instigation of Wallada and her new lover. We can capture the flavour of Wallada’s change of heart in her insulting attack/ invective directed to her former admirer:
They call you the “Sixer” [allusion to Sodomite etc. in the next line]; and your life will leave you before this nickname does:
Sodomite and bugger you are, adulterer, pimp, cuckold and thief. (Stewart 309).

There is perhaps little poetry is this diatribe, but Wallada’s language leaves little doubt about her sentiments and confirms her reputation as strong-willed and bold.

Hafsa bint al-Hajj al-Rakuniyya (1135?-1191).
A century or so later, another couple exchanged poems –like Wallada and Ibn Zaydun– on the ups and downs of their relationship. Hafsa bint al-Hajj (1135-91), who was from a well-off Granadine family and noted for her beauty and learning, had a passionate love affair with a nobleman, Abu Yafar ibn Said. Like Wallada, Hafsa too suffered from her flame’s philandering, and in time –perhaps tired of his disloyalty– became the lover of the Almohad governor of Granada (Abu Said Utman). Abu Yaffar reacted by rebelling against Almohad authority, was captured and summarily executed in Málaga. Hafsa grieved after his death, wrote public elegies praising him, and does not appear to have married, dying in Marrakesh as governess of the daughters of the Almohad caliph.

What is astonishing is that at a time of religious conservatism, first under the Almoravids and then the Almohads, Hafsa was publicly known as Abu Yafar’s lover and their poetic dialogue widely read in the court. Yet, despite kicking against public morals, she was admired for her refinement as well as her verse, and even when she donned mourning clothes following Abu Yaffar’s execution, she was obviously sufficiently respected not to have suffered for publicly proclaiming her love for her former lover over the governor. 

Some 60 lines of her poetry has survived, distributed among 19 different poems.  In these compositions, she talks of her wish to see Abu Yafar, she sometimes reproaches him jealously for his interest in other women, but assures him at the same time that she will be faithful to him. Like Wallada, Hafsa suffered the torment of seeing her lover flirt with a black slave, and her reproach is not dissimilar:
You –the most courteous of men
prior to the situation which fate placed before you–,
have taken a fancy to a black woman,
like night that covers the gifts of beauty,
in whose blackness you cannot see an open smile,
nor even make out a blush…
Who can love –unless mad– a garden that bears
no white nor yellow flowers?

The metaphoric allusion to a sterile, colourless garden (the black slave) recalls a similar metaphor in Wallada. By implication, Hafsa paints herself as beautiful and fertile and Abu Yafar as blind and mad to have abandoned her.

In one poem Hafsa adopts a third-person voice to describe herself in images that might have come from a male perspective:
A visitor arrives at your house;
her neck is gazelle-like,
she is the waxing moon in the night sky;
her look has the enchantment of Babylonia
and the saliva of her mouth is better
than that of the daughters of the vine;
her cheeks bring shame to the roses
and her teeth confuse the pearls.
Can she come in, with your permission,
or must she leave, for some reason? (Rubiera Mata 110).

By assuming a male perspective, Hafsa is free to adopt a sensuous vocabulary associated with male poets: gazelle-like neck, saliva, daughter of the vine, roses, pearl. The purpose, however, is not to imitate her male counterparts but to praise herself without appearing to do so. Her beauty is, in fact, superior to that of natural objects frequently used to as sources of beauty in love poetry (“saliva … is better, cheeks bring shame, teeth confuse”). [Not all agree with this adoption of a male perspective and see it rather as lines written by Abu Yafar]

Abu Yaffar’s death was sorely felt, and Hafsa’s love undiminished by absence:
I send a greeting –which opens the calyxes of the flowers
and makes the doves coo in the branches–,
to him who is absent, but who dwells in my heart
even though my eyes are deprived of seeing him.
Don’t think that your absence makes me forget you,
that, by heavens, will never come to pass!
Ask the throbbing lightening on a calm night
if it has reminded me of my love at midnight,
for it has made my heart throb again
and has supplied me the rain that runs down my cheeks (Rubiera Mata 111).

Both Wallada and Hafsa were members of nobility and their independence might be attributed to their social status. However, if the case of Itimad ar-Rumaikiyya (1011-?) is anything to go by, even slave girls could reach unprecedented heights thanks to their skill and ingenuity. One day, a prince of the taifa state of Seville, Muhammad ibn ‘Abbad al-Mu’tamid (1040-95) was out with his adviser, the poet Ibn Amar (1031-1085), when he suddenly stopped and improvised the first line of a couplet: “The wind rippled a mail coat in the water.” Asked to complete the couplet, Ibn Amar, couldn’t but a woman washing clothes by the river nearby did: “What a shield it would make if it froze.” Impressed by her beauty and wit, al-Mu’tamid bought her from her master, married her and made her his queen when he became king.

The gift of composing verse, recitation or the delivery of a witty response to male advances could also provide socially inferior women with confidence in their beauty and self worth. The 12th-century slave poet, Safiyya al-Baghadiyya –perhaps in reply to a male comment in verse— clearly set a high value on her beauty:
I am the wonder of the world, ravisher of hearts
Once you have seen my stunning looks, you are a fallen man (Segol 155).

No hiding behind demure, down cast eyes here, but a startling “in your face” affirmation of her power. Praise of female beauty was normally the reserve of the male poet, but Safiyya has taken the words away from the male voice thus removing the very source of his control.

Conclusion.
Scholars have noted –and the above examples bear this out—that the women poets of al-Andalus did not pay any special attention to men’s physical attributes whereas male poets waxed lyrical about women’s beauty: their figure, skin, eyes, hair, teeth, beauty spots, and hips (especially). They also praised women’s clothes, jewelry, henna-based decoration, and other adornments that were a source of both aesthetic pleasure and suggested physical gratification.

This highly descriptive view of women as objects of desire did not really have an equivalent in female verse. Not only were male physical and wardrobe descriptions unusual, there was also a marked disinterest in activities associated with medieval masculine virility: swords, lances, horses, battles etc.

Generally absent, too, in Andalusi female verse are scenes of indolent pleasures, marked by wine and drunkenness. On the contrary, a feature that distinguishes Andalusi female verse is a greater emphasis on personal feelings expressed directly and with little decorative rhetoric. There is, then, much less attention given to external, physical description that marks male verse. For male poets the evocation of sensual imagery can often seem so conventional that it descends into clichés and clouds what might be sincere feelings.

Andalusi female poets were more openly personal with many for their poems, which in fact were responses to poems from their lovers. Succinctly expressed by Ross Brann as “He said, she said,” “his” and “her” poems were a kind of verbal sparring which formed an autobiography or epistolary history of their love relationship. Such a relationship could range from recalling joy and fulfilment to expressions of anger and desire for revenge, but in doing so the women affirmed their independence as individuals and “asserted control over their bodies” (Segol 147).

Sources.
Brann, Ross “He Said, She Said: Reinscribing the Andalusi Arabic Love Lyric,” in Studies in Arabic and Hebrew Letters in Honor of Raymond P. Scheindlin, eds. Rand, Michael and Decter, Jonathan New Jersey 2007, pp 7-16.
Lizabe, Gladys “Temas y problemas de la Poetisas de Al-Andalus (Siglos XI-XV)” in Revista Melibea, 3 (2009), 69-88.
Menocal, María Rosa, Scheindlin, Raymond and Wells, Michael The Literature of Al-Andalus Cambridge 2000.
Menocal, María Rosa The Ornament of the World  New York, London 2002.
Moral, Celia del (ed.) Arabes, judías y cristianas: Mujeres en la Europa Medieval Granada 1993.
Rubiera Mata, María Jesús   Literatura hispanoárabe Madrid 1992.
Segol, Marla “Representing the Body in Poems by Medieval Muslim Women” in Medieval Feminist Forum, 45, No 1 (2009), 147-169.
Stewart, Devin J. “Ibn Zaydun,” in The Literature of al-Andalus, pp. 306-17.
Tisani, O Ishaq, Nsiri, Imed “Gender and Poetry in Muslim Spain: Mapping the Sexual-Textual Politics of Al-Andalus,” in AWEJ (Arab World English Journal) for translation & Literary Studies Volume, 1 Number 4, October 2017), 52-67 in http://awej-tls.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/AWEJTLS-4-2017-full-issue.compressed.pdf