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.

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.