It seems to flee itself, then doubling back,
It loses and regains its devious way
And, erring sweetly, sweetly goes astray
– Luis De Góngora/English translation Gilbert F. Cunningham, The Solitudes (appendix)*
The daughter of the foam has wisely found
Feathers are Love’s most fitting battle ground.
( First Solitude, line 1090)
Although I doubt many people will jump out of bed tomorrow morning and shout “I must have Góngora!” I wanted to mention these beautiful poems for two reasons. The Solitudes, written by the Spanish poet Luis De Góngora around 1613, is a poem in two parts (there may have been more coming, but Góngora died before they could be realized). Ostensibly, the narrative of the poem is a man heartbroken by the smooth but “delusive lullabies” of love at the hand of a courtly lady. She dumps him, and he is literally dumped- shipwrecked, onto a distant shore. In the First Solitude he happens upon and is invited to a wedding:
Fit for a hero’s bride,
If not a monarch’s, well the youth might say;
And then remembered, with a stab of pain,
That he himself was, by a maid’s disdain,
A homeless castaway.
(First Solitude, line 732)
I was very interested to know how the original Spanish read, and in my Johns Hopkins Press edition the Spanish runs along the left page allowing me a peek at the words – esclarecido, el joven, al instante arrebatado – the meaning (more literally) not a stab of pain, but an instant snatched, which I quite like as well.
It seemed to me that this stab at his heart causes him to fall into a deep reverie onto the bosom of Nature. Lovesick, he forcefully redirects his musings. I don’t think the story ever really comes back to our poor heartbroken young man, but where it goes we gladly follow.
A wing-borne Dido, rustling Amazon,
Leads chaster armies, rules a lovelier
Kingdom, with cork-bark girt instead of walls,
A veritable Carthage where the bee
Is queen, shining with wandering gold as she
From the pure ether drinks the juice that falls…
(Second Solitude line 290)
And there, as he describes a bee, in those lines, is my highest recommendation and point one. Between Dido (my apparent soul sister), my favorite tree (the crooked, functional, soft and lovely cork) and the bee’s ether, well…I’m done for – smitten.
As for my second point, I would have to point back to John Crowley’s AEgypt which is how, through the recommendation made to me by a beautiful poet and blogger I was motivated to acquire this book. AEgypt refers to The Solitudes quite a bit, but more than that, Crowley’s book is something of a loose model of the Solitudes. Not so much in story as in form. What I love about AEgypt is its overt love of knowledge. It is rich with classical, literary, and historical allusions.
Góngora’s unembarrassed collection of myths, Gods, and fancies are so earnestly exalted you’d have to be an ass not to love him for it. His extraordinarily detailed and lyrical perambulations through the countryside, and in the Second Solitude the waters, are magnificent.
When Dawn, in our antipodes, once more
With roses on her brow gladdens our sight
(First Solitude, line 636)
It was a lot more work to track this book down through my library system than it was to read it. All I’m saying is – it’s a lovely day today, I think I’ll take a walk and enjoy the bounty of the blue sky and the trails teeming with all that is good and beautiful in the world, and tonight I hope I sleep as well as this:
No heady wine moves him in dreams to vie
With Sisyphus, pushing his painful load
Uphill, then at the summit of the road,
Wake to the double mockery of a lie.
No trumpet shrills, no clattering drums reply,
To interrupt his sleep with warlike sound;
Only the watchful hound
Growls as he heard the breeze
Stirring dry oak-leaves on the neighboring trees.
(First Solitude, line 167)
* The opening quote is from a passage that was re-written, but this version remains popular to readers (such as myself ) and so was included for comparison’s sake in the appendix. It was replaced by lines 197-211 of the First Solitude.