Story type: Essay
Pere Bouhours observes, that the Spanish poets display an extravagant imagination, which is by no means destitute of esprit–shall we say wit? but which evinces little taste or judgment.
Their verses are much in the style of our Cowley–trivial points, monstrous metaphors, and quaint conceits. It is evident that the Spanish poets imported this taste from the time of Marino in Italy; but the warmth of the Spanish climate appears to have redoubled it, and to have blown the kindled sparks of chimerical fancy to the heat of a Vulcanian forge.
Lopez de Vega, in describing an afflicted shepherdess, in one of his pastorals, who is represented weeping near the sea-side, says, “That the sea joyfully advances to gather her tears; and that, having enclosed them in shells, it converts them into pearls.”
“Y el mar como imbidioso
A tierra por las lagrimas salia,
Y alegre de cogerlas
Las guarda en conchas, y convierte en perlas.”
Villegas addresses a stream–“Thou who runnest over sands of gold, with feet of silver,” more elegant than our Shakspeare’s–“Thy silver skin laced with thy golden blood,” which possibly he may not have written. Villegas monstrously exclaims, “Touch my breast, if you doubt the power of Lydia’s eyes–you will find it turned to ashes.” Again–“Thou art so great that thou canst only imitate thyself with thy own greatness;” much like our “None but himself can be his parallel.”
Gongora, whom the Spaniards once greatly admired, and distinguished by the epithet of The Wonderful, abounds with these conceits.
He imagines that a nightingale, who enchantingly varied her notes, and sang in different manners, had a hundred thousand other nightingales in her breast, which alternately sang through her throat–
“Con diferancia tal, con gracia tanta,
A quel ruysenor llora, que sospecho
Que tiene otros cien mil dentro del pecho,
Que alterno su dolor por su garganta.”
Of a young and beautiful lady he says, that she has but a few years of life, but many ages of beauty.
“Muchos siglos de hermosura
En pocos anos de edad.”
Many ages of beauty is a false thought, for beauty becomes not more beautiful from its age; it would be only a superannuated beauty. A face of two or three ages old could have but few charms.
In one of his odes he addresses the River of Madrid by the title of the Duke of Streams, and the Viscount of Rivers—
Os que en todo el aguatismo,
Estois Duque de Arroyos,
Y Visconde de los Rios.”
He did not venture to call it a Spanish Grandee, for, in fact, it is but a shallow and dirty stream; and as Quevedo wittily informs us, “Mancanares is reduced, during the summer season, to the melancholy condition of the wicked rich man, who asks for water in the depths of hell.” Though so small, this stream in the time of a flood spreads itself over the neighbouring fields; for this reason Philip the Second built a bridge eleven hundred feet long!–A Spaniard passing it one day, when it was perfectly dry, observing this superb bridge, archly remarked, “That it would be proper that the bridge should be sold to purchase water.”–Es menester, vender la puente, par comprar agua.
The following elegant translation of a Spanish madrigal of the kind here criticised I found in a newspaper, but it is evidently by a master-hand.
On the green margin of the land,
Where Guadalhorce winds his way,
My lady lay:
With golden key Sleep’s gentle hand
Had closed her eyes so bright–
Her eyes, two suns of light–
And bade his balmy dews
Her rosy cheeks suffuse.
The River God in slumber saw her laid:
He raised his dripping head,
With weeds o’erspread,
Clad in his wat’ry robes approach’d the maid,
And with cold kiss, like death,
Drank the rich perfume of the maiden’s breath.
The maiden felt that icy kiss:
Her suns unclosed, their flame
Full and unclouded on th’ intruder came.
Amazed th’ intruder felt
His frothy body melt
And heard the radiance on his bosom hiss;
And, forced in blind confusion to retire,
Leapt in the water to escape the fire.