Today in Spanish Poetry…

Today’s date is one of beginnings and endings in Spanish poetry:

The Spanish poet Íñigo López de Mendoza, the Marqués de Santillana, was born on this day in 1388 or 1398, which makes him either 612 or 622 today (happy birthday, sir!).  Santillana was one of the first Spanish poets to try out the new sonnet form and to adapt it from Italian into Castilian; he wrote more than 40 sonnets, collected under the title Sonetos al itálico modo (Sonnets in the Italian Way). He was also a devoted and, apparently, fairly exacting father, as we can see from this letter to his son, Pedro González, when the poor lad was studying in Salamanca, asking him if he would mind terribly (on top of his studies!) translating a wodge of Latin poetry and prose for his old man. The tone of Santillana’s explanation of why he doesn’t feel up to learning Latin himself is wonderfully defensive, and seems to pre-empt a familiar argument with his harassed teenage offspring: ‘Bien sé yo ahora que, según ya otras veces con vos y con otros me ha acaecido, diréis que la mayor parte o casi toda de la dulzura o graciosidad quedan y retienen en sí las palabras y vocablos latinos’ ‘I’m well aware that, as usual, you (and you’re not the only one) will tell me that most or all of the sweetness and wit is located in the Latin words and expressions.’ Nevertheless, he says, he’s too old to take up a new language, and so he will make do with translation as the most pragmatic alternative: ‘Y pues no podemos haber aquello que queremos, queramos aquello que podemos. Y si carecemos de las formas, seamos contentos de las materias’ ‘And since we can’t have what we want, let’s want what we can have. And if we can’t get hold of the forms, let’s be content with the themes’. If only we could see Pedro’s response!

Also on this date, but 74 years ago in 1936, Federico García Lorca, probably the most famous Spanish poet of all, was executed by Franco’s fascists on a country road near Granada. Lorca doesn’t really need any introduction, but if you want to read about his remarkable afterlife, I absolutely recommend Jonathan Mayhew’s wonderful Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (Chicago UP, 2009), which looks at how Lorca and his poetry (and sometimes poetry that is not by Lorca, but looks very much like poetry by Lorca) turn up in English translation and adaptation, and in different areas of American culture throughout the 20th century. There’s a fascinating conversation with Mayhew on Chicago’s blog, in which he discusses the origins of the book, which he apparently wrote in a single academic year. Like Mayhew’s blog, it’s a great insight into the scholarly-creative process. 

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