Sunday, December 5, 2010



Spring Has Come: Spanish Lyrical Poetry from the Songbooks of the Renaissance by Alvaro Cardona-Hine
(La Alameda Press / University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2000)

This is a charming archive of poems from sixteenth-century Spain, presented in both Spanish and English. The inclusion of the Spanish texts (which have “been left as found in the original sources”) allow the reader to view the rhymes they contained; some of the English translations contain rhyme as well, but Cardona-Hine wisely eschewed it where (particularly with the very short, couplet-length lyrics) attempting to incorporate it would have taken the poem far afield from its original meaning and scope.

Cardona-Hine’s selection is notable for its inclusion of lyrics from the points of view of both women and men (Part 1 features poems he believes to be the work of women; Part 2 is “more indeterminate”; Part 3 consists of poems representing the concerns of men; and Part 4 is a mini-anthology unto itself, with three anonymous pieces followed by ten lyrics whose authors are known (Alvarez Pereira, Diego Sanchez de Badajoz, Juan de Timoneda, Juan Alvarez Gato, and Gil Vicente). Most of the pieces are quite short, including the opening salvo:
Besóme el colmenero,
que a la miel me supo el beso.
The beekeeper kissed me,
the kiss it tasted like honey.

The emotional range encompasses both despair and triumph, glee and grief. The myth of Proserpina is evoked in “Al coger amapolas, / madre, me perdí; / ¡caras amapolas / fueron para mí!”:
Picking poppies,
Mother, I was lost;
oh the price I had to pay
for those poppies

On the opposite page, the speaker of “De iglesia en iglesia” asserts her independence:
From church to church
I’d rather hop
than wed him and flop.

A similar pairing of opposites occurs on the next two pages, with the first woman lamenting, “Now I’ve tasted love you’d make me a nun? / Oh, God, what an awful blunder!” and the second one declaring, “I’d rather see myself a nun in church / than a wife left in the lurch.”

Some of the poems are blunt as can be, such as “Veo que todos se quejan”: “Everybody complains; / I will die silent.” Others are infused with symbolism, such as “When, but when / will cherries grow on the thistle?” (“¿Cuándo, mas cuándo”) There is the playfully brazen “Perricos de mi señora” – “Pups of my lady, / do not bite me now” – but a few breaths away from the agony-laced “Este coraçón mío”: “This heart / you’ve split open, /find balm for it, lady.” Which, in turn, follows but a few paces after “Páreste a la ventana,” which simultaneously acknowledges both joy and constraint:
Stand by the window, girl,
naked, if you will;
that another such heaven
I shall never have.


Peg Duthie shares a house in Nashville with a tall man, a large dog, and a short piano. She blogs about poetry at Vary the Line and tweets about it now and then (@zirconium).

1 comment:

Londonerr said...

I was searching for the origin of this verse. And now I know.

'The beekeeper kissed me,
the kiss it tasted like honey.'

When I first heard it it was:

'The beekeeper kissed me,
by the taste of the honey
I knew it was he.'

Which sounds very romantic.