Completed: The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance

The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance
Translated by Edith Grossman, 2006

Aquí la alma navega por un mar de delzura, y finalmente en él ansí se anega que ningún accidente extraño y peregrino oye o siente  Fray Luis de León, “Oda III” 7th Stanza

So….did you know that Renaissance and Baroque era Spanish poetry is a good beach read? Neither did I actually, but it was while on vacation, at the beach, enjoying sea breezes and the sounds of the surf pounding the sand (and studiously avoiding the sun, preferring not to turn fire-engine red), that I read the entirety of Edith Grossman’s 2006 translations of some of her favorite Siglo de Oro poetry. Somehow this worked: I made my way through the book rather quickly, even challenging myself to read the Spanish of each poem first–for a taste of the sound, mostly; I made no effort to create my own mental “translations”–before turning to the English translation. Not only does this therefore mark the first time I’ve read a whole (half) book in a language other than English, but I was often surprised at how much I did understand from that first, quick, reading.

I was also surprised to find myself wanting to read more after the first sitting. I thought this would be more of a challenge for me, not being much of a reader of poetry, and these being Renaissance/Baroque era poems on top of that! While I didn’t care for every poem I read, this definitely was an enjoyable experience rather than the expected “work” and “effort” to get through what I was sure was a worthy book, just perhaps not “my thing.” In fact, if my Spanish were better, I’d be reading from Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, Elias L. Rivers, ed. (the book Grossman used for the Spanish versions of her translations). (It’s on my list, and I own a copy, but I need to reclaim more forgotten Spanish first.)

This does not mean I’m a complete convert to poetry as of yet. I still stumble around how to talk about poems, and I find that I’m not very fond of the sonnet: I can appreciate the work required to fit a sentiment into a set form, but I don’t seem to enjoy them as much as longer forms. Perhaps this in part because many of the sonnets included here are of the “courtly love” type; somehow “woe is me, I love this beautiful, unobtainable, cold-hearted woman so now I wish to die because she doesn’t love me” just doesn’t work for me.

On the other hand, many of the more religious-themed poems did draw in me in. Apparently, “momento mori” is a theme that resonates quite well with me! (I swear, I’m not a depressing person.) I think too, it seems that the poets strove for even grander language when trying to contemplate ideas or themes that resonate beyond the here-and-now. I just love the lines I opened this post with, from Fray Luis de León’s “Oda III.” It is a tribute to a Spanish composer, Francisco Salinas, but it also touches on the power of the music and the idea of a “divine Musician.” He ends thus:

¡Oh! suene de contino, Salinas, vuestro son en mis oídos, por quien al bien divino despiertan los sentidos, quedando a lo demás amortecidos.  Fray Luis de León, “Oda III” Final StanzaI am also rather partial to Jorge Manrique’s “Coplas que fizo por la muerte de su padre” / “Verses Written on the Death of His Father.” Sounds uplifting, doesn’t it? But I found it beautiful, the language he used, even before I turned to the English translation. This was one of the poems the surprised me actually, with how much I understood from the Spanish.

Manrique_Coplas_3rdStanzaOf course, there are some happier poems too! In particular, I enjoyed Lope de Vega’s “Soneto de repente” / “Instant Sonnet.” It is an amusing little sonnet about writing, well, itself: “catorce versos deicen que es soneto:/burla burlando van los tres delante.” (“Fourteen verses, they say, are in a sonnet:/I haven’t even tried and I have four.”) And here we get to translation: I can understand most of the Spanish on this one, and the English isn’t quite the same. I rather like the Spanish better, in fact. But how to translate a poem? With rhythm and meter and rhyme? English, it appears to me, has greater difficulty in finding rhymes than does Spanish, so it is no wonder Grossman chooses not to concern herself with matching rhyme schemes. And to match the other–the translation is a difficult task indeed! Without better Spanish I cannot look at most of the poems here and readily see the changes made–words added or words neglected–and determine why such change is. A word-for-word literal translation doesn’t seem quite right for poetry, which would surely turn the poem into prose. It seems that the translator of poems must be–becomes–a poet. Thinking of the difficulties, I both admire those who make it look so effortless and think that if I wish to read more of the Spanish poets I would be well served to learn to read them in Spanish. The practical difficulties of learning to read well in another language, though! Thank goodness for translators!

The question remains, why did I attempt something that I expected to be “work” while on my beach vacation? I blame Richard of Caravana de recuerdos entirely, as this was yet another readalong he tempted me to. This, I think, is the best part of book blogging–the opportunities to challenge ourselves to something we might not otherwise read, knowing other readers are making their way through the same. Thanks so much, Richard, for hosting!


ETA: Richard’s master post for the RAL may be found HERE.

On Film: Cría cuervos

Cría cuervos
1976 – Spain
Carlos Saura, writer & director

I’m going to be upfront and say that I didn’t enjoy watching Cría cuervos. Note the deliberate choice of verb there—I do not mean to say I think Cría cuervos is a bad film, on the contrary, I think it quite a good one, especially the more I think about it; it is just not a film that I take delight in.

My dissatisfaction in part I think is a measure of Saura’s success: he seeks to represent the tense family dynamics of a trio of sisters—most prominent the rebellious Ana, their aunt, and grandmother, largely confined behind the walls of their home and to strict societal expectations. The movie takes on a claustrophobic feel—everyone is trapped, there is no escape but death. It is bleak. There seems little hope. And so I couldn’t “enjoy” it, at least not in the traditional sense.

I will admit, I have almost no context for this film. I am almost completely unfamiliar with the history of 1970s Spain or with the cinema (European or otherwise) of the era. According to the accompanying DVD essay, Cría cuervos was filmed during the last days of the Franco regime. Did Saura mean for the sisters trapped by loss and rules to represent the Spanish people? Or is this a simple study of the relationships between family members made unhappy by circumstances beyond their control? Just as with literature, I suspect that good film has multiple layers and meaning that can be read depending on the viewer.

I watched Cría cuervos as part of the watchalong for Spanish Language Literature Month, hosted by Stu and Richard. Richard links to other opinions HERE.

Libros españoles – un proyecto nuevo

Yesterday marked the first day in three and one-half months (has it been that long, really?!) that I haven’t looked at my reading plans with the weight of The Silmarillion hanging over my head. Yes, that’s right, I’m finished! And lest you think that the length of time it took me to read it reflected the quality of the book, my one-word summary review: “awesome.” But more on that later this week.

Today instead I’m focusing on Stu’s and Richard’s Spanish Language Lit Month. I mentioned previously that I planned on participating, but it also seemed the perfect time to add another one of my project lists. I’ve had an interest in Spanish language books ever since our required summer reading for high school Spanish class (10th grade—Don Quixote, which I didn’t actually finish, whoops!; 11th—our choice of The House of Spirits, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Fictions; 12th—La casa de Bernarda Alba). Some really good group reads over the past few years and I’m hooked. This is one of my longer lists to date, and I’m sure it will grow. As an explanation for the seemingly random nature of which books I hope to read in Spanish: for the moment, it’s those books for which I already have a Spanish copy.


  1. Bécquer, Gustavo Adolfo: Legends and Letters [Leyendas] (1871)
  2. Valera, Juan: Pepita Jimenéz (1874)
  3. Pérez Galdós, Benito: The Disinherited [La desheredada] (1881)
  4. Pérez Galdós, Benito: Fortunata y Jacinta (1887)
  5. Alas y Ureña, Leopoldo “Clarín”: The Regent’s Wife [La regenta] (1884-85)
  6. Pardo Bazán, Emilia: The Manors of Ulloa [Los pazos de Ulloa] (1886)
  7. Baroja, Pío: The Tree of Knowledge [El arbol de la ciencia] (1911)
  8. Unamuno, Miguel de: Mist [Niebla] (1914)
  9. García Lorca, Federico: Obras Escogidas (c. 1918-35)†§
  10. García Lorca, Federico: La casa de Bernarda Alba [The House of Bernarda Alba] (1936)*§
  11. Cela, Camilo José: The Hive [La colmena] (1951)
  12. Goytisolo, Juan: Fiestas (1958)§
  13. Martín-Santos, Luis: Time of Silence [Tiempo de silencio] (1962)
  14. Benet, Juan: Rusty Lances [Herrumbrosas lanzas] (1983)
  15. Marías, Javier: All Souls [Todas las almas] (1987)
  16. Marías, Javier: Your Face Tomorrow [Tu rostro mañana] (2002-07)
  17. Pérez-Reverte, Arturo: El capitán Alatriste [Captain Alatriste] (1996) §
  18. Pérez-Reverte, Arturo: Limpieza de sangre [Purity of Blood] (1997) §
  19. Pérez-Reverte, Arturo: El sol de Breda [The Sun over Breda] (1998) §
  20. Pérez-Reverte, Arturo: El oro del rey [The King’s Gold] (2000) §
  21. Delibes, Miguel: The Heretic [El hereje] (1998)
  22. Vila-Matas, Enrique: Bartleby and Co. [Bartleby y compañía]  (2000)
  23. Cercas, Javier: Soldiers of Salamis [Soldados de Salamina] (2001)
  24. Somoza, José Carlos: Lady Number Thirteen [La dama número trece] (2003)
  25. Ruiz Zafón, Carlos: The Shadow of the Wind [La sombra del viento] (2004)


  1. Echeverría, José Esteban Antonio: “The Captive” [“La cautiva”] (1837)
  2. Echeverría, José Esteban Antonio: “The Slaughterhouse” [“El matadero”] (1839)
  3. Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino: Facundo (1845)
  4. Hernández, José: Martín Fierro (1872-79)
  5. Arlt, Roberto: The Seven Madmen [Los siete locos] (1929)
  6. Borges, Jorge Luis: Ficciones (1962)
  7. Borges, Jorge Luis: The Book of Imaginary Beings [El libro de los seres imaginarios] (1969)
  8. Cortázar, Julio: Hopscotch [Rayuela] (1963)
  9. Puig, Manuel: Kiss of the Spider Woman [El beso de la mujer araña] (1976)
  10. Saer, Juan José: The Witness [El entenado] (1983)
  11. Eloy Martínez, Tomás: The Perón Novel [La novela de Perón] (1985)
  12. Eloy Martínez, Tomás: Santa Evita (1995)
  13. Eloy Martínez, Tomás: The Tango Singer [El cantor de tango] (2004)
  14. Piglia, Ricardo: Money to Burn [Plata quemada] (1997)


  1. Donoso, José: The Obscene Bird of Night [El obsceno pájaro de la noche] (1970)
  2. Allende, Isabel: La Casa de los espiritus [The House of the Spirits] (1982)*§
  3. Allende, Isabel: Of Love and Shadows [De amor y de sombra] (1987)
  4. Allende, Isabel: The Stories of Eva Luna [Cuentos de Eva Luna] (1989)
  5. Bolaño, Roberto: Nazi Literature in the Americas [Literatura Nazi en América] (1996)
  6. Bolaño, Roberto: Savage Detectives [Los detcctives salvajes] (1998)
  7. Bolaño, Roberto: 2666 (2004)


  1. García Márquez, Gabriel: No One Writes to the Colonel [El coronel no tiene quien le escriba] (1961)
  2. García Márquez, Gabriel: Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude] (1967)*§
  3. García Márquez, Gabriel: Autumn of the Patriarch [El otoño del patriarca] (1975)
  4. García Márquez, Gabriel: Chronicle of a Death Foretold [Crónica de una muerte anunciada] (1981)
  5. García Márquez, Gabriel: Love in the Time of Cholera [El amor en los tiempos del cólera] (1985)
  6. García Márquez, Gabriel: Clandestine in Chile [La aventura de Miguel Littín clandestino en Chile] (1986)
  7. Mutis, Álvaro: The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll [Empresas y tribulaciones de Maqroll el Gaviero]  (1993)
  8. Vallejo, Fernando: Our Lady of the Assassins [La virgen de los sicarios] (1994)


  1. Gómez de Avellaneda, Gertrudis: Sab (1841)
  2. Carpentier, Alejo: Kingdom of This World [El reino de este mundo] (1949)
  3. Carpentier, Alejo The Lost Steps [Los pasos perdidos] (1953)
  4. Cabrera Infante, Guillermo: Three Trapped Tigers [Tres tristes tigres] (1964)


  1. Asturias, Miguel Ángel: Mister President [El Señor Presidente]


  1. Azuela, Mariano: The Underdogs [Los de abajo] (1916)
  2. Paz, Octavio: The Labyrinth of Solitude [El laberinto de la soledad] (1950)
  3. Rulfo, Juan: Pedro Páramo (1955)
  4. Fuentes, Juan: La muerte de Artemio Cruz [The Death of Artemio Cruz] (1962) §
  5. Poniatowska, Elena: Massacre in Mexico [La noche de Tlateloloco] (1971)
  6. Esquivel, Laura: Like Water for Chocolate [Como agua para chocolate] (1989)
  7. Rivera-Garza, Cristina: No One Will See Me Cry [Nadie me verá llorar] (2003)


  1. Arguedas, José María: Deep Rivers [Los ríos profundos] (1958)
  2. Vargas Llosa, Mario: Los jefes/Los cachorros [The Chiefs and the Cubs] (1959) §
  3. Vargas Llosa, Mario: The Time of the Hero [La ciudad y los perros] (1962)
  4. Vargas Llosa, Mario: Conversation in the Cathedral [Conversación en la catedral] (1975)
  5. Vargas Llosa, Mario: La fiesta del chivo [The Feast of the Goat] (2000) §

Puerto Rico:

  1. Sánchez, Luis Rafael: Macho Camacho’s Beat [La guaracha del Macho Camacho] (1976)


  1. Onetti, Juan Carlos: A Brief Life [La vida breve] (1950)


  1. Gallegos, Rómulo: Doña Bárbara (1929)
  2. Parra, Teresa de la: Mama Blanca’s Memoirs [Memoria de Mamá Blanca] (1929)

Latin America:

  1. Menton, Seymour, ed.: El cuento hispanoamericano, vol. 1 & 2 (1964 ed.) §

I’ve tried to compile my list based on books I own, books I’ve heard good things about, and books that are on “best of” lists. As always, any comments, corrections, suggestions, or emendations are welcome! Needless to say, this is going to be a very long-term project.

* Indicates a reread
§ I hope to read in Spanish
Obras Escogida: An Anthology in the Original Spanish, Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (1965)