"Pasos de un peregrino son errante cuantos me dictó versos dulce Musa en soledad confusa perdidos unos otros inpirados"
Welcome to this new website which will be dedicated to the life and works of the Cordovan poet Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561-1627). This first blog will feature the Province of Galicia in Góngora's oeuvre.

"Galicia in the Poetry of Don Luis de Góngora y Argote".

We only posses two or three pictures from the 'Prince of Darkness' as don Luis is often referred to. The picture in the header was painted in the early 1600s by Velásquez. One part of the poet's face remains covered in darkness: the poet portrays himself in an esoteric manner. Also named the 'terrible teacher from Córdoba' (because of his Culteranist, obscure poetry in which he revolutionalised the metaphor), he visited Galicia at least once. This visit would have been made on horseback, because don Luis would not have had the time to travel the fourteen hundred kilometers, between Córdoba Galicia and back on foot, like a pilgrim. Góngora's first Solitude (written five years later) commences with the introduction of a pilgrim protagonist.

Pasos de un peregrino son, errante,
cuántos me dictó, versos, dulce musa:
en soledad confusa
perdidos unos, otros inspirados.

In the opening line we would expect the adjective 'errante' to terminate in 's' ('pasos errantes'), but this is not the case because 'errante' reflects on the peregrino himself. Don Luis could have continued his introduction with: 'Cuántos versos me dictó la dulce Musa', but this would have been too predictable. The rest of the first stanza can be easily be understood by anyone interested, not just by Gongorists. The footsteps have been lost forever, while the verses are inspired, also forever.

Why write about a pilgrim? Well, because of his involvement in the Catholic Church Góngora traveled widely (to Madrid, Pontevedra, Salamanca, Huelva, Béjar, Granada, Valladolid), and must from time to time have felt like a pilgrim himself. The pilgrimages to Santiago had established themselves as tradition during don Luis' lifetime, because they date back as far as 844.

We know for certain that the poet visited Pontevedra in 1607, so it is not impossible to reach the conclusion that the priest Góngora also visited the tomb of Saint James in Santiago, some sixty kilometers from this (then) small harbor village on the Atlantic Coast. Are there references to Galicia and to Santiago de Compostela in his oeuvre? One would think so, although we do not have any proof of a visit to Santiago.
In the early 1600s don Luis was preparing his master pieces, the 'Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea' (1613) and his 'Soledades' (1613-14). Early poetic imagery - from the 1580s and 90s - were being rediscovered and re-used by don Luis, be it in a more elaborate way. In the Introduction to his 'Soledades' he praises his sponsor, the Duke of Béjar (in Extremadura). This is understandable, because this noble man paid don Luis a salary to write these 'Soledades'. The priest Góngora was also a 'racionero' of the Cordovan cathedral, which meant that he received a ration of that church's income from land rights and income from harvest. Nevertheless, because of his habit of gambling he always required additional sums of money. This inspired one of his contemporaries, the poet Francisco de Quevedo, to write down: 'Góngora murió en Barajas.' In Quevedó's lively imagination his arch rival don Luis de Góngora were to die in the tiny village of Barajas, near Madrid. Simultaniously Quevedo created one of his well-known concepts: 'barajas' also signifies 'deck of cards'.

The story of the discovery of the grave of St. James the apostle (in the ninth century) also mentions a field beneath the stars. A shepherd was guided to this field (Santiago) by following the stars at night. Don Luis simply adds some mythological imagery to this scene, taken from the Odyssus and Eneida. The application of hyperbaton is obvious. 'Era la estación florido del año' and 'Y todos los rayos del Sol en su piel'. Somewhat obscure is the phrase: 'media luna las armas' etc. Shouldn't that have been 'lunas' (two horns? No, Góngora places the Moon next to the Sun, surrounded by many stars, as will be shown shortly. Stanley's translation (1651) is as follows:

Era del año la estación florida [spring]
en que el mentido robador de Europa [the disguised bull who raped Goddess Europa]
- media luna las armas de su frente [its horns]
y el Sol todos sus rayos de su pelo - [the sun rays on its velvet skin]
luciente honor del cielo,
en campos de zafiro pace estrellas [he sows stars in sapphire fields].

'T was now the blooming season of the year
And in disguise Europa's ravisher,
(His brow armed with a crescent, with such beams
Encompast as the sun unclouded streams
The sparkling glory of (the zodiac) led
His numerous herd along the azure mead.

We do posses an earlier version of the same stanza (Chacón Manuscript):

Era del año la estación florida
en que el luciente robador de Europa,
media luna en su frente,
y el sol todo en su pelo
por los campos del cielo
zafiros pissa, sino pace estrellas.

Don Luis searched the appropriate adjective to accompany 'robador', but never encountered it in the Spanish language. So he created the neologism 'mentido'. Also the earlier contrast between the Moon and Sun becomes more evident when we read the Chacón Manuscript. In the final line he places a 'sino construction' (very common in the 'Soledades') which he would remove later on.

Before continuing the search for possible Galician characteristics in don Luis' Soledades let us first analyse a sonnet which has been attributed to the Cordovan poet:

Córdoba. Picture: Eugene Carroll

A Galicia

Pálido sol en cielo encapotado,

mozas rollizas de anchos culiseos,

tetas de vacas, piernas de correos,

suelo menos barrido que regado:

campo todo de tojos matizado,

berzas gigantes, nabos filisteos,

gallos de Cairo, búcaros pigmeos,

traje tosco y estilo mal limado,

cuestas que llegan a la ardiente esfera,

pan de Guinea, techos sahumados,

candelas de resina con tericia, [ictericia]

papas de mijo en concas de madera,

cuevas profundas, ásperos collados,

es lo que llaman reino de Galicia.


To Galicia

Pale sun in a cloudy sky

Chubby damsels with broad buttocks

Tits like cows, legs of mailmen

the floor less swept than scrubbed.

The fields all scattered with gorse

giant cabbages, philistine turnips

roosters from Cairo, Pigmean jars

rustic clothing in badly tailored style.

Mountain slopes which reach the burning sphere

Bread from Guinea, incense perfumed roofs [of the cathedral]

Candles of resin to cure icteris [jaundice; he refers to a vulgar desease] (1)

Potatoes of millet in wooden shells

Profound caves, rough hills

It's what they call the Kingdom of Galicia.

Only two verbs feature in Góngora's sonnet, and no application of hyperbaton or oxymoron is ever attempted. Most imagery refers to a Galician world of bad weather and agricultural life only, totally different from the gitanesque Cordova or posh Madrid in which don Luis and Paco de Quevedo moved around. The Galician bread is described as 'pan de Guinea': from an unknown world far away, and so do the pompous roosters from Egypt. Neologisms and gongorine humor emerge from an imitation of the Galician language ('filisteos', 'culiseos'). We can only imagine how they would have sounded in the strong Andalusian accent of don Luis: 'Berza gihante, nao filiteo'. This perfect sonnet (as may be expected from the 'terrible teacher from Córdoba') is written in Arte Mayor on an ABBA ABBA CDE CDE construction. The translation is as follows: Góngora appears to have applied one simple formula when he wrote down this sonnet, providing the reader with a list of the items which are required to establish a Kingdom of Galicia. Quevedo wrote a similar poem in 1628, 'La culta latiniparla', in which he lists what is necessary to become a Culteranist poet like don Luis in just one day: "Quién quiere ser culto en sólo un día" etc. (2)



(1) I thank the Forum: SpanishDict.com for explaining the meaning of the noun 'tericia' to me

(2) Góngora features on a book published in 1791.



Góngora, Luis de. Las Soledades. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 2001

----- Obras completas. Mexico: Edición Porrua, 2002

Groot, Jack de. Intertextuality through Obscurity.
The Poetry of Lorca and Góngora. New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2003.

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