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This poem is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

Góngora's Sonnets John Dent-Young

Góngora's name was long a byword for baroque style: convoluted syntax, extravagant metaphor and a preoccupation with classical literature and its Italian imitators. But in his day he was equally known for ballads and songs in the Spanish popular tradition and for his burlesques and satires. The sonnets here are chosen not to illustrate the apparently conflicting sides of Góngora's work but rather to suggest what unites them: poetry for Góngora was both a high calling and a means of responding to people and circumstances. He bends classical mythology and poetic conventions to his own purposes and seeks mastery over his situation through puns and play.

To anyone who saw the severe óngora of Velázquez's magnificent portrait in the recent National Gallery exhibition, the humour of some of these sonnets may be surprising. It is even more evident in some of the ballads, and even in the long poems, which I have included in a bilingual selection for the University of Chicago Press, due to be published this year.

1. Sonnet, 1595

Presenting your white foot to the lancet, you
my dear, through that sharp and salutary blade,
embue my face with melancholy's shade
and lend the snow a stain of dawn's bright hue.

I fear for you (as fearing's the lover's lot)
the same unhappy end as one lost to day
when, through an error on her careless way,
red blood and numbing poison drenched her foot.

I fear that end, because hope of rescue dims,
unless sweet Orpheus offers to inspire
with his sonorous instrument my rhymes.

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