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This review is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

NOW THE PEN AND NOW THE SWORD GARCILASO DE LA VEGA, Selected Poems, a bilingual edition edited and translated by John Dent-Young (University of Chicago Press) £27

Called the Prince of Poets by the leading lights of Spain’s Golden Age – his great admirers included Miguel de Cervantes and the playwright Lope de Vega – Garcilaso de La Vega’s (c. 1501–36) fifty or so poems, twenty of which are translated here in this well-presented and thoughtful edition by John Dent-Young, sing of his passions in clear, fluent and musical forms that five hundred years on still express a freshness and a delight in accomplishment: Si de mi baja lira//tanto pudiese el son, que un momento//aplacase la ira (‘If the sound of my simple//lyre had such power that in one moment//it could calm the anger’).

Garcilaso’s passions are those of the Renaissance courtier; he was instrumental in having Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier translated into Spanish. He had a passion for women, of course, Tu dulce habla ¿en cúya oreja suena?//Tus claros ojos ¿a quién los volviste? (‘Your sweet voice now, in whose ears does it sound?//Your bright eyes, on whom now do you turn them?’); a passion for friendship, Entre muy grandes bienes que consigo//el amistad perfecta nos concede,//es aqueste descuido suelto y puro//lejos de la curiosa pesadumbre (‘Not least among the benefits that perfect//friendship confers on us is this relaxed//and unpretentious carelessness, so far//removed from anything contrived or pompous’); for the pastoral, its flowing waters, Y en medio aquesta fuente clara y pura,//que como de cristal resplandecía,//mostrando abiertamente su hondura (‘and in the middle of it all this spring,//so clear and pure, ...


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