Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet: Essays and Translations

Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet: Essays and Translations

Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet: Essays and Translations

Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet: Essays and Translations


With poems selected and translated by one of the preeminent translators of our day, this bilingual collection of 112 sonnets by six Spanish-language masters of the form ranges in time from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and includes the works of poets from Spanish America as well as poets native to Spain. Willis Barnstone's selection of sonnets and the extensive historical and biographical background he supplies serve as a compelling survey of Spanish-language poetry that should be of interest both to lovers of poetry in general and to scholars of Spanish-language literature in particular.

Following an introductory examination of the arrival of the sonnet in Spain and of that nation's poetry up to Francisco de Quevedo, Barnstone takes up his six masters in chronological turn, preceding each with an essay that not only presents the sonneteer under discussion but also continues the carefully delineated history of Spanish-language poetry. Consistently engaging and informative and never dull or pedantic, these essays stand alone as appreciations- in the finest sense of that word- of some of the greatest poets ever to write. It is, however, Barnstone's subtle, musical, clear, and concise translations that form the heart of this collection. As Barnstone himself says, "In many ways all my life has been some kind of preparation for this volume."


The sonnet began in Sicily with Giacomo da Lentino (fl. 1215- 33), although it is not unlikely that some earlier Provençal poet put together an octave and a sestet in a manner which later was to be called the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. After working its way through the Sicilian court, the sonnet became a favored form of Dante and Petrarch. It entered Spain almost secretly through the work of El Marqués de Santillana (1398-1458), who wrote the first sonnets in the Spanish language. But his forty-two invisible sonnets fechos al itálico modo, modeled after Petrarch, were unpublished and unknown in the early Spanish Renaissance when, quite separately, two Spanish gentleman writers, Juan Boscán and Garcilaso de la Vega, discovered the poetry and prosody of Italy.

The popular advent of the sonnet in Spain coincided with a revolution in Spanish poetry in the early sixteenth century. In the ferment of traditions, poetry in Spain changed from its medieval cast of Castilian romances (ballads) and lyrics, its sometime imitation of French or Provençal verse forms (Catalan poetry was often inseparable in mode and tongue from Provençal) to an acceptance of Italian models as the foundation of Renaissance poetry in Spain. Thereafter, the Renaissance in Western Europe was coincidental with the flourishing sonnet. Spain, like France, Portugal, and later Germany, the Netherlands, and England, became sonnetized.

In England the sonnet was transformed. Introduced in its Italian form, Edmund Spenser--who thought himself of an earlier century--altered the Petrarchan rhyme pattern of abba abba cdecde to abab bcbc cdcd ee, and William Shakespeare--who was the age--wrote 154 sonnets in abab cdcd efef gg. These changes in the rhyme pattern were not imitated outside of English until Jorge Luis Borges, one-quarter English through his maternal grandmother from Northumberland, wrote at least a quarter of all his poems as Shake-

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