Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Dogma and Disbelief in Quevedo's Poetry

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Dogma and Disbelief in Quevedo's Poetry

Article excerpt

Fernando de Herrera contrasted the staunch morality that had long held the evolution of Spanish letters in check with the sensorial indulgence which had allowed Italian lyric to flourish. The Renaissance author and theorist states in his "Poetica":

Los Italianos, ombres de juizio i erudition i amigos de ilustrar su lengua ningun vocablo dexan de admitir, sino los torpes i rusticos. Mas nosotros olvida.mos los nuestros nacidos en la ciudad, en la corte, en las casas delos ombres sabios; por parecer solamente religiosos en el lenguaje, i padecemos pobreza en tanta riqueza i en tanta abundancia. (138)

While, in a conciliatory gesture, Herrera condones this poverty by linking it to a laudable devotion to spiritual cause, his ambition is that "no se pierda la poesia Espanola en la oscuridad de la inorancia" (136).1 Accordingly, Garcilaso de la Vega is hailed as "principe" (153) of Spanish poetry, a model for contemporary and future generations. The master is seen as rescuing his culture from obscurity by achieving a style at once pleasing and solemn, "dulce i grave" (153), an art which, without compromising public good, is not restrained within the confines of a stifling piety. The language of Francisco de Quevedo, contrarily, is to be remembered for its undoing of such a harmonious equilibrium. Greatly concerned with the need to restore virtue to a corrupted society, he establishes a strong distinction between rhetorical craftiness and ordering precept. It is in the light of this militant posture that I shall focus on how some of Quevedo's amatory and burlesque poems reformulate the Neoplatonic representation of the beloved as derived from Renaissance conventions. In the love sonnets, the traditional dialectic between spiritual contemplation and aesthetic appreciation grows incoherent, as a heightened emphasis on a fallen temporal realm fractures the idealizing image of the amada. Both in these sonnets and in Quevedo's grotesque pieces, there is a pronounced contempt for all forms of sensorial illusion, an aversion which is intimately connected to his ascetic world vision.

Quevedo, indeed, stands out among his contemporaries for his categorical rejection of the cult of linguistic embellishment which has become a predominant tendency during his age. In his political, moral, and literary treatises, he upholds classical rhetorical models only to the extent that these are endowed with a strongly didactic intent. Insofar as I bring Quevedo's doctrinal agenda to bear on his poetic corpus, I diverge from those who identify his writing entirely with secularizing aesthetic currents.2 But neither is it my intention to argue that his poetry is in utter conformity with the moralizing pronouncements of his programmatic texts.3 Indeed, the theological foundations of his poems translate not only into universalizing allegory and sobering maxim, but also into subversive caricature. As George Mariscal rightly says, "few poets of any century or national literature have textualized as many of the antagonisms of their culture as did Francisco de Quevedo..." (100). Ignatian dogmatism and conceptist wit are juxtaposed in a writing that in no way mitigates the ideological conflicts of the Counter Reformation, a culture in the process of coming to terms with the difficulties of reconciling messianic ideals and pragmatic reason of state, or, in other terms, the outright imposition of absolute truth and the politic practice of duplicitous seduction.

Although an intensified awareness of the incompatibility of divine rule and artistic license is a motif central to the Baroque imagination, the redemptive value of prodigious wit is, ultimately, upheld by a number of seventeenth-century rhetorical theories. Quevedo's poetics, in contrast, polarize the differences between universal wisdom and ingenious metaphor, the former being held as an altogether unattainable ideal and the latter as a deceptive chimera. How, then, is this stance borne out in the diverse poetic styles that he employs? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.