The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE LATE MIDDLE AGES

POETRY

THE Archpriest's book corresponds to a great efflorescence of the juglar's art in Castile, in a society permeated with Moors and Jews but free of Galician influence. It lights up for us the lives of the ordinary men and women of the fourteenth century. Then after his death the curtain falls and we hear little or nothing of his successors. When it rises again, it is on a very different king of poetry.

Pedro the Cruel was stabbed to death in 1368 on the Campo de Montiel and his bastard brother, Henry of Trastamara, succeeded him. The new dynasty, born of fratricide, was weak, like the Lancastrian in England, and the nobles usurped a large part of the royal power. The result was an intermittent state of barons' wars and anarchy which lasted until the accession of Isabella and Ferdinand in 1474-9. During this period we nothing of jularesque verse except that it declined and died, but a large quantity of court poetry has come down to us.

The verse of the first two generations of these court poets is contained in a vast anthology, the Cancionero de Baena, made c. 1445 for King Juan II by a certain Juan Alfonso de Baena. It is a book of remarkable dullness and conventionality, containing few poems that can read with pleasure today. The best are by that prince of Spanish trovadores, Alfonso Álvarez de Villasandino, a Castilian from Burgos who lived between 1345 and 1425. He had an extraordinary reputation in his time, the anthologist Baena speaking of him as 'the light and crown and mirror and monarch of all poets and trovadores, and master and patron of the poetric art'. Today that light has burned very low, yet the ease and naturalness of his verse and a certain buoyancy reminiscent of Lope de Vega often make triumph over the conventionality of his themes and write lyrics that are full of life and colour. The most striking

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