Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 1

By Michael S. Werner | Go to book overview

B

BALBUENA, BERNARDO DE

1562–1627 • Writer

The poet and man of letters Bernardo de Balbuena (sometimes spelled Valbuena) was born in Valdepeñas, Spain, on the November 20, 1562, and was brought to Nueva Galicia (the province formed by the present states of Jalisco and Nayarit) at a very early age. In 1585 he went to Mexico City to study theology at the university, where he took part in several poetic contests, having won several prizes. In 1590, ordained as a priest, he was sent to Guadalajara, and from there to San Pedro Lagunillas in Nayarit. Wishing to participate in the life of a more intellectual community, he went back to Mexico City in 1602, and there he published in 1604 his best known poem, La grandeza mexicana. Two years later he went to Spain to study for a doctorate in theology, which he received from the University of Sigüenza in 1607. He remained in Spain until the following year, when he was appointed abbot of Jamaica, a position he held from 1610 to 1622. In 1619 he had been named Bishop of Puerto Rico, but he did not go there until 1623. Two years later, Dutch pirates burned the city of San Juan and destroyed his library. Balbuena died in that city two years later, on October 11.

Besides La grandeza mexicana—an epistolary poem in hendecasyllabic tercets written with the purpose of telling one doña Isabel de Tovar y Guzmán (who lived in Culiacán) about the greatness of the capital—he published, in 1608, in the style of the popular Arcadia by Jacopo Sannazaro, a pastoral novel in verse and prose entitled Siglo de oro en las selvas de Erífile. It was not until 1624 that his next important poem appeared, the long epic (40,000 verses in hendecasyllabic octaves), El Bernardo o victoria de Roncesvalles, in which he glorified the deeds of the medieval Spanish hero Bernardo del Carpio.

Balbuena can be considered as a poet of transition between the Renaissance and the Baroque. In his principal works he uses Renaissance subjects, motifs, and themes, although Baroque images are frequent. The novel Siglo de oro and the epic El Bernardo belong to the literature of the Renaissance. In the first, a collection of twelve bucolic poems, the mixture of prose and verse as well as the Renaissance forms (églogas, sonnets, dialogues) predominate. The themes are those typical of the sixteenth century: the Golden Age, artificial idylls among shepherds, the intervention of gods and goddesses in the affairs of humans, etc. Yet, a few tercets appear, a stanza form seldom used by Renaissance poets.

For his epic poem, El Bernardo, Balbuena selected a Spanish medieval subject, the epic deeds of Bernardo del Carpio. However, he transcends the epic mode. In the poem’s 24 books there are geographical descriptions, legends, acts of magic, historical references, allegorical fables, and marvelous adventures. In order to integrate the great variety of materials, he had to create a fictitious character, Wizard Malgesí, who, among other fantastic deeds, travels through the air over the American continent, stopping over the capital of New Spain to describe its greatness. In the following selfconscious verses he describes the volcano Xola:

El gran volcán Xola, monstruo horrible
del mundo, y sus asombros el más vivo,
que ahora con su roja luz visible
de clara antorcha sirve a lo que escribo.
(The great Xola volcano, horrible monster
of the world, with its bright wonders
now with its visible red light
serves as a clear torch for my writing.)

Fantastic descriptions abound in the El Bernardo, the most spectacular being those of the fairies Morgana (book 1) and Galiana (book 5). In spite of this lack of unity (a Baroque characteristic), the poem is of interest because of its vivid descriptions and the variety of imaginative adventures that it contains.

El Bernardo has not attained the popularity of La grandeza mexicana, Balbuena’s most inspired composition. In this descriptive poem in tercets the author glosses an initial octave in which a synthesis of the contents of the total poem is provided.

De la famosa México el asiento,
origen y grandeza de edificios,
caballos, calles, trato, cumplimiento,
letras, virtudes, variedad de oficios,
regalos, ocasiones de contento,
primavera inmortal y sus indicios,
gobierno islustre, religión, estado,
todo en este discurso está cifrado.
(Of famous Mexico the seat,
Origin and greatness of its buildings,
Horses, streets, manners, courtesy,
Letters, virtues, variety of occupations,
Gifts, moments of merriment,
Immortal spring and its designs,
Illustrious government, religion, state,
Everything in this discourse is summarized.)

-125-

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Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor’s Note vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Alphabetical List of Entries xvii
  • Thematic Outline of Entries xxiii
  • A 1
  • B 125
  • C 175
  • D 391
  • E 423
  • F 465
  • G 549
  • H 625
  • I 667
  • J 715
  • K 723
  • L 727
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