ENLIGHTENED POETRY
 



"El Poeta" newspaper, edited by
Nicolás Fernández de Moratín

 
    1.-  In the last third of the 18th century, liberal ideas spread widely. The five-year period of 1774-1779 was marked as the focus of its greatest poetic works. They did not only come from France with its encyclopaedic philosophers, but in Spain the Italian and English trends were also known. We can prove that the Spanish Enlightenment was not a change of artistic school, but a cultural change regarding that school.
 
   The poetry dealt with artistic, scientific, cosmic philosophies, social and humanitarian themes and the names of Aristotle or St. Thomas were substituted by those of Newton, Galileo or Guttemberg. The prosaic tone of the poetry during these years was criticized.
 
    2.-  Madrid-born Nicolás Fernández de Moratín (1737-1780) can be considered the first liberal poet. He developed a very varied poetry: from frivolous 4-line verse - Anacreontic, ballads ... - to sonnets and other classic compositions. In Whores´ Art he shows his preoccupation for and awareness of the social problems of his time. His son, Leandro Fernández de Moratín published his works in 1821.

Portrait of José de Cadalso
    3.-  Among these great liberal poets is the coronel José de Cadalso (1741-1782), born in Cadiz, and who for some, is the first Spanish Romantic.
 
   He published his poems The Pastimes of my Youth (1773),under the pseudonym José Vázquez. He offered a collection of carefree poetry on the usual Anacreontic subjects: the pleasures of the countryside, love, wine and friendship - along the lines of rococo poetry.
 
   The death of his love María Ignacia Ibáñez in 1771 immersed him in a state of despair, from which his Lugubrious Nights emerged, considered by some as being poetic prose. He tells how Tediato exhumes the body of his love and of the anguish which leads to his love of mankind.
    4.-  A Fray Diego Tadeo González (1733-1794), is included in the Salamancan second poetic school formed by poets who, like Cadalso, coincided at some point in this city. His works were published in 1796. The didactic poem The Ages is worth mentioning, which reflects a geocentric theory of the universe. Generally, he dealt with biblical subjects.

   The founder of this Salamancan school was José Iglesias de la Casa (1748-1791), who wrote short, 4-lined epigrams which had pastoral echoes and which were written in the rococo style.

Works by
José Iglesias de la Casa
   The clergyman from Toledo, Cándido María Trigueros (1736-1798), published his two works, The Philosophic Poet and The Philosophic Poet´s Journey to Heaven in Seville. Despite his prosaic nature, he treated the subject of mankind from a moral perspective, according to the Essay on Man by Alexander Pope and showed an understanding of Newton.
 
   Félix María de Samaniego (1745-1801) from Alava, published his Tales written on a satirical and moral line, in 1781.
 
   Tomás de Iriarte (1750-1791) was born in Tenerife. One can differentiate between his Literary Tales which are similar to Samaniego´s, with whom there was a certain controversy. We highlight his didactic poem, The Music and his Epistles on various subjects and written along Horacian lines.

Works by
Tomás de Iriarte, 1782
    5.-  Without doubt, the most representative figure of the Spanish 17th century is the Asturian, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811), a member of the most important academy of the time, minister of law and justice and member of the General Council. He spent time in prison and fought for the national cause against the French.

Portrait of Jovellanos
by Francisco de Goya
   In poetry, he influenced the Salamancan school, by sending his First Epistle to its members, inviting them to leave love poetry behind and change to one more dignified, of philosophical or moral themes.
 
   Taking the line of the Italian poet Parini, he wrote his Satires against the vices of the upper classes.
 
   His elegy In Marina´s Absence and his Epistle from the Paular are examples of love poetry, which has a pre-romantic air and from Jovellanos´s model and teacher, Fray Luis de León´s Odes.

Works by Jovellanos

 
    6.-  But the 18th century poet par excellence, is the Extramaduran Juan Meléndez Valdes (1754-1817). He studied law in Salamanca and shared the same life as the poets of this school. He taught and followed his legal career, protected by Jovellanos. He collaborated with José Bonaparte and was banished to France, where he died.

Meléndez Valdés´s
Manuscript
   Batilo is his poetic name and his poems illustrate the poetical trends of his century.
   Until the 80´s, Meléndez Valdés was noted for his odes and Anacreontics, normally written in rococo style of heptasyllable verse which were heavily marked with eroticism.
 
   Soon the liberal subjects were to appear: criticism of the aristocracy, the reality of rural life, the figure of God as a creator, social progress, etc. The most noteworthy from this phase is his epistle The Philosopher in the Country.

Portrait of Meléndez Valdés
by Francisco de Goya

 
   The moral elegy, To Jovino the Melancholic, is a magnificent example of pre-romantic poetry due to its sad and sombre tones. Because of his knowledge of Horace, Meléndez Valdés´s neoclassicism was reflected in his odes like the ninth, To Fortune.
 
   These brief characteristics of our author reflect the poetry of a whole century in his topics on love, philosophy, religion - moderately orthodox in this case - society, patriotism and humanity.

D.Miguel Pérez Rosado.
Ph. D. in Hispanic Philology.