THE POETRY OF FRANCISCO DE QUEVEDO
 


Quevedo

 
    1.-  Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas (1580-1645) could aspire to first place in the poetry of his century and of any epoch.
 
   He was born in Madrid and his political vocation contributed to the forming of his complex and contrasting personality. His poetry reflects the most spiritual tendencies along with the most base and crude feelings. Jokes appear alongside more serious attitudes, and moral philosophy alongside the most ingenious vulgarity.
 
   One of the great difficulties in studying his poetry, is that in general it was circulated through manuscript copies - like the contents of the so-called Antequeran Collection of Verse or in the Collection of Verse of 1628 - throughout his lifetime. Quevedo could only read 17 of his compositions printed in the famous anthology The Best of Illustrious Poets by Pedro de Espinosa (1605), or loose works published in different collections of ballads.


Manuscript of the
Heráclito cristiano
    2.-  Quevedo wrote his first important collection of poems in 1613, as a consequence of a profound spiritual crisis. That being Heráclito cristiano, which the author re-wrote as Tears of a Penitent. It was not published until printed in 1670, twenty five years after his death. Among his most noteworthy poems, we
 

    Epicteto and Phocilides was published in 1635. Only one of the poems in this work is considered original, but it is significant how loose poems by our author have been tracked down from different books.
 
    3.-  We know that death came as a surprise to Quevedo while he was working on editing his poetry. His friend Josef Antonio González de Salas is said to have respected our poet´s sorting, when he published The Spanish Parnassus, Mount with Two Summits, with the Nine Muses. in Madrid in 1648.
    These nine Muses sought to reflect a thematic classification of his poetic work in nine sections. The first Muse, Clio, is a collection of poems in praise of past or present distinguished celebrities. Here we highlight his sonnet Looking for Rome in Rome, oh Pilgrim!". The second, Polimnia , moral poems, amongst which we find probably the finest, such as the sonnet "Hello Life!...Anything Answering?" or the essential Epistle to Count Duke of Olivares. Melpomene, the third Muse and third section, is dedicated to mournful poetry: funeral rites or inscriptions of famous people. The fourth section, dedicated to the Muse Erato, is divided into two parts, both dedicated to love poetry . Starting from Petrarchan poetry , Quevedo attained works of worldwide importance, from mixing the themes of love and death. The second part of this section, is dedicated to Lisi, the poet´s supposed lover, and contains what is probably his best sonnet: "My Eyes Close When All is Said and Done." (Eternal love beyond death). The sixth and seventh Muses - Terpsicore and Talia - are dedicated to satirical and burlesque poems,dances and jokes. Here concludes The Spanish Parnassus.
Cover of
The Spanish Parnassus (1648)

(On click "Sonnet to Lysis")


The Last Three Castilian Musas
Second Summit of the Spanish Parnassus
       4.-  González de Salas also died before finishing his work, in 1651. It was the author´s nephew, Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas, who published The Last Three Castilian Musas. Second Summit of the Spanish Parnassus in Madrid in 1670. His work was less careful than that of his predecessor, as he repeated already published poems, or left them badly arranged, although he did follow his uncle´s supposed plan:
 
   Euterpe, the seventh Muse continued the cycle of love poetry, again taking the name of his beloved Lisi. The eighth Muse Caliope, heads satirical short poems and silvas morales. The latter is the most representative of Baroque because of the topic being the passing of time and ultimate death. It is doubted whether Quevedo was trying to make an separate collection with these. Urania, the ninth Muse, is dedicated to religious poetry , bringing a close to this volume.
    5.-  It is difficult to describe in few words, a work as varied as that of Francisco de Quevedo. According to the above-mentioned point, the reader c
 

    At one point, Quevedo´s most spiritual love poetry was contrasted to his real situation: his disastrous marriage with his burlesque poetry of pícaras and prostitutes. The willingness to overcome the carnal and material seems to be a constant trend of his, alongside his failure to reach the spiritual. This can also be applied to his metaphysical and moral poetry.
 
    What is sure, is that Francisco de Quevedo was a true admirer of Séneca, from whom he took the subject of quotidie morimur - we die every day. This is what unified the topic of time with that of death. It must be remembered that our poet corresponded with the Belgian humanist Justo Lipsio, editor of the Works of Séneca.
 
   Other of Quevedo´s great reading material was, without doubt, that of the Latin poet Marcial, of Aragonese origin, who offered him interesting models of satirical poetry which he frequently translated or adapted.

Silva en un manuscrito
de Quevedo

Edition of Poetry
by Quevedo
    6.-  To conclude this short representation of Quevedo´s poetry, it should be remembered that he wrote a lyric of great depth, unusual for any epoch of Spanish literature.
 
    We shall ignore to which point his editors González de Salas or Pedro de Aldrete intervened in the correction of his works, which are dispersed through so many 17th and 18th century books of poetry. His modern editors - Blecua or Crosby - do not discard the possibility that new poems appear, or that the ones kept today have been modified.

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