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  • On Appreciating the Other Garcilaso
  • Elias L. Rivers

Most Hispanists born in the twentieth century give pride of place, among Garcilaso's poems, to his universally appreciated eclogues. Viewing this preference from an historical perspective, one can see it first clearly reflected in José Nicolás de Azara's 1765 edition, which, unlike any previous edition of Garcilaso's poetry, begins with the eclogues. (The canonical order of poems, established by Boscán's 1543 edition and repeated in all sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions, puts first the Petrarchan section of sonnets and canzoni, continues with the elegies and the epistle, and ends with the eclogues.) Azara's contemporary Blanco White, as quoted by John Dent-Young (8-9), condemned the second elegy and the epistle ("perfectly devoid of merit") and praised the first part of the third eclogue ("very beautiful"); as Dent-Young remarks, such preferences "almost certainly align him with the romanticizers who want the best poetry to be that which describes the poet's supposed real-life love for Isabel Freyre" (8-9).

Azara's reordering of Garcilaso's poems became standard for the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth. Tomás Navarro Tomás adopts it in his influential edition (Vol. 3 of the "Clásicos Castellanos" series), first published in 1911 and later revised in 1924 and 1935. Hayward Keniston, in his less widely circulated and more scholarly edition of 1925, restored Boscán's canonical order. But in his companion volume of 1922, which is a critical study of the poet's life and works, he perpetuates the romantic reading of the poetry. He appreciates above all Garcilaso's tender melancholy, akin to Virgil's and Sannazaro's, in his eclogues: [End Page 390]

It is, then, as a revelation of the poet's own experience, admirable in its sincerity and touching in its emotion, that the first of the Eclogues stands as a true poem. In an age of artificial imitation it is eminent for its depth of real feeling and its wistful tenderness. Nowhere in the works of Garcilaso, rarely in the poems of the Renaissance, can we find a song which comes closer to our hearts than this cry of the poet's heart; disappointment and death have rarely received a more moving portrayal.

(Keniston, Garcilaso 244-45)

"His Petrarchan mood is less sincere," he adds (262). And he condemns the non-lyric poetry: the first elegy, whose Latin sources he studies in detail, he finds to be "cold and unfeeling; it smacks of the formal written exercise" (231); and he likewise says of the epistle that "it is an exercise, offering little ingenuity or variety" (239). His preference for the eclogues is obvious.

Many twentieth-century studies have given us a fuller appreciation of the Petrarchan tradition as reworked by Garcilaso. But the other three poems, epistolary in form, were still generally assigned to a post-romantic limbo until the publication of two fundamental articles by the great comparatist Claudio Guillén: "Sátira y poética en Garcilaso" (1972) and "Entre la amistad y el amor: la epístola de Garcilaso" (2001). These studies radically re-evaluate Garcilaso's elegies and epistle. Guillén, with his wide-ranging readings in Western literature, his classical erudition, and his fresh, sensitive insights, shows us that this poetry reveals the poet as a self-conscious and literally autobiographical writer. In these poems he was well aware of overlapping literary genres, felt the conflicts between his military career, his writing of poetry, and his love affairs, and was capable of expressing poetically his close friendship with Boscán. The first of these articles by Guillén has long been available to all specialists in Garcilaso; the second has not yet been made so widely available. In the following pages I will review these two articles, and even paraphrase some details of the later lesser-known one. I will then add a few remarks on similar appreciations by two non-specialists.

Guillén begins by drawing our attention to two bits of satire in these poems, one at the end of the Epístola concerning the traveler's commonplace complaints (bad food and...


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