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An Ideological Conflict: War and Renaissance Philosophies

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Olga Blomgren
San Francisco State University

Gutierre de Cetina - Untitled Sonnet

Entre armas, guerra, fuego, ira y furores,
que al soberbio francés tienen opreso,
cuando el aire es más turbio y más espeso,
allí me aprieta el fiero ardor de amores.

Miro el cielo, los árboles, las flores,
y en ellos hallo mi dolor expreso,
que en el tiempo más frío y más avieso
nacen y reverdecen mis temores.

Digo llorando: "¡Oh dulce primavera,
cuándo será que a mi esperanza vea
ver de prestar al alma algún sosiego!

Mas temo que mi fin mi suerte fiera
tan lejos de mi bien quiere que sea,
entre guerra y furor, ira, armas, fuego."


* * *

Between arms, war, fire, wrath and furies
which have oppressed the arrogant French,
when the air is blurrier and thicker,
it squeezes me there, the fierce heat of loves.

I look at the sky, the trees, the flowers,
and in them find my pain expressed,
that in the colder and more distorted time
give birth to and revive my fears.

Crying I say: "Oh sweet springtime,
when will my hope see
a lending of some calmness to the soul!

More than my end I fear my fierce luck
so far from my wellbeing wants me to be,
between war and fury, wrath, arms, fire."




Explication

Love is a popular theme that the poetry of the Spanish Golden Age addresses in various forms. What is interesting about the sonnet that begins "Between arms, war, fire, wrath and furies" by Gutierre de Cetina is the way in which he employs this theme as a patriotic love.1 During the Renaissance, courtiers were frequently men of arms and letters and Cetina was no exception: "llevado por su carrera militar, conoció la vida de corte y participó en varias empresas guerreras del Emperador Carlos V" (López Bueno 34) [owing to his military career, he knew courtly life and participated in many of Emperor Charles V war undertakings].2 In this paper I will briefly discuss the historical context of the poet, note the influence of the petrarchan form and analyze the oppositions presented by the theme of the work. I propose that by means of the contrast between the imagery of war and nature, Cetina underlines the conflict between loyalty to the emperor and the petrarchan and platonic learnings of his time.

In terms of literary art, the great influence of the Italian poet Petrarch is notable in this poem. As a result of the availability and popularity of the new Italian poetry in Spain, and following the early examples of Juan Boscán and Garcilaso de la Vega, Cetina's poetry was similarly composed in this new style. The influence of Italian poetry was key to Cetina's work, in particular the collection Rime Diverse di molti eccellentissimi authori nuovamente raccolte which appeared in Venice in 1545 (López Bueno 88). Begoña López Bueno explains that "Las Rime Diverse formaban una antología que contenía la mejor poesía de la escuela petrarquista, poesía que [Cetina] conocería de primera mano" (López Bueno 88) [The Rime Diverse was an anthology comprised of the best poetry of the petrarchan school, poetry that Cetina would know first hand]. The formal composition of this particular poem faithfully follows the characteristics of the petrarchan or Italian sonnet. It is comprised of four stanzas, two quartets and two tercets resulting in fourteen verses. In Spanish the poem is written in hendecasyllabic verse frequently utilizing synalepha. The rhyme scheme is ABBA, ABBA, CDE, CDE, a traditional form of the petrarchan sonnet. The poem utilizes consonance by means of the last letters of the word at the end of each verse. Just like the mechanical form of the poem, the theme also aligns itself with petrarchism, although in a more subtle manner.

This poem in particular is distinct in the Spanish Golden Age because, according to the footnote in Poesía lírica del Siglo de Oro [Lyric Poetry of the Golden Age] by Elías Rivers, "este soneto puede fecharse a finales de 1543 durante las campañas militares contra el rey de Francia y sus aliados" (100) [this sonnet can be dated at the end of 1543 during the military campaigns against the King of France and his allies]. The fact that neither the poet's birth nor death can be dated with certainty makes the note more curious. This poem, and all of Cetina's work in general, can provide insight into the times in which he lived. In 1494, Spain and France entered into a war over control of Italy and it was not until 1559 that the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis declared the end of these battles. Essentially, the Italian Wars lasted Cetina's entire life and as a soldier it is not surprising that he addressed them in his poetic work.

As this sonnet opens the poet introduces the internal rhyme that immediately rings in the ear. The repetition of the "r" sound, distinctive in the Spanish language, stands out and also slows the pronunciation of the verse, a feature that continues the duration of the stanza. The list "arms, war, fire, wrath and furies" is of images related to the battle field, immediately capturing attention. According to López Bueno, "[Cetina] cantó mucho el amor y poco la guerra" (35) [Cetina sang much of love and little of war]; this observation may indicate that this poem, due to the rarity of the theme, merits study. The first quartet ends with an inversion: "the fierce heat of loves" which "squeezes" the poetic voice. This final image creates a parallelism between the situation of the "arrogant French" enemy of the second verse and the poetic voice. They are both in a state of war which may further in dicate that the poetic voice of the poem belongs to Spain itself, the homeland of the poet. As a result of the war, the two nations live in an atmosphere of destruction and violence.

The second quartet initiates the discussion of nature which is also changed by the war. The vocalization of the "o" in Spanish produces soft sounds in this stanza, signaling the change in imagery. It begins with another list, "the sky, the trees, the flowers," and these images of nature establish an antithesis with the war imagery that begins the sonnet. Instead of nature being something beautiful and pleasant, the voice says that in nature it "find[s its] pain expressed." Wartime is "the colder and more distorted time" that "give[s] birth to and revive[s his] fears." These fears, described in botanical terms, are actually unnatural and result from the "colder" and "distorted time." In this poem the natural world is a victim of humanity and physical aspects of nature suffer the effect of war. This representation of the pastoral world is an unexpected clash within the poem because it is so different from p latonic ideas about the search for ideal beauty in nature. R. O. Jones explains that "[Bembo] describe el amor como la fuerza generadora y unificador en la naturaleza: una de las ideas más influyentes en el neoplatonismo del Renacimiento" (74) [Bembo describes love as the generating and unifying force in nature: one of the most influential ideas in the neoplatonism of the Renaissance]. Nature as represented in this sonnet is generated by war; it is comprised of fear and not of love. In his writings on the pastoral genre of Renaissance poetry, López Bueno cites Johan Huizinga:

El anhelo de una vida bella era tan fuerte, que incluso allí donde se reconocía la vanidad de la vida de corte y de lucha y la necesidad de abandonarla, parecía abierta una salida para salvar la belleza de la vida terrena. ... La máxima felicidad parecía posible sin lucha, huyendo simplemente del lujo y la pompa recargados y opresivos, y de la guerra cruel y peligrosa. (180)

The desire for a beautiful life was so strong, that even where the vanity of courtly life and struggle was recognized as well as the necessity of abandoning it, a way out seemed open to salvage the beauty of earthly life. ... Maximum happiness seemed possible without struggle, by simply fleeing from the luxury and the over decorated and oppressive pomp, and from cruel and dangerous war.

I do not claim that this sonnet is of pastoral theme, but I do wish to note the way in which it presents nature. In Huizinga's terms, the pastoral theme in poetry offered an attempt to escape the negativity of life and capture the beautiful. In this sonnet the inversion of nature into something unnatural indicates the desperation of the poetic voice; it is impossible to reconcile the act of war with the intention of finding the beautiful in nature. Jones adds, "La naturaleza es un espectáculo de amor y de armonía en el cual el amor humano, dirigido a su debido fin, puede encontrar su lugar" (75) [Nature is a spectacle of love and harmony in which human love, directed to its proper end, can find its place]. According to these two theories of love and nature, war is not the "proper end" of human love and for this reason the "distorted" image of nature in this sonnet gives life to the fears of the poetic voice.

As the poem continues the first tercet cites the cry of the poetic voice over the natural imbalance. In contrast with the wintry cold, it directs itself to the season of renewal and beginnings, the "sweet springtime." Utilizing apostrophe it asks, "when will my hope see / a lending of some calmness to the soul!" In a sense, this enjambment speaks of, and directs itself towards, Spain and its people. The "hope" is the Spanish population which is fatigued by battles and the "soul" is the Spanish nation seeking rest and calm. This stanza is the plea for peace. I would also like to note that the entreaty is directed towards a season, which is a representative of the natural world. The poetic voice recognizes that it has to make an exhortation to nature in order to return the world to equilibrium. As noted previously, nature is the sphere of love and by those means war can be defeated. Additionally, the perso nification of Spain allows Cetina to represent his country as an entity instructed in humanist and platonic philosophy, which is to say he declares that his nation is at the highest level of Renaissance thought.

The final tercet closes the poem in a pessimistic and perhaps foreshadowing tone. The greatest fear of the poetic voice is "my fierce luck / so far from my wellbeing wants me to be, / between war and fury, wrath, arms, fire." This luck has the nation at war and in this sonnet "luck" can have two meanings. At the literal level, luck is related with fortune and the fact that wars are not always predictable. Figuratively, luck may also represent King Charles V, whose coronation brought Spain into these battles. The king, born in Ghent, was a stranger in his own kingdom and because of this it might be that he desired something that was not in the best interests of Spain. The sonnet is not a condemnation of the emperor, but an expression of being fed up with the incessant war. Peace did not arrive during the life of the king or of the poet. Charles V died in 1558 and it was his son, Phillip II, who entered into a peace treaty the following year.

The debate over the warrior-poet or man of arms and letters is another significant aspect of the theme of war and patriotic love. Cetina, again imitating Garcilaso, attempts to balance the two jobs and with this poem enters the debate. As noted above, this poem is the result of military campaign experiences against France in circumstances very similar to Garcilaso's third eclogue. According to Ignacio Navarrete, in this eclogue Garcilaso discusses "the conflict between his active, military life and his desire to be a poet" (116). Navarrete ends his discussion expressing the success of the poet:

the practice of poetry need no longer interfere with an active military life, which is accorded equal value. Garcilaso thus succeeds in fashioning his image in literary history: he will forever be known as the courtier poet who healed the theoretical split between arms and letters and made the pursuit of the latter a legitimate aristocratic activity. (117)

But where the work of Garcilaso mentions the sword and pen, Cetina's sonnet goes beyond this, dedicating itself to the theme of war. In this way he declares the transparency of being a poet. He does not need to mention poetry; the sonnet is effectively the work of a poet about being a man of arms.

The central conflict of this poem is between the ideologies associated with arms and letters. Cetina's patriotic love is such that he gives voice to Spain and expresses his wishes for the best for his country. By means of his experiences as a soldier, the sonnet expresses the poet's disenchantment with the years of war that Spain has survived. The images of war and nature indicate that Cetina, a man educated in Renaissance thought, recognizes the conflict between war and philosophy and desires the advancement of Spain by peaceful means. In his poem Cetina indicates that nature is the force that can remove the nation from war. The presentation of this idea indicates a preference for the Renaissance ideals of the poet and perhaps even suggests a development in the progression towards the domination of the art of letters over arms.


Note on the translation

The main concern I had in translating this sonnet was to bring forward the images and ideas presented by the poet. I chose to stay close to the literal words used, or the ideas and images suggested by the Spanish words, and chose not to attempt the rhyme scheme. I also tried to keep the translation true to word placement in order to maintain the poetic techniques (inversions, enjambments, etc.) and flow employed by Cetina. I fear that what first attracted me to this particular poem, the laboring "r" in the first quartet, is almost impossible to bring into English. In Spanish, pronunciation of the opening verse alone is slowed by the fact that all but one word is multisyllabic. In English the list can be breezed through. The softening vowel sound in the second quartet presented by the letter "o" in Spanish is also something that could not be brought forward in English. Another important focus in my paper is the war and nature imagery and staying faithful to those encompassing ideas was fundamental to this translation. One word that does not easily translate from Spanish is "reverdecen" as it appears in verse eight. This word literally means "to become green again" with secondary definitions of "to regain vigor" and "revive." The botanical color that is immediately implied by the Spanish is lost in English in order to maintain the decorum of the quartet.

Notes

1 Although there remains scholarly debate, Elías L. Rivers approximates Cetina lived from c. 1515 - c. 1554 (99).
2 All bracketed translations are my own.

Works Cited

Jones, R. O. Historia de la literatura española Siglo de Oro: prosa y poesía.         Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, S.A., 2000.

López Bueno, Begoña. Gutierre de Cetina, poeta del Renacimiento español.         Sevilla: Excma. Diputación Provincial de Sevilla, 1978.

Navarrete, Ignacio. Orphans of Petrarch: Poetry and Theory in the Spanish         Renaissance. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.

Rivers, Elías L. Poesía lírica del Siglo de Oro. Madrid: Cátedra, 2004. 100.

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