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Legends, Tales and Poems
Gustavo Adolfo Becquer
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by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer
Edited with Introduction, Notes and Vocabulary, by Everett Ward Olmsted
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Title: Legends, Tales and Poems
Author: Gustavo Adolfo Becquer
Edited with Introduction, Notes and Vocabulary, by Everett Ward Olmsted
Release Date: January 24, 2004 [EBook #10814]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII
Produced by Keren Vergon, Arno Peters and PG Distributed Proofreaders
Legends, Tales and Poems
[Illustration: After an etching by B. Maura]
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In preparing this collection of Becquer's legends, tales, and short
poems, which is the only annotated edition of this author's works that
has been published as yet for English-speaking students, the editor
has aimed to give to our schools and colleges a book that may serve,
not only as a reader for first or second year classes, but also as an
introduction to Spanish literature, through the works of one of the
most original and charming authors of the Spanish Romantic school.
Fondness for good literature should be stimulated from the very first,
and the quaint tales and legends of old Spain contained in this
edition, told, as they are, in a most fascinating style, are well
adapted to captivate the student's interest and to lead him to
investigate further the rich mine of Spanish literature. Becquer's
poetry is no less pleasing than his prose, and not much more difficult
to read. With the aid of the ample treatise on Spanish versification
contained in the introduction, the student will be enabled to
appreciate the harmony and rhythm of Becquer's verse, and in all
subsequent reading of Spanish poetry he will find this treatise a
convenient and valuable work of reference.
The Life of Becquer, though concise, is perhaps the most complete that
has yet been published, for it embodies all the data given by previous
biographers and a certain number of facts gathered by the writer at
the time of his last visit to Spain (in 1905-1906), from friends of
Becquer who were then living.
The vocabulary has been made sufficiently complete to free the notes
from that too frequent translation of words or phrases which often
encumbers them.
The notes have been printed in the only convenient place for them, at
the bottom of each page, and will be found to be as complete and
definite as possible on geographical, biographical, historical, or
other points that may not be familiar to the student or the teacher.
All grammatical or syntactical matter, unless of a difficult or
peculiar character, has been omitted, while the literary citations
that abound will, it is hoped, stimulate the student to do further
reading and to make literary comparisons of his own.
It remains for the editor to express his profound gratitude to the
following gentlemen for their aid in collecting facts regarding
Becquer and for their encouragement of this work: the Exc^{mo} Sr.
Conde de las Navas, the Exc^{mo} Sr. Licenciado D. Jose Gestoso y
Perez, and the Exc^{mo} Sr. D. Francisco de Laiglesia. It is his
pleasure also to convey his thanks to Professor George L. Burr of
Cornell University for aid in certain of the historical notes, and
most especially to gratefully acknowledge his indebtedness to the aid,
or rather collaboration, of Mr. Arthur Gordon of Cornell University,
and Mr. W. R. Price of the High School of Commerce, New York City.
Ithaca, N.Y.
"In Seville, along the Guadalquivir, and close to the bank that leads
to the convent of San Jeronimo, may be found a kind of lagoon, which
fertilizes a miniature valley formed by the natural slope of the bank,
at that point very high and steep. Two or three leafy white poplars,
intertwining their branches, protect the spot from the rays of the
sun, which rarely succeeds in slipping through them. Their leaves
produce a soft and pleasing murmur as the wind stirs them and causes
them to appear now silver, now green, according to the point from
which it blows. A willow bathes its roots in the current of the
stream, toward which it leans as though bowed by an invisible weight,
and all about are multitudes of reeds and yellow lilies, such as grow
spontaneously at the edges of springs and streams.
"When I was a boy of fourteen or fifteen, and my soul was overflowing
with numberless longings, with pure thoughts and with that infinite
hope that is the most precious jewel of youth, when I deemed myself a
poet, when my imagination was full of those pleasing tales of the
classic world, and Rioja in his _silvas_ to the flowers, Herrera in
his tender elegies, and all my Seville singers, the Penates of my
special literature, spoke to me continually of the majestic Betis, the
river of nymphs, naiads, and poets, which, crowned with belfries and
laurels, flows to the sea from a crystal amphora, how often, absorbed
in the contemplation of my childish dreams, I would go and sit upon
its bank, and there, where the poplars protected me with their shadow,
would give rein to my fancies, and conjure up one of those impossible
dreams in which the very skeleton of death appeared before my eyes in
splendid, fascinating garb! I used to dream then of a happy,
independent life, like that of the bird, which is born to sing, and
receives its food from God. I used to dream of that tranquil life of
the poet, which glows with a soft light from generation to generation.
I used to dream that the city that saw my birth would one day swell
with pride at my name, adding it to the brilliant list of her
illustrious sons, and, when death should put an end to my existence,
that they would lay me down to dream the golden dream of immortality
on the banks of the Betis, whose praises I should have sung in
splendid odes, and in that very spot where I used to go so often to
hear the sweet murmur of its waves. A white stone with a cross and my
name should be my only monument.
"The white poplars, swaying night and day above my grave, should seem
to utter prayers for my soul in the rustling of their green and silver
leaves. In them the birds should come and nest, that they might sing
at dawn a joyous hymn to the resurrection of the spirit to regions
more serene. The willow, covering the spot with floating shadows,
should lend to it its own vague sadness, as it bent and shed about its
soft, wan leaves, as if to protect and to caress my mortal spoils. The
river, too, which in flood tide might almost come and kiss the border
of the slab o'ergrown with reeds, should lull my sleep with pleasant
music. And when some time had passed, and patches of moss had begun to
spread over the stone, a dense growth of wild morning-glories, of
those blue morning-glories with a disk of carmine in the center, which
I loved so much, should grow up by its side, twining through its
crevices and clothing it with their broad transparent leaves, which,
by I know not what mystery, have the form of hearts. Golden insects
with wings of light, whose buzzing lulls to sleep on heated
afternoons, should come and hover round their chalices, and one would
be obliged to draw aside the leafy curtain to read my name, now
blurred by time and moisture. But why should my name be read? Who
would not know that I was sleeping there?"[1]
[Footnote 1: _Obras de Gustavo A. Becquer_, Madrid, 1898, vol. II,
pp. 242-245. This edition will be understood hereafter in all
references to the works of Becquer.]
So mused the poet Becquer[1] in the golden days of his youth, when his
veins were swelling with health, when his heart was fired with
ambition, and in his ears was ringing the joyous invitation of his
[Footnote 1: The name is spelled indifferently with or without
accent--_Becquer_ or _Becquer_. In the choice of the latter
spelling, the authority of his principal biographer, Ramon Rodriguez
Correa, has been followed.]
His knowledge of the world was confined to the enchanting city of his
birth. Her gems of art and architecture had wrought themselves into
the fabric of his dreams; he had mused in her palm-gardens, worshiped
in her temples, and dreamed long afternoons on the shores of her
historic river. He knew nothing of the cold, prosaic world of selfish
interests. The time had not yet come when, in bitterness of spirit,
and wrapping his mantle about him against the chill wind of
indifference, he should say: "To-day my sole ambition is to be a
supernumerary in the vast human comedy, and when my silent role is
ended, to withdraw behind the scenes, neither hissed nor applauded,
making my exit unnoticed."[1]
[Footnote 1: _Obras_, vol. II, p. 251.]
Indeed, in those later days of trial and hardship, he would often look
out wearily upon Madrid, the city of his adoption, the scene of his
crushing struggle with necessity, as it lay outspread before his
windows,--"dirty, black, and ugly as a fleshless skeleton, shivering
under its immense shroud of snow,"[1] and in his mind he would conjure
up the city of his youth, his ever cherished Seville, "with her
_Giralda_ of lacework, mirrored in the trembling Guadalquivir, with
her narrow and tortuous Moorish streets, in which one fancies still he
hears the strange cracking sound of the walk of the Justiciary King;
Seville, with her barred windows and her love-songs, her iron
door-screens and her night watchmen, her altar-pieces and her stories,
her brawls and her music, her tranquil nights and her fiery
afternoons, her rosy dawns and her blue twilights; Seville, with all
the traditions that twenty centuries have heaped upon her brow, with
all the pomp and splendor of her southern nature."[2] No words of
praise seemed too glowing for her ardent lover.
[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., vol. III, p. iii.]
[Footnote 2: _Obras_, vol. III, pp. 109-110.]
By some strange mystery, however, it had been decreed by fate that he
should only meet with disappointment in every object of his love. The
city of his birth was no exception to the rule: since Becquer's death
it has made but little effort to requite his deep devotion or satisfy
his youthful dreams. You may search "the bank of the Guadalquivir that
leads to the ruined convent of San Jeronimo," you may spy among the
silvery poplars or the willows growing there, you may thrust aside the
reeds and yellow lilies or the tangled growth of morning-glories, but
all in vain--no "white stone with a cross" appears. You may wander
through the city's many churches, but no tomb to the illustrious poet
will you find, no monument in any square. His body sleeps well-nigh
forgotten in the cemetery of San Nicolas in Madrid.
If you will turn your steps, however, to the _barrio_ of Seville in
which the celebrated D. Miguel de Manara, the original type of _Juan
Tenorio_ and the _Estudiante de Salamanca_, felt the mysterious blow
and saw his own funeral train file by, and will enter the little
street of the Conde de Barajas, you will find on the facade of the
house No. 26 a modest but tasteful tablet bearing the words
[Footnote 1: This memorial, which was uncovered on January 10th,
1886, is due to a little group of Becquer's admirers, and especially
to the inspiration of a young Argentine poet, Roman Garcia Pereira
(whose _Canto a Becquer_, published in _La Ilustracion Artistica_,
Barcelona, December 27, 1886, is a tribute worthy of the poet who
inspired it), and to the personal efforts of the illustrious Seville
scholar, Don Jose Gestoso y Perez. It is only fair to add here that
there is also an inferior street in Seville named for Becquer.]
Here Gustavo Adolfo Dominguez Becquer opened his eyes upon this
inhospitable world. Eight days later he was baptized in the church of
San Lorenzo.[1] He was one of a family of eight sons, Eduardo,
Estanislao, Valeriano, Gustavo Adolfo, Alfredo, Ricardo, Jorge, and
Jose. His father, Don Jose Dominguez Becquer, was a well-known Seville
genre painter. He died when Gustavo was but a child of five, too young
to be taught the principles of his art; but he nevertheless bequeathed
to him the artistic temperament that was so dominant a trait in the
poet's genius. Becquer's mother, Dona Joaquina, survived his father
but a short time, and left her children orphaned while they were yet
very young. Gustavo was but nine and a half years old at the time of
his mother's death. Fortunately an old and childless uncle, D. Juan
Vargas, took charge of the motherless boys until they could find homes
or employment.
[Footnote 1: The following is a copy of his baptismal record:
"En jueves 25 de Febrero de 1836 anos D. Antonio Rodriguez Arenas
Pbro. con licencia del infrascrito Cura de la Parroquial de Sn.
Lorenzo de Sevilla: bautizo solemnemente a Gustavo Adolfo que nacio
en 17 de dicho mes y ano hijo de Jose Dominguez Vequer (_sic_) y
Dona Juaquina (_sic_) Bastida su legitima mujer. Fue su madrina Dona
Manuela Monchay vecina de la collacion de Sn. Miguel a la que se
advirtio el parentesco espiritual y obligaciones y para verdad lo
firme.--Antonio Lucena Cura." See La _Illustracion Artistica_,
Barcelona, December 27, 1886, pp. 363-366. Citations from this
periodical will hereafter refer to the issue of this date.]
Gustavo Adolfo received his first instruction at the College of San
Antonio Abad. After the loss of his mother his uncle procured for him
admission to the College of San Telmo, a training school for
navigators, situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir in the edifice
that later became the palace of the Dukes of Montpensier. This
establishment had been founded in 1681 in the ancient suburb of
Marruecos as a reorganization of the famous _Escuela de Mareantes_
(navigators) of Triana. The Government bore the cost of maintenance
and instruction of the pupils of this school, to which were admitted
only poor and orphaned boys of noble extraction. Gustavo fulfilled all
these requirements. Indeed, his family, which had come to Seville at
the close of the sixteenth century or at the beginning of the
seventeenth century, from Flanders, was one of the most distinguished
of the town. It had even counted among its illustrious members a
Seville Veinticuatro, and no one who was unable to present proof of
noble lineage could aspire to that distinction.[1]
[Footnote 1: "Don Martin Becquer, _mayorazgo_ and _Veinticuatro_, of
Seville, native of Flanders, married Dona Ursula Diez de Tejada.
Born to them were Don Juan and Dona Mencia Becquer. The latter
married Don Julian Dominguez, by whom she had a son Don Antonio
Dominguez y Becquer, who in turn contracted marriage with Dona Maria
Antonia Insausti y Bausa. Their son was Don Jose Dominguez Insausti
y Bausa, husband of Dona Joaquina Bastida y Vargas, and father of
the poet Becquer." The arms of the family "were a shield of azure
with a chevron of gold, charged with five stars of azure, two leaves
of clover in gold in the upper corners of the shield, and in the
point a crown of gold." The language of the original is not
technical, and I have translated literally. See _Carta a M. Achille
Fouquier_, by D. Jose Gestoso y Perez, in _La Ilustracion
Artistica_, pp. 363-366.]
Among the students of San Telmo there was one, Narciso Campillo, for
whom Gustavo felt a special friendship,--a lad whose literary tastes,
like his own, had developed early, and who was destined, later on, to
occupy no mean position in the field of letters. Writing of those days
of his youth, Senor Campillo says: "Our childhood friendship was
strengthened by our life in common, wearing as we did the same
uniform, eating at the same table, and sleeping in an immense hall,
whose arches, columns, and melancholy lamps, suspended at intervals, I
can see before me still.
"I enjoy recalling this epoch of our first literary utterance
(_vagido_), and I say _our_, for when he was but ten years old and I
eleven, we composed and presented in the aforesaid school (San Telmo)
a fearful and extravagant drama, which, if my memory serves me right,
was entitled Los _Conjurados_ ('The Conspirators'). We likewise began
a novel. I wonder at the confidence with which these two children, so
ignorant in all respects, launched forth upon the two literary lines
that require most knowledge of man, society, and life. The time was
yet to come when by dint of painful struggles and hard trials they
should possess that knowledge, as difficult to gain as it is
[Footnote 1: Article on Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, by Narciso Campillo,
in La Ilustracion Artistica, pp. 358-360]
Shortly after the matriculation of young Becquer, the College of San
Telmo was suppressed by royal orders, and the lad found himself in the
streets. He was then received into the home of his godmother, Dona
Manuela Monchay, who was a woman of kind heart and much intelligence.
She possessed a fair library, which was put at the disposal of the
boy; and here he gratified his love for reading, and perfected his
literary taste. Two works that had considerable influence upon him at
this time were the Odes of Horace, translated by P. Urbano Campos, and
the poems of Zorrilla. He began to write verses of his own, but these
he later burned.
"In 1849," says Senor Campillo, "there were two noteworthy painters in
Seville, whose studios were open to and frequented by numerous
students, future rivals, each in his own imagination, of the glories
of Velasquez and Murillo. One of these studios, situated in the same
building as the Museo de Pinturas, was that of D. Antonio Cabral
Bejarano, a man not to be forgotten for his talent, and perhaps also
for his wit, the delight of those who knew him. The other, situated in
an upper room of the Moorish _alcazar de Abdelasis_, near the patio
_de Banderas_, was directed by D. Joaquin Dominguez Becquer, a brother
and disciple of D. Jose, Gustavo's father."[1]
[Footnote 1: Narciso Campillo, _loc_. cit.]
In spite of this relationship, Gustavo Adolfo, at the age of fourteen,
entered the studio of Bejarano. There he remained for two years,
practicing the art of drawing, for which he had a natural talent. He
then came under the instruction of his uncle, who, judging that his
nephew was even better qualified for a literary than for an artistic
career, advised him to follow the former, and procured for him a few
Latin lessons. Meanwhile Gustavo continued to enlarge his poetical
horizon by reading from the great poets and by the contemplation of
the beauties of nature. With his friend Campillo he composed the first
three cantos of a poem entitled La _Conquista de Sevilla_, and with
him he wandered about the beautiful city of his birth and dreamed such
dreams as the one with which this Introduction begins.
Gustavo's godmother, who was a woman in easy circumstances and without
children or near relatives, would doubtless have bequeathed to him her
property had he fulfilled her wishes and settled down to an honorable
mercantile life. But the child, who had learned to draw and to compose
almost before he could write, and who had always paled before the
simplest problem of arithmetic, could not reconcile himself to such a
life. The artist within him rebelled, and at the age of seventeen and
a half, feeling the attraction of the capital strong upon him, he bade
farewell to the friends of his youth and set out to seek for fame and
fortune. It was in the autumn of 1854 that Becquer arrived in Madrid,
"with empty pockets, but with a head full of treasures that were not,
alas, to enrich him." Here he encountered an indifference that he had
not dreamed of; and here he remained in the shadow of oblivion, eking
out a miserable existence of physical as well as mental suffering, in
utter loneliness of spirit, until he was joined in 1856 by one who
came to be his lifelong friend and first biographer--Ramon Rodriguez
Correa, who had come to the capital with the same aims as Becquer, and
whose robust health and jovial temperament appealed singularly to the
sad and ailing dreamer. The new-found friend proved indeed a godsend,
for when, in 1857, Gustavo was suffering from a terrible illness,
Correa, while attending him, chanced to fall upon a writing entitled
_El caudillo de las manos rojas, tradicion india_. Charmed by its
originality in form and conception, he urged his friend to publish it.
Becquer acquiesced, and the story was accepted and published by La
_Cronica_. The joy of this first success, and perhaps the material aid
that resulted, must have had a great deal to do with Gustavo's speedy
A short time after this he entered with his friend Correa the office
of the _Direccion de Bienes Nacionales_ as copyist, at the munificent
salary of some $150 a year. The employment was decidedly contrary to
his taste, and to amuse his tedium he used often to sketch or read
from his favorite poets. One day, as he was busy sketching, the
Director entered, and, seeing a group about Gustavo's chair,--for the
young artist's sketches were eagerly awaited and claimed by his
admiring associates,--stole up from behind and asked, "What is this?"
Gustavo, suspecting nothing, went on with his sketch, and answered in
a natural tone, "This is Ophelia, plucking the leaves from her
garland. That old codger is a grave-digger. Over there..." At this,
noticing that every one had risen, and that universal silence reigned,
Becquer slowly turned his head. "Here is one too many," said the
Director, and the artist was dismissed that very day.
It cannot be said that he received the news of his dismissal
regretfully, for he had accepted the position largely to please a
sympathetic friend. Slight as was the remuneration, however, it had
aided him to live; and when this resource was removed, Gustavo was
again obliged to depend upon his wits. His skill with the brush served
him in good stead at this time, and he earned a little money by aiding
a painter who had been employed by the Marquis of Remisa to decorate
his palace, but who could not do the figures in the fresco.
In 1857, together with other _litterateurs_, Becquer undertook the
preparation and direction of a work entitled _Historia de los Temples
de Espana_.[1] Like so many of the author's plans, this work remained
unfinished; but from the single volume that appeared can be seen how
vast was the scope of the work, and how scholarly its execution.
Gustavo is himself the author of some of the best pages contained in
the volume, as, for example, those of the Introduction and of the
chapters on _San Juan de los_ Reyes. He is likewise the author of many
of the excellent sketches that adorn the work, notably that of the
_portada_. These sketches, as well as others published elsewhere, show
how eminent his work as artist would have been, had he decided to
cultivate that field instead of literature.
[Footnote 1: The complete title of the work is _Historia de los
Templos de Espana, publicada bajo la proteccion de SS. MM. AA. y muy
reverendos senores arzobispos y obispos--dirigida por D. Juan de la
Puerta Vizcaino y D. Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. Tomo I, Madrid, 1857.
Imprenta y Estereotipia Espanola de los Senores Nieto y Compania._]
Essentially an artist in temperament, he viewed all things from the
artist's standpoint. His distaste for politics was strong, and his
lack of interest in political intrigues was profound. "His artistic
soul, nurtured in the illustrious literary school of Seville," says
Correa, "and developed amidst Gothic Cathedrals, lacy Moorish and
stained-glass windows, was at ease only in the field of tradition. He
felt at home in a complete civilization, like that of the Middle Ages,
and his artisticopolitical ideas and his fear of the ignorant crowd
made him regard with marked predilection all that was aristocratic and
historic, without however refusing, in his quick intelligence, to
recognize the wonderful character of the epoch in which he lived.
Indolent, moreover, in small things,--and for him political parties
were small things,--he was always to be found in the one in which were
most of his friends, and in which they talked most of pictures,
poetry, cathedrals, kings, and nobles. Incapable of hatred, he never
placed his remarkable talent as a writer at the service of political
animosities, however certain might have been his gains."[1]
[Footnote 1: Ramon Rodriguez Correa, _Prologo_, in _Obras de
Becquer_, vol. I, xvi.]
Early in his life in Madrid, Gustavo came under the influence of a
charming young woman, Julia Espin y Guillen.[1] Her father was
director of the orchestra in the Teatro Real, and his home was a
rendezvous of young musicians, artists, and _litterateurs_. There
Gustavo, with Correa, Manuel del Palacio, Augusto Ferran, and other
friends, used to gather for musical and literary evenings, and there
Gustavo used to read his verses. These he would bring written on odd
scraps of paper, and often upon calling cards, in his usual careless
[Footnote 1: She later married Don Benigno Quiroga Ballesteros, an
illustrious engineer, congressman, minister of state, and man of
public life, who is still living. She died in January, 1907.]
His friends were not slow in discovering that the tall, dark, and
beautiful Julia was the object of his adoration, and they advised him
to declare his love openly. But his timid and retiring nature imposed
silence upon his lips, and he never spoke a word of love to her. It
cannot be said, moreover, that the impression created upon the young
lady by the brilliant youth was such as to inspire a return of his
mute devotion. Becquer was negligent in his dress and indifferent to
his personal appearance, and when Julia's friends upbraided her for
her hardness of heart she would reply with some such curt and cruel
epigram as this: "Perhaps he would move my heart more if he affected
my stomach less."[1]
[Footnote 1: Facts learned from conversation with Don Manuel del
Palacio, since deceased.
The editor of this sketch is indebted to the courtesy of the
Exc^{mo}. Sr. D. Benigno Quiroga Ballesteros and to his lately
deceased wife, Dona Julia, the muse of at least some of Becquer's
_Rimas_, for an opportunity to examine a couple of albums containing
some of the poet's verse and a most interesting collection of pencil
sketches, which but confirm his admiration for Becquer's artistic
talent. Here is a list of the sketches:
_First Album:_
Lucia di Lamermoor--Eleven sketches, including frontispiece.
A dream, or rather a nightmare, in which a man is pictured in a
restless sleep, with a small devil perched upon his knees, who
causes to fly as a kite above the sleeper's head a woman in graceful
floating garments.
A fat and jolly horned devil in the confessional box, with a
confessor of the fair sex kneeling at one side, while at the extreme
right two small acolytes point out to each other a suspicious
looking tail that protrudes from beneath her skirts, thus stamping
her as Satan's own.
A belfry window with a swinging bell, and bestriding the bell a
skeleton tightly clutching the upper part of it--ringing the
_animas_ perhaps.
Gustavo himself seated smoking, leaning back in his chair, and in
the smoke that rises a series of women, some with wings.
A nun in horror at discovering, as she turns down the covers of her
bed, a merry devil.
A woman's coffin uncovered by the sexton, while a lover standing by
exclaims, "iiCascaras!! icomo ha cambiadd!"
A scene at the _Teatro Real_ with Senor Espin y Guillen in a small
group behind the scenes, and a prima donna singing. Actors standing
apart in the wings.
A visit to the cemetery. A skeleton thrusting out his head from his
burial niche, and a young man presenting his card. "DIFUNTO: No
recibo. VISITANTE: Pues hai (_sic_) queda la targeta (_sic_)."
A fine sketch of "Eleonora," a stately form in rich
fifteenth-century garb.
A number of sketches of women, knights, monks, devils, soldiers,
skeletons, etc.
_Second Album: Les morts pow rire, Bizarreries dediees a
Mademoiselle Julie, par G. A. Becker (sic)_.
Fantastic frontispiece of skulls, bones, and leafy fronds, and two
young lovers seated, sketching.
Skeletons playing battledore and shuttlecock with skulls.
A tall slim skeleton and a round short one.
Skeletons at a ball.
A skeleton widow visiting her husband's grave.
The husband returning her visit, and coming to share her lunch in
the park.
A circus of skeletons, in two scenes: (1) Leaping through the hoop.
(2) One skeleton balancing himself, head downward, on the head of
another who is standing.
A skeleton singer on the stage.
A skeleton horse leaping a hurdle.
A skeleton drum-major with his band.
A skeleton bull-fight.
A duel between skeletons.
A tournament on skeleton horses.
A woman recently deceased, surrounded by skeletons offering their
compliments. They are presented by one of then number, with hat in
A balcony courting scene between skeleton lovers.
The word _FIN_ in bones concludes the series of grotesque and
uncanny sketches, which but emphasize a fact ever present in the
poet's mind--that while we are in life we _are_ in death.]
Finding his devotion to Julia unrequited, Becquer, in a rebellious
mood, and having come under the influence of the charms and
blandishments of a woman of Soria, a certain Casta Esteban y Navarro,
contracted, in or about the year 1861, an unfortunate marriage, which
embittered the rest of his life and added cares and expenses which he
could ill support. He lived with his wife but a short time, during
which period two sons were born to them--Gustavo, whose later career
was unfortunately not such as to bring credit to the memory of his
illustrious father, and, Jorge, who died young. Becquer was
passionately fond of his children, and succeeded in keeping them with
him after the separation from his wife. They were constantly the
objects of his affectionate solicitude, and his last thoughts were for
About 1858 the newspaper _El Contemporaneo_ had been founded by the
able and broad-minded Jose Luis Albareda, and Correa, who was
associated with the management, succeeded in obtaining for his friend
a position on its staff. Becquer entered upon his new labors in 1861,
and was a fairly regular contributor until the suppression of the
paper. Here he published the greater part of his legends and tales, as
well as his remarkable collection of letters _Desde mi Celda_ ("From
my Cell"). The following year his brother Valeriano, who up to that
time had exercised his talents as a genre painter in Seville, came to
join him in Madrid. He too had been unfortunate in his domestic
relations, and the brothers joined in sympathy to form a new
household. A period of comparative comfort seemed to open up before
them. This period was of short duration, however; for Gustavo (who was
never strong) soon fell ill, and was obliged to withdraw from the
capital, in search of purer air, to the historic monastery of Veruela,
situated on the Moncayo, a mountain in northern Spain. His brother
Valeriano accompanied him, and there they passed a year in complete
isolation from the rest of the world. The spur of necessity, however,
compelled them both to keep to their work, and while Gustavo was
writing such legends as that of _Maese Perez_, and composing his
fascinating _Cartas desde mi Celda_, Valeriano was painting Aragonese
scenes such as La _Vendimia_ ("The Vintage") or fanciful creations
such as _El Barco del Diablo_ or La _Pecadora_.
The next year the two brothers returned to the capital, and Gustavo,
together with his friend D. Felipe Vallarino, began the publication of
_La Gaceta literaria_, of brief but brilliant memory. During this same
year and during 1863 Gustavo continued on the staff of _El
Contemporaneo_, enriching its pages with an occasional legend of
singular beauty.
At the Baths of Fitero in Navarre, whither, with his inseparable
brother, he had gone to recuperate his health in the summer of 1864,
Gustavo composed the fantastic legend of the _Miserere_, and others no
less interesting. On his return from Fitero he continued in _El
Contemporaneo_, and shortly after entered a ministerial daily, the
irksome duties of which charge he bore with resignation.
At this time Luis Gonzalez Bravo, a man of _fine_ literary
discrimination, whatever may be thought of him politically, was prime
minister under Isabel II. He had become interested in the work of
Gustavo, and, knowing the dire financial straits in which the young
poet labored, he thought to diminish these anxieties and thus give him
more time to devote to creative work by making him censor of novels. A
new period of calm and comparative comfort began, and for the first
time in his life Becquer had the leisure to carry out a long-cherished
project, at once his own desire and the desire of his friends: that of
gathering together in one volume all his scattered verse and of adding
to the collection other poems as well that had not yet seen the light.
This he did, and the completed volume so charmed his friend and
patron, Gonzalez Bravo, that he offered of his own accord to write a
prologue for the work and to print it at his own expense. But in 1868
came the revolution which dethroned Isabel II, and in the confusion
that followed the downfall of the ministry and the hasty withdrawal of
Gonzalez Bravo to the French frontier the volume of poems was lost.
This was a sad blow to Becquer, but he courageously set to work to
repair the loss, and with painful effort succeeded in recalling and
rewriting his _Rimas_, which were published after his death in the
third volume of his works by his friend Correa.
Becquer, with extreme punctiliousness, tendered his resignation as
censor of novels. A pension of 10,000 reals that the government had
assigned to Valeriano for the study of national customs was withdrawn,
and both brothers were again deprived of permanent employment. They
joined forces, and while the one sketched admirable woodcuts for the
_Almanac Anual_ of Gaspar y Roig, the other wrote such original
articles as _Las Hojas Secas_, or chafed under such hack work as the
translation of popular novels from the French, which language he read
with ease, though he did not speak it well. Gustavo had already felt
and described the charm of the old Moorish city of Toledo in his
_Historia de los Templos de Espana_, and in 1869 he and Valeriano
moved their little household temporarily to the city of their dreams,
with a view to finding inspiration for their pens and brushes, and
thus subsistence for their joint families.[1]
[Footnote 1: It was at this time that Gustavo wrote the letter which
is published for the first time on page xxxix.]
An amusing account is given by Correa of an adventure that befell the
two brothers one night in Toledo as they were wandering about its
streets. He says: "One magnificent moonlight night both artists
decided to contemplate their beloved city bathed in the fantastic
light of the chilly orb. The painter armed with pencils and the writer
with his souvenirs had abandoned the old city and on a ruined wall had
given themselves up for hours to their artistic chatter ... when a
couple of _Guardias civiles_, who had doubtless those days been
looking for marauders, approached them. They heard something of apses,
squinches, ogives, and other terms as suspicious or as dangerous ...
and observing the disarray of those who thus discoursed, their long
beards, their excited mien, the lateness of the hour, the solitude of
the place, and obeying especially that axiomatic certainty of the
Spanish police to blunder, they angrily swooped down upon those night
birds, and, in spite of protests and unheard explanations, took them
to continue their artistic themes in the dim and horrid light of a
dungeon in the Toledo jail.... We learned all this in the office of
_EC Contemporaneo_, on receiving from Gustavo an explanatory letter
full of sketches representing the probable passion and death of both
innocents. The staff _en masse_ wrote to the mistaken jailer, and at
last we saw the prisoners return safe and sound, parodying in our
presence with words and pencils the famous prisons of Silvio
[Footnote 1: Correa, _op. cit._, pp. xxi-xxiii.]
In this same year, 1869, we find the brothers housed in modest
quarters in the Barrio de la Concepcion in the outskirts of Madrid.
Here Adolfo wrote some new poems and began a translation of Dante for
a _Biblioteca de grandes autores_ which had been planned and organized
by _La Ilustracion de Madrid_, founded by Gasset in 1870. The first
number of this noteworthy paper appeared on January 12 of that year,
and from its inception to the time of his death Gustavo was its
director and a regular contributor.[1] His brother Valeriano
illustrated many of its pages, and here one can form some idea of his
skill as a portrayer of Spanish types and customs. "But who could
foretell," says their friend Campillo, "that within so short a time
his necrology and that of his beloved brother were to appear in this
same paper?"[2]
[Footnote 1: These articles of Gustavo's have not, for the most
part, been published elsewhere. There remains for the future editor
of his complete works a large number of such articles, which it
would be well worth while to collect.]
[Footnote 2: _La Ilustracion Artistica_, p. 360.]
Their life of hardship and anxiety was tearing to shreds the delicate
health of the two young artists, and on September 23, 1870, Valeriano
breathed his last in the arms of Gustavo. His death was a blow from
which Gustavo never recovered. It was as though the mainspring was
broken in a watch; and, though the wheels still turned of their own
momentum, the revolutions were few in number and soon ceased. "A
strange illness," says Correa, "and a strange manner of death was
that! Without any precise symptom, that which was diagnosed as
pneumonia turned to hepatitis, becoming in the judgment of others
pericarditis, and meanwhile the patient, with his brain as clear as
ever and his natural gentleness, went on submitting himself to every
experiment, accepting every medicine, and dying inch by inch."[1]
[Footnote 1: Correa, _op. cit._, p. xix.]
Shortly before the end he turned to his friends who surrounded his
bed, and said to them, "Acordaos de mis ninos."[1] He realized that he
had extended his arm for the last time in their behalf, and that now
that frail support had been withdrawn. "At last the fatal moment came,
and, pronouncing clearly with his trembling lips the words 'Todo
mortal!', his pure and loving soul rose to its Creator."[2] He died
December 22, 1870.
[Footnote 1: This fact was learned from a conversation with Don
Francisco de Laiglesia, who, with Correa, Ferran and others, was
present when the poet breathed his last.]
[Footnote 2: Correa, _op. cit._, p. xx.]
Thanks to the initiative of Ramon Rodriguez Correa and to the aid of
other friends, most of the scattered tales, legends, and poems of
Becquer were gathered together and published by Fernando Fe, Madrid,
in three small volumes. In the Prologue of the first edition Correa
relates the life of his friend with sympathy and enthusiasm, and it is
from this source that we glean most of the facts that are to be known
regarding the poet's life. The appearance of these volumes caused a
marked effect, and their author was placed by popular edict in the
front rank of contemporary writers.
Becquer may be said to belong to the Romantic School, chief of whose
exponents in Spain were Zorilla and Espronceda. The choice of
mediaeval times as the scene of his stories, their style and
treatment, as well as the personal note and the freedom of his verse,
all stamp him as a Romanticist.
His legends, with one or two exceptions, are genuinely Spanish in
subject, though infused with a tender melancholy that recalls the
northern ballads rather than the writings of his native land. His love
for old ruins and monuments, his archaeological instinct, is evident
in every line. So, too, is his artistic nature, which finds a greater
field for its expression in his prose than in his verse. Add to this a
certain bent toward the mysterious and supernatural, and we have the
principal elements that enter into the composition of these legends,
whose quaint, weird beauty not only manifests the charm that naturally
attaches to popular or folk tales, but is due especially to the way in
which they are told by one who was at once an artist and a poet.
Zorilla has been said to be Becquer's most immediate precursor, in
that he possesses the same instinct for the mysterious. But, as Blanco
Garcia observes, "Becquer is less ardent than Zorilla, and preferred
the strange traditions in which some unknown supernatural power hovers
to those others, more probable, in which only human passions with
their caprices and outbursts are involved."[1] Correa says of his
legends that they "can compete with the tales of Hoffmann and of
Grimm, and with the ballads of Rueckert and of Uhland," and that
"however fantastic they may be, however imaginary they may appear,
they always contain such a foundation of truth, a thought so real,
that in the midst of their extraordinary form and contexture a fact
appears spontaneously to have taken place or to be able to take place
without the slightest difficulty, if you but analyze the situation of
the personages, the time in which they live, or the circumstances that
surround them."[2]
[Footnote 1: _La Literatura Espanola en el Siglo XIX_, Madrid, 1891,
vol. II, p. 275.]
[Footnote 2: Correa, _op. cit._, p. xxx.]
The subtle charm of such legends as _Los Ojos Verdes_, _La Corza
Blanca_, _Maese Perez el Organista_, etc., full of local color as they
are, and of an atmosphere of old Spain, is hard to describe, but none
the less real. One is caught by the music of the prose at the first
lines, enraptured by the weird charm of the story, and held in
breathless interest until the last words die away. If Becquer's phrase
is not always classic, it is, on the other hand, vigorous and
picturesque; and when one reflects upon the difficult conditions under
which his writings were produced, in the confusion of the
printing-office, or hurriedly in a miserable attic to procure food for
the immediate necessities of his little family, and when one likewise
recalls the fact that they were published in final book form only
after the author's death, and without retouching, the wonder grows
that they are written in a style so pleasing and so free from
Becquer's prose is doubtless at its best in his letters entitled
_Desde mi Celda_, written, as has been said, from the monastery of
Veruela, in 1864. Read his description of his journey to the ancient
Aragonese town of Tarazona, picturesquely situated on the River
Queiles, of his mule trip over the glorious Moncayo, of the
peacefulness and quiet of the old fortified monastery of Veruela, and
you will surely feel inspired to follow him in his wanderings. Writing
of his life in the seclusion of Veruela, Becquer says: "Every
afternoon, as the sun is about to set, I sally forth upon the road
that runs in front of the monastery doors to wait for the postman, who
brings me the Madrid newspapers. In front of the archway that gives
entrance to the first inclosure of the abbey stretches a long avenue
of poplars so tall that when their branches are stirred by the evening
breeze their summits touch and form an immense arch of verdure. On
both sides of the road, leaping and tumbling with a pleasant murmur
among the twisted roots of the trees, run two rivulets of crystalline
transparent water, as cold as the blade of a sword and as gleaming as
its edge. The ground, over which float the shadows of the poplars,
mottled with restless spots of light, is covered at intervals with the
thickest and finest of grass, in which grow so many white daisies that
they look at first sight like that rain of petals with which the
fruit-trees carpet the ground on warm April days. On the banks of the
stream, amid the brambles and the reeds, grow wild violets, which,
though well-nigh hidden amongst their creeping leaves, proclaim
themselves afar by their penetrating perfume. And finally, also near
the water and forming as it were a second boundary, can be seen
between the poplar trunks a double row of stocky walnut-trees with
dark, round, compact tops." About half way down the avenue stands a
marble cross, which, from its color, is known in the vicinity as the
Black Cross of Veruela. "Nothing is more somberly beautiful than this
spot. At one end of the road the view is closed by the monastery, with
its pointed arches, its peaked towers, and its imposing battlemented
walls; on the other, the ruins of a little hermitage rise, at the foot
of a hillock bestrewn with blooming thyme and rosemary. There, seated
at the foot of the cross, and holding in my hands a book that I
scarcely ever read and often leave forgotten on the steps of the
cross, I linger for one, two, and sometimes even four hours waiting
for the papers." At last the post arrives, and the _Contemporaneo_ is
in his hands. "As I was present at its birth, and as since its birth I
have lived its feverish and impassioned life, _El Contemporaneo_ is
not for me a common newspaper like the rest, but its columns are
yourselves, my friends, my companions in hope or disappointment, in
failure or triumph, in joy or bitterness. The first impression that I
feel upon receiving it, then, is one of joy, like that experienced
upon opening a letter on whose envelope we recognize a dear familiar
handwriting, or when in a foreign land we grasp the hand of a
compatriot and hear our native tongue again. The peculiar odor of the
damp paper and the printer's ink, that characteristic odor which for a
moment obscures the perfume of the flowers that one breathes here on
every hand, seems to strike the olfactory memory, a strange and keen
memory that unquestionably exists, and it brings back to me a portion
of my former life,--that restlessness, that activity, that feverish
productiveness of journalism. I recall the constant pounding and
creaking of the presses that multiply by thousands the words that we
have just written, and that have come all palpitating from our pens. I
recall the strain of the last hours of publication, when night is
almost over and copy scarce. I recall, in short, those times when day
has surprised us correcting an article or writing a last notice when
we paid not the slightest attention to the poetic beauties of the
dawn. In Madrid, and for us in particular, the sun neither rises nor
sets: we put out or light the lights, and that is the only reason we
notice it."
At last he opens the sheet. The news of the clubs or the Cortes
absorbs him until the failing light of the setting sun warns him that,
though he has read but the first columns, it is time to go. "The
shadows of the mountains fall rapidly, and spread over the plain. The
moon begins to appear in the east like a silver circle gleaming
through the sky, and the avenue of poplars is wrapped in the uncertain
dusk of twilight.... The monastery bell, the only one that still hangs
in its ruined Byzantine tower, begins to call to prayers, and one near
and one afar, some with sharp metallic notes, and some with solemn,
muffled tones, the other bells of the hillside towns reply.... It
seems like a harmony that falls from heaven and rises at the same time
from the earth, becomes confounded, and floats in space, intermingling
with the fading sounds of the dying day and the first sighs of the
newborn night.
"And now all is silenced,--Madrid, political interests, ardent
struggles, human miseries, passions, disappointments, desires, all is
hushed in that divine music. My soul is now as serene as deep and
silent water. A faith in something greater, in a future though unknown
destiny, beyond this life, a faith in eternity,--in short, an
all-absorbing larger aspiration, overwhelms that petty faith which we
might term personal, that faith in the morrow, that sort of goad that
spurs on irresolute minds, and that is so needful if one must struggle
and exist and accomplish something in this world."[1]
[Footnote 1: _Obras_, _vol._ II, pp. 222-229.]
This graceful musing, full in the original of those rich harmonies
that only the Spanish language can express, will serve sufficiently to
give an impression of the series as a whole. The broad but fervent
faith expressed in the last lines indicates a deeply religious and
somewhat mystical nature. This characteristic of Becquer may be
noticed frequently in his writings and no one who reads his works
attentively can call him elitist, as have some of his calumniators.
Beautiful as Becquer's prose may be considered, however, the universal
opinion is that his claim to lasting fame rests on his verse. Mrs.
Humphrey Ward, in her interesting article entitled "A Spanish
Romanticist,"[1] says of him: "His literary importance indeed is only
now beginning to be understood. Of Gustavo Becquer we may almost say
that in a generation of rhymers he alone was a poet; and now that his
work is all that remains to us of his brilliant and lovable
personality, he only, it seems to us, among the crowd of modern
Spanish versifiers, has any claim to a European audience or any chance
of living to posterity." This diatribe against the other poets of
contemporary Spain may seem to us unjust; but certain it is that
Becquer in the eyes of many surpasses either Nunez de Arce or
Campoamor, with whom he forms "a triumvirate that directs and
condenses all the manifestations of contemporary Spanish lyrics."[2]
[Footnote 1: _Macmillan's Magazine_, February, 1883, p. 307.]
[Footnote 2: Blanco Garcia, _op. cit._, vol. II, p. 79.]
Becquer has none of the characteristics of the Andalusian. His lyrical
genius is not only at odds with that of Southern Spain, but also with
his own inclination for the plastic arts, says Blanco Garcia. "How
could a Seville poet, a lover of pictorial and sculptural marvels, so
withdraw from the outer form as to embrace the pure idea, with that
melancholy subjectivism as common in the gloomy regions bathed by the
Spree as it is unknown on the banks of the Darro and Guadalquivir?"[1]
The answer to the problem must be found in his lineage.
[Footnote 1: _Ibid._, p. 80.]
In spite of the fascination early exercised by Julia Espin y Guillen
over the young poet, it may be doubted if she can fairly be said to
have been the muse of his _Rimas_. She doubtless inspired some of his
verse; but the poet seems to sing the praises or lament the cruelty of
various sweethearts. The late Don Juan Valera, who knew Gustavo well,
goes so far as to say: "I venture to suspect that none of these women
ever lived in the world which we all corporeally inhabit. When the
mind of the poet descended to this world, he had to struggle with so
much poverty, he saw himself engulfed and swallowed up by so many
trials, and he was obliged to busy himself with such prosaic matters
of mean and commonplace bread-winning, that he did not seek, nor would
he have found had he sought them, those elegant and semi-divine women
that made of him now a Romeo, now a Macias, now an Othello, and now a
Pen-arch.... To enjoy or suffer really from such loves and to become
ensnared therein with such rare women, Becquer lacked the time,
opportunity, health, and money.... His desire for love, like the arrow
of the Prince in one of the tales of the Arabian Nights, shot high
over all the actual _high-life_ and pierced the golden door of the
enchanted palaces and gardens of the Fairy Paribanu, who, enraptured
by him, took him for her spouse."[1] In fact Becquer, speaking of the
unreality of the numerous offspring of his imagination, says in the
Introduction to his works, written in June, 1868: "It costs me labor
to determine what things I have dreamed and what things have happened
to me. My affections are divided between the phantasms of my
imagination and real personalities. My memory confuses the names and
dates, of women and days that have died or passed away with the days
and women that have never existed save in my mind."[2]
[Footnote 1: _Florilegio de Poesias Castellanas del Siglo XIX_, con
introduccion y notas, por Juan Valera. Madrid, 1902, vol. I, pp.
[Footnote 2: _Obras_, vol. I, p. L.]
Whatever may be one's opinion of the personality of the muse or muses
of his verse, the love that Becquer celebrates is not the love of
oriental song, "nor yet the brutal deification of woman represented in
the songs of the Provencal Troubadours, nor even the love that
inspired Herrera and Garcilaso. It is the fantastic love of the
northern ballads, timid and reposeful, full of melancholy tenderness,
that occupies itself in weeping and in seeking out itself rather than
in pouring itself forth on external objects."[1] In this matter of
lyrical subjectivism Becquer is unique, for it cannot be found in any
other of the Spanish poets except such mystic writers as San Juan de
la Cruz or Fray Luis de Leon.
[Footnote 1: Blanco Garcia, _op. cit._, p. 83.]
In one of Becquer's most beautiful writings in prose, in a _Prologo_
to a collection of _Cantares_ by Augusto Ferran y Fornies, our author
describes two kinds of poetry that present themselves to one's choice:
"There is a poetry which is magnificent and sonorous, the offspring of
meditation and art, which adorns itself with all the pomp of language,
moves along with a cadenced majesty, speaks to the imagination,
perfects its images, and leads it at will through unknown paths,
beguiling with its harmony and beauty." "There is another poetry,
natural, rapid, terse, which springs from the soul as an electric
spark, which strikes our feelings with a word, and flees away. Bare of
artificiality, free within a free form, it awakens by the aid of one
kindred idea the thousand others that sleep in the bottomless ocean of
fancy. The first has an acknowledged value; it is the poetry of
everybody. The second lacks any absolute standard of measurement; it
takes the proportions of the imagination that it impresses; it may be
called the poetry of poets."[1]
[Footnote 1: _Obras_, vol. III, pp. 112-113.]
In this description of the short, terse, and striking compositions of
his friend Ferran, Becquer has written likewise the apology for his
own verse. His was a poetry of "rapid, elemental impressions." He
strikes but one chord at a time on his lyre, but he leaves you
thrilled. This extreme simplicity and naturalness of expression may be
well illustrated by the refrain of the seventy-third poem:
_iDios mio, que solos
Se quedan los muertos!_
His poetry has often been compared to that of Heine, whom he is said
to have imitated. Becquer did not in fact read German; but in _El
Museo Universal_, for which he was a collaborator, and in which he
published his _Rimas_, there appeared one of the first versions of the
_Intermezzo_,[1] and it is not unlikely that in imitation of the
_Intermezzo_ he was led to string his _Rimas_ like beads upon the
connecting thread of a common autobiographical theme. In the
seventy-six short poems that compose his _Rimas_, Becquer tells "a
swiftly-moving, passionate story of youth, love, treachery, despair,
and final submission." "The introductory poems are meant to represent
a stage of absorption in the beauty and complexity of the natural
world, during which the poet, conscious of his own high,
incommunicable gift, by which he sees into the life of things, is
conscious of an aimless fever and restlessness which is forever
turning delight into weariness."[2]
[Footnote 1: Blanco Garcia, op. cit., p. 86.]
[Footnote 2: Mrs. Ward, _loc. cit._, p. 316.]
Some of these poems are extremely beautiful, particularly the tenth.
They form a sort of prelude to the love-story itself, which begins in
our selections with the thirteenth. Not finding the realization of his
ideal in art, the poet turns to love. This passion reaches its
culminating point in the twenty-ninth selection, and with the
thirtieth misunderstanding, dissatisfaction, and sadness begin.
Despair assails him, interrupted with occasional notes of melancholy
resignation, such as are so exquisitely expressed in the fifty-third
poem, the best-known of all the poet's verse. With this poem the
love-story proper comes to a close, and "the melancholy, no doubt more
than half imaginary and poetical, of his love poems seems to broaden
out into a deeper sadness embracing life as a whole, and in which
disappointed passion is but one of the many elements."[1] "And,
lastly, regret and passion are alike hushed in the presence of that
voiceless love which shines on the face of the dead and before the
eternal and tranquil slumber of the grave."[2]
[Footnote 1: Mrs. Ward, _loc. cit._, p.319.]
[Footnote 2: _Ibid._, p. 316.]
Whatever Becquer may have owed to Heine, in form or substance, he was
no servile imitator. In fact, with the exception of the thirtieth, no
one of his _Rimas_ seems to be inspired directly by Heine's
_Intermezzo_. The distinguishing note in Heine's verse is sarcasm,
while that of Becquer's is pathos. Heine is the greater poet, Becquer,
the profounder artist. As Blanco Garcia well points out,[1] the moral
inclinations of the two poets were distinct and different also.
Becquer's instinct for the supernatural freed him from Heine's
skepticism and irreligion; and, though he had suffered much, he never
doubted Providence.
[Footnote 1: op. _cit._, p.86.]
The influence of Alfred de Musset may be felt also in Becquer's
_Rimas_, particularly in the forty-second and forty-third; but in
general, the Spanish poet is "less worldly and less ardent"[1] than
the French.
[Footnote 1: Corm, _op. cit._, p. xl.]
The _Rimas_ are written for the most part in assonanced verse. A
harmonious rhythm seems to be substituted for the music of the rhyme.
The meter, too, is very freely handled. Notwithstanding all this, the
melody of Becquer's verse is very sweet, and soon catches and charms
even the foreign ear. His _Rimas_ created a school like that inspired
by the _Doloras_ of Campoamor. But the extreme simplicity and
naturalness of Becquer's expression was difficult to reproduce without
falling into the commonplace, and his imitators have for the most part
[Footnote 1: The accentuation and punctuation of the original are
preserved. This letter is of particular interest, showing, as it
does, the tender solicitude of Becquer for his children, his dire
financial straits when a loan of three or four dollars is a godsend,
and his hesitation to call upon friends for aid even when in such
difficulties. The letter was presented to the writer of this sketch
by Don Francisco de Laiglesia, a distinguished Spanish writer and
man of public life and an intimate friend of Becquer. Senor de
Laiglesia is the owner of the magnificent portrait of Gustavo by
Valeriano Becquer, of the beauty of which but a faint idea can be
had from the copy of the etching by Maura, which serves as a
frontispiece to the present volume.]
Mi muy querido amigo:
Me volvi de esa con el cuidado de los chicos y en efecto parecia
anunciarmelo apenas llegue cayo en cama el mas pequeno. Esto se
prolonga mas de lo que pensamos y he escrito a Gaspar y a Valera que
solo pago la mitad del importe del cuadro Gaspar he sabido que salio
ayer para Aguas Buenas y tardara en recibir mi carta Valera espero
enviara ese pico pero suele gastar una calma desesperante en este
apuro recurro una vez mas a vd. y aunque me duele abusar tanto de su
amistad le ruego que si es posible me envie tres o cuatro duros para
esperar el envio del dinero que aguardamos el cual es seguro pero no
sabemos que dia vendra y aqui tenemos al medico en casa y atenciones
que no esperan un momento.
Adios estoy aburrido de ver que esto nunca cesa. Adios mande vd. a su
amigo que le quiere
Gustavo Becquer
Espresiones a Pepe Marco S/c Calle de San Ildefonso Toledo. Si le es a
vd. posible enviar eso hagalo si puede en el mismo dia que reciba esta
carta por que el apuro es de momento.
A list of the works consulted in the preparation of the sketch of
Becquer's life.
Obras de Gustavo A. Becquer. _Quinta edicion aumentada con varias
poesias y leyendas. Madrid, Libreria de Fernando Fe, 1898._ Three
Historia de los Temples de Espana, _publicada bajo la proteccion de
SS. MM. AA. y muy reverendos senores arzobispos y obispos--dirigida
por D. Juan de la Puerto Vizcaino y D. Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. Tomo I,
Madrid, 1857. Imprenta y Estereotipia Espanola de los Senores Nieto y
Campania._ Becquer is the author of only a portion of this work--see
Introduction, p. xx.
La Ilustracion de Madrid, January 12-October 12, 1870, contains a
large number of articles by Becquer that have never been published in
book form. The same can be said of other periodicals for which Becquer
Gustave Becquer--Legendes espagnoles. _Traduction de Achille Fouquier,
dessins de S. Arcos. Paris, Librairie de Firmin-Didot et Cie, 1885_.
Terrible Tales--Spanish. _W. W. Gibbings, London, W. C._ In this
collection the following seven out of the twelve tales that it
contains are by Becquer,--"The Golden Bracelet," "The Green Eyes,"
"The Passion Flower," "The White Doe," "Maese Perez, the Organist,"
"The Moonbeam," and "The Mountain of Spirits." The translation is
often inaccurate.
P. Francisco Blanco Garcia. _La Literatura Espanola en el Siglo XIX,
parte segunda, Madrid, 1891_, contains a good criticism of the
literary work of Becquer, pp. 79-91, and pp. 274-277.
Narciso Campillo. _Gustavo Adolfo Becquer_ is the title of an
excellent article on the Seville poet, by one who knew him well, in
_La Ilustracion Artistica_, Barcelona, December 27, 1886, pp. 358-360.
This number (261--Ano V) is dedicated to Becquer, and contains many
prose articles and much verse relative to him.
Achille Fouquier. _Gustave Becquer, Legendes Espagnoles. Traduction de
Achille Fouquier, dessins de S. Arcos. Paris, Firmin-Didot et Cie,
1885,--Avant-Propos_, pp. 1-19. An interesting sketch of Becquer's
life and an excellent appreciation of his style.
Jose Gestoso y Perez. _Carta a Mr. Achille Fouquier_ is the title of a
valuable article in _La Ilustracion Artistica_, Barcelona, December
27, 1886, pp. 363-366. This article contains important genealogical
matter regarding Becquer, which had not until that time been
Eduardo de Lustono. Becquer is the titie of a sketch by this writer,
published in _Alrededor del Mundo_, No. 109, July 4, 1901, pp. 11-13,
and No. 110, July 11, 1901, pp. 22-23. It is largely a copy of the
article by Narciso Campillo, mentioned above, and of the following by
Rodriguez Correa.
Ramon Rodriguez Correa. _Prologo de las Obras de Gustavo A. Becquer.
Quinta edicion, Madrid, Fernando Fe, 1898_. Vol. I, pp. IX-XLV. This
is the principal biography of Becquer and the source of all the
others. Its author was Becquer's most intimate friend.
Juan Valera. In _Florilegio de Poesias Castellanas del Siglo XIX, Tomo
I, Madrid, Fernando Fe, 1902_, pp. 182-191, may be found an excellent
appreciation of the poet by one of the most capable of Spanish critics
and a personal friend of Becquer.
P. Restituto del Valle Ruiz, Agustino. In his _Estudios Literarios_,
pp. 104-116, there is a chapter devoted to Gustavo A. Becquer, which
contains an interesting critique of his poetry.
Mrs. (Mary A.) Humphrey Ward, in _Macmillan's Magazine_, No. 280,
February, 1883, pp. 305-320, has an article entitled "A Spanish
Romanticist: Gustavo Becquer." This is one of the best articles on
Becquer that have been published.
The basis for the following remarks on Spanish prosody is, for the
most part, E. Benot's _Prosodia Castellana y Versification_, 3 vols.,
Madrid, 1892. Other works which have been consulted are the _Ortologia
y Arte Metrica_ of A. Bello, published in his _Obras Completas_, vol.
4, Madrid, 1890; Rengifo's _Arte Poetica Espanola_, Barcelona, 1759;
J. D. M. Ford's "Notes on Spanish Prosody," in _A Spanish Anthology_,
published by Silver, Burdett & Co., 1901; and a _Tratado de Literatura
Preceptiva_, by D. Saturnino Milego e Inglada, published at Toledo in
Spanish versification has nothing to do with the quantity of vowels
(whether long or short), which was the basis of Latin prosody.
There are four important elements in Spanish versification. Of these
four elements two are essential, and the other two are usually
The essential elements, without which Spanish verse cannot exist,
I. A determined number of syllables per line.
II. A rhythmic distribution of the accents in the line.
The additional elements usually present in Spanish poetical
compositions are--
III. Caesural pauses.
IV. Rhyme.
Consonants.--In verse the same rules hold as in prose for the
distribution of consonants in syllables.
Vowels.--If there were but one vowel in a syllable, Spanish
syllabification would be easy; but sometimes two or more vowels are
found either between consonants, or at the beginning or at the end of
a word. When such is the case, intricacies arise, for sometimes the
contiguous vowels are pronounced in a single syllable and sometimes
they are divided into separate syllables.
The contiguous vowels may belong to a single word (see A); or they may
be the final vowel or vowels of one word and the initial vowel or
vowels of a following word or words (see B).
A. _Diphthongization_,--If two contiguous vowels of a single word are
pronounced in but one syllable they form a diphthong, e.g. _hu^esped_.
B. _Synalepha_.--If two or more contiguous vowels belonging to two or
more words are pronounced in a single syllable, they form synalepha.
Ex. _Yo se^un himno gigante y^extrano_, p. 164, I, l. 1.
Since Spanish verse depends upon a determined number of syllables per
line, _diphthongization_ and _synalepha_ are important factors in
Mute _h_ between vowels is disregarded and does not prevent
diphthongization, e.g. _a^h^ora_, _re^h^usar_.
The separation of two vowels that are usually united in one syllable
is called _diaeresis_, e.g. _vi|oleta_.
The union in one syllable of two vowels that are usually in separate
syllables is called _synaeresis_, e.g. _ca^os_.
The vowels may be divided into strong vowels (a, e, o) and weak vowels
(i, u). For purposes of versification y as a vowel may be treated as
i. The five vowels (a, e, o, i, u) taken in pairs may form diphthongs
in twenty-five possible combinations, as follows:
a. Pairs of two weak vowels: ui, iu, ii, uu.
b. Pairs of two strong vowels:
{ ae, ao, aa,
{ ea, eo, ee,
{ oa, oe, oo.
c. Pairs of a strong vowel plus a weak vowel
{ ai, au,
{ ei, eu,
{ oi, ou.
d. Pairs of a weak vowel plus a strong vowel
{ ua, ue, uo,
{ ia, ie, io.
NOTE: In diphthongs a dominates o and e; and o dominates e. Any strong
vowel dominates a weak one.
Ex. In Bo^abdil, if a were not dominant, the diphthong would be
There are with regard to accent three possible conditions under which
two contiguous vowels may occur within a word.
a. The contiguous vowels may precede the accented syllable.
b. One of the contiguous vowels may be accented.
c. The contiguous vowels may come after the accented syllable.
a. Two contiguous vowels before the accent.
(1) Of the twenty-five possible combinations all are admissible in
diphthongs in a syllable preceding the accented syllable.
Ex. _Habra po^esta_, p. 165, IV, l. 4.
(a) Diaeresis may be employed to dissolve the diphthong.
Ex. _Sobre una vi|oleta_, p. 169, XIII, l. 8.
b. One of two contiguous vowels accented.
(1) _When two contiguous vowel's are strong._
(a) There is no diphthong if one of two contiguous strong vowels
receives the accent.
Ex. _Chispe|ando el sol hiere_, p. 173, XXVI I, l. 17.
Ex. _Tu, sombra a|erea que, cuantas veces_, p. 170, XV, l. 7.
By synaeresis, however, a diphthong may be formed, especially in the
combinations a^o, a^e, o^e--_c^a^o^s, c^a^e, ro^e_. But in order to
diphthongize oa, ea, and eo, when the accent naturally falls on the
first vowel, the accent must shift to the second, which is a dominant
vowel. Such diphthongization is harsh. For example, _loa_ would shift
the accent from o to a in order to form a diphthong. The accent would
also shift in _cre^a, fe^o_.
(2) _When one of the contiguous vowels is weak and the other strong._
(a) There is no diphthong if an accented weak vowel precedes a strong.
Ex. _Yo, que a tus ojos en mi agoni|a_, p. 171, XV, l. 18.
Synaeresis is, however, sometimes employed to overcome this rule.
The accent must then shift.
Ex. _Habi^a llegado una nave._ Calderon.
(b) There is no diphthong if an accented weak vowel follows a strong.
Ex. _?Como puede re|ir?_ p. 182, XLIX, l. 4.
Synaeresis serves sometimes to overcome this rule. The result is
usually harsh.
Ex. _En re^ir a costa ajena, les prepara._
(c) If an accented strong vowel precedes a weak, they form a
diphthong. The diphthong is rarely dissolved, and is usually marked
with a diaresis, if dissolution takes place.
Ex. _Beso del aura, onda de luz_, p. 170, XV, l. 5.
(d) If an accented strong vowel follows a weak they may or may not
form a diphthong.
Ex. _Por una sonrisa, un ci^elo_, p. 172, XXIII, l. 2. [Diphthong.]
Ex. _Domando el rebelde, mezquino idi|oma_, p. 164, I, l. 6. [No
Diaeresis or synaeresis may usually be employed according to the case.
Thus, _fiel_ becomes by diaeresis _fi|el_, and _br|ioso_ becomes by
synaeresis _bri^oso_.
It should be remembered that in some words the accentuation is
variable, while in others it is fixed.
There are two classes of words that have a variable accentuation:
first, those in which an unaccented weak vowel is followed by an
accented strong vowel, e.g. _majestu^oso_, _majestu|oso_; second,
those in which an accented strong vowel is followed by an unaccented
strong vowel, e.g. _tra|e, tra^e._
Ex. _Cre^es que la afe|an_. Becquer.
_Cre|es que suspirando pasa el viento_, p. 171, XVI, l. 3.
Etymological conditions often determine whether or not a diphthong is
ie and ue, derived from the Latin e and o respectively, form
indissoluble diphthongs.
The ending -ion for substantives is usually a diphthong and rarely
suffers dissolution.
Synaeresis may be employed to unite in a single syllable two
contiguous vowels (unaccented weak + accented strong) that are
separated on account of etymology, or, in the case of derivatives,
analogy with the original word; but diaeresis is employed very rarely
to dissolve a proper diphthongal combination (unaccented weak +
accented strong).
For example, _di|ario_ by analogy with _dia_, and _fi|o_ from the
Latin _fidavit_, have ordinarily the _i_ in separate syllables, but a
diphthong may be formed by synaeresis.
(3) _When the two contiguous vowels are weak_.
(a) Two contiguous weak vowels with the accent on the first form an
indissoluble diphthong, e.g. _mu^y_.
(b) Two contiguous weak vowels with the accent on the second may or
may not form a diphthong.
Ex. _Si antes no juras que por ru^in falsia_. Hermosilla.
Ex. _Con sus mil rue|idos_, p. 188, LXXIII, l. 19, [No diphthong.]
c. Two contiguous vowels after the accented syllable.
(1) Two contiguous strong vowels after the accented syllable naturally
form a diphthong.
Ex. _Tu, sombra aere^a que, cuantas veces_, p. 170, XV, l. 7.
Diaeresis may be employed to dissolve the diphthong.
(2) If a strong vowel is followed by a weak vowel after the accented
syllable, they form a diphthong, e.g. _hablaba^is, amara^is_.
This diphthong is easily dissolved.
(3) If a weak vowel is followed by a strong vowel after the accented
syllable, they form a diphthong, e.g. _histor^i^a, ans^i^a_.
Ex. _De la brisa nocturna al tenu^e soplo_, p. 192, LXXV, l. 6.
The diphthong may, however, be dissolved, e.g. _estatu|a, tenu|e,
If three vowels belonging to the same word are contiguous, one of them
must be accented. There are then three possible arrangements.
(i) Three contiguous vowels of a word with the accent on the first,
e.g. _traeos_.
(ii) Three contiguous vowels of a word with the accent on the second,
e.g. creia, _buey_.
(iii) Three contiguous vowels with the accent on the third, e.g.
Each of the above arrangements has two combinations of accented and
unaccented vowels to which the rules for diphthongs may be applied. In
(i) there will be a combination of two vowels with the first accented,
plus a combination of two vowels after the accent. In _traeos_, for
example, the a and e would probably be in separate syllables by b (1)
(a), and eo would probably form a diphthong by c (1). _Traeos_ would,
then, probably be a dissyllable.
In (ii) there will be a combination of two vowels with the accent an
the second, and one of two vowels with the accent on the first. In
creia, for example, the e and i would be in separate syllables by b
(2) (b), and the i and a would probably be in separate syllables also
by b (2)(a). Therefore, _creia_ would probably be a trisyllable. In
_cambiaos_ the i and a might form one syllable or two by b (2) (_d_),
and the a and o would probably be in separate syllables by b (1) (a).
Therefore, in _cambiaos_ the combination iao might form a dissyllable
or a trisyllable.
In (iii) there will be a combination of two vowels before the accent,
and one of two vowels with the second accented. In _rehui_, for
example, the e and u might be in the same syllable by a (1), or in
separate syllables by dieresis by a (1) (a), and the u and i might be
in separate syllables or not by b (3) (b). Therefore, _rehui_ might be
a monosyllable, a dissyllable, or a trisyllable.
Other combinations of three vowels may be analyzed in a similar way,
as may also combinations of more than three vowels, e.g. _creiais_,
Between the contiguous vowels of separate words there may occur
synalepha (which corresponds to diphthongization within a word), or
hiatus (which is similar to diaeresis within a word).
Ex. _Abre^una^eternidad_, p. 178, XXXVI I, l. 22. _?A que me lo
decis? lo se^:^es mudable_, p. 179, XXXIX, l. 1. [Synalepha.]
Ex. _Como la onda^azul, en cuya cresta_, p. 173, XXVII, l. 16.
The vowels contracted by synalepha are each pronounced, except when
the same vowel is repeated, when only a prolonged sound is heard, as
in _onda^azul_ or _se^es_ above.
Synalepha may join into a single syllable two, three, four, and even
five vowels. The union of two vowels (diphthongal synalepha) and the
union of three vowels (triphthongal synalepha) are the most common.
A pause due to a break in sense does not prevent synalepha. Mute h is
disregarded in the verse and does not prevent synalepha.
Ex. _Capaz de encerrarlo, y apenas ioh^hermosa!_ p. 164, I, l. 10.
Synalepha takes place between two contiguous unaccented vowels
belonging to separate words.
Ex. _Abre^una^eternidad_, p. 178, XXXVII, l. 22.
Synalepha occurs when the final vowel of the first word is accented.
Ex. _Te vi^un punto, y, flotando ante mis ojos_, p. 169, XIV, l. 1.
Synalepha usually occurs when the initial vowel of the second word is
accented, especially when the first word ends in a weak vowel, and
also in the combinations aa, oa, oa, ea, eo, ee.
Ex. _Me parece^en el cielo de la tarde_, p. 169, XIII, l. 11.
NOTE: Synalepha is possible with the other combinations, but hiatus is
preferable even with the above combinations, in a syllable on which
the rhythmical accent falls (see under Rhythmic Accent).
Ex. _Despierta, hablas, y al hablar, vibrantes_, p. 174, XXVII, l.
Ex. _Como la ola que a la playa_ viene, p. 178, XXXVII, l. 19.
There is always triphthongal synalepha when a is the middle vowel; or
when o or e is the middle vowel, except in the following combinations,
aoa, aoo, ooo, aea, aeo, oea, oeo.
Ex. _Silenciosa a expirar_, p. 178, XXXVII, l. 20.
There is never triphthongal synalepha when an accented weak vowel
stands between two strong vowels. Therefore the conjunctions y and u
prevent triphthongal synalepha.
Ex. _Y de purpura y oro la matiza_, p. 168, IX, l. 4.
There may be triphthongal synalepha when i (y) is the middle vowel, if
u precedes it, or i follows it.
Ex. _Fui diestro, fui valiente, fui arrogante_. Cervantes.
When u is the middle vowel there may be synalepha if i follows it. The
construction is very rare.
There is no synalepha with a word beginning with hue.
Ex. _Mucho nuestro huesped tarda_. Tirso de Molina.
In the following cases the groups of vowels which would usually make
triphthongal synalepha are pronounced in two syllables:
(1) When the first word of the group ends in two vowels which do not
form a diphthong.
Ex. _Que aun teni|a^abiertos_, p. 187, LXXIII, l. 2.
(2) When the two initial vowels of the second word do not form a
Ex. _Tu, sombra^a|erea que, cuantas veces_, p. 170, XV, l. 7.
(3) When the first word ends in a diphthong and the second begins with
a vowel in a constituent syllable (i.e. a syllable on which the
rhythmical accent falls).
Ex. _Tan gran designio honra tus audacias._
If the accented vowel is not in a constituent syllable synalepha may
Ex. _Mientras la cencia a descubrir no alcance_, p. 165, IV, l. 13.
(4) When the first word ends in a single vowel, and the second word
begins with a diphthong in a constituent syllable.
Ex. _Tu, proceloso austro que derribas_.
(3) and (4) might well be considered as cases of hiatus.
This is less common, yet it exists.
Ex. _No^h^a^y^amor donde no hay celos_. Lope de Vega.
Hiatus is most frequently found between words having a close
syntactical relation, particularly if the initial vowel of the second
word is in a constituent syllable. It may occur between the article
and its substantive, the possessive adjective and its substantive, a
preposition and its object, the negatives _no_ and _ni_ and a
following vowel; and after the conjunctions _y, que, si_, and other
words having a weak accent such as _desde, coma, todo, otro, cuando_,
Hiatus is most likely to occur when the accented vowel is the initial
vowel of the final word in a phrase or verse, or of a word that has a
strongly accented position in the verse; as, for example, when the
syllable is the next to the last syllable in a verse, or is the fourth
or eighth syllable of a hendecasyllabic verse of the second class.
Ex. _Rumor de besos y batir de alas_, p. 168, X, l. 6.
Ex. _Como la ola que a la playa viene_, p. 178, XXXVII, l. 19.
In the above-mentioned case, the phrase _de^oro_ is usually joined by
Ex. _Mi frente es palida, mis trenzas de^oro._ Becquer.
Hiatus is, however, sometimes observed in this phrase.
Ex. _De plumas y de oro_, p. 180, XL, l. 28.
When both vowels are accented hiatus is more common than synalepha,
even though there is no close syntactical relation, although the
vowels may be joined by synalepha if they do not come in a constituent
Ex. _iOh ya isla catolica patente!_ Herrera. [Hiatus.]
Ex. _?Sabes tu^a donde va?_ p. 178, XXXVIII, l. 4. [Synalepha.]
The second essential element of Spanish verse is a rhythmic
distribution of accents within a line. Words have an accent of their
own and another stronger accent on account of their position in a
This extraordinary accentual stress, which strengthens periodically
certain naturally accented syllables of a verse, is known as _rhythmic
accent_. It plays somewhat the same role as did quantity in Latin
verse. All other accents and pauses in the verse are subservient to
the rhythmic accent.
Spanish verse being accentual, however, and not quantitative, the
terms used to determine the regular recurrence of long and short
syllables in Latin verse are not very applicable to it, and few
compositions are regular in the arrangement of the stress.
As Latin terms of versification are sometimes applied to Spanish
verse, the following rules may be helpful.
A _trochaic_ octosyllabic line, for example, substituting stress for
quantity, would be scanned
/ -- | / -- | / -- | / --,
with the stress on the first, third, fifth, and seventh syllables.
_Iambic_ verse would have a regular alternation of unaccented and
accented syllables, -- / -- /, etc.
_Dactylic_ verse would have a regular recurrence of an accented
syllable followed by two unaccented syllables, etc.
/ -- -- | / -- -- |, etc.
_Amphibrachic_ verse would be formed by a regular recurrence of three
syllables of which the middle one would be stressed, -- / --. This
construction is sometimes followed in lines of twelve syllables (p.
164, I, 1. 2), and also in lines of six syllables (p. 167, VII, 1.-4).
_Anapestic_ verse consists of a regular recurrence of two unstressed
syllables preceding a stressed syllable, -- -- /. This is sometimes
found in ten-syllable lines (p. 164, I, 1. i).
An accented word is called _aguda_ when it has the accent on the last
syllable, e.g. _verdad, luz, yo_; _llana_ (or grave) when it has the
accent on the penult, e.g. _trabajo, fruto_; _esdrujula_ when it has
the accent on the antepenult, e.g. _limpido, pajaro, portico_.
A verse is called _agudo, llano_ (or grave), or _esdrujulo_ according
to whether its final word is _aguda, llana_ (or grave), or
In a _verso agudo_ the last syllable counts for two syllables.
Therefore, _Ni tu ni yo jamas_, p. 177, XXXIII, l. 2, is a
In a _verso llano_ (grave) the number of syllables does not change.
Therefore, _Detras del abanico_, p. 180, XL, l. 27, is a
In a _verso esdrujulo_, the intermediate syllable between the accented
syllable and the final syllable does not count, either in enumerating
the syllables in the verse or for the rhyme (assonance). Therefore,
_Umbrales de su portico_, p. 180, XL, l. 32, is a heptasyllable.
In verses of different length there are different rules with regard to
the distribution of accents, but the following general rules should be
Every verse must be accented upon the syllable nominally preceding the
final syllable.
NOTE: It should be borne in mind that the actual final syllable in a
versa _agudo_ counts as two syllables, and that the next to the last
actual syllable in a verso _esdrujulo_ does not count.
Besides the necessary accent on the next to the last syllable, all
verses of seven syllables or more must have other necessary accents,
which are determined by the number of syllables in the line.
The syllable directly preceding the one that has the rhythmical accent
should never be accented, for it obstructs the proper accentuation of
the constituent syllable. A syllable so accented is called
Spanish verse may consist of any number of syllables from two up to
sixteen. All must have an accent on the next to the last syllable.
_Dissyllabic Verse_: A dissyllabic verse may be composed of a single
word (either _aguda_, _llana_, or _esdrujula_).
Ex. _iDuerme!_ p. 173, XXVII, l. 13.
There can be no supernumerary accents.
_Trisyllabic Verse_: A verse of three syllables can have no
supernumerary accent, for the accent would be _obstruccionista_.
Ex. _Suspira._
_Tetrasyllable Verse_: A verse of four syllables must have an accent
on the third syllable. There may or may not be a supernumerary accent
on the first.
Ex. _De ese brio._
_Pentasyllabic Verse_: A verse of five syllables must have an accent
on the fourth. It may or may not have a supernumerary accent on the
first or second syllable.
Ex. _Rumor sonoro_, p. I 70, XV, l. 3.
_Adonic verse_ is a pentasyllable with necessary accents on the first
and fourth syllables.
Ex. _Cefiro blando_. Villegas.
_Hexasyllabic Verse_: A verse of six syllables must have an accent on
the fifth. There may or may not be supernumerary accents, but never on
the fourth syllable.
Ex. _Y^entre^aquella sombra
2 5
3 5
Dibujarse rigida
2 5
La forma del cuerpo_, p. 188, LXXIII, ll. 13-16.
_Heptasyllabic Verse_: A verse of seven syllables must have an accent
on the sixth, and at least one other necessary accent, which may be on
any syllable except the fifth.
2 6
Ex. _Su mano^entre mis manos,
2 6
Sus ojos en mis ojos_, p. 179, XL, ll. 1-2.
_Octosyllabic Verse_: A verse of eight syllables must have an accent
on the seventh, and at least one other accent, which may fall on any
syllable except the sixth.
1 4 7
Ex. _Hojas del arbol caidas
2 5 7
Juguetes al viento son._ Espronceda.
_Hendecasyllabic verse_: There are two classes of hendecasyllables.
_First Class_: Verses of eleven syllables which have the sixth
syllable and the tenth syllable stressed are hendecasyllables of the
first class.
Ex. _Los invisibles 'atomos del 'aire_, p. 168, X, l. 1.
Hendecasyllables of the first class may have supernumerary accents on
other syllables, provided they do not fall upon the fifth or ninth.
Ex. _Los sus'pires son 'aire, y van al 'aire.
Las 'lagrimas son 'agua, y van al 'mar._ p. 178, XXXVIII, ll.
_Second Class_: Hendecasyllables of the second class are
eleven-syllable verses with the accent on the fourth, eighth, and
tenth syllables. There may be accents on other syllables, provided
that they be not _obstruccionistas_.
Ex. _Olas gi'gantes qu^e^os rom'peis bra'mando,_ p. 183, LII, l. 1.
If it is difficult to classify a hendecasyllable because it has
accents on the fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables, one must
decide on the prominence of the accents from pauses, or from emphasis.
The hendecasyllable,
_La vida es 'corta, 'si; muy 'largo el 'arte,_
would belong to the first class on account of the emphasis of _si_,
while the verse,
_La vida es 'corta, 'corta; 'largo el 'arte,_
would belong to the second class on account of the pause after the
fourth and the emphasis on the eighth. The accent on the sixth is,
then, not constituent, but supernumerary.
All meters thus far have
Obligatory (constituent) accents.
Facultative (supernumerary) accents.
A necessary termination in a combination of an unaccented plus an
accented plus an unaccented syllable (-- / --). The dissyllable is the
only exception.
The facultative accent is opposed to the regular recurrence in each
line of dissyllabic and trisyllabic elements, which elements caused
the rhythm of Latin verse.
Spanish rhythm is a rhythm of series, of strophes, not a rhythm of
regularly recurring accents within a verse.
Verses of ten or twelve syllables, however, lend themselves more
readily to rhythm from regularly recurring stress.
_Decasyllabic Verse_: A verse of ten syllables may be formed by the
triple repetition of the trisyllable -- -- /. One extra unaccented
syllable is admissible when the verse is _llano_; and two when the
verse is _esdrujulo_.
-- -- / -- -- / -- -- , _agudo_.
-- -- / -- -- , -- -- , -- _llano_.
-- -- / -- -- / -- -- / -- -- _esdrujulo_.
_Dodecasyllable Verse_: A verse of twelve syllables, with
the stress on the second, fifth, eighth, and eleventh syllables,
makes a dodecasyllable of amphibrachs. This dodecasyllable
has a short metrical pause after the sixth syllable, and a longer
one after the twelfth.
-- / -- -- / -- || -- / -- -- / _agudo_.
-- / -- -- / -- || -- / -- -- / -- _llano_.
-- / -- -- / -- / -- -- / -- -- _esdrujulo_.
Verses of different length do not readily intermingle. There are some
measures, however, which are used much together.
Verses of eleven syllables are used with those of seven or of five
Verses of eight syllables are used with those of four syllables.
Verses of ten syllables are used with those of twelve (p. 164, I); and
also with those of six (p. 167, VII). These meters lend themselves to
regularly recurring stress more readily than any others.
The caesura is an important, though not essential, element in Spanish
verse. In verses of eleven or twelve syllables, however, the caesura
is usually employed to give a break in a determined place. The caesura
requires a strong accent on the syllable preceding it, and does not
prevent synalepha.
Ex. _Si al resonar confus|o^a tus espaldas_, p. 171, XVI, l. 7.
Ex. _Sabe que, ocul|to^entre las verdes hojas_, p. 171, XVI, l.5.
The disposition of the caesural pauses determines the harmony of the
versification, and usually varies with the accents so as to avoid
monotony in the verse.
N.B. For purposes of Rhyme, words may be divided into two classes:
_First_, words ending in a vowel.
Second, words ending in a consonant.
Rhymes are called feminine, if the rhyme words end in a vowel.
Rhymes are called masculine, if the rhyme words end in a consonant.
NOTE: Final s and final n, especially in the plural of nouns and in
verbs, do not count. Therefore, _penas_ and _arenas_ would form a
feminine rhyme.
There are two kinds of rhyme: Consonance and Assonance.
_Consonantal rhyme_ is one in which all the letters, vowels and
consonants, are the same from the accented syllable to the end of the
word, e.g. _bruma--espuma_; _flor--amor_.
In consonantal rhyme both consonants and vowels should agree exactly
(_sonante--errante_); b and v can, however, rhyme together, since they
represent the same sound, e.g. _estaba--esclava_; _haba--clava_.
The following are a few general rules for consonantal rhyme.
A word should not rhyme with itself. Sometimes, however, a simple word
rhymes with a derivative (_menor--pormenor_) or two derivatives with
each other (_menosprecio--desprecio_).
The tenses of verbs which end in -aba, -ando, -ais, -eis; the present
and past participles of regular verbs; adverbs with the termination
-mente; verbal nouns ending in -miento, -cion, and other similar
endings,--should not rhyme together.
Words similar in sound and form but distinct in meaning may rhyme.
_son_ ('sound')--_son_ ('are')
If an unaccented weak vowel (i, u) precedes or follows a strong vowel
in the same syllable of a word, it is absorbed by the strong vowel,
and does not count in the rhyme. Therefore, _vuelo_ and _cielo_ rhyme;
also _muestra_ and _diestra_.
When the vowels from the accented syllable to the end of the word are
the same, but the consonants are different, the rhyme is called
assonance. Therefore, _inflaman_ and _pasa_ assonate in a-a; _negros_
and _creo_ in e-o.
In words accented on the last syllable (_agudas_), the assonance is
that of the last syllable only, e.g. _perdon--espiro_; _azul--tu_.
In words accented on the antepenult (_esdrujulas_) or on a preceding
syllable, only the accented syllable and the final syllable count for
purposes of assonance. Therefore, _fabula_ and _lagrimas_ assonate in
a-a; _tremulo_ and _vertigo_ assonate in e-o.
Words accented on the last syllable (_agudas_) cannot assonate with
words accented on the penult (_llanas_), or with those accented on the
antepenult (_esdrujulas_) or upon any preceding syllable.
In words _llanas_ or _esdrujulas_ the assonance is of two vowels only.
In diphthongs the accented vowel only is considered if the diphthong
occur in an accented syllable. Therefore, _verte_ and _duermes_
assonate in e-e; _baile_ and _parte_ assonate in a-e.
Words _llanas_ may assonate with words accented on the antepenult
(_esdrujulas_). Therefore, _portico_ and _olmos_ assonate in o-o.
For purposes of assonance little use is made of words accented on a
syllable preceding the antepenult.
In a final accented or unaccented syllable u and i are absorbed, for
purposes of assonance, by a preceding or following a, o, or e.
Therefore, _sabia_ and _gratia_ assonate in a-a; _igual_ and _mar_
assonate in a, _pleita_ and _pliega_ assonate in e-a.
If in assonance a weak vowel is united in a diphthong with a strong
vowel, the assonance is called _compound assonance_, e.g.
Assonance between two single vowels is called _simple assonance_, e.g.
This distinction is of little value, however, for verses in simple and
compound assonance alternate constantly.
In the case of two strong vowels forming a diphthong after an accented
syllable, the following rules apply.
a in a final unaccented syllable predominates over a preceding or
succeeding o in the same syllable. Therefore, _Astarloa_ and _Danao_
assonate in a-a.
a in a final unaccented syllable predominates over a preceding or
following e in the same syllable. Therefore, _corporea_ and _rosea_
assonate in o-a.
o in a final unaccented syllable predominates over a preceding e in
the same syllable. Therefore, _oleo_ and _erroneo_ assonate in o-o;
but o in a final unaccented syllable is dominated by a following e in
the same syllable, and the e counts in the assonance. Therefore,
_heroe_ and _veces_ assonate in e-e.
When two weak vowels (i, u) are united in a diphthong, the second
predominates. Thus _triunfo_ and _chulo_ assonate in u-o; _cuido_ and
_bendito_ assonate in i-o.
There are twenty possible assonances in Spanish: a, o, e, i, u, a-a,
a-e, a-o, e-a, e-e, e-o, o-a, o-e, o-o, i-a, i-e, i-o, u-a, u-e, u-o.
Words that have in the final unaccented syllable i or u, not in
diphthongs, are considered for purposes of assonance as if ending in e
or o respectively. Therefore, _facil_ and _nave_ assonate in a-e;
_espiritu_ and _liquido_, in i-o.
If ai occurs in a syllable after an a in the accented syllable, the i
rather than the a of the diphthong counts in the assonance. Therefore,
_cantares_ and _trocabais_ assonate in a-e. If the accented vowel is
not a, the a of ai counts in the assonance. Therefore, _Vicenta_ and
_quisierais_ assonate in e-a.
Consonantal rhyme should not be introduced in compositions written in
assonance. This rule is not always observed (see pp. 183-184, LIII).
The assonance of alternate lines (the even numbers) is the rule in
modern Spanish. If the composition is short the same assonance may be
kept throughout.
Blank Verse.--Verses which lack both consonantal rhyme and assonance
occur in Spanish, and are called _versos sueltos_ (or _libres_).
Compositions in blank verse are, however, extremely difficult to write
in Spanish, and are therefore comparatively rare.
The strophe is frequently of arbitrary length, yet when the poet has
once fixed the measure of his strophe he is supposed to preserve the
same measure throughout. The following are some of the strophic
arrangements in Spanish.
_Pareados_ are pairs of contiguous verses of the same number of
syllables, which rhyme[1] together in pairs.
[Footnote 1: By _rhyme_ hereafter shall be understood _consonantal_
rhyme, unless otherwise indicated.]
_Tercetos_ are a series of strophes, in the first of which the first
verse rhymes with the third, and, from the second strophe on, the
first and third verse of each successive strophe rhyme with the middle
verse of the preceding strophe. This form of verse is known in Italian
as _terza rima_. The composition ends with a _serventesio_ (see
below), of which the first and third verses rhyme with the middle
verse of the preceding strophe. The rhyme-scheme, then, would be a b
a, b c b, c d c, etc., d e d e.
_Cuartetas_, properly so called, are strophes of four eight-syllable
verses, of which the second verse rhymes (or is in assonance) with the
fourth. _Cuarteta_ is likewise a general name given to strophes of
four verses.
_Serventesios_ are strophes of four hendecasyllables, of which the
first rhymes or assonates with the third, and the second with the
_Redondillas_ are strophes of four eight-syllable (or sometimes
six-syllable) verses which rhyme as follows: a b b a.
_Cuartetos_ are strophes of four hendecasyllables with the
rhyme-scheme a b b a. It is not customary to put a final word that is
_aguda_ in the uneven verses of compositions written in
hendecasyllables, or in verses that rhyme with them. Sometimes the
four verses are esdrujulos.
_Romances_, which are the most used of all forms, need not be written
in _cuartetas_. It is sufficient that the even verses be in assonance
and the uneven verses free. Romances, properly so called, are composed
of octosyllabic verses.
_Romancillos_ are romances composed of verses with less than eight
_Romances heroicos_ are romances composed of hendecasyllabic verses,
all of which are _llanos_.
_Quintillas_ are combinations of five verses that have but two rhymes,
of which one occurs three times and the other twice. These verses may
rhyme at the will of the poet, provided that three verses having the
same rhyme do not follow each other successively. Of the possible
arrangements the following occur most frequently: a a b b a, a b b a
a, a b a b a, a b a b b.
_Sextinas_ are usually composed of six hendecasyllabic verses in which
a _serventesio_ is followed by a _pareado_.
The first, third, and fifth verses, however, may rhyme together, and
the second, fourth, and sixth.
There are also _sextinas_ which have the third and sixth verses with a
consonantal rhyme in words that are _agudas_, while the first and
second, and the fourth and fifth, form _pareados_.
In compositions written in _sextinas_ the succeeding strophes have the
same arrangement as the first.
_Octavas de Arte mayor_ are composed of eight dodecasyllables divided
into two equal hemistichs, with the accents on the second, fifth,
seventh, and eleventh syllables. The first verse rhymes with the
fourth, fifth, and eighth; the second with the third; and the sixth
with the seventh. Sometimes the second rhymes with the fourth, the
fifth with the eighth, the first with the third, the sixth with the
_Octavas reales_ are strophes of eight hendecasyllabic verses
(_llanos_), of which the first six rhyme alternately and the last two
form a _pareado_.
When _octavas_ of this form have eight-syllable verses or less, they
are called _octavillas_.
_Octavas_ and _Octavillas Italianas_:
There are four variants, but all must have the fourth and eighth
verses _agudos_.
_First variant_: There is no _verso libre_, and the rhyme-scheme is a
b b c a d d c.
_Second variant_: The first and fifth verses are _libres_ and the
others rhyme 1 b b c 5 d d c. This form is the most used of all.
_Third variant_: All the verses are _libres_ except the fourth and
_Fourth variant_: The rhymes have some other arrangement than those
mentioned in the three preceding cases.
_Decimas_ are strophes of ten octosyllabic verses with the
rhyme-scheme a b b a a c c d d c.
Thus far all the compositions treated have been strophes, of which all
the lines have the same number of syllables.
The most common strophes having an unequal number of syllables in the
component verses are as follows:
_Endechas reales_ are _cuartetas_ in which three heptasyllables are
followed by a hendecasyllable. The even verses are usually in
assonance, although the verses may have the rhyme-scheme a b a b.
The _Lira_ is a strophe of five verses, of which the first, third, and
fourth are heptasyllables, and the second and fifth are
hendecasyllables. The rhyme-scheme is a b a b b.
_Seguidillas_ are strophes composed of seven verses, three of which
are heptasyllables and four pentasyllables. The first, third, and
sixth verses are _libres_, the second and fourth have the same
assonance, and the fifth and seventh another distinct assonance.
_Silvas_ are series of strophes composed of hendecasyllables and
heptasyllables of unequal number and unevenly distributed with a free
arrangement of rhymes. Every verse should rhyme with another, yet
sometimes a verse is left unrhymed in long compositions.
The _Sonnet_ is taken from the Italian and has the same general forms.
It is written in hendecasyllables, and is always divided into four
parts--two quatrains and two tercets.
_Versos sueltos_ (blank verse) are verses which do not assonate with
the other contiguous verses, or with the nearest words in which the
sense demands a pause.
There are many other and very artificial forms that exist, but their
treatment would be irrelevant here. During the nineteenth century the
caprice of the poet invented many new forms of which the arrangement
is evident at a glance.
In closing, it should be said that this study of Spanish prosody,
which is primarily intended as an aid to the reading of Becquer's
poetry contained in this volume, is necessarily too brief to be
exhaustive, and many things are purposely omitted, as, for example,
certain unusual forms of verse such as the nine-syllable verse or that
of more than twelve syllables. Wherever it has been found convenient,
references have been made to Becquer's poems to illustrate points of
(_Cartas Literarias_)
Queridos amigos: Hara cosa de dos a tres anos, tal vez leerian[1]
ustedes en los periodicos de Zaragoza[2] la relacion de un crimen que
tuvo lugar en uno de los pueblecillos de estos contornos. Tratabase
del asesinato de una pobre vieja a quien sus convecinos acusaban de
bruja. Ultimamente, y por una coincidencia extraiia, he tenido ocasion
de conocer los detalles y la historia circunstanciada de un hecho que
se comprende apenas en mitad de un siglo tan despreocupado como el
[Footnote 1: leerian ustedes = 'you may have read.']
[Footnote 2: Zaragoza = 'Saragossa.' A Spanish city of some 99,000
inhabitants, capital of the province of the same name, situated on
the Ebro river at its junction with the Huerva. It is famous for its
two cathedrals, _El Pilar_ and La Seo, and for its obstinate and
heroic resistance at the time of the siege by the French in 1808.]
[Footnote 3: The belief in witchcraft is still prevalent in some
quarters, and as late as 1863 a man was drowned at Hedingham, in
Essex, Eng., for being a wizard, his accusers and persecutors being
village tradesmen. See Brewer, _Dictionary of Miracles_, Phila.,
Lippincott & Co., 1884, p. 345.]
Ya estaba para acabar el dia. El cielo, que desde el amanecer se
mantuvo cubierto y nebuloso, comenzaba a obscurecerse a medida que el
sol, que antes transparentaba su luz a traves de las nieblas, iba
debilitandose, cuando, con la esperanza de ver su famoso castillo como
termino y remate de mi artistica expedicion, deje a Litago[1] para
encaminarme a Trasmoz,[2] pueblo del que me separaba una distancia de
tres cuartos de hora por el camino mas corto. Como de costumbre, y
exponiendome, a trueque de examinar a mi gusto los parajes mas asperos
y accidentados, a las fatigas y la incomodidad de perder el camino por
entre aquellas zarzas y penascales, tome el mas dificil, el mas dudoso
y mas largo, y lo perdi en efecto, a pesar de las minuciosas
instrucciones de que me pertreche a la salida del lugar.
[Footnote 1: Litago. A small village of some 600 inhabitants,
situated in the province of Saragossa on the northern slope of the
Moncayo (see p. 8, note 1) to the west of the river Huecha, not far
from Alcala de Moncayo.]
[Footnote 2: Trasmoz. A small village of some 300 inhabitants,
situated in the province of Saragossa near the Moncayo and not far
from the river Huecha. It contains an ancient castle. See p. 13,
note 1.]
Ya enzarzado en lo mas espeso y fragoso del monte, llevando del
diestro la caballeria por entre sendas casi impracticables, ora por
las cumbres para descubrir la salida del laberinto, ora por las
honduras con la idea de cortar terreno, anduve vagando al azar un buen
espacio de tarde hasta que por ultimo, en el fondo de una cortadura
tropece con un pastor, el cual abrevaba su ganado en el riachuelo que,
despues de deslizarse sobre un cauce de piedras de mil colores, salta
y se retuerce alli con un ruido particular que se oye a gran
distancia, en medio del profundo silencio de la naturaleza que en
aquel punto y a aquella hora parece muda o dormida.
Pregunte al pastor el camino del pueblo, el cual segun mis cuentas no
debia distar mucho del sitio en que nos encontrabamos, pues aunque sin
senda fija, yo habia procurado adelantar siempre en la direccion que
me habian indicado. Satisfizo el buen hombre mi pregunta lo mejor que
pudo, y ya me disponia a proseguir mi azarosa jornada, subiendo con
pies y manos y tirando de la caballeria como Dios me daba a entender,
por entre unos pedruscos erizados de matorrales y puntas, cuando el
pastor que me veia subir desde lejos, me dio una gran voz
advirtiendome que no tomara la _senda de la tia Casca_, si queria
llegar sano y salvo a la cumbre. La verdad era que el camino, que
equivocadamente habia tornado, se hacia cada vez mas aspero y dificil
y que por una parte la sombra que ya arrojaban las altisimas rocas,
que parecian suspendidas sobre mi cabeza, y por otro el ruido
vertiginoso del agua que corria profunda a mis pies, y de la que
comenzaba a elevarse una niebla inquieta y azul, que se extendia por
la cortadura borrando los objetos y los colores, parecian contribuir a
turbar la vista y conmover el animo con una sensacion de penoso
malestar que vulgarmente podria llamarse preludio de miedo. Volvi pies
atras, baje de nuevo hasta donde se encontraba el pastor, y mientras
seguiamos juntos por una trocha que se dirigia al pueblo, adonde
tambien iba a pasar la noche mi improvisado guia, no pude menos de
preguntarle con alguna insistencia, por que, aparte de las
dificultades que ofrecia el ascenso, era tan peligroso subir a la
cumbre por la senda que llamo de la tia Casca.
--Porque antes de terminar la senda, me dijo con el tono mas natural
del mundo, tendriais que costear el precipicio a que cayo la maldita
bruja que le da su nombre, y en el cual se cuenta que anda penando el
alma que, despues de dejar el cuerpo, ni Dios ni el diablo han querido
para suya.
--iHola! exclame entonces como sorprendido, aunque, a decir verdad, ya
me esperaba una contestacion de esta o parecida clase. Y ?en que
diantres se entretiene el alma de esa pobre vieja por estos
--En acosar y perseguir a los infelices pastores que se arriesgan por
esa parte de monte, ya haciendo ruido entre las matas, como si fuese
un lobo, ya dando quejidos lastimeros como de criatura, o
acurrucandose en las quiebras de las rocas que estan en el fondo del
precipicio, desde donde llama con su mano amarilla y seca a los que
van por el borde, les clava la mirada de sus ojos de buho, y cuando el
vertigo comienza a desvanecer su cabeza, da un gran salto, se les
agarra a los pies y pugna hasta despenarlos en la sima.... iAh,
maldita bruja! exclamo despues de un momento el pastor tendiendo el
puno crispado hacia las rocas como amenazandola; iah! maldita bruja,
muchas hiciste en vida, y ni aun muerta hemos logrado que nos dejes en
paz; pero, no haya cuidado, que a ti y tu endiablada raza de
hechiceras os hemos de aplastar una a una como a viboras.
--Por lo que veo, insisti, despues que hubo concluido su extravagante
imprecacion, esta usted muy al corriente de las fechorias de esa
mujer. Por ventura, ?alcanzo usted a conocerla? Porque no me parece de
tanta edad como para haber vivido en el tiempo en que las brujas
andaban todavia por el mundo.
Al oir estas palabras el pastor, que caminaba delante de mi para
mostrarme la senda, se detuvo un poco, y fijando en los mios sus
asombrados ojos, como para conocer si me burlaba, exclamo con un
acento de buena fe pasmosa:--iQue no le parezco a usted de edad
bastante para haberla conocido! Pues ?y si yo le dijera que no hace
aun tres anos cabales que con estos mismos ojos que se ha de comer la
tierra, la vi caer por lo alto de ese derrumbadero, dejando en cada
uno de los penascos y de las zarzas un jiron de vestido o de carne,
hasta que llego al fondo donde se quedo aplastada como un sapo que se
coge debajo del pie?
--Entonces, respondi asombrado a mi vez de la credulidad de aquel
pobre hombre, dare credito a lo que usted dice, sin objetar palabra;
aunque a mi se me habia figurado, anadi recalcando estas ultimas
frases para ver el efecto que le hacian, que todo eso de las brujas y
los hechizos no eran sino antiguas y absurdas patranas de las aldeas.
--Eso dicen los senores de la ciudad, porque a ellos no les molestan;
y fundados en que todo es puro cuento, echaron a presidio a algunos
infelices que nos hicieron un bien de caridad a la gente del
Somontano,[1] despenando a esa mala mujer.
[Footnote 1: la gente del Somontano = 'the people of the Slope,'
those living near the foot of the Moncayo mountain.]
--?Conque no cayo casualmente ella, sino que la hicieron rodar, que
quieras que no? iA ver a ver! Cuenteme usted como paso eso, porque
debe ser curioso, anadi, mostrando toda la credulidad y el asombro
suficiente, para que el buen hombre no maliciase que solo queria
distraerme un rato, oyendo sus sandeces; pues es de advertir que hasta
que no me refirio los pormenores del suceso, no hice memoria de que,
en efecto, yo habia leido en los periodicos de provincia una cosa
semejante. El pastor, convencido por las muestras de interes con que
me disponia a escuchar su relate, de que yo no era uno de esos senores
_de la ciudad_, dispuesto a tratar de majaderias su historia, levanto
la mano en direccion a uno de los picachos de la cumbre, y comenzo
asi, senalandome una de las rocas que se destacaba obscura e imponente
sobre el fondo gris del cielo, que el sol, al ponerse tras las nubes,
tenia de algunos cambiantes rojizos.
--?Ve usted aquel cabezo alto, alto, que parece cortado a pico, y por
entre cuyas penas crecen las aliagas y los zarzales? Me parece que
sucedio ayer. Yo estaba algunos doscientos pasos camino atras de donde
nos encontramos en este momento: proximamente seria[1] la misma hora,
cuando crei escuchar unos alaridos distantes, y llantos e
imprecaciones que se entremezclaban con voces varoniles y colericas
que ya se oian por un lado, ya por otro, como de pastores que
persiguen un lobo por entre los zarzales. El sol, segun digo, estaba
al ponerse, y por detras de la altura se descubria un jiron del cielo,
rojo y encendido como la grana, sobre el que vi aparecer alta, seca y
haraposa, semejante a un esqueleto que se escapa de su fosa, envuelto
aun en los jirones del sudario, una vieja horrible, en la que conoci a
la tia Casca. La tia Casca era famosa en todos estos contornos, y me
basto distinguir sus grenas blancuzcas que se enredaban alrededor de
su frente como culebras, sus formas extravagantes, su cuerpo encorvado
y sus brazos disformes, que se destacaban angulosos y obscuros sobre
el fondo de fuego del horizonte, para reconocer en ella a la bruja de
Trasmoz. Al llegar esta al borde del precipicio, se detuvo un instante
sin saber que partido tomar. Las voces de los que parecian perseguirla
sonaban cada vez mas cerca, y de cuando en cuando la veia hacer una
contorsion, encogerse o dar un brinco para evitar los cantazos que le
arrojaban. Sin duda no traia el bote de sus endiablados untos, porque,
a traerlo, seguro que habria atravesado al vuelo la cortadura, dejando
a sus perseguidores burlados y jadeantes como lebreles que pierden la
pista. iDios no lo quiso asi, permitiendo que de una vez pagara todas
sus maldades!... Llegaron los mozos que venian en su seguimiento, y la
cumbre se corono de gentes, estos con piedras en las manos, aquellos
con garrotes, los de mas alla con cuchillos. Entonces comenzo una cosa
horrible. La vieja, imaldita hipocritona! viendose sin huida, se
arrojo al suelo, se arrastro por la tierra besando los pies de los
unos, abrazandose a las rodillas de los otros, implorando en su ayuda
a la Virgen y a los Santos, cuyos nombres sonaban en su condenada boca
como una blasfemia. Pero los mozos, asi hacian caso de sus lamentos
como yo de la lluvia cuando estoy bajo techado.--Yo soy una pobre
vieja que no he hecho dano a nadie: no tengo hijos ni parientes que me
vengan a amparar; iperdonadme, tened compasion de mi! aullaba la
bruja; y uno de los mozos, que con la una mano la habia asido de las
grenas, mientras tenia en la otra la navaja que procuraba abrir con
los dientes, la contestaba rugiendo de colera: iAh, bruja de Lucifer,
ya es tarde para lamentaciones, ya te conocemos todos!--iTu hiciste
un mal a mi mulo, que desde entonces no quiso probar bocado, y murio
de hambre dejandome en la miseria! decia uno.--iTu has hecho mal de
ojo a mi hijo, y lo sacas de la cuna y lo azotas por las noches!
anadia el otro; y cada cual exclamaba por su lado: iTu has echado una
suerte a mi hermana! iTu has ligado a mi novia! iTu has emponzonado la
hierba! iTu has embrujado al pueblo entero![2]
[Footnote 1: seria = ' it must have been,']
[Footnote 2: Accusations commonly made against those deemed guilty
of witchcraft.]
Yo permanecia inmovil en el mismo punto en que me habia sorprendido
aquel clamoreo infernal, y no acertaba a mover pie ni mano, pendiente
del resultado de aquella lucha.
La voz de la tia Casca, aguda y estridente, dominaba el tumulto de
todas las otras voces que se reunian para acusarla, dandole en el
rostro con sus delitos, y siempre gimiendo, siempre sollozando, seguia
poniendo a Dios y a los santos Patronos del lugar por testigos de su
Por ultimo, viendo perdida toda esperanza, pidio como ultima merced
que la dejasen un instante implorar del cielo, antes de morir, el
perdon de sus culpas, y de rodillas al borde de la cortadura como
estaba, la vieja inclino la cabeza, junto las manos y comenzo a
murmurar entre dientes que se yo que imprecaciones ininteligibles:
palabras que yo no podia oir por la distancia que me separaba de ella,
pero que ni los mismos que estaban a su lado lograron entender; Unos
aseguran que hablaba en latin, otros que en una lengua salvaje y
desconocida, no faltando quien pudo comprender que en efecto rezaba,
aunque diciendo las oraciones al reves, como es costumbre de estas
malas mujeres.
En este punto se detuvo el pastor un memento, tendio a su alrededor
una mirada, y prosiguio asi:
--?Siente usted este profundo silencio que reina en todo el monte, que
no suena un guijarro, que no se mueve una hoja, que el aire esta
inmovil y pesa sobre los hombros y parece que aplasta? ?Ve usted esos
jirones de niebla obscura que se deslizan poco a poco a lo largo de la
inmensa pendiente del Moncayo,[1] como si sus cavidades no bastaran a
contenerlos? ?Los ve usted como se adelantan mudos y con lentitud,
como una legion aerea que se mueve por un impulse invisible? El mismo
silencio de muerte habia entonces, el mismo aspecto extrano y temeroso
ofrecia la niebla de la tarde, arremolinada en las lejanas cumbres,
todo el tiempo que duro aquella suspension angustiosa. Yo lo confieso
con toda franqueza: llegue a tener miedo. ?Quien sabia si la bruja
aprovechaba aquellos instantes para hacer uno de esos terribles
conjuros que sacan a los muertos de sus sepulturas, estremecen el
fondo de los abismos y traen a la superficie de la tierra, obedientes
a sus imprecaciones, hasta a los mas rebeldes espiritus infernales? La
vieja rezaba; rezaba sin parar; los mozos permanecian en tanto
inmoviles cual si estuviesen encadenados por un sortilegio, y las
nieblas obscuras seguian avanzando y envolviendo las penas, en
derredor de las cuales fingian mil figuras extranas como de monstruos
deformes, cocodrilos rojos y negros, bultos colosales de mujeres
envueltas en panos blancos, y listas largas de vapor que, heridas por
la ultima luz del crepusculo, semejaban inmensas serpientes de
[Footnote 1: El Moncayo. A mountain of some 7600 feet in height
situated near the boundaries of the provinces of Soria and
Saragossa, to the west of the town of Borja and to the south of
Tarazona. The panorama presented to the view from its summit is most
extensive. To the south can be seen vaguely the Sierra de
Guadarrama, to the southeast the mountains of Teruel, to the east
the plain of the Ebro, to the north and northeast the Pyrenees and
to the west the summits of the Cantabrian range. The rivers Queiles,
Huecha, and others of less importance have their source in the
Moncayo. It is the ancient Mons _Caunus_, celebrated in history for
the defeat of the Celtiberians in the time of the consul Tiberius
Sempronius Gracchus (governor of Hither Spain from 181 to 178
Fija la mirada en aquel fantastico ejercito de nubes que parecian
correr al asalto de la pena sobre cuyo pico iba a morir la bruja, yo
estaba esperando por instantes cuando se abrian sus senos para abortar
a la diabolica multitud de espiritus malignos, comenzando una lucha
horrible al borde del derrumbadero, entre los que estaban alli para
hacer justicia en la bruja y los demonios que, en pago de sus muchos
servicios, vinieran a ayudarla en aquel amargo trance.
--Y por fin, exclame interrumpiendo el animado cuento de mi
interlocutor, e impaciente ya por conocer el desenlace, ?en que acabo
todo ello? ?Mataron a la vieja? Porque yo creo que por muchos conjures
que recitara la bruja y muchas senales que usted viese en las nubes, y
en cuanto le rodeaba, los espiritus malignos se mantendrian[1]
quietecitos cada cual en su agujero; sin mezclarse para nada en las
cosas de la tierra. ?No fue asi?
[Footnote 1: se mantendrian = 'must have remained,' 'probably
--Asi fue, en efecto. Bien porque en su turbacion la bruja no acertara
con la formula, o, lo que yo mas creo, por ser viernes, dia en que
murio Nuestro Senor Jesucristo, y no haber acabado aun las visperas,
durante las que los malos no tienen poder alguno, ello es que, viendo
que no concluia nunca con su endiablada monserga, un mozo la dijo que
acabase y levantando en alto el cuchillo, se dispuso a herirla. La
vieja entonces, tan humilde, tan hipocritona, hasta aquel punto, se
puso de pie con un movimiento tan rapido como el de una culebra
enroscada a la que se pisa y despliega[1] sus anillos irguiendose
llena de colera.--iOh! no; ino quiero morir, no quiero morir! decia;
idejadme, u os mordero las manos con que me sujetais!... Pero aun no
habia pronunciado estas palabras, abalanzandose a sus perseguidores,
fuera de si, con las grenas sueltas, los ojos inyectados en sangre, y
la hedionda boca entreabierta y llena de espuma, cuando la oi arrojar
un alarido espantoso, llevarse por dos o tres veces las manos al
costado con grande precipitacion, mirarselas y volverselas a mirar
maquinalmente, y por ultimo, dando tres o cuatro pasos vacilantes como
si estuviese borracha, la vi caer al derrumbadero. Uno de los mozos a
quien la bruja hechizo una hermana, la mas hermosa, la mas buena del
lugar, la habia herido de muerte en el momento en que sintio que le
clavaba en el brazo sus dientes negros y puntiagudos. ?Pero cree usted
que acabo ahi la cosa? Nada menos que eso: la vieja de Lucifer tenia
siete vidas como los gatos.[2] Cayo por un derrumbadero donde
cualquiera otro a quien se le resbalase un pie no pararia hasta lo mas
hondo, y ella, sin embargo, tal vez porque el diablo le quito el golpe
o porque los harapos de las sayas la enredaron en los zarzales, quedo
suspendida de uno de los picos que erizan la cortadura, barajandose y
retorciendose alli como un reptil colgado por la cola, iDios, como
blasfemaba! iQue imprecaciones tan horribles salian de su boca! Se
estremecian las carnes y se ponian de punta los cabellos solo de
oirla.... Los mozos seguian desde lo alto todas sus grotescas
evoluciones, esperando el instante en que se desgarraria el ultimo
jiron de la saya a que estaba sujeta, y rodaria dando tumbos, de pico
en pico, hasta el fondo del barranco; pero ella con el ansia de la
muerte y sin cesar de proferir, ora horribles blasfemias, ora palabras
santas mezcladas de maldiciones, se enroscaba en derredor de los
matorrales; sus dedos largos, huesosos y sangrientos, se agarraban
como tenazas a las hendiduras de las rocas, de modo que ayudandose de
las rodillas, de los dientes, de los pies y de las manos, quizas
hubiese conseguido subir hasta el horde, si algunos de los que la
contemplaban y que llegaron a temerlo asi, no hubiesen levantado en
alto una piedra gruesa, con la que le dieron tal cantazo en el pecho,
que piedra y bruja bajaron a la vez saltando de escalon en escalon por
entre aquellas puntas calcareas, afiladas como cuchillos, hasta dar,
por ultimo, en ese arroyo que se ve en lo mas profundo del valle....
Una vez alli, la bruja permanecio un largo rato inmovil, con la cara
hundida entre el legamo y el fango del arroyo que corria enrojecido
con la sangre; despues, poco a poco, comenzo como a volver en si y a
agitarse convulsivamente. El agua cenagosa y sangrienta saltaba en
derredor batida por sus manos, que de vez en cuando se levantaban en
el aire crispadas y horribles, no se si implorando piedad, o
amenazando aun en las ultimas ansias.... Asi estuvo algun tiempo
removiendose y queriendo inutilmente sacar la cabeza fuera de la
corriente buscando un poco de aire, hasta que al fin se desplomo
muerta; muerta del todo, pues los que la habiamos visto caer y
conociamos de lo que es capaz una hechicera tan astuta como la tia
Casca, no apartamos de ella los ojos hasta que completamente entrada
la noche, la obscuridad nos impidio distinguirla, y en todo este
tiempo no movio pie ni mano; de modo que si la herida y los golpes no
fueron bastantes a acabarla, es seguro que se ahogo en el riachuelo
cuyas aguas tantas veces habia embrujado en vida para hacer morir
nuestras reses. iQuien en mal anda, en mal acaba! exclamamos despues
de mirar una ultima vez al fondo obscuro del despenadero; y
santiguandonos santamente y pidiendo a Dios nos ayudase en todas las
ocasiones, como en aquella, contra el diablo y los suyos, emprendimos
con bastante despacio la vuelta al pueblo, en cuya desvencijada torre
las campanas llamaban a la oracion a los vecinos devotos.
[Footnote 1: a la que se pisa y despliega. Loose construction, in
which the relative pronoun object of the first verb is understood as
subject of the second.]
[Footnote 2: The cat is credited in our colloquial English
expression with two more lives.]
Cuando el pastor termino su relato, llegabamos precisamente a la
cumbre mas cercana al pueblo, desde donde se ofrecio a mi vista el
castillo obscuro e imponente con su alta torre del homenaje, de la que
solo queda en pie un lienzo de muro con dos saeteras, que
transparentaban la luz y parecian los ojos de un fantasma. En aquel
castillo, que tiene por cimiento la pizarra negra de que esta formado
el monte, y cuyas vetustas murallas, hechas de pedruscos enormes,
parecen obras de titanes, es fama que las brujas de los contornos
tienen sus nocturnes conciliabulos.
La noche habia cerrado ya, sombria y nebulosa. La luna se dejaba ver a
intervalos por entre los jirones de las nubes que volaban en derredor
nuestro, rozando casi con la tierra, y las campanas de Trasmoz[1]
dejaban oir lentamente el toque de oraciones, como el final de la
horrible historia que me acababan de referir.
[Footnote 1: Trasmoz. See p. 2, note 2.]
Ahora que estoy en mi celda tranquilo, escribiendo para ustedes la
relacion de estas impresiones extranas, no puedo menos de maravillarme
y dolerme de que las viejas supersticiones tengan todavia tan hondas
raices entre las gentes de las aldeas, que den lugar a sucesos
semejantes; pero, ?por que no he de confesarlo? sonandome aun las
ultimas palabras de aquella temerosa relacion, teniendo junto a mi a
aquel hombre que tan de buena fe imploraba la proteccion divina para
llevar a cabo crimenes espantosos, viendo a mis pies el abismo negro y
profundo en donde se revolvia el agua entre las tinieblas, imitando
gemidos y lamentos, y en lontananza el castillo tradicional,[1]
coronado de almenas obscuras, que parecian fantasmas asomadas a los
muros, senti una impresion angustiosa, mis cabellos se erizaron
involuntariamente, y la razon, dominada por la fantasia, a la que todo
ayudaba, el sitio, la hora y el silencio de la noche, vacilo un punto,
y casi crei que las absurdas consejas de las brujerias y los
maleficios pudieran ser posibles.
[Footnote 1: tradicional = 'legendary.' Legend says that this castle
was built in a night by a magician to satisfy the whim of one of the
early kings. Becquer tells the story of its construction in _Carta
Hace mucho tiempo que tenia ganas de escribir cualquier cosa con este
Hoy, que se me ha presentado ocasion, lo he puesto con letras grandes
en la primera cuartilla de papel, y luego he dejado a capriclio volar
la pluma.
Yo creo que he visto unos ojos como los que he pintado en esta
leyenda. No se si en suenos, pero yo los he visto. De seguro no los
podre describir tales cuales ellos eran, luminosos, transparentes como
las gotas de la lluvia que se resbalan sobre las hojas de los arboles
despues de una tempestad de verano. De todos modos, cuento con la
imaginacion de mis lectores para hacerme comprender en este que
pudieramos llamar boceto de un cuadro que pintare algun dia.
--Herido va el ciervo, herido va; no hay duda. Se ve el rastro de la
sangre entre las zarzas del monte, y al saltar uno de esos lentiscos
han flaqueado sus piernas.... Nuestro joven senor comienza por donde
otros acaban ... en cuarenta anos de montero no he visto mejor
golpe.... iPero por San Saturio,[1] patron de Soria![2] cortadle el
paso por esas carrascas, azuzad los perros, soplad en esas trompas
hasta echar los higados, y hundidle a los corceles una cuarta de
hierro en los ijares: ?no veis que se dirige hacia la fuente de los
Alamos,[3] y si la salva antes de morir podemos darle por perdido?
[Footnote 1: San Saturio. Saint Saturius was born, according to
Tamayo, in 493. In 532 he withdrew from the world into a cave at the
foot of a mountain bathed by the river Duero, near where now stands
the town of Soria. There he lived about thirty-six years, or until
568, when he died and was buried by his faithful disciple St.
Prudentius, later bishop of Tarazona, who had been a companion of
the hermit during the last seven years of his life. His cave is
still an object of pilgrimage, and a church has been built on the
spot to the memory of the saint. See Florez, _Espana_ Sagrada,
Madrid, 1766, tomo vii, pp. 293-294.]
[Footnote 2: Soria. A mediaeval-looking town of 7296 inhabitants
situated on a bleak plateau on the right bank of the Duero. It is
the capital of a province of the same name. The old town of Numantia
(captured by the Romans under P. Cornelius Scipio AEmilianus, 133
B.C.) lay about three miles to the north of the present site of
[Footnote 3: Alamos. The choice of a grove of poplars as setting to
the enchanted fount is peculiarly appropriate, as this tree belongs
to the large list of those believed to have magical properties. In
the south of Europe the poplar seems to have held sometimes the
mythological place reserved in the north for the birch, and the
people of Andalusia believe that the poplar is the most ancient of
trees. (See de Gubernatis, Za _Mythologie des plantes_, Paris,
Reinwald, 1882, p. 285.) In classical superstition the black poplar
was consecrated to the goddess Proserpine, and the white poplar to
Hercules. "The White Poplar was also dedicated to Time, because its
leaves were constantly in motion, and, being dark on one side and
light on the other, they were emblematic of night and day.... There
is a tradition that the Cross of Christ was made of the wood of the
White Poplar, and throughout Christendom there is a belief that the
tree trembles and shivers mystically in sympathy with the ancestral
tree which became accursed.... Mrs. Hemans, in her 'Wood Walk,' thus
alludes to one of these old traditions:
FATHER.--Hast thou heard, my boy,
The peasant's legend of that quivering tree?
CHILD.--No, father; doth he say the fairies dance
Amidst its branches?
FATHER.--Oh! a cause more deep,
More solemn far, the rustic doth assign
To the strange restlessness of those wan leaves.
The Cross he deems--the blessed Cross, whereon
The meek Redeemer bow'd His head to death--
Was formed of Aspen wood; and since that hour
Through all its race the pale tree hath sent down
A thrilling consciousness, a secret awe
Making them tremulous, when not a breeze
Disturbs the airy Thistle-down, or shakes
The light lines from the shining gossamer."
Richard Folkard, _Plant Lore_, London, 1892, p. 503.]
Las cuencas del Moncayo[1] repitieron de eco en eco el bramido de las
trompas, el latir de la jauria desencadenada y las voces de los pajes
resonaron con nueva furia, y el confuso tropel de hombres, caballos y
perros se dirigio al punto que Inigo, el montero mayor de los
marqueses de Almenar,[2] senalara,[3] como el mas a proposito para
cortarle el paso a la res.
[Footnote 1: El Moncayo. See p. 8, note 1.]
[Footnote 2: Marqueses de Almenar. A title taken doubtless from the
little town of Almenar (650 inhabitants) situated in the province of
Soria near the right bank of the Rituerto river, southwest of the
Moncayo, and not far from that mountain.]
[Footnote 3: senalara. A relic of the Latin pluperfect (in _-aram_,
_-eram_), popularly confounded with the imperfect subjunctive. Its
use is now somewhat archaic, and is restricted to relative clauses.
See Ramsey's _Spanish Grammar_, H. Holt & Co., 1902, Sec. 944.]
Pero todo fue inutil. Cuando el mas agil de los lebreles llego a las
carrascas jadeante y cubiertas las fauces de espuma, ya el ciervo,
rapido como una saeta, las habia salvado de un solo brinco,
perdiendose entre los matorrales de una trocha, que conducia a la
--iAlto!... iAlto todo el mundo! grito Inigo entonces; estaba de Dios
que habia de marcharse.
Y la cabalgata se detuvo, y enmudecieron las trompas, y los lebreles
dejaron refunfunando la pista a la voz de los cazadores.
En aquel momento se reunia a la comitiva el heroe de la fiesta,
Fernando de Argensola,[1] el primogenito de Almenar.
[Footnote 1: Argensola. A name familiar to students of Spanish
literature from the writings of the illustrious brothers Bartolome
and Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola (sixteenth century). It is also
the name of a small town of some 560 inhabitants in the province of
--?Que haces? exclamo dirigiendose a su montero, y en tanto, ya se
pintaba el asombro en sus facciones, ya ardia la colera en sus ojos.
?Que haces, imbecil? iVes que la pieza esta herida, que es la primera
que cae por mi mano, y abandonas el rastro y la dejas perder para que
vaya a morir en el fondo del bosque! ?Crees acaso que he venido a
matar ciervos para festines de lobos?
--Senor, murmuro, Inigo entre dientes, es imposible pasar de este
--iImposible! ?y por que?
--Porque esa trocha, prosiguio el montero, conduce a la fuente de los
Alamos; la fuente de los Alamos, en cuyas aguas habita un espiritu del
mal. El que osa enturbiar su corriente, paga caro su atrevimiento. Ya
la res habra salvado sus margenes; ?como la salvareis vos sin atraer
sobre vuestra cabeza alguna calamidad horrible? Los cazadores somos
reyes del Moncayo, pero reyes que pagan un tributo. Pieza que se
refugia en esa fuente misteriosa, pieza perdida.
--iPieza perdida! Primero perdere yo el senorio de mis padres, y
primero perdere el anima en manos de Satanas, que permitir que se me
escape ese ciervo, el unico que ha herido mi venablo, la primicia de
mis excursiones de cazador.... ?Lo ves?... ?lo ves?... Aun se
distingue a intervalos desde aqui ... las piernas le faltan, su
carrera se acorta; dejame... dejame... suelta esa brida, o te revuelco
en el polvo.... ?Quien sabe si no le dare lugar para que llegue a la
fuente? y si llegase, al diablo ella, su limpidez y sus habitadores.
iSus! i_Relampago_! sus, caballo mio! si lo alcanzas, mando engarzar
los diamantes de mi joyel en tu serreta de oro.
Caballo y jinete partieron como un huracan.
Inigo los siguio con la vista hasta que se perdieron en la maleza;
despues volvio los ojos en derredor suyo; todos, como el, permanecian
inmoviles y consternados.
El montero exclamo al fin:
--Senores, vosotros lo habeis visto; me he expuesto a morir entre los
pies de su caballo por detenerle. Yo he cumplido con mi deber. Con el
diablo no sirven valentias. Hasta aqui llega el montero con su
ballesta; de aqui adelante, que pruebe a pasar el capellan con su
[Footnote 1: hisopo = 'aspergillum.' A brash or metallic instrument
for the sprinkling of holy water. As to the efficacy of holy water
against evil spirits St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) speaks as
I have learned from frequent experience that there is nothing better
(than holy water) to drive them away and to prevent them from
returning: they flee at the sight of the Cross, but return. The
virtue of holy water must be great indeed.
See _Escritos de Santa Teresa_, "Libro de su vida," capitulo 31, in
the _Biblioteca de Autores Espanoles_, Madrid, Rivadeneyra, 1861, p.
L'Abbe Jean Joseph Gaume has written a work, entitled _l'Eau lenite
au XIXe siecle_ (Paris, 1866), in which he also advocates the use of
holy water to-day for similar purposes.]
--Teneis la color quebrada; andais mustio, y sombrio; ?que os sucede?
Desde el dia, que yo siempre tendre por funesto, en que llegasteis a
la fuente de los Alamos en pos de la res herida, diriase que una mala
bruja os ha encanijado con sus hechizos.
Ya no vais a los montes precedido de la ruidosa jauria, ni el clamor
de vuestras trompas despierta sus ecos. Solo con esas cavilaciones que
os persiguen, todas las mananas tomais la ballesta para enderezaros a
la espesura y permanecer en ella hasta que el sol se esconde. Y cuando
la noche obscurece y voiveis palido y fatigado al castillo, en balde
busco en la bandolera los despojos de la caza. ?Que os ocupa tan
largas horas lejos de los que mas os quieren?
Mientras Inigo hablaba, Fernando, absorto en sus ideas, sacaba
maquinalmente astillas de su escano de ebano con el cuchillo de monte.
Despues de un largo silencio, que solo interrumpia el chirrido de la
hoja al resbalarse sobre la pulimentada madera, el joven exclamo
dirigiendose a su servidor, como si no hubiera escuchado una sola de
sus palabras:
--Inigo, tu que eres viejo, tu que conoces todas las guaridas del
Moncayo, que has vivido en sus faldas persiguiendo a las fieras, y en
tus errantes excursiones de cazador subiste mas de una vez a su
cumbre, dime, ?has encontrado por acaso una mujer que vive entre sus
--iUna mujer! exclamo el montero con asombro y mirandole de hito en
--Si, dijo el joven; es una cosa extrana lo que me sucede, muy
extrana.... Crei poder guardar ese secreto eternamente, pero no es ya
posible; rebosa en mi corazon y asoma a mi semblante. Voy, pues, a
revelartelo.... Tu me ayudaras a desvanecer el misterio que envuelve a
esa criatura, que al parecer solo para mi existe, pues nadie la
conoce, ni la ha visto, ni puede darme razon de ella.
El montero, sin despegar los labios, arrastro su banquillo hasta
colocarlo junto al escano de su senor, del que no apartaba un punto
los espantados ojos. Este, despues de coordinar sus ideas, prosiguio
--Desde el dia en que a pesar de tus funestas predicciones llegue a la
fuente de los Alamos, y atravesando sus aguas recobre el ciervo que
vuestra supersticion hubiera dejado huir, se lleno mi alma del deseo
de la soledad.
Tu no conoces aquel sitio. Mira, la fuente brota escondida en el seno
de una pena, y cae resbalandose gota a gota por entre las verdes y
flotantes hojas de las plantas que crecen al borde de su cuna.
Aquellas gotas que al desprenderse brillan como puntos de oro y suenan
como las notas de un instrumento, se reunen entre los cespedes, y
susurrando, susurrando con un ruido semejante al de las abejas que
zumban en torno de las flores, se alejan por entre las arenas, y
forman un cauce, y luchan con los obstaculos que se oponen a su
camino, y se repliegan sobre si mismas, y saltan, y huyen, y corren,
unas veces con risa, otras con suspires, hasta caer en un lago. En el
lago caen con un rumor indescriptible. Lamentos, palabras, nombres,
cantares, yo no se lo que he oido en aquel rumor cuando me he sentado
solo y febril sobre el penasco, a cuyos pies saltan las aguas de la
fuente misteriosa para estancarse en una balsa profunda, cuya inmovil
superficie apenas riza el viento de la tarde.
Todo es alli grande. La soledad con sus mil rumores desconocidos, vive
en aquellos lugares y embriaga el espiritu en su inefable melancolia.
En las plateadas hojas de los alamos, en los huecos de las penas, en
las ondas del agua, parece que nos hablan los invisibles espiritus de
la naturaleza, que reconocen un hermano en el inmortal espiritu del
Cuando al despuntar la manana me veias tomar la ballesta y dirigirme
al monte, no fue nunca para perderme entre sus matorrales en pos de la
caza, no; iba a sentarme al borde de la fuente, a buscar en sus ondas
... no se que, iuna locura! El dia en que salte sobre ella con mi
_Relampago_[1] crei haber visto brillar en su fondo una cosa extrana
... muy extrana ... los ojos de una mujer.
[Footnote 1: Relampago. The name of his horse, mentioned p. 17.]
Tal vez seria un rayo de sol que serpeo fugitive entre su espuma; tal
vez una de esas flores que flotan entre las algas de su seno, y cuyos
calices parecen esmeraldas ... no se: yo crei ver una mirada que se
clavo en la mia; una mirada que encendio en mi pecho un deseo absurdo,
irrealizable: el de encontrar una persona con unos ojos como aquellos.
En su busca fui un dia y otro a aquel sitio:
Por ultimo, una tarde ... yo me crei juguete de un sueno ... pero no,
es verdad, la[1] he hablado ya muchas veces, como te hablo a ti ahora
... una tarde encontre sentada en mi puesto, y vestida con unas ropas
que llegaban hasta las aguas y flotaban sobre su haz, una mujer
hermosa sobre toda ponderacion. Sus cabellos eran como el oro; sus
pestanas brillaban como hilos de luz, y entre las pestanas volteaban
inquietas unas pupilas que yo habia visto... si; porque los ojos de
aquella mujer eran los ojos que yo tenia clavados en la mente; unos
ojos de un color imposible; unos ojos ...
[Footnote 1: la. The Spanish Academy condemns the use of _la_
instead of _le_ as a feminine dative. Spanish writers, however,
frequently so employ it.]
--iVerdes! exclamo Inigo con un acento de profundo terror, e
incorporandose de un salto en su asiento.
Fernando le miro a su vez como asombrado de que concluyese lo que iba
a decir, y le pregunto con una mezcla de ansiedad y de alegria:
--?La conoces?
--iOh, no! dijo el montero. iLibreme Dios de conocerla! Pero mis
padres, al prohibirme llegar hasta esos lugares, me dijeron mil veces
que el espiritu, trasgo, demonio o mujer que habita en sus aguas,
tiene los ojos de ese color. Yo os conjuro, por lo que mas ameis en la
tierra, a no volver a la fuente de los Alamos. Un dia u otro-os
alcanzara su venganza, y expiareis, muriendo, el delito de haber
encenagado sus ondas.
--iPor los que mas amo!... murmuro el joven con una triste sonrisa.
--iSi!, prosiguio el anciano; por vuestros padres, por vuestros
deudos, por las lagrimas de la que el cielo destina para vuestra
esposa, por las de un servidor que os ha visto nacer ...
--?Sabes tu lo que mas amo en este mundo? Sabes tu por que daria yo el
amor de mi padre, los besos de la que me dio la vida, y todo el carino
que pueden atesorar todas las mujeres de la tierra? Por una mirada,
por una sola mirada de esos ojos ... iComo podre yo dejar de
Dijo Fernando estas palabras con tal acento, que la lagrima que
temblaba en los parpados de Inigo se resbalo silenciosa por su
mejilla, mientras exclamo con acento sombrio: iCumplase la voluntad
del cielo!
--?Quien eres tu? ?Cual es tu patria? ?En donde habitas? Yo vengo un
dia y otro en tu busca, y ni veo el corcel que te trae a estos
lugares, ni a los servidores que conducen tu litera. Rompe de una vez
el misterioso velo en que te envuelves como en una noche profunda, yo
te amo, y, noble o villana, sere tuyo, tuyo siempre....
El sol habia traspuesto la cumbre del monte; las sombras bajaban a
grandes pasos, por su falda; la brisa gemia entre los alamos de la
fuente, y la niebla, elevandose poco a poco de la superficie del lago,
comenzaba a envolver las rocas de su margen.
Sobre una de estas rocas, sobre una que parecia proxima a desplomarse
en el fondo de las aguas, en cuya superficie se retrataba temblando el
primogenito de Almenar, de rodillas a los pies de su misteriosa
amante, procuraba en vano arrancarle el secreto de su existencia.
Ella era hermosa, hermosa y palida, como una estatua de alabastro. Uno
de sus rizos caia sobre sus hombros, deslizandose entre los pliegues
del velo como un rayo de sol que atraviesa las nubes, y en el cerco de
sus pestanas rubias brillaban sus pupilas como dos esmeraldas sujetas
en una joya de oro.
Cuando el joven acabo de hablarle, sus labios se removieron como para
pronunciar algunas palabras, pero solo exhalaron un suspiro, un
suspiro debil, doliente, como el de la ligera onda que empuja una
brisa al morir entre los juncos.
--iNo me respondes! exclamo Fernando al ver burlada su esperanza;
?querras que de credito a lo que de ti me han dicho? iOh! No....
Hablame: yo quiero saber si me amas; yo quiero saber si puedo amarte,
si eres una mujer...
--O un demonio.... ?Y si lo fuese?
El joven vacilo un instante; un sudor frio corrio por sus miembros;
sus pupilas se dilataron al fijarse con mas intensidad en las de
aquella mujer, y fascinado por su brillo fosforico, demente casi,
exclamo en un arrebato de amor:
--Si lo fueses ... fe amaria ... te amaria como te amo ahora, como es
mi destino amarte, hasta mas alla de esta vida, si hay algo mas alla
de ella.
--Fernando, dijo la hermosa entonces con una voz semejante a una
musica: yo te amo mas aun que tu me amas; yo, que desciendo hasta un
mortal, siendo un espiritu puro. No soy una mujer como las que existen
en la tierra; soy una mujer digna de ti, que eres superior a los demas
hombres. Yo vivo en el fondo de estas aguas; incorporea como ellas,
fugaz y trasparente, hablo con sus rumores y ondulo con sus pliegues.
Yo no castigo al que osa turbar la fuente donde moro; antes le premio
con mi amor ... como a un mortal superior a las supersticiones del
vulgo, como a un amante capaz de comprender mi carino extrano y
Mientras ella hablaba asi, el joven, absorto en la contemplacion de su
fantastica hermosura, atraido como por una fuerza desconocida, se
aproximaba mas y mas al borde de la roca. La mujer de los ojos verdes
prosiguio asi:
--?Ves, ves el limpido fondo de ese lago, ves esas plantas de largas y
verdes hojas que se agitan en su fondo?... Ellas nos daran un lecho de
esmeraldas y corales ... y yo ... yo te dare una felicidad sin nombre,
esa felicidad que has sonado en tus horas de delirio, y que no puede
ofrecerte nadie.... Ven, la niebla del lago flota sobre nuestras
frentes como un pabellon de lino ... las ondas nos llaman con sus
voces incomprensibles, el viento empieza entre los alamos sus himnos
de amor; ven ... ven ...
La noche comenzaba a extender sus sombras, la luna rielaba en la
superficie del lago, la niebla se arremolinaba al soplo del aire, y
los ojos verdes brillaban en la obscuridad como los fuegos fatuos que
corren sobre el haz de las aguas infectas.... Ven ... ven ... estas
palabras zumbaban en los oidos de Fernando como un conjuro. Ven ... y
la mujer misteriosa le llamaba al borde del abismo, donde estaba
suspendida, y parecia ofrecerle un beso ... un beso ...
Fernando dio un paso hacia ella ... otro ... y sintio unos brazos
delgados y flexibles que se liaban a su cuello, y una sensacion fria
en sus labios ardorosos, un beso de nieve ... y vacilo ... y perdio
pie, y cayo al agua con un rumor sordo y lugubre.
Las aguas saltaron en chispas de luz, y se cerraron sobre su cuerpo, y
sus circulos de plata fueron ensanchandose, ensanchandose hasta
expirar[1] en las orillas.[2]
[Footnote 1: expirar. Becquer uses incorrectly the form _espirar_.]
[Footnote 2: "It was a maxim both in ancient India and ancient
Greece not to look at one's reflection in water.... They feared that
the water-spirits would drag the person's reflection or soul under
water, leaving him soulless to die. This was probably the origin of
the classical story of Narcissus.... The same ancient belief
lingers, in a faded form, in the English superstition that whoever
sees a water-fairy must pine and die.
'Alas, the moon should ever beam
To show what man should never see!--
I saw a maiden on a stream,
And fair was she!
I staid to watch, a little space,
Her parted lips if she would sing;
The waters closed above her face
With many a ring.
I know my life will fade away,
I know that I must vainly pine,
For I am made of mortal clay.
But she's divine!'"
Fraser, _The Golden Bough_, London, Macmillan & Co., 1900, vol. i,
pp. 293-294. The object of Fernando's love was evidently an undine
(see p. 43, note 1, and p. 47, note 1).]
En un pequeno lugar[1] de Aragon,[1] y alla por los anos de mil
trescientos y pico, vivia retirado en su torre senorial un famoso
caballero llamado don Dionis, el cual, despues de haber servido a su
rey[3] en la guerra contra infieles, descansaba a la sazon, entregado
al alegre ejercicio de la caza, de las rudas fatigas de los combates.
[Footnote 1: un pequeno lugar. Veraton, a feudal town in the
neighborhood of the Moncayo (see p. 8, note 1). Population (1900),
[Footnote 2: Aragon. "An ancient kingdom, now a captaincy-general of
Spain, capital Saragossa, bounded by France on the north, by
Catalonia on the east, by Valencia on the south, and by New Castile,
Old Castile, and Navarre on the west, comprising the provinces of
Huesca, Saragossa, and Teruel. It is traversed by mountains and
intersected by the Ebro. During the middle ages it was one of the
two chief Christian powers in the peninsula. In 1035 it became a
kingdom; was united to Catalonia in 1137; rose to great influence
through its acquisitions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and the Sicilies; and
was united with Castile in 1479 through the marriage of Ferdinand of
Aragon with Isabella of Castile." _Century Dict._]
[Footnote 3: The kings who reigned in Aragon during the fourteenth
century were as follows: Jaime II _el Justo_ (1291-1327), Alfonso IV
_el Benigno_ (1327-1336), Pedro IV _el Ceremonioso_ (1336-1387),
Juan I _el Cazador_ (1387-1395), and Martin (1395-1410).]
Acontecio una vez a este caballero, hallandose en su favorita
diversion acompanado de su hija, cuya belleza singular y
extraordinaria blancura le habian granjeado el sobrenombre de la
Azucena, que como se les entrase a mas andar el dia engolfados en
perseguir a una res en el monte de su feudo, tuvo que acogerse,
durante las horas de la siesta, a una canada por donde corria un
riachuelo, saltando de roca en roca con un ruido manso y agradable.
Haria[1] cosa de unas dos horas que don Dionis se encontraba en aquel
delicioso lugar, recostado sobre la menuda grama a la sombra de una
chopera, departiendo amigablemente con sus monteros sobre las
peripecias del dia, y refiriendose unos a otros las aventuras mas o
menos curiosas que en su vida de cazador les habian acontecido, cuando
por lo alto de la mas empinada ladera y a traves de los alternados
murmullos del viento que agitaba las hojas de los arboles, comenzo a
percibirse, cada vez mas cerca, el sonido de una esquililla semejante
a la del guion de un rebano.
[Footnote 1: Haria = 'it must have been.' See p. 5, note 2, and p.
42, note 1.]
En efecto, era asi, pues a poco de haberse oido la esquililla,
empezaron a saltar por entre las apinadas matas de cantueso y tomillo,
y a descender a la orilla opuesta del riachuelo, hasta unos cien
corderos, blancos como la nieve, detras de los cuales, con su caperuza
calada para libertarse la cabeza de los perpendiculares rayos del sol,
y su atillo al hombro en la punta de un palo, aparecio el zagal que
los conducia.
--A proposito de aventuras extraordinarias, exclamo al verle uno de
los monteros de don Dionis, dirigiendose a su senor: ahi teneis a
Esteban el zagal, que de algun tiempo a esta parte anda mas tonto que
lo que naturalmente lo hizo Dios, que no es poco, y el cual puede
haceros pasar un rato divertido refiriendo la causa de sus continuos
--?Pues que le acontece a ese pobre diablo? exclamo don Dionis con
aire de curiosidad picada.
--iFriolera! anadio el montero en tono de zumba: es el caso, que sin
haber nacido en Viernes Santo[1] ni estar senalado con la cruz,[2] ni
hallarse en relaciones con el demonic, a lo que se puede colegir de
sus habitos de cristiano viejo, se encuentra sin saber como ni por
donde, dotado de la facultad mas maravillosa que ha poseido hombre
alguno, a no ser Salomon,[3] de quien se dice que sabia hasta el
lenguaje de los pajaros.
[Footnote 1: Viernes Santo = 'Good Friday,' the Friday of Holy Week,
anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ. Friday has long been
considered an unlucky day, and Good Friday, in spite of its name,
has been regarded by popular superstition as a fatal day. One born
on that day might have particular aptitude for witchcraft.]
[Footnote 2: senalado con la cruz = 'marked with the cross.' The
reference here is doubtless to a birth-mark in the form of a cross,
which would indicate a special aptitude for thaumaturgy or
occultism. This might take the form of Christian mysticism, as in
the case of St. Leo, who is said to have been "marked all over with
red crosses" at birth (see Brewer, _Dictionary of Miracles_, Phila.,
1884, p. 425), or the less orthodox form of magic, as is suggested
[Footnote 3: Salomon = 'Solomon.' "A famous king of Israel, 993-953
B.C. (Duncker), son of David and Bathsheba.... The name of Solomon,
who was supposed to have possessed extraordinary magical powers,
plays an important part in Eastern and thence in European legends,"
_Century Dict._ "His wisdom enabled him (as legend informs us) to
interpret the speech of beasts and birds, a gift shared afterwards,
it was said, by his descendant Hillel (Koran, sura 37, Ewald,
_Gesch. Isr._, iii, 407)." M'Clintock and Strong, _Cyclopedia of
Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature_, N.Y., 1880,
vol. ix, p. 871.]
--?Y a que se refiere esa facultad maravillosa?
--Se refiere, prosiguio el montero, a que, segun el afirma, y lo jura
y perjura por todo lo mas sagrado del mundo, los ciervos que discurren
por estos montes, se han dado de ojo para no dejarle en paz, siendo lo
mas gracioso del caso, que en mas de una ocasion les ha sorprendido
concertando entre si las burlas que han de hacerle, y despues que
estas burlas se han llevado a termino, ha oido las ruidosas carcajadas
con que las celebran.
Mientras esto decia el montero, Constanza, que asi se llamaba la
hermosa hija de don Dionis, se habia aproximado al grupo de los
cazadores, y como demostrase su curiosidad por conocer la
extraordinaria historia de Esteban, uno de estos se adelanto hasta el
sitio en donde el zagal daba de beber a su ganado, y le condujo a
presencia de su senor, que para disipar la turbacion y el visible
encogimiento del pobre mozo, se apresuro a saludarle por su nombre,
acompanando el saludo con una bondadosa sonrisa.
Era Esteban un muchacho de diecinueve a veinte anos, fornido, con la
cabeza pequena y hundida entre los hombros, los ojos pequenos y
azules, la mirada incierta y torpe como la de los albinos, la nariz
roma, los labios gruesos y entreabiertos, la frente calzada, la tez
blanca pero ennegrecida por el sol, y el cabello que le caia en parte