Gongora’s “Solitudes”

Luis de Gongora (1561-1627) published Solitudes or Soledades in 1612, representative of the era of Spanish Golden Age poetry. But these Solitudes have little to do with solitude. The poems are set in isolated physical locales and reflective of solitary landscapes. But the lengthy poems are of little interest to solitaries, barely meriting an article or extended essay. As their modern translator Edward Meryon Wilson notes in his 1965 preface to the poems:

The story of The Solitudes is not important in itself and has little narrative interest. It is merely a convenient peg on which Gongora could hang his superb descriptions, elaborated by all the arts of metaphor and hyperbole, and interspersed with beautiful lyrics. The action takes place in a world that is curiously artificial and rich. …

Thus, the first Solitude (there are only two anyway, the planned additional two never having been composed) begins with a shipwrecked youth who explores the shore and discovers a shepherd’s hut. Gongora describes the hut as a hermitage, a “well-found” hermitage, further rhapsodizing about it as “Temple of Palas,” as “Flora’s granary,” as “Edifice sublime,” as a place where there is no pride, flattery, envy, ambitious care, favor, false security.

After these paeans of praise, the poem quickly moves on to even more artificial sentiments.

Gongora’s artificiality is in part a device of his era, and in part an ignorance of his supposed subject. The poet had little interest in solitude. He was of a comfortable family, and became a church deacon, ordained a priest late in life, often reprimanded for his habits, including gambling and bullfights. Accused by the local bishop of not attending church services, Gongora responded that he attended whenever his superiors did. Gongora was fond of wealth, talkative, argumentative, and slothful. His feud with rival poet Francisco de Quevedo was played out in derisive poems that only lowered Gongora’s reputation. Ultimately his penchant for card-playing left him impoverished in old age. Too late to make the acquaintance of solitude and hermitages.