Life in the Village
Let them come here for Experience to release
Them from their false moral imagining.
For, in truth, that labourer is watching
Greedily for perpetual increase.
Always desiring the best of all yields,
He gets up early and goes about his lot,
Envying his neighbour’s flourishing fields,
Victim of laws, complaints and talking rot.
In sum, the much-praised good life is revealed
False: no one is happy with what he’s got.
I have been sitting in the Bances Candamo library in Avilés for the past couple of years without investigating the author for whom the library was named. Francisco Bances Candamo was born in the fisherman’s district of old Avilés, the Sabugo, in 1662 and died in Madrid in 1702. He grew up in Seville from an early age and there is no evidence that he had affection or contacts with his native region. Both of his parents died when he was a child and he made his life as a poet and dramatist in Madrid.
I found him to be a clever, witty and craftsman-like poet: the sonnet form, with its structural constraints, is a productive playground for his ingenuity. The Petrarchan sonnet was introduced to Spain by Juan Boscán and Garcilaso de la Vega and was used extensively in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for love poetry. The classical rhyme scheme is ABBA-ABBA-CDC-CDC which I have preserved in my version. Bances Candamo uses the hendecasyllable, or eleven syllable line, that was used in French, Provençal and Italian from the earliest days of their national verse and was introduced to Spain by the troubadours. It was continuing contact with Italy in the sixteenth century that gave the hendecasyllable its status as the most cultivated and learned line. There are four main types depending on where the stress falls in the line: Bances Candamo uses the emphatic mode with stresses on the first and sixth syllables. I am not good enough to maintain a rhyme scheme and the same pattern of stressed syllables. I also find the ten syllable line more natural in English.
The two sonnets I have translated show the poet cocking a snook at the pastoral tradition. Perhaps because I have been reading Xuan Bello- and as a consequence of that talking to Carmen about her and her mother’s experiences of village life- I find this to be more than merely conventional. Carmen, for example, told me about her Galician mother who ‘escaped’ from a village to become a shopkeeper in Avilés. She did not want to spend her life bent over a potato patch and had a horror of the little piece of land that is the stuff of many an Englishman’s dreaming. I cannot help my busy brain buzzing around pulling out other examples of this bitter vision of the countryside, from Delibes to Pascual Duarte, and setting those against the vision of a cultured and amenable country life to be found in Pío Baroja and the ‘country athletes’ celebrated by Pérez Galdós in El Caballero Encantado.
I’m sure it is a theme that we can come back to. In the meantime, here is the second of those poems. This time without rhyme schemes or syllable stresses.
I had an urge, reading the strange
Things the novelistic poets
Recount of shepherds and goatherds
Living in their rustic shacks
But yesterday arriving in those mountains
I saw them eating garlic not stew
With thatch that hardly protected them
Against the winds and rains.
I saw them always on the look out
And can heartily say I heard no song
That could have been accompanied by flutes.
Is this, I said, what it is to live well?
O, Fileno, my friend, there is a great gap
Between what they say and experience.
If you are interested in Spanish metrics the best book I have found is Antonio Quilis, Métrica Española (Barcelona: Ariel, 1988)