Garcilaso de la Vega

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Garcilaso de la Vega’s brief but active life might serve as a model for that of the multitalented “Renaissance man.” Born in 1501 of a family with influence in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella and with several well-known authors in its antecedent generations, Garcilaso died in 1536 of wounds received in Provence while he was fighting for Emperor Charles V.

Garcilaso entered the Emperor’s service in 1519 or 1520, was first wounded in battle in 1521, and he participated in several important campaigns, for which he was awarded the prestigious Order of Saint James in 1523. During his accompaniment of the court in the subsequent years of the decade, his friendship with the poet Juan Boscán developed. This relationship was of profound significance for Garcilaso’s literary career; when, for example, his friend Boscán was persuaded by the Venetian ambassador to employ the Italian hendecasyllable in Castilian verse, Garcilaso did likewise, changing Spanish poetry forever. It has been suggested that his sonnets 31 and 38 were written in this period.

In 1525, Garcilaso married Doña Elena de Zúñiga, a lady-in-waiting to Charles V’s sister, Princess Leonore. The following year, he met and became infatuated with Isabel Freyre, who came to Spain from Portugal with Doña Isabel de Portugal when the latter married Charles V. Although his marital relationship apparently never saw expression in his poetry, Garcilaso’s love for Isabel Freyre, seemingly unrequited, became a central poetic theme. The “Canción primera” (“First Ode”) and sonnets 2, 15, and 27, probably from this period, express the poet’s emotional state and his amorous devotion to an unnamed lady. The first numbered of his “Canciones en versos castellanos” (“Songs in Castilian Verse Forms”), on the occasion of “his lady’s marriage,” was presumably composed in response to Isabel Freyre’s wedding. While with the retinue of Charles V in Italy, where the monarch had gone in 1529 or 1530 to receive the Imperial crown, Garcilaso apparently composed his “Canción cuarta” (“Fourth Ode”) and sonnet 6, perhaps reflecting his anguish over the affair with Isabel.

In 1531, however, Charles V withdrew his favor, banishing Garcilaso to a small island in the Danube River because he had persisted in supporting a marriage opposed by the royal family. Sonnets 4 and 9 and the “Canción tercera” (“Third Ode”) reflect the poet’s unhappiness during this period. Thanks to the intervention of the duke of Alba, however, the island confinement was altered to banishment to Naples, where the poet gained a position of confidence with the viceroy, earned the praise of Cardinal Bembo, and, as reflected in his sonnets 14, 19, and 33 and in the famous “Canción quinta, a la flor de Gnido” (“Fifth Ode, To the Flower of Gnido”), made the acquaintance of several other important Neapolitan literary figures. During this period, he also studied the classics and met the expatriate Spanish author Juan de Valdés, who mentioned...

(The entire section is 726 words.)