Garcilaso de la Vega Critical Essays


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

While Garcilaso de la Vega took much inspiration from Italian and classical models, he did not merely imitate them; rather, he assimilated and transformed these influences in the development if his own distinctive poetic voice.

“Second Eclogue”

This development is particularly evident in Garcilaso’s eclogues. The “Second Eclogue,” his longest composition, fully initiated the pastoral mode in his poetry. The poem possesses a balanced structure in which motifs and differing stanzaic forms–tercetos, estancias, rima al mezzo (interior rhyme)—are arranged in a symmetrical pattern centered on lines 766 through 933, which portray in dialogic form a chance encounter between the shepherd Albanio and Camila, his childhood playmate, who has earlier rejected his translation of their childhood friendship into love. On being rejected once more by Camila, after his hopes have been raised, Albanio goes mad. This central scene is preceded by a prologue in which Albanio laments his sad state; by several estancias inspired by Horace’s Beatus ille; and by a section of dialogue between Albanio and Salicio in which Albanio recounts the story of his love for Camila, her negative response, and his present desire to kill himself. The dialogue, modeled upon an episode in Jacopo Sannazzaro’s Arcadia (1501-1504), is punctuated by an exchange in Petrarchan rima al mezzo in which Camila the huntress appears at the fountain where she first rejected Albanio and recalls the unpleasant incident.

Following the central scene between Camila and Albanio, a passage in rima al mezzo presents the struggle of Salicio and Nemoroso, another shepherd, to control the crazed Albanio. The following passage is in tercetos; with Albanio subdued, Nemoroso tells Salicio that Severo, a sage enchanter who had cured him, has come to Alba and can cure Albanio of his love woes. A brief dialogic rima al mezzo then leads to a lengthy panegyric by Nemoroso to the House of Alba. A short dialogue in estancias reaffirms the certainty of Albanio’s eventual cure, and as dusk falls, the two shepherds discuss their leave-taking and the disposition of Albanio.

The “Second Eclogue” departs from the refinement of Vergilian bucolics and displays characteristics that separate it from the more perfected form that Garcilaso was to achieve in his “First Eclogue” (which, despite its designation, was composed after the “Second Eclogue”). The tranquility and idealization of nature and human feelings are disturbed by a number of familiar or rustic expressions and proverbs, concentrated in the dialogue between Albanio and Salicio that precedes Camila’s appearance. These exchanges acquire an almost comic character that has caused some critics to regard them as constituting a dramatic farce in themselves. The poet engagingly steps outside the poetic conventions of the pastoral mode by having Albanio question Salicio’s advice with the query, “Who made you an eloquent philosopher/ being a shepherd of sheep and goats?” There is a considerable amount of jocularity elsewhere in exchanges between Albanio and Salicio and in Nemoroso’s initial resistance to helping Salicio subdue the crazed Albanio. Although it has been assumed that Albanio represents Garcilaso’s friend and mentor the duke of Alba, a number of details suggest that Albanio is more plausibly Bernardino de Toledo, the duke’s younger brother, whose death in 1535 occasioned Garcilaso’s “First Elegy.” Though somewhat distracting, these elements contribute to the originality of Garcilaso’s poetic creation.

The “Second Eclogue” is also rich in conceits and various forms of wordplay. Some of these devices are reminiscent of Petrarch, while others have their antecedents in Castilian poetry of the fifteenth century. In its representation of Albanio’s love as an anguished state, the poem recalls the Petrarchan influence evident in Garcilaso’s earlier works.

“First Eclogue”

In his “First Eclogue,” Garcilaso attained perfect balance and equilibrium, a consistent and refined tone, idiom, and sentiment, and the definitive expression of the central amorous relationship in his life, the love for Isabel Freyre. A four-stanza prologue and dedication to the duke of Alba introduces two shepherds, again Salicio and Nemoroso, who lament respectively and in succession, each in twelve stanzas, their disappointments in love. The two successive speeches are separated by a one-stanza transition, and culminated by a single stanza conclusion, so that the poem as a whole comprises thirty fourteen-line stanzas.

In the two shepherds and...

(The entire section is 1934 words.)