Razón de amor Critical Essays


(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

Razón de amor c. Thirteenth Century

Spanish poem.

A medieval poem composed in two parts and written in Castilian Spanish, Razón de amor is valued both for its artistic merit and because it is the oldest extant lyrical poem in Castilian literature. Although scholars believe that it dates to the early thirteenth century, Razón was accidentally rediscovered in 1887 when A. Morel-Fatio, a French Hispanist, was researching some medieval sermon literature in the south of France. Bundled with texts of the sermons was a copy of the Razón, along with some prose pieces about the Ten Commandments. The poem is signed "Lupus de Moros," but scholars are in agreement that Lupus was most likely only the scribe who transcribed the text, not its author; nothing is known about the original writer except that, as he claims within the poem, he seems to have been educated in France and Germany, and to have lived in Lombardy. Today, the Morel-Fatio, located at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, remains the only known manuscript of the Razón. Scholarly editions, besides that of Morel-Fatio, include those of R. Menéndez Pidal (1905), Alfred Jacob (1956), and Mario DiPinto (1959); only a partial translation, by Charles C. Stebbins, is available in English.

Style and Themes

Razón de amor is comprised of two poems written in polymetric couplets—"Razón de amor," a love poem in the Provençal style, and "Denuestos del agua y del vino," which follows in the manuscript and is a burlesque dispute between water and wine. In the first part, two lovers are to meet in an orchard in the month of April. The lover, by his own description a young, educated cleric, waits lying on the grass near a cool fountain. He overhears a maiden nearby who is lamenting the fact that her beloved has fallen in love with another lady. The narrator then tells us that he and the lady with whom he has arranged an assignation have never actually seen each other before, although they have kept in touch by exchanging certain love tokens. After he and the lady in the orchard recognize each other, they engage in a love idyll under the trees. Many scholars have pointed out that the "Razón" exhibits several stylistic aspects typical of Provençal poetry of that period—for example, the use of a springtime, pastoral setting, the idea of the lover admiring his beloved from afar, and the lover's use of the masculine term senor to refer to his lady. The second part of the Razón, the "Denuestos," is thematically and stylistically very different from the "Razón": it is a poetic debate between water and wine, written in a colloquial, brisk manner, in which the two substances each extol their own virtues and criticize the faults or inadequacies of the other. Critics have pointed out that the "Denuestos" clearly demonstrates its connection to the poetic tradition of the conflictus, popular in Medieval romance literature in Europe, where a debate is carrie on between two types or personifications.

Critical Reception

One of the most vexing problems confronting critics who have written about the Razón de amor is the question of its thematic and structural unity. Some have argued that the two parts of the poem, so different in nature, were never meant to be viewed as an artistic whole, but were probably randomly joined together by the scribe who copied the manuscript. Others, however, have suggested that the "Razón" and the "Denuestos" were definitely planned as a single entity. As evidence, they have cited images that carry over from one part to the other (for example, that of water and wine) and have presented a case for considering the "Razón" an introduction to the "Denuestos." Still other critics have debated whether the Razón de amor is the work of one or more poets. Most recently, Harriet Goldberg has asserted that the two halves of the poem are indeed unified if they are viewed as parts of a dream-poem. Other approaches to the Razón have included exploring its relationship to the Medieval debate tradition and to the Provençal biographical genres of the vida and the razo; examining its allegorical aspects, use of Christian symbolism, and echoes of the biblical "Song of Songs"; and probing the ways in which the work blends popular Spanish folk elements with those of the European courtly tradition. While the Razón's historical and linguistic importance has always been acknowledged by scholars, modern critical studies have increasingly focused on its characteristics as a work of art, thereby giving it an even more prominent place in Spanish and world literature.