Razón de amor Essay - Critical Essays

Razón de amor


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.

Principal English Translation

"The Razón de amor: An Old Spanish Lyrical Poem of the 13th Century" (partial translation by Charles C. Stebbins in Allegorica, Vol. 2, No.l) 1977


James Holly Hanford (essay date 1913)

SOURCE: "The Medieval Debate between Wine and Water," in PMLA, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3, 1913, pp. 315-67.

[In the following excerpt, Hanford discusses the Razón de amor in the context of the Medieval European tradition of the conflictus, or debate poetry, noting the origins and main characteristics of the genre.]

Among the mediæval debates which have enjoyed the widest currency and have retained their hold on popular interest for the longest time is the contention between Wine and Water. Poems on this subject are extant in most of the languages of mediæval Europe; and the tradition has persisted with surprising vitality through more than seven centuries down to the present day. The bickerings of these two ancient foes may still be heard on the lips of the peasantry of Germany, France, and Spain, and a fragment of the same dispute was sung not long since as a nursery rhyme in Devon.

The history of this typical example of the conflictus, that species of disputation in which the contestants are not individuals but personifications or types, possesses considerable interest, first as a record of popular taste, secondly because of its bearing on the distribution of such material in the middle ages and on the relation between the literary and popular treatments of the same theme.

The literary debate of Wine and Water found its way early into Spanish literature. It appears in a thirteenth-century Castilian poem, probably of Provençal origin, in which the debate proper is curiously combined with an amatory dialogue in the style of the pastourelle. Originally the two parts of the "romance" must have existed as separate poems. In combining them the copyist or translator appears to have telescoped the two similar introductions. As it stands the narrative runs as follows: The poet, taking an April walk in an olive orchard, sees in the branches of one of the trees a vase full of clear cool wine. It was placed there, we are told, by the lady of the garden for her lover, and whoever drinks of it shall never fall sick. Coming nearer, the poet discovers another vase, full of cold water. He is about to drink, but desists for fear of enchantment. So much apparently constituted the opening of the original debate. It is sufficiently characteristic. At this point the poet lies down by a lovely fountain not previously mentioned, sees a beautiful woman, his own beloved, coming through the orchard, and holds conversation with her. We hear no more of the vases until the close of the love poem, when the author reverts to them. As he is about to sleep, a white dove flies toward the fountain, but, seeing him there, turns and enters the vase of water instead. As the bird flies out again in fright, the water is upset into the wine. In this astonishing manner the author makes his transition to the dispute between the two drinks.

There is little to distinguish the course of the argument which follows, from that of the debates which we have been considering. The tone of the dispute is colloquial; the contestants indulge in personalities and epithets much in the manner of the "flyting." The precious pair are visualized with a good deal of humor. The following passage may be quoted:

Ell agua iaze muerta rridiendo
De lo qu'el vino esta diziendo.
Don vino, si vos de Dios salut,
Que vos me fagades agora una vertud:
Fartad bien un villano,
No lo prenda ninguno de la mano,
Et si, antes d'una passada, no cayere en el
Dios sodes de tod en todo;
E si esto fazedes,
Otorgo que vençuda m'avedes.
En una blanca paret
.V. kandelas ponet,
E si el beudo non dixiere que son .c.,
De quanto digo de todo miento....

(The entire section is 1586 words.)

Chandler Rathfon Post (essay date 1915)

SOURCE: "The Thirteenth Century," in Medieval Spanish Allegory, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1915, pp. 118-37.

[In the excerpt below, Post explores the allegorical aspects of the Razón de amor, comparing it with other conventional allegories of the period.]

The "Poéme d'Amour," usually called now from the opening lines the Razón de Amor, is an idyll describing a scholar's more or less imaginary encounter with his lady, and thus belongs to a class which … may be regarded as allegorical; the "Debate of Water and Wine" is seen by its name to be a member of a large and well known category of mediaeval verse. It is a question whether...

(The entire section is 1397 words.)

Alfred Jacob (essay date 1952)

SOURCE: "The Razón de amor as Christian Symbolism," Hispanic Review Vol. XX, No. 4, October, 1952, pp. 282-301.

[In the following essay, Jacob presents a detailed account of the Christian symbolism in the Razón de amor, formulating a new interpretation of the poem based on his findings.]

Qui triste tiene su coraçon
benga oyr esta Razon.

So begins a poem of the early thirteenth century which, like the Libro de buen amor, is a composite of familiar themes ranging from idealidad cortesana in that part of it which sometimes separately bears the title Razon de amor,...

(The entire section is 6500 words.)

Roger M. Walker (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Two Notes on Spanish Debate Poems," in Medieval Studies in Honor of Robert White Linker, Brian Dutton, J. Woodrow Hassell, Jr., John E. Keller, eds., Editorial Castalia, 1973, pp. 177-84.

[Here, Walker theorizes that the Razón de amor may have been parodied by Alfonso X in his poem about the famous courtesan Maria Peres.]

The Razón de amor, dating from the early thirteenth century, is the earliest surviving Castilian poem to show considerable influence of the poetry of the Provençal troubadours. The locus amoenus setting, the beautiful girl and her cultured amigo, the exchange of elegant gifts, the courtly behaviour of the...

(The entire section is 847 words.)

Margo De Ley (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: "Provençal Biographical Tradition and the Razón de amor," in Journal of Hispanic Philology, Vol. I, No. 1, Autumn, 1976, pp. 1-17.

[In the essay below, De Ley probes the many connections between the Razón de amor and Provençal writings known as vidas and razos, suggesting that the author of the poem consciously chose to work within that biographical tradition.]

Since its discovery in 1887 by Alfred Morel-Fatio, the Razón de amor has inspired studies by a number of scholars, but the problems it presents are far from a definite solution. These problems arise, in part, from the poet's statements about his work and...

(The entire section is 5623 words.)

Margaret Van Antwerp (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Razón de amor and the Popular Tradition," in Romance Philology, Vol. XXXII, No. 1, August, 1978, pp. 1-17.

[Here, Van Antwerp sketches a detailed overview of the mingling of popular folk elements with the courtly tradition as evidenced in the style of the Razón de amor.]

Few works of the Spanish Middle Ages have attracted more critical attention than the problematic Razón de amor con los denuestos del agua y el vino. The poem begins with the presentation of a courtly amor de lonh. Resting from the midday heat in a pleasant orchard, an escolar encounters a lovely maiden singing of a distant lover whom she has never met. He...

(The entire section is 6330 words.)

Harriet Goldberg (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "The Razón de amor and Los denuestos del aguay el vino as a Unified Dream Report," in Kentucky Romance Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1, 1984, pp. 4-49.

[In the following essay, Goldberg argues that the Razón de amor is indeed a unified work, basing her assertions on her interpretation of the piece as a dream-poem.]

The Razón de amor, an erudite lyric poem of the thirteenth century has been approached critically from various points of view. Alfred Jacob performed a feat of twentieth-century exegesis to show that the poet made use of amorous imagery to write a mystical Christian allegory. Alicia C. de Ferraresi identified it as an...

(The entire section is 3505 words.)

Patricia E. Grieve (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Through the Silver Goblet: A Note on the 'vaso de plata' in Razón de amor," in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Vol. XX, No. 2, May, 1986, pp. 15-20.

[Below, Grieve embellishes on Harriet Goldberg's interpretation of the Razón de amor (see above), attempting to define the exact point in the poem where the dream state begins.]

Although critics continue to debate the structure, meaning and unity of the thirteenth-century poem Razón de amor, there seems to be little disagreement that the anonymous poet's composition is complex enough to keep critics busy ever since Morel-Fatio first published it in 1887. Investigations designed to...

(The entire section is 1602 words.)

Colbert I. Nepaulsingh (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "The Song of Songs and the Unity of the Razón de amor," in Towards a History of Literary Composition in Medieval Spain, University of Toronto Press, 1986, pp. 41-62.

[In the following essay, Nepaulsingh presents a detailed exploration of the biblical Song of Songs as a source for the Razón de amor.]

[The] garden in the Song of Songs was by no means the only one that impressed its symbolism upon the minds of medieval writers. The garden of Ave in the Song was frequently compared with the garden of Eva in Genesis, or, as Alfonso el Sabio of Spain put it in his 'cantiga de loor': 'Ca Eva nos tolleu / o Parays' e Deus / Ave nos y meteu.' In Spain there...

(The entire section is 10113 words.)

Further Reading

Deyermond, A. D. "The Literature of the Thirteenth-Century Expansion." In his A Literary History of Spain: The Middle Ages, 55-81. London: Ernest Benn, 1971.

Discusses Razón de amor in the context of other Medieval Spanish debate-poems, referring to it as "puzzling."

Goldberg, Harriet. "The Dream Report as a Literary Device in Medieval Hispanic Literature." Hispania 66, No. 1 (March, 1983): 21-31.

Survey of Medieval Spanish dream literature that briefly refers to the Razón de amor.

London, G. H. "The Razón de amor and the 'Denuestos del...

(The entire section is 132 words.)