Gustavo Adolfo Becquer has a curious place in the Olympus of Spanish poetry. On the one hand he is known as one of the greatest writers (if not the greatest) of romantic poems, on the other, he developed his literary activity when this period had already come to an end (or he had very little left).
Becquer was born in Seville in 1836 (on February 17, so just a couple of days ago his 183rd anniversary was celebrated) and he died very young, following the romantic ideal, at the age of 34, in 1870. His most important work is ‘Rhymes and Legends’ which is divided into almost a hundred poems and a series of fantastic stories , which reflect the taste for the gothic and the costumbrista of romanticism. 10 poems by Becquer to understand romanticism
His Rhymes are characterized by the use of a wide repertoire of literary resources, predilection for the theme of romanticism, simple and effective language and the use of free verse. His poems were written throughout his life but they did not see the light of day until the death of the Sevillian , which meant that the final order of his publication was different from the one he had written. In this review of Becquer’s poems we are not going to be guided by any established order, we are simply going to enjoy the work of one of the best Spanish poets in history. 1. Rima XXIX
On her lap she had
The Open Book;
His black curls
touched my cheek ;
We didn’t see the lyrics
None, I think;
But we both kept
How long did it last?
I couldn’t tell;
I only know that nothing was heard
but the breath,
which escaped in a hurry
from the dry lip.
I only know that we
both turned at the same time,
and our eyes met,
and it sounded like a kiss.
Creation of Dante was the book,
It was the Inferno of him.
When we lowered our eyes to him,
I tremulously said:
Do you understand now that a poem
Fits in a verse ?
And she answered on fire:
—I already understand!
This poem is accompanied by a quote from ‘The Divine Comedy’ (“La bocca mi bacio tutto tremante”), one of the great works of Universal Literature and the book that Becquer’s beloved was reading leaning on her lap. This rhyme, one of the most beautiful in the work of the Sevillian, is written in octosyllables and pentasyllables and stands out for its sensual and warm atmosphere . Undoubtedly you have to feel a great love to write a poem like this. 2. Rhyme XII
Because, girl, your eyes
are green like the sea, you complain:
the nayades have them
green, Minerva had them
green, and the pupils
of the prophet’s huris are green.
Green is gala and ornament
of the forest in spring.
Among its seven colors
bright the iris flaunts it.
The emeralds are green,
green the color of the one who waits
and the waves of the Ocean
and the laurel of the poets.
It is your early cheek
rose covered with frost,
in which the crimson of the petals
shows through the pearls.
I know you’re complaining
think your eyes make her ugly:
well, don’t believe it,
they look like your pupils,
wet, green and restless,
early almond leaves
that tremble when the wind blows.
It’s your open pomegranate purple
ruby mouth .
that in the summer invites to
quench her thirst.
I know you’re complaining because you
your eyes make her ugly:
well don’t believe it,
they seem, if
your eyes sparkle angry, like
the waves of the sea that break
in the cantabrian sorrows.
It is your forehead that
curls gold in a wide braid,
a snowy summit on which the day
reflects its last light.
I know you’re complaining because you
your eyes make her ugly:
well, you weren’t,
because between the blond eyelashes,
next to her temples, they look like
emerald and gold
brooches held by a white ermine.
This poem by Becquer, this Rima XIII, stands out from the rest for several reasons. In the first place, its extension is greater than that of most of the book, secondly, its language is exquisite and can be justified as one of the influences of the authors of modernism due to the choice of words that refer to antiquity, to luxury and sensory. This piece plays again, like the previous one, with octosyllables and pentasyllables. 3. Rima XXVII
Wake up, I tremble when I look at you;
asleep, I dare to see you;
That’s why, soul of my soul,
I watch over you while you sleep.
Wake up, laugh, and when you laugh, your
restless lips seem
to me like crimson lightning that snakes
across a sky of snow.
Asleep, the corners of your mouth
fold a slight smile,
soft as the luminous trail
left by a dying sun.
Wake up, you look, and when you look, your moist eyes
like the blue wave, on whose crest
the sun strikes, sparkling.
Through your eyelids, asleep,
you pour a calm glare,
which spills light, a tempered ray,
a transparent lamp…
Wake up, you speak, and when you speak,
your vibrant words seem like a rain of pearls that
pours out in torrents from a
golden cup .
Asleep, in the murmur of your
rhythmic and tenuous breath,
I listen to a poem that my soul
in love understands…
I have placed my hand on my heart
so that its heartbeat does not sound and
the solemn calm
of the night disturbs.
Close the blinds from your balcony
the annoying glow
of the dawn doesn’t come in and wake you up…
Here Becquer plays with antitheses and oppositions to create a marvelous poem in which he makes love such a powerful feeling that when his beloved is awake she can barely hold his gaze. An embarrassment that fits perfectly with the ideals of romanticism (that polarization between the tangible and the intangible). 4. Rima XXXVIII
Sighs are air and go to air!
Tears are water and go to the sea!
Tell me, woman, when love is forgotten
, do you know where it goes
? This brief four-line rhyme, which has earned in its own right to be among the most recognized works of the Sevillian poet, speaks of lost love, like many of the other poems by Becquer from the central section of ‘Rimas’. Here he plays with the hendecasyllables and the heptasyllable in a similar way -but not the same- to that of the lira . The rhetorical question at the end allows us readers to each imagine our own outcome. 5. Rima XXI
What is poetry
, you say while you stick
your blue pupil in my pupil.
What is poetry
? And you ask me
Poetry… it’s you.
A rhyme very similar to the previous one that we mentioned in the form (three hendecasyllables and a heptasyllable to end, in addition to rhetorical questions) but very different in substance. This poem deals, on the one hand, with the eternal theme of the muse as poetic inspiration for the author/creator (a very powerful concept of creator during Romanticism) and, on the other hand, makes a “poetized” poetic theory in which it offers a very beautiful to the difficult question of what is poetry 6. Rima LIII
The dark swallows will return
to your balcony their nests to hang,
and again with the wing to their crystals
playing they will call.
But those that the flight restrained
your beauty and my happiness to contemplate,
those who learned our names,
those… will not return!
The bushy honeysuckle
of your garden will return the walls to climb
and again in the afternoon even more beautiful
their flowers will open.
But those dew curds
whose drops we watched tremble
and fall like tears of the day….
those… they won’t come back!
They will return from love in your ears
the burning words to sound,
your heart from its deep sleep
may wake up.
But mute and absorbed and on your knees,
as God is worshiped before his altar,
as I have loved you…, lose heart,
even if they don’t love you!
Another of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer’s poems that has been resisting for more than 150 years in the imagination of readers. There is no adolescent in Spain who has not read it in class, and this rhyme stands out for its simplicity and its intelligent use of allegory and parallelism. The poem slowly leads us towards an end in which all the feeling that gives rise to the poem is shown: “nobody will love you like I loved you anymore” 7. Rhyme LXXX
A woman has poisoned my soul
another woman has poisoned my body;
Neither of them came looking for me,
I don’t complain about either of them.
As the world is round, the world rolls.
If tomorrow, rolling, this poison
poisons in its turn, why accuse me
Can I give more than what they gave me?
In the first four lines of this poem in hendecasyllables we find two structures assembled thanks to parallelisms to form a memorable beginning of the poem. Then Becquer doesn’t let up and offers us a perfect example of alliteration with the sound / n / to finish with another of his recurring questions to the reader. A short but very elaborate poem that shows all the beauty and crudeness of heartbreak . 8. Rhyme XLI
You were the hurricane and I was the tall
tower that defied its power:
you had to crash or knock me down!…
It couldn’t be!
You were the Ocean and I was the upright
rock that stands firm awaiting its swing
. You had to break or rip me out!…
It couldn’t be!
beautiful you, me haughty; accustomed
one to overwhelm, the other to not yield;
the narrow path, the crash inevitable…
It couldn’t be!
One of the most famous poems of Spanish romanticism. Here Becquer uses the typical imagery of the movement: stormy weather, agitated nature, conflict… to make us clearly see a love disagreement caused by the stormy character of both lovers. As long as he was good at making poems like that, we were a little happy about the lack of love fortune of the Sevillian. 9. Rhyme I
I know a giant and strange hymn
that heralds a dawn in the night of the soul,
and these pages are
cadences of that hymn that the air expands in the shadows.
I would like to write it, of the man
taming the rebellious, petty language,
with words that were at once
sighs and laughter, colors and notes.
But it is in vain to fight; that there is no figure
capable of enclosing it, and just oh, beautiful!
if, having yours in my hands,
I could, in the ear, tell you alone.
Gustavo Adolfo Becquer’s ‘Rhymes’ begin with this poem, and that “giant and strange anthem” is his poetry, which leaves an indelible mark on us. This poem that plays with the variable metric of the accents in the hendecasyllables is the perfect gateway to the work of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer: it leaves us with an impressive reflection on poetry and creation that serves as poetics (theory about poetry) to the work that comes to us. 10. Rima XXX
A tear appeared in her eyes
and a phrase of forgiveness appeared on my lips;
I speak pride and his tears are wiped away
from him and the phrase on my lips expires.
I go one way: she, another;
But when I think of our mutual love,
I still say, why was she silent that day
? And she will say, why didn’t I cry?
To end this selection of great poems of romanticism by our friend Becquer, we have a XXX rhyme in which he reconstructs in just eight hendecasyllabic verses a break from which neither of the two lovers came out well , a love that was “mutual” and that ended in nothing because of pride.
- Read our 15 essential short poems.
- Discover the 16 types of poems with some examples.
Becquer, GA (2016). Rhymes and legends (The best classics). Penguin Classics.
Guillen, J. (1942). Becquer’s poetics. Modern Hispanic Magazine, 1-42.