Sunday, December 19

Dicebamus hesterna die ...

Statue of Fray Luis de León at the Universidad de Salamanca
Photo: Jan Mariën

The expression decíamos ayer (in Latin: dicebamus hesterna die or "we were saying yesterday") is used in Spain when one wishes to make passing acknowledgement of a long silence or absence without actually discussing or even mentioning the interruption. It dates back to the 16th century poet, scholar and humanist, Fray Luis de León, a friar of the Augustinian order who studied at the venerable University of Salamanca and then went on to hold chairs there in philosophy, religion and biblical studies. It is said that he would always begin his lectures with those now famous words, dicebamus hesterna die, we were saying yesterday ...

In the 1570s he ran afoul of the Spanish Inquisition for, amongst other heresies, his translation and commentary on that sensual Solomonic book from the Old Testament, Song of Songs. The accusations soon landed the poet in prison, where he continued to write and study as best he could in the harsh conditions and isolation. After four years of confinement his name was cleared and he was allowed to resume teaching at the university. Needless to say, the university was astir with tense excitement when he returned for his first class. Legend has it that he stepped to the lectern before the expectant students and simply began his lecture with his classic dicebamus hesterna die and then continued the lesson with no mention of his forced absence of four years.

* * *

So, where were we yesterday? Ah yes, Miguel Hernández... Actually, after this break of more than one month from the blog, today I wanted to share some rambling thoughts and musings before returning to the series on Miguel Hernández another day.

The first thing that comes to mind is an etheree, a poem form unknown to me until just a few days ago, when I saw it mentioned by a blog friend. Basically an etheree is a 10 line poem, the first line of one syllable, the second with two, third with three, and so on until the 10-syllable last line. No rhyme or set meter. Here is mine ...

Caught always

eyes would
always catch
on the knot in
his mother’s rosary,
in much the way her voice
always caught on father’s name
ever since the fire at the inn
where he always stopped on the way home
to catch some beers and worry-polished songs.
                                                                   © Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow

Of course, for purposes of the form I have counted the syllables as they are pronounced, not as they are written ('polished' as two, 'stopped' as one), and chosen to say 'rosary' as two instead of three syllables, and 'fire' as one. Which brings to mind an observation the poet Robert Pinsky makes in his excellent book, The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide, that fire can be pronounced as one or two syllables and, if you are from the South, as three or even four.

And leaving form aside and looking at content, on seeing rosary, inn, beers and songs, I realize that this week's visit to Dublin has seeped into my blog. One of the many highlights of my three days in the wonderful city of James Joyce, Yeats, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Johnathan Swift and so many others was the last night at The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland, dating back to 1198. That's right, no typo — 1198. Over eight centuries. In fact, they have posted signs advertising their New Year's Eve Party, inviting guests to "join us as we celebrate the 813th year of our existence". That does give one pause.

Musicians in one corner of the packed Brazen Head pub this past Monday.


  1. nice verse...will have to check out the form...a lot can be read into your words...obviously loss...tight...oy and i would not mind visiting the pub either...

  2. And when they sit down in the Brazen Head, do they begin with, dicebamus hesterna die with all those years behind? (I've had lunch there, but evening with music looks way better.)

    I like your etheree, and it gives me pause. I don't know if father was lost in the inn's fire or not. And this seems like a very good way to leave mystery in this line-building form. I gotta try one of these here etherees. Nice job.

    I really love the story of the friar-cum-professor. And you too were missed a lot.

  3. brilliant.
    the story,
    the poem,
    the photo.

    I thought of Frank McCourt initially, ( the Irish / American author), but then , yes the mystery , the haunting , of the fire .

    Hope you've been well , Lorenzo.

  4. Beautiful etheree. Although I am not Catholic, I collect vintage rosaries, feeling powerful energies from them, I'm sure from all the prayers and emotions put forth around them. Most are strung around the neck of a dress form that stands in my bedroom.

    My little town of Dublin, Ohio, that is, also has a pub called The Brazen Head!

    Nice to have you back in the 'hood, LLL. xx

  5. Nice to have you back, Lorenzo. More that one adventurous soul has visited the haunts of Dublin only to never be heard from again. I loved the little etheree — well done, though, like Ruth, I find myself wondering about the fate of the father. What's a poem for, however, if not for wonder.

    May the Christmas holidays bring great cheer to your household. I look forward to continuing our conversation in the year ahead.

  6. Wonderful welcome back. The expression, 'as we were saying' is so useful. It reminds me of the usefulness of space andsilence, in amidst all the clutter. Your thoughts on form remind me f a great quote from Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot, which I have taken to heart. It relates to Flaubert's preoccupation with form and style:

    'Do you still think the novel divides, like Gaul, into three parts- the Idea, the Form and the Style...Form isn’t an overcoat flung over the flesh of thought (that old comparison, old in Flaubert’s day); it’s the flesh of thought itself. You can no more imagine an Idea without a Form than a Form without an Idea.

    'Everything in Art depends on execution: the story of a louse can be as beautiful as the story of Alexander. You must write according to your feelings, be sure those feelings are true, and let everything else go hang, when a line is good, it ceases to belong to any school. A line of prose must be as immutable as a line of poetry.'

    And so it goes. Wonderful, like your post here. thanks, Lorenzo

  7. lorenzo i wondered where you might be and then i thought the better - let you fly around and find the time and space for being here and then you land with such a terrific piece of writing. phew!! steven

  8. Glad to read you were in Dublin and not held by the Spanish inquisition.
    I love the poem.

  9. "dicebamus hesterna die" I like that. There are friendships one could pick up from where we left off, like it was only yesterday that we have met, even if in reality, it may have been months or even years.

    Welcome back, you have been missed.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  10. I wondered where you were. Ireland! i want to go there someday.

  11. Lorenzo, such a graceful re-entry, and a catchy poem (wink), and I'm glad you're back too :-)

  12. A very interesting poetic form, one could play very happily with it for hours.

    I love old pubs too, there is an atmosphere in them that has grown organically, like the atmosphere in ancient, small churches.
    Mind you, that might just be the smell of ale or incense?

  13. Thank you for introducing me to the etheree (lovely word)--yours is wonderful. What did happen to the father, and which Father?

    So very glad you saw Dublin! Amazing, fun, and poignant place. Isn't the music grand (have made note of the Brazen Head for a future visit)? In fact, we just today retrieved our own converted Irish lass...

    Love the story of Fray Luis. Love to have you back!!

  14. Here in North Carolina, I have heard a number of people say "Che-rist" (long e sound) It is a whole new language for me at times! I loved your poem - such strong visuals AND leaves us with lots of questions. And I loved the dignity with which de Leon chose to come back to the University with. How many of us would have been able to put the bitterness aside?

  15. What a beautiful poem! I read your interview, and felt myself smiling--New Jersey?!!??? Where did you live in Joisey, Lorenzo!? I lived almost 20 years of my life in New Jersey. I hadn't realized you'd lived there, I guess. Anyway, enjoyed reading your responses to the interview.

    Good to see you back. I checked in periodically and hoped all was well. Here's hoping that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!

  16. 1198?! Wow, that beats the sign we saw on a building on Victoria Street, Edinburgh, 1616.

    Hope Ireland held all you hoped it would, and you came away none too cold (the UK was bitter cold for me, but lovely despite it).

    Enjoyed your etheree, and return. Feliz Navidad, Lorenzo!

  17. PS: Can you imagine my joy when, on the London Underground, I ended up sitting next to a Spaniard, an Italian, and an Argentine? We all spoke Spanish for 1/2 hour, and loudly. The joys of serendipitous subways!

  18. Westfield and Plainfield??! Lorenzo, I lived in Clark for years--right next door...and my sister went to Rutgers for undergrad work,in New Brunswick. Small world. Go figure.

    Have a wonderful Christmas, and great to read more about you. I'm still laughing at the NJ connection. I knew I liked you for a reason. xo

  19. ps
    high school in Scotch Plains. We were neighbors, for God's sake....

  20. ah, you are back lorenzo!! and you were in dublin.......a most satisfying city....i love your pub portrait! hope you had a chance to catch some live music at night~and maybe, just maybe, some worry-polished songs.....(that line is genius)

    happy holidays, my friend, and blessings to you and yours in the New Year~


  21. Comments from you 'always catch' my attention Lorenzo. I, too, wish you a happy Christmas and a healthy, rewarding 2011.

  22. Dicebamus hesterna die... I love that Lorenzo :) And oh how entranced must have been the Fray's students after that four year pause. He is still the same, his spirit true as ever, they must have thought...
    I have never been to Ireland even though it is a hop away from Cambridge..well, maybe more like a hare's leap.
    Happy New Year to the author of etherees!


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