|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.
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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 ...
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.|