cover image The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance

The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance

. W. W. Norton & Company, $26.95 (201pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06038-6

The love sonnets, elegies, and Christian sacred verse of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain inspire comparisons to Shakespeare's England, and remain the foundation for later Spanish verse. Yet the most important of these poets, Lope de Vega, Luis de Gongora, and St.John of the Cross, have limited reputations in the U.S. After dozens of much-praised renderings from modern Spanish and Portugese novelists, Grossman's recent version of Don Quixote placed her among the nation's most celebrated translators. With informative capsule biographies of eight poets and facing-page (English and Spanish) versions of their work, Grossman tries to bring their glories here. Her translations convey the poets' meaning, but not necessarily their music: lines like ""he raised his weary voice and faintly called/ speaking his final words to roiling waves,/ but they ne'er heard his voice, his lover's plea"" may fail to excite. Replicating syllable counts, but not rhyme schemes, Grossman sounds at best forceful and clear, at worst limp and affectless. Some poets (especially St. John and the brilliant seventeenth-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz) do come through, however, thanks to the emotional clarity of their lines. Billy Collins' introduction places the poets in historical context and might help attract attention.