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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


The Solitudes

Luís de Góngora

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To purchase The Solitudes

Title: The Solitudes
Author: Luís de Góngora
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1613
Length: 165 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Solitudes - US
The Solitudes - UK
The Solitudes - Canada
The Solitudes - India
Les solitudes - France
Soledades - Deutschland
Solitudini - Italia
Soledades - España
  • Spanish title: Soledades
  • Translated and with a Foreword by Edith Grossman
  • Introduction by Alberto Manguel
  • This is a bilingual edition which includes the Spanish original
  • Previous translations include those by Edward Meryon Wilson (1931, rev. 1965) and Gilbert F. Cunningham (1964)

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Our Assessment:

(--) : fine edition and translation, but it remains a bewildering work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/12/2011 David Orr

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Solitudes is intriguing (if frequently baffling) even in translation. (...) But plot doesn’t tell you much about The Solitudes, because the true point of the poem is style. And what a style it is. (...) The challenges in translating a writer like this are obviously considerable. Given these difficulties, Grossman’s version is remarkably lucid, and her lines often achieve a mesmerizing shimmer that would surely have pleased her subject." - David Orr, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Góngora's The Solitudes is among the most famous Spanish poems, but it is also one of the most obscure ones. Though a mere 2000 lines in all, The Solitudes has little 'plot' and defies any sort of simple summary; there's little about it that is any sense straightforward. A dense text -- Baroque, pastoral -- its layers of language, imagery, references, and ideas can seem impossible to disentangle.
       Edith Grossman, best known for her English translations of modern Latin American novelists such as Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Álvaro Mutis, as well as an acclaimed translation of Cervantes' Don Quixote, faced completely new challenges here. She notes in her Foreword that she did her best to duplicate the meter of the original but decided to forsake the rhyme -- admitting:

this is undoubtedly barbaric, since rhyme is so intrinsic to the rhythm of the poem, but I would rather sacrifice that important structural element than create a piece of writing that sounds forced.
       This edition includes the Spanish original facing the English, but even that is only of limited help to most readers; the Spanish original is hardly less daunting than any translation -- and arguably more so (a translation committing to a more specific reading, while the original remains open to additional interpretations). Footnotes help with some terms and references, specifically mythological references, but are limited to that; the Foreword and Introduction also only provide relatively general insights into the text.
       If not entirely impenetrable, The Solitudes remains a very challenging text. It consists of only two 'solitudes'; apparently two more were planned, but as Manguel notes in his Introduction, it's unclear whether the poem is: "incomplete or left deliberately open".
       To call these the 'adventures' of a shipwrecked pilgrim may be technically correct, but The Solitudes is an entirely weirder thing; yes, it describes what the man encounters and finds, but adventure or any form of progress are hardly central to the poem.
       The Solitudes fascinates with its imagery and how Góngora expresses himself; the poem is modern in many respects. As Grossman notes:
Góngora's rejection of figurative realism as a guiding standard for his work is absolute. It probably accounts for the attraction his writing held for Symbolist and Modernist poets of the nineteenth century and for avant-garde Spanish poets of the 1920s, who found in him a consummate antidote to bourgeois romanticism in all its guises
       So then one finds verses such as:
       The morning, then, sees these trees
   feigning forests, emulating avenues
       enwalled in liquid crystal
       by farming most urbane.
       It's striking stuff, and often fascinating, but I have to admit that I'm simply in over my head here, inadequately equipped (by the supporting material, too -- though god knows how much support one would need to figure this out -- as well as some comparisons to the Edward Meryon Wilson translation) to in any way judge this. The Solitudes remains simply bewildering.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 August 2011

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The Solitudes: Luís de Góngora: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish poet Luís de Góngora lived 1561 to 1627.

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© 2011 the complete review

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