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Sonatinas of autumn and spring

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Dra. Kristina Cordero
July 24, 2024

As I write these words, I can hear birds singing outside my window, a curious occurrence considering I’m on the 16th floor of a high-rise in the urban jungle of New York. The sun that rises ever so slowly against the buildings across the way suggests a warm day, the kind that make you look skyward and give thanks. Spring is here! Hip-hip hooray, yes?

I look out my window at this spring I should be thrilled for, after a particularly freezing winter. It’s May, a month of new beginnings, beaches, a bit of romance, even… but no. Somehow my inner rhythms and moods simply don’t harmonize with what nature is trying to tell me. It’s odd, not wanting to be part of that gorgeous green I am starting to see everywhere. Why, I’d actually rather see some leaves fall. What is going on?

In the northern hemisphere, May brings trees in bloom, flowing skirts and short-sleeved shirts. At the outdoor cafés in New York people are finally relaxed, resting, relieved to have stored their winter the coats and hats, those odious but necessary items for surviving the bitter cold of the winter.

I know that some people who read this text are on the threshold not of summer but of winter. My friends in the Southern Hemisphere are entering another phase: they’ve just started the school year and gotten into the swing of things, going to sleep a little earlier, reviewing homework with their kids, and yes, pulling out those jackets and scarves that were tucked away for so many months in the depths of the coat closet. In a few more weeks they will move on to the next phase, turning on the heat that will warm the feet and bones on the many cold days and nights to come. How they must long for spring’s warm breezes …

Or do they? As for me, I have a confession to make: I’m not really feeling the spring. As the buds appear on the trees and the temperatures rise, and I pull out my lighter, summerier clothes, I find myself longing for autumn, the new school year, the new books, the crisp morning walks to school with my sister, the leaves changing color. And then… winter with its cozy chill, the promise of snow that has always felt like the most incredible gift that nature can give us.

Perplexed, I turn to poetry. “Green how I want you green/ Green winds. Green branches” wrote Federico García Lorca in his “Romance sonámbulo”. What a beautiful and musical opening verse. And the poet repeats it over and over again, in an anaphora* that would seem to be an allusion to nature and the hope it brings. But no! If we read on, we see that García Lorca tells a different story, one of death and sorrow, with frost stars, eyes of cold silver, and bitter seas under a gypsy moon. Green, yes, is desired but it’s also tragic, the beautiful and terrible, the living and the dead, all at once. Strangely, I feel my confusion abate. Perhaps the poet is telling me something.

It is not surprising that García Lorca, born in Spain in 1898, was an admirer of Rubén Darío.  A native of Nicaragua, born some 30 years earlier than García Lorca, Darío was one of the leading figures of literary modernism in Spanish, and he reveled in verses that spoke of flowers, jewels, internal passions and idealized visions, that came together in a verbal melody of soothing harmonies and rhythms. This May, at BeeReaders we have highlighted for you a jewel of a poem by Dario entitled “Sonatina”. The sonatina is frequently defined as a lighter and shorter musical form of the sonata, but like García Lorca’s verses, this sonatina is not as light as it seems.

In this poem, we meet a princess who would seem to have it all: great wealth, a palace with beautiful gardens, everything a girl with lips like strawberries ought to need to be happy. But no: “The princess does not laugh, the princess does not feel; / the princess chases through the sky of the East / the vague dragonfly of a vague illusion.” She doesn’t want the things that are supposed to bring joy: “She no longer wants the palace, or the silver spinning wheel, or the enchanted falcon, or the scarlet jester, / or the unanimous swans in the southern lake.”

Poor little princess with blue eyes, Darío tells us. She is trapped in all that gold and tulle. She has nothing she wants and everything she doesn’t want.

Who among us has never felt this way? The reality we confront in our everyday existence is not always the one we would like to have, and we, too, feel trapped.  In the middle of spring, we want autumn; in winter, we yearn for summer.

In Darío’s poem, a fairy godmother very mercifully appears with a promise that she whispers to her agitated princess, telling her “on horseback, with wings, here is headed,/in the belt the sword and in the hand the goshawk,/the happy knight who worships you without seeing you,and who comes from afar, victor of Death, /to light your lips with a kiss of love.”

This fairy godmother does not wave a wand and make magic appear, exactly. She is not the fairy godmother who transforms a pumpkin into a chariot and four little mice into horses, and produce a Prince Charming.  With all his beautiful images and lyrical verses, Darío does not finish this fairy tale in the fantasy world. He fails to give the princess a prince, or the freedom she years for, to escape the palace that is her cage. What he does give her is a hope, a breath of fresh air, an illusion of something that will come in the future, a “happy knight” with neither face nor form.  And maybe that’s what we all need, in those moments when everything is upside down: a little illusion to perk us up.

Who is that happy knight? Will he materialize for our princess?  We don’t know. Maybe he will come, maybe he won’t. But the poet’s whisper is what encourages the princess – and us– when we feel that we are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, trapped and confused. When we think we don’t have what we really want, we’re not where we want to be. When we are in springtime and yearn for autumn. When we are in the city and want the countryside. The grass, as we say in English, often looks greener on the other side. García Lorca warns us that green is most certainly not all it’s cracked up to be.

So, where does this leave us? go ahead spring… or autumn. Poetry, like life, presents us with contradictions. Gloom in the middle of summer. Happiness in the icy cold. But the illusions – of a fairy godmother, a little bird singing in the ear, or an unexpected snowfall touches each of us differently. Not always as we want or think it should be. And that, is the gift of poetry.

by BeeReaders Team

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