Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cervantes and Poe

I’ve recently finished Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which I enjoyed immensely, despite its epic length. (Over one thousand pages in print; 35 discs on audio CD.) At some point in my reading/listening, I was reminded of a vague association of this work with Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem Eldorado. An initial search through my own volumes and online hasn’t turned up anyone who has made the case for any deliberate allusion to Cervantes on Poe’s part, but I think that such a case could certainly be made. And with that said (drumroll, please), I will now venture to offer my own amateur contribution to the realm of literary criticism, based on my own notes jotted down during the course of my recent read/listen:

Exhibit A: In sunshine and in shadow,… This phrase, or at least one very like it (the original was written in Spanish, after all), appears in PtI, BkIII, Cap1, where Don Quixote says “…and this is so true as that there hath been a knight that hath dwelt on a rock, exposed to the sun and the shadow, and other annoyances of heaven, for the space of two years, without his lady’s knowledge.”

Exhibit B: The name Eldorado refers of course to the fabled city of gold for which the Spanish conquistadors searched in vain throughout the western hemisphere. (And of significant note, Poe first published his poem in 1849, the year of the famous California Gold Rush.) On several different occasions in Cervantes’ novel (twice in the chapter referenced following, in fact), Don Quixote says something similar to this: “ I would have thee know, friend Sancho, that I was born, by the disposition of Heaven, in this our age of iron, to renew in it that of gold, or the golden world.” (PtI, BkIII, Cap6)

Exhibit C: The very curious and unique phrase mountains of the moon also occurs in PtI, BkIII, Cap6: “…the dreadful noise of that water in whose search we come, which seems to throw itself headlong down from the steep mountains of the moon…”

Exhibit D: And speaking of spectral shadows: “…the knight errant without a lady is like…a shadow without a body to cast it.” (PtII, Cap32)

Exhibit E: Lastly, there is the more general appeal to the overall tenor of Poe’s poem, concerning a wearied knight who is prodded onward (by Death himself?) to ride on in the face of almost certain death, a theme which is virtually omnipresent in the account of Don Quixote, the following serving as just one example: “ Let the remembrance of Amadis live, and be imitated in everything as much as may be, by Don Quixote of the Mancha; of whom may be said what was said of the other, that though he achieved not great things, yet did he die in their pursuit.” (PtI, BkIII, Cap12)

Taken in conjunction with the above observation that Poe’s poem was published during the frenzy of 1849, this last point raises some interesting possibilities. Assuming that Poe did have the Gold Rush on his mind, what opinion is he conveying with regard to it? Was it a manly, heroic pursuit of wealth and fortune in the far West, in the face of manifold difficulties and dangers? Or was it a fool’s errand, destined to end in disillusionment, financial ruin, and even (for more than a few) death? Or was it inexorably—and Quixotically—something of both?

La Bella Principessa

A painting that surfaced within the last dozen years—and which you too could have bought from Christie’s back in 1998 at an unbelievable steal of around 20 grand—has now been confirmed as an original by none other than Leonardo himself! Read all about it here. Quite an astounding discovery!