Jorge Manrique

Jorge Manrique

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Jorge Manrique was a major Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 poet, whose main work, the Coplas a la muerte de su padre (Stanzas about the Death of his Father), is still read today. He was a supporter of the great Spanish queen, Isabel I of Castile, and actively participated on her side in the civil war that broke out against her half-brother, Enrique IV, when the latter attempted to make his daughter, Juana, crown princess. Jorge died in 1479 during an attempt to take the castle of Garcimuñoz, defended by the Marquis of Villena
Diego Lopez de Pacheco, 2nd Duke of Escalona
Diego López Pacheco was a Spanish noble, 2nd Duke of Escalona and 2nd Marquis of Villena.Diego López Pacheco was son of Juan Pacheco, one of the most influential politicians of his time, and María Portocarrero...

 (a staunch enemy of Isabel), after Isabel gained the crown.

Manrique was a great-nephew of Iñigo López de Mendoza (marquess of Santillana), a descendant of Pero López de Ayala
Pero López de Ayala
Don Pero López de Ayala was a Castilian statesman, historian, poet, chronicler, chancellor, and courtier. Ayala were one of the major aristocratic families of Castile; they were later claimed to be of the Jewish converso descent, but Pero's own father composed a genealogy tracing the family from...

, chancellor of Castile, and a nephew of Gómez Manrique
Gómez Manrique
Gómez Manrique , Gómez Manrique y de Castilla was a Spanish poet, soldier, politician and dramatist born in Amusco. The fifth son of Pedro Manrique de Lara y Mendoza, , adelantado mayor of Leon...

, corregidor of Toledo, all important poets of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He was, therefore, a member of a noble family of great literary consequence.

The Minor Lyrics

Jorge Manrique wrote love lyrics in the courtly-love tradition and two satires. These called canciones (songs), esparsas (short poems, generally of a single stanza), preguntas y respuestas (questions and answers), and glosas de mote (literally, "interpretations of refrains"; see villancico
The villancico was a common poetic and musical form of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America popular from the late 15th to 18th centuries. With the decline in popularity of the villancicos in the 20th century, the term became reduced to mean merely "Christmas carol"...

). The first edition of the Cancionero general of Hernando del Castillo (1511) has the most complete selection of Manrique's poems, but some of the lyrics appear in other early editions and manuscripts.

Coplas por la muerte de su padre

Coplas por la muerte de su padre (Stanzas on his father's death) is Jorge Manrique's best composition. In fact, Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega
Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio was a Spanish playwright and poet. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century Baroque literature...

 pronounced it in humbled admiration to its superior craftmanship,"worthy to be printed in letters of gold". It is a funeral eulogy dedicated to the memory of Rodrigo Manrique (his father), who died on 11 November 1476 in Ocaña. Jorge thought that his father led a life worth living, and his poem contrasts types of life (or death):

  • the terrestrial life that ends in death
  • the eternal life after death
  • the life of the fame

Stanzas 1-24 talk about an excessive devotion to earthly life from a general point of view, but features some of the most memorable metaphors in the poem. Among other things, life is compared to a road filled with dangers and opportunities and to a river that ends in the sea:


Recuerde el alma dormida                     O let the soul her slumbers break,
avive el seso e despierte Let thought be quickened, and awake;
contemplando Awake to see
cómo se pasa la vida, How soon this life is past and gone,
cómo se viene la muerte And death comes softly stealing on,
tan callando; How silently!
cuán presto se va el placer, Swiftly our pleasures glide away,
cómo, después de acordado, Our hearts recall the distant day
da dolor; the pain
cómo, a nuestro parecer, The moments that are speeding fast
cualquiere tiempo pasado We heed not, but the past,—the past,
fue mejor. More highly prize.


Nuestras vidas son los ríos                  Our lives are rivers, gliding free
que van a dar en la mar, To that unfathomed, boundless sea,
que es el morir. The silent grave!
Allí van los señoríos Thither all earthly pomp and boast
derechos a se acabar Roll, to be swallowed up and lost
e consumir. In one dark wave.
allí los ríos caudales, Thither the mighty torrents stray,
allí los otros medianos Thither the brook pursues its way,
e más chicos, And tinkling rill,
allegados, son iguales There all are equal; side by side
los que viven por sus manos The poor man and the son of pride
e los ricos. Lie calm and still.

The section invokes general examples of human waywardness that one may encounter along the road leading to heaven or hell, but then gives some examples of infamous deaths drawn from contemporary Spanish history. These examples are introduced by the rhetorical questions called ubi sunt (Where are they?) in stanzas 15-24:


¿Qué se hizo el rey don Joan?                Where is the King, Don Juan?  Where
Los infantes d'Aragón Each royal prince and noble heir
¿qué se hizieron? Of Aragon ?
¿Qué fue de tanto galán, Where are the courtly gallantries?
qué de tanta invinción The deeds of love and high emprise,
como truxeron? In battle done?
¿Que fueron sino devaneos, Tourney and joust, that charmed the eye,
qué fueron sino verduras And scarf, and gorgeous panoply,
de las eras, And nodding plume,
las justas e los torneos, What were they but a pageant scene?
paramentos, bordaduras What but the garlands, gay and green,
e çimeras? That deck the tomb?

The last part of the poem is devoted to his father and talks about the life of fame and the possibility of continuing to live in the memories of the living, when one is great and has accomplished great deeds while living (stanzas 25-32). The poem ends with a small dramatic dialogue in which don Rodrigo confronts a personified Death, who deferentially takes his soul to Heaven (stanzas 33-39). A final stanza (40) gives consolation to the family.

The language Manrique uses is precise, exact, without decoration or difficult metaphors. It appears to focus on the content of what is said and not on how it is said. The poem has forty stanzas, each composed of twelve eight- and four-syllable lines that rhyme ABc ABc DEf DEf. Every third line is a quebrado (half line). The verse form is now known as the copla manriqueña (Manriquean stanza), because his poem was so widely read and glossed that he popularized the meter. Its alternation of long and short lines, and their punctuation, made the verses flexible enough to sound somber or light and quick.

Coplas por la muerte de su padre has been translated at least twice, once by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include "Paul Revere's Ride", The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline...

. The translations of stanzas I, III, and XVI provided above are by Longfellow. However, the Longfellow translation has been criticized as not being faithful to the original. Longellow's translation is considerably more florid than the original. For example, the famous lines "Nuestras vidas son los ríos/ que van a dar en la mar,/ que es el morir," which reads in Longfellow as "Our lives are rivers, gliding free/ To that unfathomed, boundless sea,/ The silent grave!" literally translates as "Our lives are rivers/ That will lead to the sea/ Which is death."

External links Link to the Cortina edition (1979) of Jorge Manrique's collected works at Cervantes Virtual Link to the gloss of Jorge de Montemayor at Cervantes Virtual