I finished reading Gongora the other day. If you have not seen this book you really need to. First, all on its own it is gorgeous. The pages are thick and creamy paper with slightly deckled edges. It is beautiful just to hold. But then add to it Picasso’s art and you won’t be able to stop looking.

Gongora is a “livres de peintres” or artist’s book. Picasso created a limited edition of 275 copies in 1948. The poetry is by Luis de Góngora (1561 – 1627). Góngora was a poet of the Spanish Renaissance who attained worldwide stature. He was sometimes called “Prince of Darkness” and he was an influence on Cervantes.

In spite of his success in his lifetime he was nearly forgotten until he was “rediscovered” in the early twentieth century by a new generation of Spanish poets: Lorca, Alberti, and Cernuda among otherwise. These poets as a group became known as the Generation of ’27 in reference to their first gathering in Seville in 1927 to to mark the 300th anniversary of Góngora’s death. The group persuaded the composer Manuel de Falla and the painter Salvador Dali as well as Picasso to participate in a year-long tribute to Góngora.

Picasso illustrated 22 Góngora sonnets. This edition of the book is structured so that one page has the title of the poem, the next page has a portrait, usually of a woman, and then the next two pages have the poem in English translation facing the illustrated poem of Picasso.

Here, as an example is “To a Girl, Urging Her to Enjoy Her Youth” (click on the pictures if you want to see them larger)

The title page:

The portrait:

The poem:

In case you cannot read the text in the photo, here it is:

So long as, striving to outmatch your hair,
sun-burnished gold finds all its glistening vain;
so long as your white brow, with haughtiness,
looks down on every lily plain;

so long as your two lips, each ripe for plucking,
attract more eyes than springtime’s first carnation;
so long as, with magnificent disdain,
your graceful neck outshines the clearest crystal:

delight in neck, in hair, in lip, in brow,
before those traits that in your golden youth
were gold, were lilies, crystal, red carnation,

not just to silver, or black violets cut,
decline, but you and they together,
to earth, to smoke, to dust, to shade, to naught.

How’s that for a carpe diem poem? One of the things I liked best about this was not just the poem itself, but if you notice Picasso made a mistake in copying the poem and instead of tossing it out and doing a new one, he just struck out the line and kept going! How excellent is that, leaving in a mistake?

Even though there aren’t many poems in this book, you will not read it through quickly. You won’t be able to unless you close your eyes. One or two poems at a time coupled with the artwork will fill you up for at least a day.