De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an
Quiérovos abreviar la mi predicaçión, 
que sienpre me pagué de pequeño sermón
e de dueña pequeña e de breve razón,
ca lo poco e bien dicho finca en el coraçón.
Del que mucho fabla ríen, quien mucho ríe es loco; 
es en la dueña pequeña amor grande e non de poco;
dueñas di grandes por chicas, por grandes chicas non troco,
mas las chicas e las grandes e las grandes non se repienden del troco.
De las chicas que bien diga el Amor me fizo ruego, 
que diga de sus noblezas; yo quiérolas dezir luego,
dirévos de dueñas chicas que lo avredes por juego:
son frías como la nieve e arden como el fuego.
Son frías de fuera, en el amor ardientes: 
en cama solaz, trebejo, plazenteras, rïentes,
en casa cuerdas, donosas, sosegadas, bienfazientes;
mucho ál ý fallaredes, ado bien paráredes mientes.
En pequeña girconça yaze grand resplandor; 
en açúcar muy poco yaze mucho dulçor;
en la dueña pequeña yaze muy grand amor;
pocas palabras cunplen al buen entendedor.
Es pequeño el grano de la buena pimienta, 
pero, más que la nuez conorta e calienta:
así dueña pequeña, si todo amor consienta,
non ha plazer del mundo que en ella non sienta.
Como en chica rosa está mucha color 
e en oro muy poco grand preçio e grand valor,
como en poco blasmo ya e grand buen olor,
ansí en dueña chica yaze muy grand sabor.
Como robí pequeño tiene mucha bondat, 
color, virtud e preçio e noble claridad,
ansí dueña pequeña tiene mucha beldat,
fermosura, donaire, amor e lealtad.
Chica es la calandria e chico el ruiseñor, 
pero, más dulçe cantan que otro ave mayor;
la muger que es chica por eso es mejor:
en doñeo es más dulçe que açúcar nin flor.
Son aves pequeñuelas papagayo e orior, 
pero, qual[es]quier d'ellas es dulçe gritador,
adonada, fermosa, preçiada cantador:
bien atal es la dueña pequeña con amor.
De la muger pequeña non ay conparaçión: 
terrenal paraíso es e consolaçión,
solaz e alegría, plazer e bendiçión:
mejor es en la prueva que en la salutaçión.
Sienpre quis muger chica más que grande nin [mayor]: 
non es desaguisado del grand mal ser foidor,
del mal tomar lo menos, dizelo el sabidor,
por ende de las mugeres la mejor es la menor.*
Is medieval Spanish poetry the book blogosphere's equivalent of box office poison? Although I have the feeling that I'm about to find out, let's get to it anyway, shall we? The Libro de buen amor or Book of Good Love is a poem of over 1700 strophes written circa 1343 by a Spanish poet known variously as Juan Ruiz or the Arcipreste de Hita or both. One of the canonical works of medieval Spanish literature (pun intended: one of the built-in literary and historical ironies of the LBA is that Juan Ruiz might in fact have been a disgraced real-life "archpriest" or cleric himself), the poem is an often ribald affair chronicling the poet's ambiguous efforts to differentiate "good love" (the love of God) from "crazy love" (the love of the ladies) for his readers' benefit. In any event, the twelve stanzas above, from a passage titled "De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an" ["On the Attributes of Little Women"], constitute one of my favorite sections in the poem for their mix of post-Ovidian amatory humor and mock scholasticism.
While I'm not going to provide a full translation of the verses in question, it'd be wrong of me not to share how "De las propiedades que las dueñas chicas an" begins in Saralyn R. Daly's rendering of lines 1606 a-d. To wit:
My lords, I want to make my preaching to you very brief,
For in short sermons I have always found delight and art,
Also in a little lady and in reasoning that is short.
For what is little and well said stays fixed within the heart.**
What follows, as you might be able to imagine from this opening, is a brief "sermon" on the greatness of little women delivered as a parody of the scholastic rhetorical device in which two opposite sides of a question are compared to one another: here, the topoi of the más and the menos (more and less) according to Alberto Blecua's helpful footnote on page 415 of my Spanish edition of the text. Commenting on this beginning, Jeremy N.H. Lawrance wryly notes, "Perhaps only a medieval poet, writing in the scholastic tradition of artificial conceptual correspondences, could introduce the far-fetched comparison between a short sermon and a small woman, even as a joke, with so little ado."*** So what makes little women so great? According to the poet, it has to do with things like the fact that there is great love to be found inside the little woman out of all proportion to her size (1607b's "es en la pequeña dueña amor grande e non de poco"). He supports his argument by claiming that while they may appear to be cold on the outside, in love they are "ardientes" (ardent, passionate) and a great joy in bed (1609a-b). He extends the less is more comparison by referring to the abundant sweetness to be found in a tiny lump of sugar (1610b), the heat to be found in a grain of black pepper (1611a-b), the great amount of color evident in a tiny rose (1612a), and--moving on to the animal kingdom--the parallel to be found in the example of the skylark and the nightingale, which despite being diminutive creatures, sing more sweetly than any other birds of a greater size (1614a-b).
Even though English readers may not be able to appreciate how delirious and giddily propulsive this playful rhetoric comes across in Spanish meter, there's probably little extra translation help needed to understand the dirty wordplay behind Juan Ruiz's skirt chasing persona and predicaçión. The everyday word caliente, for example, used to convey the heat of the grain of pepper in 1611a-b, can also double for the heat of sexual arousal if you're able to read between the arcipreste's carnal lines. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that verses 1611c-d offer up a similar potential double entendre in praise of one of little women's special attributes: using Saralyn R. Daly's translation once again, "Just so, with a little woman, if she grants you all her love,/There's no delight on earth which isn't found in her encased." Near the end of "De las propriedades que las dueñas chicas an," the poet uses some innuendo-laden language of the sermon to preach that little women are without peer as an "earthly paradise" and sexual "consolation" to man (1616b), a "pleasure" and a "blessing" (1616c), and "better in the proof than in the salutation" (1616c). Then, while appearing to poke fun at the tradition that portrays women as the agents of sexual sin and evil, the arcipreste offers this advice to his listeners in the concluding strophe of his homage to the little ones he loves so dearly (translation by Daly once last time):
I've always loved a little one more than the big or tall!
It never has been wrong to flee great evil, I suggest,
"But of all evil, choose the least," so says the ancient Sage.
Therefore, of all the women, littlest women are the best!**
Notes & mini-bibliography
*This part of the poem was transcribed from my battered paperback copy of Juan Ruiz's Libro de buen amor in the wonderful edition put out by Alberto Blecua for Cátedra's Letras Hispánicas series. See pages 415-419 for the verses presented here and information including notes on the text and textual variants.
**I haven't seen many English translations that do the Libro de buen amor justice. However, Saralyn R. Daly's translation of "About the Qualities Which Little Women Have" that I made use of here is a very nice exception in that regard, wisely offering the facing text in "Old Spanish" edited by Anthony N. Zahareas. See The Book of True Love, pages 396-398, for the bilingual verses in question.
***Jeremy N.H. Lawrance, "The Audience of the Libro de buen amor," 226.
Ruiz, Juan (Arcipreste de Hita). Libro de buen amor. Madrid: Cátedra, 2001.
Ruiz, Juan (The Archpriest of Hita). The Book of True Love [translated by Saralyn R. Daly). University Park: The Pennsylvania Stae University Press, 1978.
Lawrance, Jeremy N.H. "The Audience of the Libro de buen amor." Comparative Literature, 36/3 (1984), 220-237.