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Jorge Guillen, Spanish poet, discussed the 13th century poet Berceo at the second Charles Eliot Norton lecture in Longfellow Hall last night.
Berceo, a mystic poet, expressed the "absolute harmony of heaven and earth through exact poetical language," Guillen said. Within a strict rhyme scheme, Berceo described a world in which unity and order were maintained by Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
Berceo, Guillen continued, had a simple vision of the relationship of all things in "a single uninterrupted reality. His poetry manifested a belief in which the believer was to be found."
Berceo was, in fact, "the believer par excellence," whose faith in Christ and the Virgin was untainted by doubt. Because of this belief, he was able to write of the lives of saints, the salvation of sinners, the experience of the divine in "an elevated and sublime style."
Guillen maintained, however, that we must abandon all pretense to all modern standards of taste to understand Berceo and the kind of poetry he represents. He suggested that Berceo's poetry should be studied as if it were seen "through a crystal."
Guillen also defended the simple prosaic language of Berceo, calling it "calculated artistry, rather than childish naivete." The simplicity of Berceo's style was due in part to his own humility, and to the fact that he considered himself a craftsman or versifier, rather than a poet.
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