2.5 Soneto XXIII, “En tanto que de rosa y azucena” – Garcilaso de la Vega

8 min readjune 15, 2023

Sylvia Rodriguez

Sylvia Rodriguez

AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

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"Soneto XXIII, En tanto que de rosa y azucena" was written in the 16th century during the Renaissance period in Spain. This was a time of great cultural, artistic, and literary revival in Europe. In Spain, the Renaissance was marked by the flourishing of the arts, particularly literature, and poetry.

Context Behind Soneto XXIII, “En tanto que de rosa y azucena”

Author Background

Garcilaso de la Vega was a Spanish poet and soldier who lived during the Renaissance period. He was born in Toledo, Spain, in 1501, and served in the armies of Charles V. He was also a member of the court of King Juan III of Portugal. Garcilaso was known for his poetry, which combined traditional Spanish forms with Italian influences.

Image Courtesy of Britannica

Time and Place

📜Historical: The 16th century saw the composition of "En tanto que de rosa y azucena" in Spain. The revival of classical knowledge and the exploration of new regions contributed to this period of cultural and intellectual development. The poem displays Garcilaso de la Vega's mastery of the sonnet form and captures the literary and artistic styles of the day.
🗺️Geographic: De la Vega was a Spanish poet who found inspiration in his country's natural beauty, despite the fact that the poem makes no explicit mention of a particular geographic area. The sceneries and natural features of Spain, such as its gardens, flowers, and rivers, can be linked to the geographical location of the poem because they are frequently recalled in its imagery.

Societal Context

👑Political: Spain was going through major political changes when "En tanto que de rosa y azucena" was written. There were political tensions and power struggles both internally and abroad while the nation was growing into a strong empire. Rather than addressing politics directly, however, the poem concentrates more on themes of love, beauty, and the transient aspect of existence.
🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏻Socio-economic: The poem illustrates the impact of the Renaissance era, which led to affluence and economic progress in Spain. During this time, trade and exploration increased, a wealthy merchant class emerged, and nobility began to support the arts. The poem captures the sensitivities of the aristocratic and educated classes of the time with its gorgeous imagery and refined vocabulary.
🎭Cultural: The Renaissance's literary and artistic traditions are deeply ingrained in the cultural background of "En tanto que de rosa y azucena". The Spanish Renaissance was a literary movement that sought to adapt and replicate the writings of classical Greek and Roman poets. Garcilaso de la Vega was a member of this movement. The poem exemplifies the influence of Petrarchan sonnets as well as the centrality of the pursuit of beauty, love, and intellectual refinement in Renaissance culture.

Need to Know About “En tanto que de rosa y azucena”


Image courtesy of Diente de Leon


The poem doesn't have traditional characters. Instead, the poem centers on issues related to beauty, love, and the fleeting aspect of life. The poem's speaker is a figure who reflects on the impermanence of existence, the passing of time, and the ability of love to outlive mortality. Characters in the poem are more abstract, symbolizing ideas and feelings rather than specific people.

Literary Terms and Devices

Some literary terms and devices used in this poem include:
  • Apóstrofe (Apostrophe): The poet utilizes the apostrophe to refer to nature and its components, such as the rose and the lily as if they were things with minds in Soneto XXIII. By using this rhetorical technique, the speaker communicates with nature directly and emotionally, expressing respect for and a yearning for their beauty.
  • Anáfora (Anaphora): In Soneto XXIII, Garcilaso de la Vega uses anaphora by repeating the words "en tanto que" at the start of multiple lines. The poem is structurally unified by this recurrence, which has a rhythmic and melodic effect that emphasizes the passage of time. It strengthens the poem's focus on the transient quality of beauty and life and emphasizes the poem's transient topic.
  • Rima consonante (Consonant Rhyme): The sonnet uses consonant rhymes throughout and strictly adheres to the rhyme system of ABBA ABBA CDC DCD. This selection of rhyme structure improves the poem's melody and produces a mellow and appealing result. The sonnet's overall formality and structure are aided by the consonant rhymes, which also highlight its lyrical aspects.
  • Cuarteto (Quatrain): Two quatrains, or stanzas of four lines each, make up Soneto XXIII. Two quatrains, followed by two tercets, make up the poem's structure. The quatrains convey the speaker's reflection on the fleeting nature of beauty and the passage of time, giving a balanced and organized introduction to the poem's subjects.
  • Terceto (Tercet): Soneto XXIII follows with two tercets, which are three-line stanzas, after the two quatrains. The tercets introduce a contrasting notion or resolution, acting as a change or turning point in the poem. The tercets in this sonnet examine the idea of love's capacity to outlive time and death, providing a more upbeat and introspective viewpoint.
  • Endecasílabo (Hendecasyllable): Most of the poem is composed of endecasyllabic lines, which have eleven syllables each. The usage of hendecasyllables enhances the poem's melody and rhythmic flow. It enables a balanced and pleasing structure, boosting the sonnet's overall grace and beauty.
  • Cromatismo (Chromatic Imagery): In Soneto XXIII, Garcilaso de la Vega uses multicolored images to convey a feeling of visual beauty and richness. The poet describes the natural components in brilliant colors like "rosa" (rose) and "azucena" (lily), giving the reader a lively and sensory experience. The poem's aesthetic appeal is heightened by the colorful imagery, which also supports its themes of beauty and transience.
  • Metáfora (Metaphor): The poet uses metaphors to explain complex feelings and thoughts throughout Soneto XXIII. For instance, the speaker's love and desire are symbolized by the comparison of the rose and the lily to the beauty and purity of the beloved. These metaphors enhance the poem's linguistic elegance and deepen its examination of mortality, beauty, and love.
  • Símbolo (Symbol): In Soneto XXIII, symbols have a significant role in illustrating abstract ideas and feelings. The rose and the lily, for instance, stand for love, beauty, and the transient essence of life. These images act as focus points, creating a variety of feelings and enticing the reader to think on the fleeting aspect of life and the strength of love.
  • Hipérbaton (Hyperbaton): The poet uses hyperbaton in Soneto XXIII, which is the deliberate rearranging of words or phrases in a sentence for artistic impact. This poetic method is used by Garcilaso de la Vega to evoke heightened feeling and melody. The poem gains some artistic flair and rhythmic variety via the usage of hyperbaton.

Summary of "En tanto que de rosa y azucena"

Soneto XXIII, "En tanto que de rosa y azucena" is a sonnet that explores the themes of beauty and transience. The poem uses the symbolism of the rose and the lily to emphasize the fragility of beauty and the fleeting nature of life. The speaker reflects on the power of love to transcend time and how the memory of love can endure even after death.
In the first quatrain, the speaker compares his lover's beauty to a rose and a lily, acknowledging the temporary nature of this beauty. In the second quatrain, the speaker personifies Time as a destructive force that will inevitably destroy this beauty. The speaker then shifts his focus to the power of love, suggesting that love can transcend time and even death. The final tercet concludes with the speaker acknowledging the inevitability of death but also the hope that love and memory can survive beyond it.
Moreover, the poem is characterized by a musicality of language and rhythm. The sonnet form itself has a specific rhythm, and de la Vega utilizes this to create a sense of harmony in the poem. The use of alliteration, as seen in "rosa y azucena," further adds to the musicality of the poem.
Overall, the poem presents a melancholic reflection on the fleeting nature of beauty and the inevitability of death, while also offering a glimmer of hope in the power of love and memory to endure beyond the limitations of time.

Themes in "En tanto que de rosa y azucena"

El tiempo y el espacio (Time and Space)
Garcilaso de la Vega investigates the concepts of time and space in Soneto XXIII. The phrase "en tanto que" (while) is used often to represent the passage of time and to reflect on the fleeting quality of beauty and existence. The spatial imagery of the natural objects, such as the flower and rose, establishes a sense of place and provides a backdrop for thinking about these brief times.
El carpe diem y el memento mori (Carpe Diem and Memento Mori)
The poem embodies the carpe diem idea and encourages the reader to embrace the good things in life now. It underlines the value of valuing beauty and love while they are still around. The poem also has a memento mori undertone, which serves to remind the reader of death's inevitable arrival. The fleetingness of the lily and the rose serves as a gentle reminder to cherish life and its fleeting pleasures.
El amor y el desprecio (Love and Disdain)
The subject matter of Soneto XXIII is love and contempt. The speaker acknowledges the unfair passage of time that will unavoidably lessen the attractiveness of the rose and the lily while expressing admiration and adoration for their beauty. The contrast between love and contempt emphasizes the fleeting nature of beauty and the complexity of human emotions.
La trayectoria y la transformación (Trajectory and Transformation)
The poem considers the progression of life and the transforming nature of love. A reflection of the changing powers of love, which may transcend the constraints of time and mortality, develops from the initial focus on the beauty of the rose and the lily. The poem makes the claim that even in the face of unavoidable change and loss, love has the power to transcend and improve human existence.

Analysis and Significance of Soneto XXIII

As an outstanding example of Spanish Renaissance poetry, Garcilaso de la Vega's Soneto XXIII, "En tanto que de rosa y azucena," is incredibly important. The examination of the poem reveals that it explores concepts like the fleeting nature of beauty, the passing of time, and the strength of love. The sonnet captures the essence of human existence by using beautiful language, imagery, and poetic elements that evoke strong feelings and introspection.
The poem's clever blending of old Petrarchan inspirations with a distinctive Spanish voice is one of its key features. The poem's enduring appeal is a result of Garcilaso de la Vega's understanding of the sonnet form and his ability to enhance it with his own artistic sense. The contrast of the beautiful and pure symbols of the rose and the lily invites reflection on the transience of existence and the certainty of death. The poem has a lyrical character that is enhanced by the careful use of metaphors, apostrophes, anaphora, and other literary devices.
It also emphasizes the memento mori concept, which serves as a reminder to people of their mortality and the value of appreciating life's fleeting pleasures. Readers from all eras and cultural backgrounds can relate to the poem's universal themes, which encourage reflection on challenges faced by humans. Its persistent appeal and significance have made it a classic work of Spanish literature that helped shape the wider Renaissance movement and influenced poets of later eras.
"Soneto XXIII, En tanto que de rosa y azucena" is considered one of Garcilaso de la Vega's most famous poems. The poem is significant for its use of traditional Spanish forms and its exploration of the themes of beauty, love, and transience. The poem's structure and symbolism also serve as a reflection of the Renaissance period in Spain, a time of great artistic and literary revival.

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