For Valentine’s Day, a short ‘rima’ from the mid-nineteenth century Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. In his short life, Bécquer wrote a single volume of poems themed around a failed love affair. This short poem might hold some clues as to why he was unsuccessful:
For a look, the globe
For a smile, the skies,
And for a kiss… I don’t know
What I’d give you for a kiss.
To which the savvy modern woman might reply, ‘a Prada handbag might do the trick, or a meal at a fancy restaurant’. A feminist on the other hand might rejoinder, ‘nothing at all thank you very much because a kiss should be a gesture of affection given voluntarily, not in exchange for goods.’
‘Listen,’ a womanising friend of Bécquer’s might counsel, ‘There’s no use pricing these things so highly – if you’re going to offer her the whole world for a mere look, how can you expect her to give you anything else? She’s got you whipped! If I were you, I’d throw a bit of carpe diem in there, you know: “kiss me now because you might die tomorrow” – not that bluntly, obviously; throw in a flower metaphor or something.’
A literal minded poetic contemporary of Bécquer’s might butt in at this point, musing over the Spanish:
Por una mirada, un mundo;
Por una sonrisa, un cielo;
Por un beso … !Yo no sé
Que te diera por un beso!
‘In each of the first two lines, the consonants of the first noun are mirrored in the second: for “una mirada” “un mundo”; for “una sonrisa” “un cielo”. To be poetically consistent, Becquer should do the same for the last noun “un beso” – repeating at least the “b” sound and perhaps also the “s”sound. Perhaps for a “beso”, you could offer the young lady in question a “selva”, or a “bosque”- a forest.’
‘Nonsense,’ a logician might interrupt. ‘A forest is much smaller than a world or a sky, whereas Bécquer should be offering something larger again. He could offer the universe, or God himself. Nothing smaller.’
‘Heresy!’ a passing inquisitor might shout. ‘Who does this Bécquer think he is, offering a woman the Lord Himself? He’s lucky the inquisition was disbanded before his birth.’
None of this would help Bécquer the slightest in his attempts to woo his señorita. What he really meant is that he really didn’t know what he could offer her in exchange for a kiss, so precious was it to him. He was expressing wonder at the grandeur of a love which to him seems more valuable than the rest of the universe. Quite romantic, that.