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Sonnets at the End of the Reign of H.I.M. Don Agustín I of Mexico

Because April is National Poetry Month, as established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, I would like to highlight some little known materials that are available at the Law Library of Congress–with the aim of promoting a bit of poetry.

If you are familiar with Mexican history or if you have read my blog post on “The History of the Mexican Constitution,” you may have been introduced to Agustín I, First Constitutional Emperor of Mexico.  In this post, I would like to uncover four Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnets that were written in honor of Agustín in his time, nearly two hundred years ago, and which were published in the Gaceta del Gobierno Imperial de México, Volume 1, Number 30, page 113 of Tuesday, March 4, 1823.  In order to stay faithful to the original document, the orthography and punctuation are re-transcribed in the same form as published in the imperial gazette.  The sonnets were untitled; so, I have numbered them according to the order in which they appear.  The English translations are my own.

Sonnet Number 1

Por un espacio de trescientos años
este Imperio sufrió duras cadenas,
y en un profundo piélago de penas
sumergido se vió por los extraños.
No puede ya sufrir males tamaños:
no quiere obedecer leyes agenas,
solo las propias le podrán ser buenas
como que ellas de cerca ven los daños.
Produce un hijo lleno de clemencia
que embotando su espada por la Union,
jura asi sostener su independencia
y nuestra augusta santa Religion.
Lo observa todo, y se hace sin violencia
un Héroe superior a Washington.
For a span of three hundred years
this Empire suffered hard chains,
and in a profound sea of hardship
it saw itself submerged by strangers.
No longer can it undergo such abuse:
it wants no longer to obey alien laws,
only its own shall it see as good
as if they up close see the damages.
It yields a son full of clemency
who blunting his sword for the Union,
swears thus to uphold its independence
and our august sacred Religion.
It observes all, and devoid of violence is formed
a Hero superior to Washington.

 

In Sonnet No. 1, the allusion to the three hundred years refers to the time of the conquistador, Hernán Cortés, who initiated the colonization of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century.  Cortés arrived in the land that came be known as Mexico, in Veracruz to be exact, on Holy Thursday in 1519.  A little more than three centuries would pass before Agustín de Iturbide would draft his Plan de Iguala (1821), which was written in the city of Iguala of the Mexican state of Guerrero. During that period, Mexico was known as the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a territory of the Kingdom of Spain.

The fifth and sixth line of this sonnet speak of the abuse that can no longer be sustained and the lack of will to continue to conform to foreign laws, which alludes to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla‘s call to revolution against the Spanish on September 16, 1810 when he rang the church bells and issued the Cry of Dolores in the then city of Dolores (now Dolores Hidalgo la Cuna de la Indepdencia Nacional), Guanajuato.

The imagery contained within the sestet–blunted sword, independence, and “devoid of violence”–is an interesting juxtaposition of warlike and peaceful imagery. The upholding of independence with a dull sword likely means that although independence will be sought, it will be achieved without violent means.  Or it could conceivably be speaking of the preservation of independence and ruling over a people without tyranny–as in a call for peaceful order.

One of the main guarantees of the Plan of Iguala is the preservation of the Catholic faith.  This is clearly a preoccupation we can see in line twelve of this sonnet.  It was a recurring theme in many of the earliest constitutions of Mexico, which is later suppressed as the state moves towards its present secularism.

In the last two lines–although the Hero who is deemed “superior to Washington” is not mentioned by name–, the time, the exalting tone, the allusions, and the sonnet’s inclusion in the imperial gazette (during Iturbide’s reign) unequivocally suggest that Iturbide is such a hero.

Below are the other three sonnets with respective translations.

Sonnet Number 2

Llegó el feliz venturoso dia
que el esplendor del sólio mexicano
supiera recobrar valiente, ufano,
un génio lleno de sabiduría.
Agustín Iturbide ¡qué alegria!
asistido del cielo soberano
con política triunfa del hispano;
con su valor decide la porfia.
Entra en la corte cual se ve triunfante,
sembrando el suelo de fragantes flores:
lo admiran todos como un gran Atlante:
De Emperador le brindan los honores.
Su modestia resiste en el instante,
mas de los pueblos vencen los clamores.
Come has the happy venturous day
that the splendor of the Mexican throne
would know to recover valiant, proud,
a genius endowed with wisdom.
Agustin Iturbide, what joy!
aided by the sovereign heaven
with the triumphant policy of a Hispanic;
with his valor opts for perseverance.
He enters the court looking triumphant,
scattering upon the floor fragrant flowers:
all admire him like a great Atlantean:
Hailed is he with the honors of an Emperor.
His modesty resists at once,
but the clamors of the peoples overcome.

 

Sonnet Number 3

No tiene bienes, no la sociedad
que hagan feliz al hombre y al Estado,
como verse de pronto emancipado
gozando de quietud y libertad:
Nada ya falta a tu felicidad,
América, pues todo lo has logrado,
el cetro del Imperio has recobrado
y el trono ocupas de la Magestad.
De las cadenas que te aprisionaban,
Hoy AGUSTIN los yerros ha limado:
él consiguió lo mismo que deseaban
Tus dignos hijos, como lo has palpado:
ramos de oliva ya se preparaban
para sus cienes que hoy has adornado.
There is no good, no the society
that make joyous the man and the State,
like seeing oneself suddenly emancipated
enjoying tranquility and liberty:
Now your happiness is lacking nothing,
America, for you have achieved it all,
the scepter of the Empire you have recovered
and the throne you occupy with Majesty.
Of the chains that imprisoned you,
Today AGUSTIN the irons has filed:
He obtained the very thing longed for
By your dignified sons, as you have felt:
branches of olive were already being prepared
for his temples which today you have adorned.

 

Sonnet Number 4

Ascienda, pues, al trono merecido
de Anahuac AGUSTIN y en el impere,
el cielo lo dispuso, asi lo quiere
la Nacion que el poder le ha conferido.
Mírese ya de purpura vestido,
cual su heroismo singular requiere,
y por mas que su gloria se pondere
es inferior al mérito contrahido
No se borre jamas dia tan pomposo
en que subió al sólio Mexicano
el paisano mas tierno y amoroso,
El Héroe mas político y cristiano.
Sea, Durango, singular tu gozo
al jurarlo por Padre y Soberano.
Ascend, then, to the deserved throne
of Anahuac, AGUSTIN, and in it rule,
heaven arranged it, so wills it
the Nation which has conferred him the power.
Be he seen now dressed in Tyrian purple,
which his singular heroism requires,
and no matter how much his glory be pondered
it is inferior to the merit achieved.
Let not ever so splendid a day be erased
on which he rose to the Mexican throne
the most tender and amorous countryman,
The most political and Christian Hero.
Singular be, Durango, your joy
upon swearing him Father and Sovereign.

 

If we consider the historical context of their provenance, these sonnets bear more than an exhaltative air.  They bear an apocalyptic air–almost one of justification and defense.  On the day that these were published in the Imperial Gazette, Iturbide had reestablished the Supreme Congress of Mexico (later the Sovereign Congress of Mexico) and later, in that same month of March, he would abdicate his claims to the Mexican throne.  Subsequent exchanges between Iturbide and representatives of the terminated and resurrecting Congress are contained in the gazettes that were published after this date.  These contain all manner of courteous discourse, and some very subtle arguments concerning Iturbide’s right to end and then reestablish the Congress.  Nearly a month would pass when the Gaceta del Gobierno Imperial de México (Gazette of the Imperial Government of Mexico) would become the Gaceta del Gobierno Supremo de México (Gazette of the Supreme Government of Mexico), on Tuesday, April 1, 1823 with the Supreme Congress’s appointment of the Presidential Triumvirate, known as the Supreme Executive Power–composed of Guadalupe Victoria, Nicolás Bravo, and, the Spanish-born, Celestino Negrete.  On Saturday, April 5, 1823, provisions concerning the new (and provisional) Supreme Executive Power were published.  The second of these provided that the executive power of Mexico, which had existed since the 19th of May of 1822, when Congress proclaimed Iturbide emperor, had ceased.  The end of Iturbide’s reign is brought about by The Plan of Casa Mata, drafted in part by that (in)famous General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who would later become president and dictator of Mexico, a central figure in Texas history and in the Mexican-American War.

Beyond making this a post that is entirely legal in subject, this is more of a promotional piece for researchers in the humanities to add the official gazettes (which are housed in the Law Library of Congress) to their list of research stops for more arcane (but relevant) materials.  The official gazettes of earlier periods contain chronicles of the events as they transpired and provide a different perspective than that of more formal historical accounts.  These have played an important role in historiography and are considered a rich literary genre.

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