Sunday, January 10, 2010

Leyendas de Guatemala

Where to begin...

The first reading for Span 365 had me feeling slightly overwhelmed. Upon reading the first few pages, I realized that I was NOT going to be able to understand Asturias' leyendas word for word. Looking up each and every unknown word would take me years to finish the text. So I settled for simply gathering an overall impression of "Leyendas de Guatemala" and the writing style of Asturias.

A few things I noticed throughout each of the leyendas:

1) Nature as an overall theme. Each leyenda is deeply rooted in nature and includes detailed descriptions of all the types of trees, flowers, animals etc. that one can find in the Guatemalan environment. This sets each leyenda specifically in Guatemala. There is no ambiguity here. While reading the leyendas, one is not imagining a story unfolding in some European city. The theme of nature also ties the leyendas to the indigenous people of Guatemala, as they have the longest history and ties to the environment.

2) Dream-like, poetic, descriptions. As Paul Valery writes in his letter to Francis de Miomandre, this piece of literature is a collection of "historias-suenos-poemas." A perfect way to describe each leyenda. The stories resemble dreams as they aren't explicitly described as taking place at a certain time in history. These stories appear to take place in a sort of limbo. The poetic use of words also creates strong, dream-like images. Asturias describes in "Leyenda del Cadejo" how Madre Elvira de San Francisco "habla tan candorosa que la palabra parecia en sus labios flor de suavidad y de carino." You can imagine the voice of Madre Elvira, how it would sound, the rhythm of her words, etc.

3) Use of repetition. In many of the stories, I noticed the use of repeated words or phrases. For example in "Leyendas del Sombreron" the phrase "tan liviana, tan agil, tan blanca" is repeated several times. I feel like the use of repetition gives the leyendas a poetic feel, as repetition is often used in poetry. Also, (this is just an idea I had, could be totally wrong!) I feel like the inclusion of repetition in the leyendas also gives them an element of the indigenous, as possibly when the indigenous people of Guatemala told their stories, they included lots of repetition to make their stories easier to remember as a story-teller, and easier to follow as a listener.

Although I may not have understood every leyenda, I could still appreciate the writing style of Asturias. I enjoyed the dream-like, poetic feel of the leyendas, and how they seem to take place in some other world, as we cannot attach each leyenda to a certain time and place in Guatemala.


  1. I completely agree with your comment about the indigenous storytelling; often in indigenous communities (not just hispanic) stories are told in song anyway, so rhythm is an important component for memory there...

  2. I agree with you on the complexity of the language used in the legends and kind of have the same problem understanding a bit of it.

    Your view on nature in the stories is quite right and it seems like its the key theme in this book.