To Write as a Poet


“It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.” 
 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

 Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote, “There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say, The Haves and Have-Nots.”  Cervantes was in an in-between category, having been born into a noble family with limited resources, a euphemism for poverty. The probable date of his birth was September 29, 1547, on the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel in Alcalá de Henares, a Castilian city about 15 miles from Madrid

Cervantes sustained injuries in the Battle of Lepanto which took place October 7, 1571 on the northern edge of the Gulf of Corinth, Greece.  A fleet of the Holy League decisively defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire. Four years later, he was captured by the Algerian corsairs and ended up as a slave in Algiers.  Five long years passed before his family could raise enough money to pay his ransom. He spent the following two decades leading a nomadic existence.  He suffered bankruptcy and from all accounts, was imprisoned at least twice.

Cervantes was a novelist, poet and writer.   Tradition claims that he wrote his magnum opus, Don Quixote in prison in La Mancha. His writing was in everyday speech, which resonated with a welcoming public.  Published when Cervantes was fifty-eight years old, Don Quixote takes a prominent place amongst the best works of fiction ever written.  Even today, we draw from his words unconsciously for he has given us many sayings that have universal appeal.

“I shall be as secret as the grave.”

“Many count their chickens before they are hatched.”

“The pot calls the kettle black.”

“When thou are in Rome, do as they do in Rome.”

“Too much of a good thing”

“Tell me the company thou keepest, and I’ll tell thee what thou art”

“He has an oar in every man’s boat, and a finger in every pie.”