Cogut Institute for the Humanities
Center for the Study of the Early Modern World

Recovering forgotten literature from colonial Bolivia

Andrés Eichmann Oehrli, Professor (Catedrático) of Latin American Literature in UMSA in La Paz, Bolivia, gave a memorable talk entitled La literatura perdida de Charcas colonial: el rescate de una herencia olvidada de Bolivia [The Lost Literature of Colonial Charcas: Recovering Bolivia’s Forgotten Legacy]. Little is known of the rich intellectual and cultural history of colonial Charcas, a part of the Viceroyalty of Peru now roughly constituting the area of modern Bolivia. For several years Andrés Eichmann has been unearthing and interpreting Spanish literature and some works in Latin from the region, which were produced in the 16th and 17th centuries. His well attended talk provided a characteristically lively and uniquely informed overview of his own findings and explained the current state of investigation in this field.

Below is an example of just one of the neglected compositions which were presented by Andrés Eichmann, followed by a translation into English. This is a sonnet by an early 17th-century poet, Diego Dávalos y Figueroa. (The text comes from a recent edition by Laura Paz: Dolce mio foco: Una edición de la poesía de la Miscelánea austral de Diego Dávalos y Figueroa con un recorrido por sus coloquios, La Paz: Plural 2019).

Coloquio XIX

Si su aljaba el Amor sin flechas viere,
y si a la tierra el respirar calmare,
si a Vulcano en sus fraguas se apagare
el ardiente elemento y pereciere,

si de Neptuno el reino seco fuere,
si el bélico ejercicio se apagare,
si de amor en amor queja faltare,
o sin agravios amador viviere;

reformárase el ciego en este pecho,
y en mis suspiros el ventoso Eolo,
de donde sacará fuego Vulcano,
será con mi llorar otro mar hecho,

Marte sus guerras hallará en mí solo,
agravio y quejas la tirana mano.


If Love were to see his quiver without arrows
and if taking a breath were to calm the earth,
if in Vulcan’s forges the fiery element
were to be extinguished and perish,

if the kingdom of Neptune were to be dry
if the manoeuvres of war were to be halted,
if the complaints about love were missing from love
or a lover were to live without grievances,

The blind man in this breast would be changed,
and in my sighs the windy Aeolus,
from where Vulcan will draw his fire,
would be made, with my weeping, into another sea,
Mars would find his wars in me alone,
With grievances and complaints at her cruel hand.