Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), Spanish-language author of Don Quixote. Often considered the first modern European novel, the Quixote is a parody of medieval romances like Amadis of Gaul and the mythos of knight-errantry in general. Don Quixote de la Mancha is a hidalgo who decides to recreate the questing lifestyle of the knights he reads about in romances. Accompanied by his “squire” Sancho Panza, Quixote continually sees the mundane around him in the terms and images of the world of knight-errantry, leading to much of the novel’s comedy. (One famous scene has Quixote attempt to joust with windmills, whom he mistakes for giants.) The Romantics had often interpreted the novel as showing that Quixote’s world, the world of the imagination, far surpasses the world of the lackluster and quotidian.
Stevens frequently finds fault with Romanticism, and he may be said to find fault with their interpretation of the Quixote as well. Stevens makes explicit mention of Cervantes in his essay, “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words.” The sculptor Verrocchio , for example, had emphasized imagination highly over reality—and, in his statute Bartolommeo Colleoni, “the apposition between the imagination and reality is too favorable to the imagination” (Collected Poetry and Prose 647). Cervantes, however, had sought a balance between imagination and reality. For Cervantes, “nobility was not a thing of the imagination. It was a part of reality” (647). Stevens finds this vision of the balance between imagination and reality congenial.