Jump to content
Poetry Magnum Opus

Spanish Poetry, Spanish Prosody


Recommended Posts

Explore the Craft of Writing

Map of Spain.jpgSpanish architecture.jpgSpanish Verse seems to have one of the widest ranges and more comprehensive catalogues of genres, verse and stanzaic forms in the poetry world. The early history of Spanish poetry was influenced by the traveling troubadours, the Church, the Moors and French Romanticism. During the Baroque period poetry became a dominant art form as the Spanish language matured. Language from the various regions of Spain each have their place in the development of the art.


Ajedrez by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)                          translated by Judi Van Gorder

En su grave rincón, los jugadores
Rigen las lentas piezas. El tablero
Los demora hasta el alba en su severo
Ámbito en que se odian dos colores.

dentro irradian mágicos rigors
Las formas: torre homérica, ligero
Caballo, armada reina, rey postrero,
Oblicuo alfil y peones agresores.
Cuando los jugadores se hayan ido,
Cuando el tiempo los haya consumido,
Ciertamente no habrá cesado el rito.

n el Oriente se encendió esta guerra
Cuyo anfiteatro es hoy toda la tierra.
Como el otro, este juego es infinito.
Tenue rey, sesgo alfil, encarnizada
Reina, torre directa y peón ladino
Sobre lo negro y blanco del camino
Buscan y libran su batalla armada.

o saben que la mano señalada
Del jugador gobierna su destino,
No saben que un rigor adamantino
Sujeta su albedrío y su jornada.

También el jugador es prisionero
(La sentencia es de Omar) de otro tablero
De negras noches y de blancos días.
Dios mueve al jugador, y éste, la pieza.
¿Qué dios detrás de Dios la trama empieza                        
De polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonías?

From a thoughtful place, players
move their pieces slowly. The board
holds them there until dawn in this harsh
world in which opposites hate each other.

From this magical regime radiates
the forms: heroic rook, quick-witted
knight, armed queen, blustering king,
crooked bishop and aggressive pawn.
when the players have gone,
when the moment has been consumed,
certainly the ritual is not over.

from the East this war was ignited
whose amphitheater today is the entire earth.
Like the other, this game is infinite
Tenuous king, warped bishop, blood thirsty
queen, forthright rook and cunning pawn
upon a black and white surfaced road
seeking and waging war in armed battle.

They don't know that the hand
of the player governs their destination,
do not know that a precisioned diamond cut
subjects their choice and their day.

The player is also prisoner
(The judgment is long-lived) from another plan
of black nights and white days.
God moves the player, and He is a piece.
What gods behind God framed the beginning
of dust and time and sleep and agonies?

For expediency I group Castilian, Catalan and Galician poetry under the title Spanish poetry. Technically the poetry comes from three different regions and languages of what is now known as Spain.

  • Galician in the western region of what we now know as Spain was the first Hispanic lyrical poetry and dominated Hispanic literature from the 12th century to the 14th. The Galician language and culture are closer to the Portuguese than Spanish and the language was eventually pushed to the background and Castilian became the language of Spanish literature by the 15th century. Only a few of the original Galician poems have been preserved. The lyrical poems were influenced by French Romanticism, the cantigas de amor which include the viralai's and rondeaus, traditional French forms and saudades, poems of longing that carry a fatalistic tone. The narratives found in the cantigas de santa maria tell of Marion festivities and describe the life of the Virgin Mary in very human terms. In the 19th century there was a resurgence of Galician poetry, often political in nature.
  • Catalan poetry in the eastern region began as prose poetry. By the 15th century narratives in octo-syllabic couplets became popular. Eight syllable lines became a standard in both Catalan and Castilian poetic forms. By the 16th century Catalan poetry experienced a similar fate to the Galician and Castilian became the language of the east. The only poetry that remained in the Catalan language were ballads and a popular religious song.
  • The term Spanish poetics usually refers to poems written in the Castilian language which began in the central region of Spain. However the poetry of the central region has a rich history and is not limited to the Castilian language. The earliest poems have survived in fragments recorded in Arabic or Hebrew letters, these include the Hispano-Arabic zejel. In the 13th century the clerical poets competed with the troubadours and the strict monastic form cuaderna vida became prominent, quatrains in 14 syllable lines in mono rhyme. Lyrical poetry developed in Castilian much later than in both the Galician and Catalan regions. The Castilians used the hendecasyllabic line in much of the metered verse borrowed from the Italians.
  • The richness of Spanish verse has spilled over to the verse forms of Central and South America which are also included here though few. The South and Central American mostly created a new style of poetry through their subject matter and a changed perspective from their European counterparts not through creating new verse forms.

Spanish Prosody

My elementary understanding of Spanish prosody is still growing. Here are some basics one should know when studying Spanish verse forms.

In English, Spanish verse forms are measured by simply counting syllables. In Spanish prosody the counting of syllables is a little more complicated. In Spanish, syllable count is added or subtracted depending on where the accent lies in the end word of the line. Therefore what appears to be a 7 syllable line in English could in Spanish be counted as 6, 7 or 8 syllables depending on the placement of the accent in that last word. A verse that ends with a word with the accent on the final syllable is given the count of one extra syllable because the end accent counts as 2 syllables. An accent falling on the penultimate syllable of the last word stays true to the actual syllable count and verse with the accent on the antepenultimate or 3rd to last syllable of the last word loses a syllable. (Note: in Spanish prosody, a hexasyllabic line and a hendecasyllabic line both always have the primary accent or stress on the 6th syllable.)

In English prosody the term consonant rhyme means vowel sounds are disregarded and only the last consonant or penultimate and last consonants are considered. However in Spanish prosody, consonant rhyme is full rhyme, considering the last stressed or accented vowel, a following consonant and if any, a following unstressed vowel. The only other rhyme is Assonant or half rhyme in which only the last stressed or accented vowel and a following unstressed vowel are considered the consonant sound between the accented vowel and unaccented vowel is disregarded. casa and casta half rhyme. (this gets even more complicated when a diphthong is involved, the weaker unstressed vowel isn't considered at all, iglesia rhymes with fuerza - the si between e and a are ignored as is the rz between the e and a )

 Like the Japanese onji, this is one more example of how verse form is modified by language. A better explanation of this the syllable count can be found at Metrification

Some of the verse forms included here in chronological order (as best I could determine) of appearance are:

Alejandrino Cancion Cantar or Cantiga   Copla Coplade Arte Major Copla Real
Cosanta Cuaderna Vida Cuarteto Cueca Chileana Decima or Decuna Espinela            or Espinela Decima Italiana              or Rima
Endecha Flamenca Folia Glosa or Glose               Letrilla Lira
Mestra de Maestia of Nueva Maestria Octava Real                 Pareado                     Pregunta Petrarchan Cancion Quintilla
Redondilla                 Retruécano Romance Verse or Romancillo Saraband Seguidilla Seguidilla Gitana
Serranilla Seventesio Sextilla Silva Soledad Spanish Sonetta
Tetrasyllabic Couplets Vilancico or Vilancente Wayra Zéjel

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.