Octosyllabic verse served as the polymetric̷

With most poets moving back and forth between Italian and Castil-ian meters, native Spanish octosyllabic forms were cultivated by poets who might half a century before have kept to the presumed aesthetic high ground of imported types. The romance (“ballad”) was by far the most popular of Castilian forms. In the hands of seventeenth-century poets, free-form octosyllables with assonant rhyme on even verses inherited from the anonymous medieval Romancero viejo (“Old Balladry”) gave way to more structured four-line stanzas in the authored ballads of

4 Estudios y ensayos gongorinos (2nd edn., Madrid: Gredos, 1960), p. 66.

5 To m a´s Navarro Toma´s, M e´trica espan˜ ola (6th edn., Madrid: Editorial Labor, 1983),

Pp. 252–263.

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The making of Baroque poetry


The Romancero nuevo (“New Balladry”). Epic ancestry may explain the form’s availability for story telling of all kinds, but the romance, like its cousins the ubiquitous redondilla (“little round,” a metric combination of four octosyllables in which the first normally rhymes with the fourth, the second with the third) and the increasingly popular ten-line d e´cima, had long provided a space for lyric expression as well. This formidable threesome of forms, still the bedrock of poetic expression in Spanish, was more thanamatch for the sonnet’s celebrated capaciousness. Theromance in particular showed itself hospitable to every possible subject and so adaptable to every rhetorical register and purpose that it proved irresistible to the period’s greatest poetic geniuses. Octosyllabic verse served as the polymetric comedia’s default position for representing the speech of characters drawn from a broad social spectrum. Peppered with sung snatches of traditional song, verse comedias, autos sacramentales (one-act plays based on the Eucharist), and entremeses (“interludes”) evince poetry’s close ties to a shared orality, to music, and to social dance. A variety of forms prospered in various settings: the ancient cosante, the z e´jel, the ubiquitous villancico, the letrilla, and the seguidilla. Go´ngora and Lope show particular interest in the feminine poetic persona associated with traditional lyric forms. The latter’s ballad “Piraguamonte, piragua,” worked into the comedia El Arauco domado (“Arauco Tamed”), shows traditional oral forms open to new thematic assignments like American experience. Seventeenth-century practice and aesthetic theory embraced hybridity over purity. Most poets worked with equal ease in their culture’s two major literary idioms, because they had been raised, as it were, speaking both languages. Most themes easily hurdled relaxed fences of form. At the same time, acute sensitivity to changes in code and register fostered a detachment favorable to parody and other kinds of subversion. Mismatching of form and subject fueled burlesque and satire, as in recruiting of the romance, traditional vehicle of Reconquest and chivalric lore, for grotesque retellings of Greek myths and for the low-life sagas of Quevedo’s j a´caras. This rhetorical and prosodic versatility has important implications for the changing nature and reach of poetic voices in the period.

For enthusiasts and detractors alike, the signal features of Baroque poetry are sensory imagery and the ingenious comparison known as the concepto or conceit. Baroque images rely on vivid description called enargeia in classical rhetoric, meant to produce effects of astonishment and awe conveyed by the Latin term admiratio. Among the rhetorical instruments of this project are metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche (the part is used for the whole), prosopopeia (personification), paranomasia (pun), antithesis, and paradox. These very figures, heaped up to excess, one on top of the other, rankled critics like Juan de Ja´uregui, who wrote

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228 Early Modern Spain: Renaissance and Baroque

An Antidoto contra la pestilente poesia de las “Soledades” (“Antidote to the Pestilential Poetry of the Soledades”), and humanist Francisco Cascales, author of the 1634 Cartas filolo´ gicas (“Philological Epistles”). Beyond the tropes themselves, these critics deplored the experimenter’s penchant for altering words (archaisms, foreign borrowings, neologisms, obscure learned references), for rearranging natural Spanish word order to give the effect of Latin syntax, and for failing to provide a clear structure for his poetic fables. In their eyes, Go´ngora’s satanic verses threatened to return language to a primordial chaos where all meaning would be lost.

The controversial poet himself, however, viewed poetic difficulty in very different terms. Go´ ngora saw in competition with the “intricate style” of ancients like Ovid the promise of honor for Spain, mental exercise, and an epistemological odyssey toward the mysterious heart of his tropes. According to Baltasar Gracia´n, it was the period’s queen of figures, the concepto, that held out poetry’s greatest challenge and its highest gratifications. The poet who crafts a bold conceit performs an aesthetic and intellectual feat, by expressing subtle correspondences between objects. Gracia´n classifies conceits produced by Roman authors (particularly the epigrammaticist Martial), Church fathers, and Castilian poets according to the kinds of relations they propose (resemblance, difference, proportion, disproportion, equivocation, dissonance, etc.) and according to whether conceits come singly or in the higher form of a complex system of tropes. For the connoisseur of wit, poetry’s source lies in the educated writer’s storehouse of memory, whose stock has been culled from history, sayings of famous persons, maxims, proverbs, jokes, emblems, allegories, and parables. Memory at its best is only instrumental to ingenuity: superior poetry requires the animating force of an agile intellect to arrange its treasure in arresting designs that appeal to the understanding as well as to the senses. Gracia´n’s Agudeza y arte de ingenio not only proposes a logic for the entanglement in practice of culteranismo’s gathering of figures and learned allusions, and conceptismo’s signifying puzzles, but also suggests why Go´ ngora’s conceits were the codifier’s favorites.

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