Advanced Spanish Poetry Terminology

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson we will see some words that belong to the terminology of advanced level Spanish poetry. We will see concepts related to the metric, with the rhyme and with the type of stanza.

The Poetry

Qué es poesía? (What is poetry?) wondered the poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. We ca not give an answer to such a difficult question, but we can try to understand how poetry manages to create its beautiful effects. In this lesson we will see some advanced concepts of Spanish poetry, referred to metrics and rhyme. Surely in the end we will understand poetry better. Although to know the answer to the question, it is best to read Bécquer's full poem!

Literary Resources of the Metric

When we are counting the syllables of a verse and find a word that ends in a vowel followed by another that begins with a vowel (or by h+vowel), the two syllables are counted as one. This is the sinalefa. The sinalefa is the general rule in poetry, but sometimes it may not apply. The rupture of the sinalefa is called hiato (hiatus) and usually occurs in the following cases:

  • One of the two vowels is accentuated.
  • There is a pause between the two words.

Look at the following two examples.

Esta hermosa mariposa (This beautiful butterfly). There is a sinalefa: Es-taher-mo-sa-ma-ri-po-sa.

Está hermosa la mariposa (The butterfly is beautiful). Here is a hiato: Es-tá-her-mo-sa-la-ma-ri-po-sa.

Poetry and Diphthongs

The diéresis (diaeresis) consists of breaking a diphthong and, thus, converting one syllable into two. Many poets usually point to the diéresis by placing two points on one vowel of the diphthong that is broken.

For example, Fray Luis de León wrote this verse:

El que huye del mundanal rüido (The one who flees from the madding crowd). The two points on the u indicate that the word ruido is divided into syllables in the following manner: ru-i-do.

The sinéresis (synaeresis) is the opposite resource. With sinéresis, two vowels that do not form a diphthong join in the same syllable. For example, the verse of Blas Parera.

De los nuevos campeones los rostros (The faces of the new champions).

According to the general rule, e and o do not form diphthong. But we have to form the diphthong so that the poem keeps its metric: De-los-nue-vos-cam-peo-nes-el ros-tro.

In the poetry of Fray Luis de Leon there are many literary resources referred to metrics.

Types of Verses Depending on Rhyme and Measure

Let's examine the following types of verses.

  • Versos libres (Free verses) are those that are not subject to norms of measurement or rhyme. The poems composed by free verses continue to maintain their poetic character thanks to the literary figures, the careful language and, above all, the rhythm. The rhythm comes from the distribution of the accents in the verses. An example by Juan Ramón Jiménez.

Y se quitó la túnica
y apareció desnuda toda…
¡Oh pasión de mi vida, poesía
desnuda, mía para siempre!

(And she took off her tunic,
and she appeared all naked…
O, passion of my life, poetry
naked, mine forever!)

  • Versos sueltos :are verses that do not rhyme within a poem where the other verses do rhyme. In the following poem by José de Espronceda verses number 1 and 5 are sueltos.

Veinte presas
hemos hecho
a despecho
del inglés
y han rendido
sus pendones
cien naciones
a mis pies.

(Full twenty prizes
we have made
the English
and they have surrendered
their flags
a hundred nations
at my feet).

  • Versos blancos (Blank verses): are verses that have no rhyme but keep a regular metric, like the following verses of José Martí, without rhyme but all of them with 11 syllables.

Veis los esclavos? Como cuerpos muertos
atados en racimo, a vuestra espalda
irán vida tras vida, y con las frentes
pálidas y angustiosas, la sombría...

(Do you see the slaves? As dead bodies
tied in a cluster, at your back
they will go life after life, and with the
pained and anguished fronts, the grim…).

The Cuban Marti, author of Guantanamera and many versos blancos.

Polimetría and Polifonía, the Variety in the Poem

There are stanzas and poems composed by verses that have all the same syllables, as for example the classic sonnet, formed by fourteen verses hendecasyllabic (11 syllables). But there are also verses formed by verses with different number of syllables. This phenomenon is called polimetría (polymetry). An example of a polymetric poem is the silva. The silva is composed by an indeterminate number of hendecasyllabic and heptasyllabic (7 syllables) verses. It does not have a mandatory scheme for rhyme. In the silva the rhyme is consonant but the distribution is free, there may even be free verses, that is, verses that do not rhyme.

Fragment of a silva of Antonio Machado, example of a polymetric stanza.

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