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Basic 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 look at the basic terminology for talking about poetry in Spanish. We will see words and their definitions related to the structure of the poetic work, the characteristics, the author, and the overall feeling.

Spanish Poetry

Verde viento, verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.

(Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.)

Do you like poetry? The above text is a fragment of a poem by García Lorca, called Romance Sonámbulo (Romance Sleepwalker). Let's look at the basic terms for speaking about poetry in Spanish.

Poem handwritten by Garcia Lorca.
poema

Structure of the Work

Poetic works can be of variable length, from very short (just two or three lines) to very long (making up whole books). The whole of the poetic work is called poema (poem), regardless of its extent.

Poems are composed of several phrases that are written in lines. These phrases are the versos (verses). Thus, a verse is the minimum unit that composes a poema. The poem we saw earlier has three verses.

The verses that make up a poem can be arranged in many ways. The estrofa (stanza) is the set of verses whose form is repeated throughout the poem.

There's another poem of García Lorca composed with eight vesos and two estrofas:

  • First stanza

No te conoce el toro ni la higuera,
ni caballos ni hormigas de tu casa.
No te conoce el niño ni la tarde
porque te has muerto para siempre.

(The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,
nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house.
The child and the afternoon do not know you
because you have died forever).

  • Second stanza

No te conoce el lomo de la piedra,
ni el raso negro donde te destrozas.
No te conoce tu recuerdo mudo
porque te has muerto para siempre.

(The shoulder of the stone does not know you
nor the black silk on which you are crumbling.
Your silent memory does not know you
because you have died forever).

How the verses and stanzas of a poem are structured.
estrofa

Characteristics of the Work

To write a verse, the poet often uses different literary techniques than the prose writer would. Some of these are ritmo (rhythm), rima (rhyme), and métrica (metrics).

Métrica

The métrica (metric) is the measure of the verse. The measure of the verse is the syllables. So, we have to count the number of syllables the verse has. It is necessary to follow special rules to measure the number of syllables in a verse. If one word ends in a vowel and the next word begins with vowel, the two syllables are joined into one. This union of two syllables is called sinalefa.

For example,

  • Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche. (Tonight I can write the saddest lines.)

This verse from Neruda has 14 syllables : pue-does-cri-bir-los-ver-sos-más-tris-tes-es-ta-no-che.

Ritmo

The ritmo (rhythm) is the music of the verse - it depends on the distribution of the accents of the words. There are certain distributions of accents that are more harmonic than others.

Rima

The rima (rhyme) is the repetition of sounds after the last stressed syllable. If all the sounds, vowels and consonants are repeated after the last stressed syllable, it is a rima consonante. For example, look at these verses from Gerardo Diego. The last stressed syllables are indicated in bold:

Torerillo de Triana frente a Sevilla
cántale a la sultana tu seguidilla.

(Little bullfighter of Triana in front of Sevilla
sing to the sultana your song.)

All sounds are repeated, both vowels and consonants. This is an example of rima consonante.

If after the last stressed syllable only the vowels are repeated, it is a rima asonante. Look carefully at two verses of Rafael Alberti. The stressed last syllables of each verse are indicated in bold:

¡Oh mi voz condecorada con la insignia marinera
sobre el corazón un ancla y sobre el ancla una estrella!

(Oh my voice adorned with naval insignia,
an anchor over my heart, and over the anchor a star!)

In the last words of the verses, only the vowels are repeated: the accented e and the next one. The consonants are different. This is an example of rima asonante.

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