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Intermediate 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.

Learning about Spanish poetry and ready to bump it up a notch? Let's learn to measure the verses, see categorizations that depend on the number of syllables, and see examples of several stanzas and poems.

Basic Poetry Concepts

Do you like reading poetry? Poetry in Spanish has many authors and many verses of great beauty. How does a poet get the musicality and rhythm we love? Authors use different techniques and different resources. Let's see some.

A couple of genres of poem include:

Lírica (lyric) is a literary genre where the author expresses their feelings. Lyric is usually expressed in poetry, but there are also lyric texts in prose.

The poema épico (epic poem) is a narration in verse where a poet tells the adventures of a legendary hero. El Cantar del Mio Cid, one of the oldest texts of Spanish literature, is an epic poem.

Page of Cantar del Mio Cid, the oldest epic poem in Spanish.
cantar

The Metric

Let's look at the more mathematical, analytical parts of a poem.

The metric is the measure of the verse. Measuring means counting the number of syllables a verse has. The rules are similar to counting the number of syllables of any word, but there are some special rules to know.

Sinalea

When one word ends in a vowel and the next one begins with a vowel (or an 'h' followed by a vowel), the two syllables come together and are counted as one. This phenomenon is called sinalefa (synalepha).

For example, the following verse has 11 syllables:

Cuando amanece en la elevada cumbre (When it dawns on the high summit)
Cuan-doa-ma-ne-ceen-lae-le-va-da-cum-bre.

Agudos, Llanos, Esdrújulos

Verses are called agudos, llanos or esdrújulos depending on what the last word of that verse is. In this way, when the last word of the verse is:

  • aguda (word with final syllable stress), we are faced with an verso agudo.
  • llana (word with second-to-last syllable stress), the verse is llano.
  • esdrújula (word with third-to-last syllable stress), the verse is esdrújulo.

This classification has effects on the metric. For example:

¡Pobrecita princesa de los ojos azules! (Poor princess with the blue eyes). Azules is llana, so we count the syllables normally. The verse has 14 syllables.

¡Ya te vas para no volver! (You leave and you will not return!). Volver is aguda, so we count the syllables, 7, and add one more. The verse has 8 syllables.

Agitan dulcemente las brisas cálidas (Warm breezes stir gently). Cálidas is esdrújula, therefore we count the syllables, 13, and remove one. The verse has 12 syllables.

Types of Verses

Depending on the number of syllables verses have, they will receive different names. The broad categories are:

  • Versos de arte menor - those that have eight syllables or less.
  • Versos de arte mayor - those that have more than eight syllables.

The Libro de Alexandre, medieval poetic text in versos of arte mayor.
alexandre

Heptasílabo is a verse of seven syllables. Take for example the tango La Noche Que Me Quieras (The Night You Will Love Me) by Carlos Gardel:

  • El día que me quieras
    la rosa que engalana
    se vestirá de fiesta
    con su mejor color.

    (The day when you will love me
    the rose that decorates
    will dress itself up
    in the brightest of colors.)

Octosílabo (octosyllable) is an eight-syllable verse like the following from José Martí:

  • Cultivo una rosa blanca
    en julio como en enero
    para el amigo sincero
    que me da su mano franca

    (I cultivate a white rose
    in July as in January
    for the sincere friend
    who gives me his hand frankly).

Endecasílabos (hendecasyllable) are verses of 11 syllables, such as the following from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer:

  • Volverán las oscuras golondrinas
    de tu balcón sus nidos a colgar.

    (The dark swallows will return again
    to hang their nests from your balcony).

Alejandrinos (alexandrine) are verses of 14 syllables such as the following from Rubén Darío:

  • La princesa está triste, qué tendrá la princesa?
    Los suspiros se escapan de su boca de fresa.

    (The princess is sad. What ails the princess?
    Sighs escape her strawberry lips).

Becquer, a romantic poet who widely used the endecasilabo.
becquer

Stanzas and Poems

Stanzas and poems get different names based on their composition as well.

Redondilla (redondilla) is a stanza formed by four octosyllabic verses where the first verse rhymes with the fourth, and the second verse rhymes with the third. Look at this example by Antonio Machado:

  • Yo para todo viaje
    siempre sobre la madera
    de mi vagón de tercera,
    voy ligero de equipaje.

    (I, in every travel
    always on the wood
    of my third class wagon,
    go with scanty baggage).

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