Renaissance and Reformation Luis de Góngora
by
Humberto Huergo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0383

Introduction

Luis de Góngora y Argote (Córdoba, b. 1561–d. 1627) is one of Spain’s most celebrated poets and the main exponent of Baroque poetry in the Spanish-speaking world, comparable to John Donne in England and Giambattista Marino in Italy. Author of over four hundred poems, he exceeded in all poetic forms, including sonnets, letrillas (rondelets), décimas, romances, canciones, villancicos, and most notably the octava real and the silva, which he cultivated in his longest and most ambitious compositions, the epico-lyrical Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (1612), based on Ovid’s famous tale, and the Soledades (1613), a two-thousand-line poetic maze essentially about nothing, in the sense that Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a novel about nothing. Boasting bold syntactic twists and esoteric metaphors that almost obliterate their referent, the linguistic subversion of the Soledades sparked a heated debate among Gongora’s contemporaries, who argued passionately about whether to consider the text a Spanish Aeneid or utter gibberish. Besides poetry, Góngora also wrote two (some would say three) plays that departed from Lope de Vega’s popular and populist model—Las firmezas de Isabela (1610) and the unfinished El doctor Carlino (1613). Revered and vilified with equal passion throughout the 17th century, he tended to fall out of grace during the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, to be rediscovered at the turn of the century by the French Symbolists and the Spanish modernistas, who often compared his disdain for empirical reality to that of Mallarmé. His definite consecration, however, only came in 1927, when a group of scholars and poets led by Dámaso Alonso and Federico García Lorca officially crowned him the poet’s poet. Since then, his reputation as Spain’s enfant terrible and his influence among both Spanish and Latin American writers have grown exponentially, with ardent admirers like José Lezama Lima in Cuba and Pere Gimferrer in Spain. Cold and some would say “inhuman,” Góngora is at bottom a pantheist, a poet who captures in his verses if not empirical reality, the “mutable enticements” (Lezama) of empirical reality.

General Overviews

English-speaking readers might want to start with Chaffee-Sorace 2010, followed by Terry 1993. Roses 2012 provides the best introduction in Spanish, but it presupposes some familiarity with Góngora.

  • Chaffee-Sorace, Diane. Góngora’s Shorter Poetic Masterpieces in Translation. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010.

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    A modern translation of Góngora’s shorter poems, accompanied by a brief introduction that outlines his biography, style, critical reception, and poetic themes. See English Translations.

  • Gahete Jurado, Manuel. Luis de Góngora.

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    The site includes biographical information, a list of Góngora’s works with links to the texts, some bibliography, and more.

  • Roses, Joaquín, ed. Góngora, la estrella inextinguible: Magnitud estética y universo contemporáneo. Madrid: Sociedad Estatal de Acción Cultural, 2012.

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    A collection of introductory essays by some of the leading scholars in the field covering all aspects of Góngora’s life and literary production as well as his influence on 20th-century Spanish and Latinoamerican literatures.

  • Terry, Arthur. “Luis de Góngora: The Poetry of Transformation.” In Seventeenth-Century Spanish Poetry. By Arthur Terry, 65–93. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    An excellent overview of Góngora’s poetic evolution, peppered with perceptive remarks about individual works.

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