Luis de Góngora y Argote Góngora y Argote, Luis de - Essay


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Luis de Góngora y Argote 1561-1627

Spanish poet.

Góngora is among the best-known poets of the Spanish Golden Age and is sometimes considered Spain's greatest poetic genius. Although his early sonnets, romances, and letrillas are often collected in anthologies of Spanish poetry, Góngora is most often remembered for the dense yet highly musical poetry of his mature years, in particular the Soledades (1613-14; Solitudes) and Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (1618; Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea), poetry which is marked by obscure references to classical mythology and a tendency to latinize Spanish syntax and vocabulary. The complexity of Góngora's poetry has led some critics, past and present, to complain that his work is difficult to understand; however, his ornate style, which came to be known as Gongorism, has exerted a profound influence throughout the centuries and has spawned a host of imitative works. In the twentieth century a group of Spanish poets and intellectuals, who called themselves the “Generation of '27” in honor of the tercentenary of Góngora's death, rekindled interest in the poet and celebrated what they perceived as his poetic “purity.”

Biographical Information

Góngora was born on July 11, 1561 in Córdoba, the son of a judge of the Inquisition. In 1576 Góngora entered the University of Salamanca, where he studied ecclesiastic law and classical literature. In 1585 Góngora took religious orders and was made prebendary at the Cathedral of Córdoba. Two years later Góngora was reprimanded by church officials for neglecting his religious duties, writing profane poetry, attending bullfights, and, in general, leading a frivolous life. For the next 20 years Góngora traveled widely throughout Spain on church business, while continuing to write poetry and associate with literary figures. In 1602 Góngora traveled to the Spanish court in Valladolid, where he gained favor with several nobles, including the Duke of Lerma and the Count of Villamediana. Continuing his poetic endeavors in Córdoba, Góngora completed Polifemo y Galatea and the first volume of the Soledades in 1613, both of which he sent to his literary friends in Madrid for review. In 1617, through the influence of Lerma, Góngora was appointed the royal chaplain to Philip III, inspiring him to compose Panegírico al Duque de Lerma (1617; Panegyric to the Duke of Lerma), in praise of his benefactor. The following year Góngora was ordained a priest. The royal patronage from which Góngora benefited evaporated in 1621 as Lerma and others lost their political influence with the accession of Philip IV. For the remaining years of his life, Góngora wrote little, though he did begin to collect his poems for publication, an effort cut short by his death in Córdoba on May 23, 1627.

Major Works

Góngora experimented with a broad range of poetic styles. His early work, and that which is most often found in anthologies of Spanish poetry, falls into several broad categories: romances, similar in form to the ballad and typified by eight-syllable lines arranged in verses; letrillas, short and often humorous poems based on folk traditions; and sonnets, of which “A Córdoba” (1585; “To Córdoba”), with its tribute to his home town, is considered an early masterpiece. In 1603 the editor Pedro Espinosa included much of Góngora's early work along with that of other notable Spanish poets in a volume of poetry entitled Flores de poetas ilustres (Flowers of Illustrious Poets), bringing Góngora to national prominence. The poetry of Góngora's later life, with which he is most closely associated, is much more complex than his early work, both because of the poet's attempt to ennoble Spanish literature by inclusion of Latin vocabulary and syntax and because the metaphors and allusions of this later work require deep familiarity with classical Greek mythology. Both Polifemo y Galatea and Fábula de Píramo y Tisbe (1618; Fable of Pyramus and Thisbe) are major examples of Góngora's reworking of classical stories. Góngora's most famous work, the Soledades, was intended to comprise four parts, but only Soledad primera was finished; Soledad segunda, scholars believe, was nearly completed. The poem, composed in a complex metaphoric latinized language arranged in a complicated stanza system, tells the story of a shipwrecked man who joins a group of goatherds and highlanders on an island paradise. With its theme of the evil inherent in human ambition, coupled with its superb underlying musicality, the Soledades is the most commonly imitated and studied of all of Góngora's works.

Critical Reception

Góngora's early romances, letrillas, and sonnets gained critical acclaim during the poet's life, leading to patronage from some of Spain's most important court officials, including the Count of Lemos and Rodrigo Calderón, in addition to Lerma and others. While many of his contemporaries were greatly influenced by the latinization and imagery of his later poetry, the circulation of his Polifemo y Galatea and the Soledades typically drew heavy criticism, most notably from Góngora's rival Francisco Quevedo, who parodied Góngora's elaborate style in his La culta latiniparla (The Learned Latin-speaking Lady) and Aguja de navegar culto, con la receta de hacer “Soledades” en un día (The Compass for Navigating Learnedly, with the Recipe for Concocting “Solitudes” in one Day). Others censured Góngora's poetry as lacking any moral point of view. After Góngora's death in 1627 and the publication of his complete works in 1633, however, his legend as a poetic genius grew alongside his increasing influence on subsequent Spanish poetry. The 300th anniversary of Góngora's death occasioned a renewed interest in his work by Spanish poets who believed that only a return to Gongorism could help modern Spanish poetics escape what many viewed as an over-abundance of sentimentality. Critics today, while admitting the difficulty of Góngora's complex style and imagery, generally concur that Góngora was a master of poetic form, and they rank his work among Spain's greatest in terms of its musicality and lyrical beauty.

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

“Hermana Marica” [“Sister Marica”] (poetry) 1580

“Andeme yo caliente y ríase la gente” [“Let me do My Thing in Comfort and Let People Laugh”] (poetry) 1581

“Mientras por competir con tu cabello” [“While in Vain with Your Hair Insists on Vying”] (poetry) 1582

“Amarado a un duro banco” [“Lashed to a Hard Bench”] (poetry) 1583

“A Córdoba” [“To Córdoba”] (poetry) 1585

“Entre los sueltos caballos” [“Among Freely Roaming Horses”] (poetry) 1585

“Servía en Orán al Rey” [“There Served the King at Oran”] (poetry) 1587

“Lloraba la niña” [“There Cried a Young Girl”] (poetry) 1590

“Descaminado, enfermo, peregrino” [“Wayward, sick, and wandering”] (poetry) 1594

“De un caminante enfermo que se enamoró donde fue hospedado” [“Of a sick traveler who fell in love in the place he had been lodged”] (poetry) 1594

“Qué de invidiosos montes levantados” (poetry) 1600

“Angélica y Medoro” (poetry) 1602

“En un pastoral albergue” [“In a Shepherd's Shelter”] (poetry) 1602

“No son todos ruiseñores” [“Not All of Them Are Nightingales”] (poetry) 1609

“La oda a la toma de Larache” [“Ode on the Taking of Larache”] (poetry) 1610

Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea [Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea] (poetry) 1613

Soledad primera (poetry) 1613

Soledad segunda (poetry) 1614

Soledades [comprised of Soledad primera and Soledad segunda; Solitudes] (poetry) 1613-14

Panegírico al Duque de Lerma [Panegyric to the Duke of Lerma] (poetry) 1617

Fábula de Píramo y Tisbe [The Ballad of Pyramus and Thisbe] (poetry) 1618

Edward Meryon Wilson (essay date 1965)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Wilson, Edward Meryon. “Introduction.” In The Solitudes of Don Luis de Góngora: A Text with Verse Translation, pp. xi-xxi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.

[In the following excerpt from the prefatory matter to his translation of the Soledades, Wilson examines the importance of Góngora's poetry, concentrating on his use of metaphors in the Soledades, but also describing the poet's early works and evolving influence.]


Gongorism is the name applied to a school of writing, of which [The Solitudes] is the most important example. It is remarkable for a latinisation of vocabulary and syntax,...

(The entire section is 3052 words.)

Elias L. Rivers (essay date 1969)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Rivers, Elias L. “Oral and Written Poetry in Góngora.” In Proceedings of the Vth Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, edited by Nikola Banasevic, pp. 515-18. Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1969.

[In the following essay, Rivers analyzes Polifemo y Galatea and other poems, arguing that in these works Góngora exhibits a mastery of Spanish oral traditions as well as the written traditions of Greek and Italian poetry.]

It is well known that in Spain the introduction of the Renaissance tradition of literary, hendecasyllabic poetry did not destroy the native tradition of oral, predominantly octosyllabic poetry. The oral...

(The entire section is 1894 words.)

Gwynne Edwards (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Edwards, Gwynne. “On Góngora's Angelica y Medoro.” In Studies of the Spanish and Portuguese Ballad, edited by N. D. Shergold, pp. 73-94. London: Tamesis Books, 1972.

[In the following essay, Edwards traces the inspiration for “Angelica y Medoro,” a ballad that displays Góngora's poetic genius and anticipates many of the themes of his later masterpieces, Polifemo y Galatea and the Soledades.]

Góngora's Angélica y Medoro, written in 1602, is undoubtedly one of the most difficult and ambitious of his romances. It invites study, on the one hand, as an excellent example of the new treatment of the ballad form which emerged at...

(The entire section is 8590 words.)

Alexander A. Parker (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Parker, Alexander A. “Introduction.” In Polyphemus and Galatea: A Study in the Interpretation of a Baroque Poem, pp. 7-89. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1977.

[In the following excerpt, Parker argues that the rhyme scheme, meter, and musicality of Polifemo y Galatea are hallmarks of the Góngora's unparalleled genius and originality.]

To the conclusion that Polifemo is poetry of the very highest class there still has to be added the evidence of its architectural and musical craftsmanship. No reader can fail to become aware of the parallelistic construction of its verses. The eight-line stanza is in nearly every case divided into...

(The entire section is 1689 words.)

John R. Beverley (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Beverley, John R. “Introduction” and “Góngora's ‘Carta en respuesta.’” In Aspects of Góngora's Soledades, pp. 1-8, 11-25. Amsterdam: John Benjamins B. V., 1980.

[In the first excerpt below, Beverley argues that the Soledades was written in response to Hapsburg absolutism, Spanish decadence, and impending imperial decline. In the second excerpt, he examines the language in the Soledades, which, he notes, is so complicated that it was often condemned in its own day as incomprehensible.]


It was no accident that Dámaso Alonso found it necessary to incorporate in his work on Góngora's poetic...

(The entire section is 13450 words.)

Miroslav John Hanak (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hanak, Miroslav John. “Life and Works of don Luis Góngora y Argote.” In The Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea, translated by Miroslav John Hanak, pp. xi-xxvi. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1998.

[In the following essay, Hanak discusses the life, work, and influence of Góngora.]

Don Luis was born on July 11, 1561 into an illustrious family in Andalusian Córdoba. His father was one of the judges of the Inquisition in charge of adjudicating confiscated property. He received his early education at a Jesuit College (a grammar and prep school) in his hometown. His maternal uncle don Francisco de Góngora, prebendary of the Cathedral of Córdoba,...

(The entire section is 3813 words.)

Melinda Eve Lehrer (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Lehrer, Melinda Eve. “Introduction” and “Góngora's Innovations in the Polifemo.” In Classical Myth and the Polifemo of Góngora, pp. 1-17. Potomac, Md.: Scripta Humanistica, 1989.

[In the first excerpt that follows, Lehrer argues that three minor works by Góngora, the sonnet “Mientras por competir con tu cabello,” the romance “En un pastoral albergue,” and the canción “!Qué de invidiosos montes levantados,” all contain hallmarks of Góngora's greatest poetry, the Polifemo y Galatea and the Soledades. In the excerpt, Lehrer demonstrates how Góngora altered Ovid's story of Polifemo to emphasize themes of contrast, tension, and...

(The entire section is 8604 words.)

Betty Sasaki (essay date 1995)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Sasaki, Betty. “Góngora's Sea of Signs: The Manipulation of History in the Soledades.Calíope 1, nos. 1-2 (1995): 150-68.

[In the following essay, Sasaki argues that the obscurity of the language in the Soledades, which forces readers to “contend with the complexities of the text in the activity of reading,” represent Góngora's effort to reflect the instability of the Spanish political situation.]

The Spanish Baroque is a conflicted and confusing moment in Spanish history—one in which Spain finds itself at the crossroads between traditional, societal organization and early modern politics. The decline of imperial power, and the...

(The entire section is 6649 words.)

Edward H. Friedman (essay date 1995)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Friedman, Edward H. “Creative Space: Ideologies of Discourse in Góngora's Polifemo.” In Cultural Authority in Golden Age Spain, edited by Marina S. Brownlee and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, pp. 51-78. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Friedman argues that Góngora's retelling of familiar stories in Polifemo y Galatea is indicative of the poet's literary competition with past and contemporary authors.]

There are a number of ways of looking at the question of continuity in literature, including a focus on discontinuity. To an extent, we have put aside—marginated—literary history in favor of difference. We...

(The entire section is 10525 words.)

Mary Malcolm Gaylord (essay date 1995)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Gaylord, Mary Malcolm. “Góngora and the Footprints of the Voice.” In Cultural Authority in Golden Age Spain, edited by Marina S. Brownlee and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, pp. 79-106. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Gaylord examines Góngora's “Sonnet 80” (“Descaminado, enfermo, peregrino”) as a basis for discussion of the poet's reputed lack of personal voice in the Soledades.]

Few readers of the Soledades fail to note Góngora's linking, in the poem's striking first lines, of his pilgrim's physical footsteps with the movement of verse itself:

Pasos de un peregrino son errante
cuantos me...

(The entire section is 10738 words.)

Elizabeth M. Amann (essay date 1997)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Amann, Elizabeth M. “Orientalism and Transvestism: Góngora's ‘Discurso contra las navegaciones’ (Soledad primera.)” Cáliope 3, no. 1 (1997): 18-34.

[In the following essay, Amann argues that many recent critics have misinterpreted the “Discurso contra las navegaciones,” erroneously claiming that Góngora was an enemy of Spanish exploration and imperialism.]

A glance at recent Gongorine scholarship reveals an increasing tendency to foreground the author's manipulation and subversion of traditional gender roles. In a psychoanalytic study attempting to identify a rebellion by the poet against incest prohibition, for example, Malcolm Read...

(The entire section is 6815 words.)

R. John McCaw (essay date 1999)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McCaw, R. John. “Turning a Blind Eye: Sexual Competition, Self-Contradiction, and the Importance of Pastoral in Góngora's Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea.Hispanofila 127 (September 1999): 27-35.

[In the following essay, McCaw examines pastoral and sexual themes in Polifemo y Galatea.]

In twentieth-century criticism on Luis de Góngora's poetry, the place of the Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea in the tradition of pastoral literature has been investigated and established.1 Like many who associate Góngora's poem with pastoral, C. Colin Smith has called attention to the pastoral significance of particular topics that characterize the...

(The entire section is 3326 words.)

R. John McCaw (essay date 2000)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: McCaw, R. John. “Introduction: The Soledades in Cultural Context.” In The Transforming Text: A Study of Luis de Góngora's Soledades, pp. 4-12. Potomac, Md.: Scripta Humanistica, 2000.

[In the following essay, McCaw seeks to explain why the Soledades has been the object of so much confusion and criticism, and goes on to argue that the poem is about life and death in the natural world.]

In his Soledades Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) makes use of complicated structural devices, subtle imagery, and witty techniques of allusion in order to reveal the transient character of the reality of this world, and to depict the favorable consequences...

(The entire section is 6770 words.)

Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Calcraft, R. P. “The Lover as Icarus: Góngora's Quéde invidiosos montes levantados.” In What's Past is Prologue: A Collection of Essays in Honour of L. J. Woodward, edited by Salvador Bacarisse, Bernard Bentley, Mercedes Clarasó, and Douglas Gifford, pp. 10-16. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1984.

Shows how Góngora reinterpreted the classical myth of Icarus in his poem “Qué de invidiosos montes levantados.”

Crawford, J. P. Wickersham. “Italian Sources of Góngora's Poetry.” The Romanic Review 20 (1929): 122-30.

Analyzes Italian poetry as a likely source for much of Góngora's...

(The entire section is 398 words.)