S407 Survey of Spanish Literature I

F. Jehle

Spanish versification: syllables


Spanish poetry is typically based on the number of syllables (sílabas) per line (verso), and not the number and type of “feet” per line as in English poetry. To count the number of syllables in a line, you count up to and including the last stressed syllable of the line and add one more syllable (whether or not there is one or more written syllables at the end of the line!).

 1  2  3  4  5  6    7      + 1 = 8 (eight syllables, NOT seven)
la-ma-ña-na-de-San-Juan
(la mañana de San Juan)
 1  2   3  4  5   6    7    + 1 = 8 (eight syllables)
to-das-la-sa-ves-del-cie-lo
(todas las aves del cielo)
 1 2   3  4  5  6   7       + 1 = 8 (eight syllables, NOT nine)
I-né-ses-ta-ba-la-brán-do-lo (Inés estaba labrándolo)


Synalepha (la sinalefa) is the reduction to one syllable of two vowels across word boundaries. When one word ends in a vowel and the following word begins with a vowel (or “h” plus a vowel), the two vowels join into one syllable unless both vowels are stressed:

  1   2  3   4   5  6 7    + 1 = 8
va_a dar agua_a su caballo
 1  2 3   4   5     6   7  + 1 = 8
la nave vuelve_hacia_allá


Poetic license: Occasionally, a poet will use poetic license (licencia poética) and disregard the normal rules so he/she can come up with the appropriate number of syllables in a line (“It's my poem, so I'll decide whether or not to follow the rules”). Three examples of poetic license are dieresis, syneresis, and hiatus:


Syneresis (la sinéresis) is the joining of two vowels within a word to form a single syllable instead of two syllables:

 1  2   3   4 5   6  7  8   9 10    + 1 = 11
Héroes sin redención y sin historia

Dieresis (la diéresis) is the separating of two vowels within a word which would normally form one syllable [a diphthong; remember that “i” and “u” are weak vowels and normally form diphthongs when they come in contact with other vowels unless they bear a written accent or dieresis mark]:

 1   2  3  4   56 7   8   9 10    + 1 = 11
con su cantar süave no_aprendido

Hiatus (el hiato) is the separating of two vowels at word boundaries which would normally form one syllable because of synalepha:

1 2    3 4   5  6  7   8 9 10     + 1 = 11
Una || ola tras otra bramadora

Thus, the safest way to determine the number of syllables in a line (el cómputo silábico) in a Spanish poem is to pick one or more lines where there is no chance for synalepha, dieresis, syneresis, or hiatus, and count the number of syllables in that/those line(s).


Lines with caesura: If a very long line is involved (14 syllables or more), it will normally be divided into two half-lines or hemistiches (hemistiquios), divided by a pause or break called a caesura (cesura). In this case, to determine the total number of syllables for a line, you must count the number of syllables for each hemistich and then add those two numbers together.

 1   2  3  4 5  6 + 1 = 7    1  2 3  4   5 6 + 1 = 7 7 + 7 = 14
nunca_una sola vez, || jamás era_olvidada (14 syl. line)


Most frequently used lines: In theory, there may be any number of syllables per line, as long as it's more than one. In actual practice, Spanish poetry normally consists of lines of 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, or 16 syllables. Usually all the lines in a poem will have the same number of syllables; however, some poems may include lines of both 7 and 11 syllables.



Práctica


1. Señora, pastor
seré si queredes;
mandarme podedes,
como a servidor.

(“La mozuela de Bores”, by el Marqués de Santillana) Number of syll.: _______


2. ¡Oh dulces prendas por mi mal halladas,
dulces y alegres cuando Dios quería!
Juntas estáis en la memoria mía,
y con ella en mi muerte conjuradas.

(“Soneto X”, by Garcilaso de la Vega) Number of syll.: _______


3. ¿Quién es el que esto mira,
y precia la bajeza de la tierra,
y no gime, y suspira
por romper lo que encierra
el alma, y de estos bienes la destierra?

(“Noche serena”, by Fray Luis de León) Number of syll.: _______


4. Yo me era mora Moraima,
morilla de un bel catar;
cristiano vino a mi puerta,
cuitada, por me engañar.
Hablóme en algarabía
como aquel que la bien sabe.

(“Romance de la mora Moraima”, anonymous) Number of syll.: _______


5. ¡Oh María
luz del día
sé mi guía
toda vía.

(Libro de buen amor, by Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita) Number of syll.: _______


6. Dieron gracias a Dios de buena voluntad.
a la santa Reína la madre de piedad,
quien hizo tal milagro por su benignidad,
por quien está más firme toda la cristiandad.

(Milagros de Nuestra Señora, by Gonzalo de Berceo) Number of syll.: _______


7. En la rama de un árbol,
bien ufano y contento,
con un queso en el pico,
estaba el señor Cuervo.

(“El cuervo y el zorro”, by Félix María de Samaniego) Number of syll.: _______


8. Todos cuantos en su tiempo en esta tierra nacieron,
en riqueza y cualidades tanto como él no crecieron;
con los locos se hace loco, los cuerdos le enaltecieron,
es manso más que un cordero, pelear nunca le vieron.

(Libro de buen amor, by Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita) Number of syll.: _______




Answers: 1: 6; 2: 11; 3: 7 and 11; 4: 8; 5: 4; 6: 14 (7+7); 7: 7; 8: 16 (8+8)