Luis de Góngora

1561 –

Luis de Góngora y Argote, the Golden Age Spanish poet best known for developing the Baroque literary style Gongorismo, was born on July 11, 1561, in Córdoba, Spain, where he was also raised. Góngora, who was descended from nobility, had at least one sibling—a sister. His father, a judge, had a personal library which the young Góngora frequently used. Through his relatives’ connections, Góngora received a fine education. In 1576, he enrolled at the University of Salamanca. He attended the university for four years, though he never earned a degree. Instead, Góngora took religious orders, though he did not become an ordained priest until he was in his fifties. Instead, he worked as a prebendary—an administrator within the clergy. He had little success in this position, however, due to his lax personal habits. The bishop censured Góngora for absenteeism, talking during prayer service, socializing with actors, and writing poetry. Additionally, Góngora was a card player and a bullfighting aficionado. 

Góngora’s role as a prebendary, however, did offer him opportunities to travel around Spain. In 1602, he went to Valladolid, which was then, briefly, the Spanish capital. Seven years later, he traveled to Madrid, which had resumed its status as the permanent Spanish capital. During these trips, he associated with powerful political figures who became instrumental in his future. 

Góngora initiated his poetry career as a writer of light verse. He published numerous romances, or romancillos, and endechas, or Spanish ballads. Additionally, he penned letrillas (lyric poems) and sonnets. He often wrote  about jealousy or featured female protagonists longing for husbands who have gone to fight in wars. Góngora’s shorter poems helped him achieve popularity. They were simple and sought to produce an emotional response within the reader. His longer poems, particularly the “Fable of Polyphemus” and “Solitudes,” both of which were released in 1613, made him notorious. In 1618, Góngora released “Pyramus and Thisbe,” a burlesque fable.

The style Góngora later developed, Gongorismo, was pejoratively named for him to refer to his literary affectations. Gongorismo developed out of Culteranismo, a portmanteau of “cult” and “Lutheran.” The term identified a select group of poets and readers whose tastes were regarded as being as alien within Spain as that of the German Lutheran. For his new style of poetry, Góngora rejected sentiment in favor of obscure classical allusions, detailed imagery, and elaborate syntax. He also introduced hyperbaton into verse, or the inversion of normal word order to create emphasis. He insisted that his poetry was for an educated audience and believed that all poetry should refine the intellect. Gongorismo was a prominent literary style from the late sixteenth to seventeenth centuries.

Spanish playwright, poet, and novelist Lope de Vega was an admirer of the pessimistic, satirical verse that Góngora wrote in his longer poems, though the pair also enjoyed a literary rivalry based on their disagreements about theatrical conventions. Meanwhile, Góngora maintained a long and bitter rivalry with the poet, satirist, and politician Francisco Gómez de Quevedo. Though Góngora had greater success with his light romances during his lifetime, scholars of Hispanic literature have generally regarded Quevedo as the superior poet and satirist. 

Around age fifty-five, Góngora became an ordained priest, with the aim of  becoming chaplain in the royal court of Philip III in Madrid. He spent much of his last decade in the capital, where he experienced numerous difficulties, particularly financial hardship due to his gambling habit. In 1625, Góngora’s archenemy, Quevedo, purchased Góngora’s house in Madrid. Góngora returned to his hometown after suffering a major illness. He died in Córdoba on May 23, 1627. 

For centuries, Góngora’s poetry went into obscurity. His work was revived by the Generation of 1927 during the tercentenary of his death.