The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
GόNGORA AND THE NEW POETRY

LUIS DE GόNGORA Y ARGOTE is the poet who brought together the two strands of Renaissance poetry and traditional or popular poetry and wove them into a new and highly sophisticated form. He was born at Cordova in 1561--that is to say, one year before Lope de Vega. He came of a cultured family--his father had one of the largest libraries in the city--which prided itself on its descent from the great clan of the Manriques and from other noble houses. We know little of his early life except that he was precocious. He learned to read Latin and Italian without much effort, returning home from Salamanca with a reputation for wit, gaiety and extravagance, but very little inclination to canon law and theology. Then for five years he led the life of a young man of good family, falling in love, writing verses to amuse his friends and spending money lavishly. It was this no doubt that brought him in 1585 to take deacon's orders and so to step into the post of prebendary of Cordova Cathedral, which had just become vacant by his uncle's retirement. Certainly it was not any sense of vocation, for he was by nature a man with little feeling for religion.

During the next twenty-six years he continued to enjoy the rents and to carry out the duties of prebendary in his native city. The duties consisted firstly of attendance at choir, at which he was not very assiduous. We hear of his being reprimanded for talking during the services and for his frequent absences. Then he took part in organizing the fiestas and processions--a kind of thing which his love of display and his appreciation of the fine arts must have made congenial. Finally his social gifts--he was a man of many friends--led to his being entrusted by the Chapter with diplomatic missions which took him all over the country. With his family connections, his brilliant wit and his great self-possession he was before long one of the leading figures in the city.

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