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This review is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

SPAIN'S GREATEST POET Selected Poems of Luis de Góngora: A Bilingual Edition, edited and translated by John Dent-Young (The University of Chicago Press) £19.00
The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance, translated by Edith Grossman (Norton) £17.99

Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561- 1627) has a strong claim to the title of Spain's greatest poet, even though he has often proved to be a controversial figure, attracting the criticism of influential readers as well as the applause of others. Góngora wrote a large quantity of poetry, exploring the vast range of styles and forms available to the poet in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Spain, both lyric and narrative, popular and elevated: sonnet, ballad, epic, romance, satire, and sacred poetry. In his lifetime he was condemned on moral grounds for his frank and direct style of realism, perhaps, in part, because of his own conspicuous enthusiasm for cards, bullfighting and the sensual pleasures of life, which he does not disguise in his verse. But he was also criticised by other leading poets, such as Lope de Vega and Francisco de Quevedo, who took exception to his complex syntax and rather individual style of imagery. Indeed, legend has it that Quevedo bought the house in which the infirm Góngora was living, and had his rival evicted when he could not pay the rent. Paradoxically, Góngora is criticised by some for his ugly honesty, an excess of realism, and by others for the apparent absence of feeling in his poetry, a lack of the same quality.

Góngora's poetry embraces difficulty, often deliberately challenging the reader in ways that would have won the approval of the Russian Formalists and their desire that art should force the observer ...


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