LITERATURE: THE POETRY OF THE SPANISH AMERICAN COUNTRIES: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Ercilla’s poem found many imitators, the most famous of whom is the Chilean-born Pedro de Ona (1570-1643), whose poem, Aruco domado (1596), in comparison to Ercilla’s is noteworthy, politically, for the more favourable treatment he gives to the commander of the Spanish forces in Chile and, stylistically, for the richness of his metaphors. Pedro de Ona’s metaphors were to grow even richer in his poetry written in the seventeenth century when he, like almost all the leading Spanish American poets, continued to follow peninsular influences.

Predominant among these influences was gongorismo, the stylistic tendency embodied in the poetry of the Spaniard, Luis de Gongora, that for more than a century played an important role in Spanish American writing. Gongorism is characterized by the generous use of latinisrns, by the accumulation of metaphors, often bearing occult allusions, by daring syntactic inversions and by the absorption into poetry of what are conventionally considered to be extravagant neologisms.

This type of expression was fully in vogue in the early seventeenth century and was especially practiced by the poet-priests who, in the isolation of their monasteries, vied with each other in the art of writing poetry which was as contrived as they could make it. The following imitators of G6nĀ¬gora did not achieve greatness: Bernardo de Balbuena (1561-1627), whose “La grandeza mexicana” (1604) praises the superficial attractions of Mexico but is not as difficult as his “El Bernardo” (1624); another Mexican, Carlos de Siguenza y G6ng6ra (1645-1700), a relative of Gongora; and the Peruvian Juan de Espinosa Medrano (1632-1688).

Much more successful than these was the Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648- 1695). She was uncompromising about the enrichment of her intellect at a time when it was commonly thought that “the woman who knows Latin never comes to a good end”. She wrote plays and essays, and in poetry did not limit herself to the fashionable baroque expression, although she excelled in this, but also wrote popular lyric poetry, her “Villancicos” being outstanding. Profane love is one of the major themes of her poetry, and her love sonnets reveal such depth of understanding that those who seek sincerity in poetry have marvelled at her presentation of the feelings of lovers. Wtth Sor Juana the apogee of poetry in colonial America is reached. After her came a period of rapid decline mirroring the decadence that had enveloped Spanish peninsular poetry in the eighteenth century.