A basic guide to Versada in Son Jarocho

For feedback, corrections, etc. email johnmichael@sfalliance.org
Download the accompanying workshop for exercises.

This guide is meant to teach basic knowledge of Spanish Versification and how it’s applied in the son jarocho tradition. It is not a complete list of the rules, and as with all arts, rules are often broken to get across the vision or message of the verse. As Rafael Figueroa, an accomplished versador, says, “Remember that versification is not an exact science. There are rules that help, but most important is the ear: say the lines in a loud voice. The majority of the time, this is more effective than the rules.” This guide will help you as you begin to train your ear to hear son jarocho versada.

For those of us who do not have the privilege of studying under a master of versada jarocha, the best examples to follow are the books La versada de Arcadio Hidalgo (Cuadernos de La Gaceta) by Arcadio Hidalgo, Gilberto Gutierrez and Versos para mas de 100 Sones Jarochos, compiled by Juan Meléndez de la Cruz.

And for those who have mastered the basics and looking for more examples and some guidance, the yahoo group sonjarocho@yahoogrupos.com.mx has many accomplished decimer@s that are often willing to give you feedback on your work.

1. Syllabification (combinations of vowels)

(a) Within a word.
‘Strong’ vowels: a e o. ‘Weak’ vowels’: i u.
Hiatus (hiato): 2 ‘strong’ vowels form separate syllables (ja-le-o, pa-e-lla, cre-en).
Stressed í or ú (written with an accent) counts as ‘strong’ (ha-cí-a, ba-úl).
Diphthong (diptongo): ‘strong + weak’ forms a single syllable (cau-sa, ai-re, deu-do, hoy).
‘Weak + weak’: the first counts as weak, the second as strong (ciu-dad, cui-dar).
Triphthong (triptongo): ‘weak + strong + weak’ forming a single syllable (liáis, miau).
Sinéresis: occasionally, 2 strong vowels may be combined into a single syllable, especially if it is the same vowel repeated (neer-lan-dés, al-cohol, teo-rí-a); this happens frequently in normal spoken Spanish, and can be employed in poetry.

(b) Within the line of poetry.

Sinalefa: the final vowel of one word normally combines with the initial vowel of the following word to form a single syllable, regardless of punctuation (in normal speech, a pause does of course prevent sinalefa, but for the purpose of scansion punctuation is usually ignored):

le echa fuera —lee-cha-fue-ra
se allana el país — sea-lla-nael-pa-ís
su mutuo amor — su-mu-tuoa-mor
no hay nada — nohay-na-da

Sinalefa only applies within the line, not between one line and the next, even if there is encabalgamiento (enjambement — no punctuation) between the lines in question and they would be read without a noticeable pause.

2. Counting the number of syllables in a line

(a) If the last word in the line is stressed on the second-to-last syllable (terminación grave/llana), the actual number of syllables counts:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

so

bre

los

cam

pos

des

nu

dos

This is an octosyllable (8-syllable line).

(b) If it is stressed on the last syllable (terminación aguda), you add one to the syllable count:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

la

muer

teen

mi

ca

saen

tró

This is also an octosyllable.

(c) If it is stressed on the third-to-last syllable (terminación esdrújula), you subtract one from the syllable count:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

laes

tre

llae

su

na

gri

ma

This is a heptasyllable (7-syllable line).

(d) In other words, all lines are treated as if they had a grave ending with a stress on the second-to-last syllable.

(e) The rules for combining vowels allow a degree of flexibility and can be manipulated to get the right number of syllables in a line. Sinéresis can be used to combine two ‘strong’ vowels. The opposite process, diéresis, involves separating two vowels that would normally form a diphthong, which may be indicated by the diacritical mark also known as diéresis (diaeresis in English): ruido has two syllables, rüido counts as three (ru-i-do). The following line is one of a series of regular heptasyllables:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

con

se

din

sa

a

ble

3. Rhyme

(a) Full rhyme (rima consonante/total).

Matching of vowels and consonants from the last stressed vowel onwards (if the endings are agudas, the final syllable is blank):

ges-to
ho-nes-to
pres-to

frí-o
som-brí-o
gen-tí-o

a-mor
ho-nor
se-ñor

(b) Assonance (rima asonante/vocálica).

Matching of vowels from the last stressed vowel onwards (in a diphthong, only the ‘strong’ vowel matters):

hacienda

opulencia

doncella

conocerla

aldea

If the endings of the rhyming lines are agudas, the last vowel matches and the last countable syllable is blank:

crin

varonil

Guadalquivir

 en mí

A line with an esdrújula ending can rhyme assonantially with a grave word (disregarding the second-to-last vowel of the esdrújula):

ondulados

sonámbulos

caballo

4. Types of line

(a) A line of verse is referred to in Spanish as un verso. Lines may be of any length, but the most commonly used forms in son jarocho have 5, 6, 7, or 8 syllables.

(b) Heptasílabos (7-syllable lines) are often used in combination with 5-syllable ones to form Seguidillas. Seguidillas are versos consisting of 7- and 5-syllable lines in a 7-5A-7-5A rhyme sequence. Seguidillas compuestas add to a seguidilla three lines in a 5B-7-5B rhyme sequence. Seguidillas are sung in La Bamba, El Butaquito, La Manta and as the segunda parte in El Pajaro Cu.

(c) Octosílabos (8-syllable lines) are the most common lines in son jarocho and are most commonly used in 4, 5, 6 and 10 line stanzas.

5. Types of Stanzas

(a) In son jarocho, both full and assonant rhymes are common in all stanza types, though the student of versada should strive for full rhyme whenever possible.

(b) In stanzas of four lines, the first and third lines do not have to rhyme at all as long as the second and fourth lines do. Similarly, the 7-syllable lines of seguidillas, more often than not, have no rhyme scheme while the 5-syllable lines rhyme with each other.

(c) Coplas are stanzas of 4, 5 and 6 8-syllable lines and are the most common stanza types in son jarocho. 4 line stanzas are called cuartetas. Cuartetas can have ABBA, or ABAB rhyme structures. 5 line stanzas are called quintillas. Quintillas can be ABABA, ABBAB, or ABAAB. and 6 line stanzas are called sextillas. Sextillas can be ABABAB, ABBAAB, and ABABBA. Here are examples:

Cuarteta

Quintilla

Sextilla

Sextilla (w/ different rhyme structure)

El pueblo siempre ha luchado(A)
Cuando tiene la razón(B)
Dando sangre y corazón(B)
Para no verse humillado(A)

Ay que bonito es estar(A)
Con la gente que me gusta(B)
Y juntos poder armar(A)
Una sociedad mas justa(B)
Que nos sepa respetar(A)

Basta ya de chantejear(A)
Pasemos del dicho al hecho(B)
Si hablen de globalizar(A)
Globalicen el derecho(B)
De vivir de trabajar(A)
De tener comida y techo(B)

Al querer llorar por ti(A)
Dijo no mi corazón(B)
El dice que tu traición(B)
Yo nunca la merecí(A)
Y por mas que le insistí(A)
No quiso entrar en razón(B)

(d) Décimas are stanzas of ten 8-syllable lines and are more often spoken rather than sung, though they are commonly sung in Luna Negra, El Zapateado, and El Buscapiés and are less commonly sung in Siquisirí and La Morena, in this case broken up into two parts and sung as both verse and estribillo. The rhyme structure of the décima is ABBAACCDDC:

Yo fui a la revolución (A)
A luchar por el derecho, (B)
De sentir sobre mi pecho (B)
Una gran satisfacción, (A)
Más hoy vivo en un rincón, (A)
cantándole a mi amargura, (C)
Pero con la fé segura, (C)
Y anunciandole al destino (D)
Que es el hombre campesino (D)
Nuestra esperanza futura (C)

6. Resources

The online rhyme dictionary is very helpful and loads on handheld devises: http://www.cronopista.com/ (if the page won’t load directly, search google for “m&e diccionario de rimas” and google will format it for your handheld devise)

The online dictionary of synonyms in Spanish at http://www.wordreference.com is also very useful and usually loads on handheld devises: http://www.wordreference.com/sinonimos/

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