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Hello everyone! This is Gayle from Bodhirose’s Blog and I’m your host for Form-For-All/ Meeting the Bar.  Today we’ll be taking a look at the poetic form known as décima. There are various versions of it, but we’re going to be working with the version popular in Puerto Rico.  It is a 10-liner with 8 syllables (octosyllabic) per line in the following rhyme pattern:


In Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America, the décima is often sung and improvised. The form is also sometimes referred to as espinela after its founder, Spanish writer and musician Vicente Espinel.  Those who write and perform décimas are known as decimistas or deimeros.

Vicente Espinel, in full Vicente Gómez Martínez-Espinel (baptized December 28, 1550, Ronda, Málaga, Spain—died February 4, 1624, Madrid), who was remembered chiefly for his picaresque novel, La vida del Escudero Marcos de Obregón (1618; “Life of Squire Marcos of Obregón”).


Vicente Espinel; Photo Pinterest.com

He attended the University of Salamanca where he graduated with a bachelor of arts and ten years later earned a masters of arts at the University of Alcalá. Espinel traveled widely, and in one of his trips was captured by pirates in Algiers in 1572, Espinel entered the army and led a roguish life very much like that of his character Marcos from his novel, visiting Italy, Flanders, and the Netherlands. He returned to Spain in 1584 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1587.

As to the form, the décima deals with a wide range of subject matter, including themes that are philosophical, religious, lyrical, and political. Humorous décimas typically would satirize an individual’s weakness or something silly they did.  A decimero would frequently challenge the target of the satire, or his/her defender, to respond in kind with a décima, thereby setting up a song duel that tested the originality and wit of each composer.

The décima, when sung in Puerto Rico, is invariably sung to the tune of a slow seis—the music which has been fused with the décima and which is traditionally played with a cuatro, guitar and güiro, or scratch gourd.

I found an example of a décima written in English by George Santayana (16 December 1863 – 26 September 1952 / Madrid)

Silent daisies out of reach,
Maidens of the starry grass,
Gazing on me as I pass
With a look too wise for speech,
Teach me resignation,–
teach Patience to the barren clod,
As, above your happier sod,
Bending to the wind’s caress,
You–unplucked, alas!–no less
Sweetly manifest the god.

As with many forms where syllables are counted and especially when the form originates from a different language there can be less or more (7 – 9) than the standard eight that we will be keeping to today.

My own décima:


Spring, you have mostly come and gone.
I think you were here a moment;
we seem to just get a token,
flash-in-the-pan liaison.
I suppose we can’t much count on
you dallying here when winters
are mild with barely a shiver.
No, that would be much too greedy
so let’s make up now my sweetie;
I forgive that you don’t linger.

by Gayle Walters Rose; all rights reserved.

So let’s see what fun we all can have as we dabble in the poetry form of Latin America!

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