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Spanish ballad, poetry, epic poetry


One of the hoariest cliches in traditional literary histories apropos the early Spanish ballad (i.e., the Romancero viejo of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) concerns poetic ending or closure: "[The early ballads] frequently end as abruptly as they begin, oftentimes seemingly unconcluded, a characteristic which gives them an air of mystery and special charm." The feature is often attributable to the general and specific origins of the texts in the fragmentation of longer epic poems and chronicles, or in the truncation of longer ballads. The most representative example is "Conde Arnaldos," one of the best of the early Spanish ballads (from the novelesque tradition): the shorter version (twenty-six octosyllabic lines) breaks off abruptly precisely at the right point, for the longer version trivializes the lines that become the enigmatic closure of the shorter version. At the same time, this feature of abrupt and often enigmatic closure in the early ballad (a feature often carried over to the artistic ballads of the Romancero nuevo of the Renaissance) has ensured a lively interest in the Spanish ballad, such that it is more of a part of the mainstream of high-culture Spanish literature than is even the German or the English ballad. The enigmatic closures of the early ballads enhanced their appeal to Romantic imagination, and the twentieth-century vanguard poets saw in them virtually a primitive form of the cameo or ideogrammatic poem.