Gauchesca Literature

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Gauchesca Literature

Gauchesca Literature, a literary form invented by writers living in the city of Buenos Aires who recreated the speech characteristics of the gaucho and his octosyllabic verses, although with differences in rhymes and strophic distribution. It appeared toward the end of the eighteenth century in the littoral region of Argentina, in the province of Buenos Aires, and on the plains of Uruguay, and it is considered a literary genre within Argentine letters. Gauchesca literature was conceived, developed, and endured on the fringes of established Argentine literature; that is, it existed as a parallel literary genre. It was a dissident literature whose authors were considered rebels pitting the new, popular, and native against the established peninsular and cultured. It continued as marginal literature until its artistic worth was finally recognized in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Gauchesca literature is composed of works written in verse by sophisticated, urban authors. The protagonist is the historical gaucho, from his appearance during the seventeenth century until his assimilation into sedentary life at the end of the nineteenth century, emphasizing his characteristic as an equestrian peasant without specific occupation. These works are set in the Pampas and reproduce the unique linguistic features of the gaucho, which include an archaic rural dialect rich in unique comparisons and metaphors. They are very graphic and humorous, and generally employ proverbial sentences, idiolects, and a lack of logical sequence in many parts of the discourse, with a resulting effect of intense laconism. The thematic repertoire is generally limited to injustice, poverty, the fight against the establishment (the local magistrate or justice of peace, the police, the military), life on the Estancia, the horse, and the mate (friendship), revealing the particular world and world view of the gaucho. Gauchesca works rely on the cantar opinando (singing, but giving an opinion) and usually adopt the form of dialogue and autobiographical narrative, and they are designed to attract the sympathy and the adherence of the reader to causes defended by the gaucho.

Although there were some timid expressions of gauchesca literature at the end of the eighteenth century, the genre formally begins with Bartolomé Hidalgo (1788–1822) and his Diálogos (1820–1822) and Relación (1822). Hidalgo is credited with consciously selecting the socially marginal gaucho and building around him a literature with a sociopolitical message that the masses could understand. Although Hilario Ascasubi and Estanislao del Campo are other writers associated with gauchesca literature, the towering figure of the genre is José Hernández, author of the Argentine national poem, Martín Fierro (1872–1879), which represents the highest point of the genre. This poem, together with some of Hidalgo's texts, entered the folkloric oral tradition, which contributed to the idealization or mythicization of the figure of the gaucho. In this respect, the folletines gauchescos (gauchesco feuilletons) of Eduardo Gutiérrez, produced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, should be cited, as well as the dramatization of one of them, Juan Moreira, which marks the beginnings of the Argentine theater. This process of mythicization reached its summit in 1926 with the novel of Ricardo Güiraldes, Don Segundo Sombra. From that time on, the gaucho is transfigured into an archetype, a symbol of the true Argentine and the Argentine nationality. As such, it can be found in poems, novels, short stories, the theater, and on the radio.

Gauchesca literature should be understood as one of the two specifically Spanish-American literary genres, the other being the Afro-Antillean poetry of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Gauchesca literature is unique in its semiconversational, semiliterary intonation obtained by using the octosyllabic verse and by adopting a careless syntax, which is almost always narrated by a person who either evokes old times (always arcadian) or is furiously propagandistic and critical of the present political times. Gauchesca is also original because of its nonliterary character, its introduction of rusticity into a cultured literary tradition. Confronted with a literature of illustrious men performing heroic deeds, gauchesca presented antiheroes, poor peasants who were scorned and hopeless. Finally, gauchesca literature is significant because it represents the first appearance of an indigenous Argentine literary art form.

See alsoHernández, José; Hidalgo, Bartolomé; Literature: Spanish America; Martín Fierro.


Jorge L. Borges, "La poesía gauchesca," in his Discusión (1964), pp. 11-38.

Ricardo Rodríguez Molas, Historia social del gaucho (1968).

Félix Weinberg, "Una etapa poco conocida de la poesía gauchesca: De Hidalgo a Ascasubi (1823–1851)," in Revista Iberoamericana 40, nos. 87-88 (1974): 353-391.

Horacio J. Becco et al., Trayectoria de la poesía gauchesca (1977).

Richard W. Slatta, "Man to Myth: Literary and Symbolic Images," in his Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier (1983), pp. 180-192.

Josefina Ludmer, El género gauchesco: Un tratado sobre la patria (1988).

Rodolfo A. Borello, "El Martín Fierro y la poesía gauchesca," in Boletín de la Academia Argentina de Letras 54, nos. 211-212 (1989): 97-129.

Additional Bibliography

Carricaburo, Norma. La literatura gauchesca: Una poética de la voz. Buenos Aires: Editorial Dunken, 2004.

Heredia, Pablo, and Andrea Bocco. Asperos clamores: La literatura gauchesca desde Mayo hacia Caseros. Córdoba, Argentina: Alción Editora, 1996.

                                    Angela B. Dellepiane