History:

The word ‘Ovillejo’ is the diminutive for ‘Ovillo’ which itself means “clew, ball of string or twine” and, as Mr. Turco says in The Book of Forms, “metaphorically suggests something tight, complicated, and small. It is a Spanish form attributed to and popularized by Miguel de Cervantes. Specifically, in La Ilustre Fregona and chapter XXVII of Don Quixote. Subsequently, they were used by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz , Jose Zorrilla , Ruben Dario , Eduardo Marquina and Pedro Muñoz Seca, among others.

Structure:

The Ovillejo 10-line poem is comprised of 3 rhyming couplets (or 2-line stanzas) and a quatrain (or 4-line stanza). The last line is a “redondilla,” a “little round” that collects all three of the short lines.

  • One 10 line stanza
  • 6 long lines (traditionally 8 syllable, but not strictly)
  • 3 short lines (usually dysyllabic-two syllable)
  • These long lines and short lines alternate, and the short lines rhyme with the preceding long line
  • The three short lines come together to make up the last, usually hexasyllabic, line
  • Another way to put this is that there are three rhyming couplets, and one quatrain, and the couplets are each made up of a long line and a short line.
  • The rhyme scheme, with lowercase letters representing long lines, and uppercase letters representing the short lines which repeat together at the end: aA bB cC cdd(ABC)
  • A note: Cervantes himself, in the earliest known Ovillejos, employed an Ovillejo chain. So you could say that the Ovillejo is this stanza form, and the poet has the option to string together as many Ovillejo stanzas as they want.

Here is one of Cervantes’ Ovillejos, in the original Spanish:

¿Quién menoscaba mis bienes?
¡Desdenes!
Y ¿quién aumenta mis duelos?
¡Los celos!
Y ¿quién prueba mi paciencia?
¡Ausencia!

De este modo en mi dolencia
ningún remedio se alcanza,
pues me matan la esperanza,
desdenes, celos y ausencia.

¿Quién me causa este dolor?
¡Amor!
Y ¿quién mi gloria repuna?
¡Fortuna!
Y ¿quién consiente mi duelo?
¡El cielo!

De este modo yo recelo
morir deste mal extraño,
pues se aúnan en mi daño
amor, fortuna y el cielo.

¿Quién mejorará mi suerte?
¡La muerte!
Y el bien de amor, ¿quién le alcanza?
¡Mudanza!
Y sus males, ¿quién los cura?
¡Locura!

Dese modo no es cordura
querer curar la pasión,
cuando los remedios son
muerte, mudanza y locura.

Sources:

Turco, Lewis. The Book of Forms a Handbook of Poetics. University Press of New England, 2000.