May 12, 2021

The science of poetry or why the hendecasyllable likes our brain more

Toledo, Mar 21 (EFE) .- The hendecasyllables are verses that sound very good to us in Spanish, their structure draws attention to our brain, we like them, and science and neuroscience have a lot to say about this. It is an example to explain that poetry and science are two different ways of approaching reality but they have more in common than meets the eye.

On the occasion of Poetry Day, which is commemorated every March 21 since Unesco adopted it in 1999, the Efe Agency spoke with Francisco Javier Tapiador, professor of Earth Physics at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, dean from the Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Biochemistry (Toledo) and author of three books of poetry, four novels and several essays.

He also accumulates a long career as a popularizer, and within the collective ‘Ciencia a la carte’ this doctor in physical sciences speaks, among other topics, on ‘The science of poetry’.

To begin with, science and poetry are different ways of approaching reality: science is objective, it tries to find something that can be measured and that, later, can be shared; and that of poetry is subjective, in a way it cannot be shared and they do not have to agree with each other.

However, poetry has a series of rules and that is where science comes in, in unveiling what those patterns are, those structures -the most obvious may be rhyme or rhythm- that make one poem work and another not, that a poem has a rhythm, that some verses are considered good or bad or that there are poets who tell us something and others nothing.

Tapiador points out that all this can “not be fully quantified, but rather understood from a logical and scientific perspective” and adds that poetry is much earlier than the scientific method, which emerged at the end of the 17th century, but what science has done ” is to find out why we like The Odyssey, for example, or why a Garcilaso poem seems wonderful to us “.

There are different tools to analyze how poetry works from a scientific point of view, such as Fourier analysis, spectral analysis or functional analysis, set theory, graph theory or complexity theory, and even the physics of the chaos and metaphysics, which are techniques that “few people know outside the field of science,” he acknowledges.

However, a visible example has as its protagonist Garcilaso de la Vega, the great poet of the Golden Age, from Toledo, who brought hendecasyllables (lines of eleven syllables) to Spain from Italy when until then those of seven or eight were more common. syllables.


“The eleven-syllable verses in Spanish sound very good to us. They have a sound and a structure that draws a lot of attention to our brain, which we like a lot,” says Tapiador, who adds that in French, for example, it happens with the verses of twelve syllables whereas in English they must be shorter.

Within the eleven syllables of the hendecasyllable there are different ways of organizing the accents, on the basis of which the verses seem more solemn, more agitated or even distressing, which gives for a whole theory in which the theorists of the metric have been toiling since the Terentian treaty of 1770.

According to this professor of Physics of the Earth, “science and neuroscience have a lot to say about why these sequences, those accents, those rhythms, fit us better than others” since after the medieval route or the Alexandrines (fourteen syllables ) “we have come to the conclusion that in Spanish the verses of eleven have a perfect balance” and “they are still wonderful”.

And even when people write free verse or white verse “they continue to produce hendecasyllable sequences that, although they do not rhyme, have that rhythm that gives us a special sensation in our sensitivity.”


Tapiador emphasizes the importance of teaching how to read verses to structure the brain: “when you are taught to read poetry and are told what to look for, the brain is structured and allows you to better understand the poems.”

He admits that poetry can have the prejudice of appearing “corny or difficult to understand”, something that in his opinion is due to the fact that many people “stay in bad poetry”, in which he calls “high school folders”, of slogans and typical rubble, in front of which there is a “huge world” and yet to be discovered.

“A world that can provide a lot of wealth and a lot of happiness because reading poetry is a very good activity for people. I will not say that it is therapy, but the arts have always been considered a fundamental part of the richness of the lives of women. people ”, he emphasizes.

Francisco Javier Tapiador wrote his first poems in adolescence, he was fortunate to have two “very good” teachers, in his school years and in university (in the latter, the Spanish Literature teacher Rosalía Fernández), and since then he has combined literature with its “other love”, science, physics and geography.

Lydia yanel


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