His father, Francisco de Argote, was corregidor of that city; the poet early adopted the surname of his mother, Leonora de Góngora, who was descended from an ancient family. At the age of fifteen he entered as a student of civil and canon law at the university of Salamanca; but he obtained no academic distinctions and was content with an ordinary pass degree. He was already known as a poet in 1585 when Cervantes praised him in the Galatea; in this same year he took minor orders, and shortly afterwards was nominated to a canonry at Córdova. About 1605-1606 he was ordained priest, and thenceforth resided principally at Valladolid and Madrid, where, as a contemporary remarks, he "noted and stabbed at everything with his satirical pen."
His circle of admirers was now greatly enlarged; but the acknowledgment accorded to his singular genius was both slight and tardy. Ultimately indeed, through the influence of the duke of Sandoval, he obtained an appointment as honorary chaplain to Philip III, but even this slight honour he was not permitted long to enjoy. In 1626 a severe illness, which seriously impaired his memory, compelled his retirement to Córdova, where he died on the 24th of May 1627.
An edition of his poems was published almost immediately after his death by Juan Lopez de Vicuña; the frequently reprinted edition by Hozes did not appear till 1633. The collection consists of numerous sonnets, odes, ballads, songs for the guitar, and of certain larger poems, such as the Soledades and the Polifemo. Too many of them exhibit that tortuous elaboration of style (estilo culto) with which the name of Góngora is inseparably associated; but though Góngora has been justly censured for affected Latinisms, unnatural transpositions, strained metaphors and frequent obscurity, it must be admitted that he was a man of rare genius,--a fact cordially acknowledged by those of his contemporaries who were most capable of judging. It was only in the hands of those who imitated Góngora's style without inheriting his genius that culteranisino became absurd. Besides his lyrical poems Góngora is the author of a play entitled Las Firmezas de Isabel and of two incomplete dramas, the Comedia venatoria and El Doctor Carlino. The only satisfactory edition of his works is that published by Raymond Foulché-Delbose in the Bibliotheca Hispanica.
See Edward Churton, Góngora (London, 1862, 2 vols.); M Gonzalez y Frances, Góngora racionero (Córdoba, 1895); M Gonzalez y Frances, Don Luis de Góngora vindicando su fama ante el propio obispo (Córdoba, 1899); "Vingt-six Lettres de Gôngora" in the Revue hispanique, vol. x. pp. 184-225 (Paris, 1903).