Luis Cernuda was born into a financially comfortable family in Seville in 1909. Perhaps as a result of the very strict discipline imposed by his father, he developed an introverted personality and was a solitary child. He studied Law and Spanish literature at the University of Seville and became active in literary circles around 1925. In 1928 he moved to Madrid, where he became part of the group of Spanish poets known as the Generation of ‘27 (or the Generation of the Republic). Cernuda went into permanent exile after the Spanish Civil War. From 1939 to 1945 he taught literature in Glasgow and Cambridge and, from 1945 to 1947, at the Spanish Institute in London. For the last years of his life, from 1952 to 1963, he lived and taught in the United States and Mexico.
|Born||September 21, 1902 |
|Died||November 5, 1963 (aged 61)|
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||El panteon jardin, Mexico City|
|Alma mater||University of Seville|
Luis Cernuda (born Luis Cernuda Bidón September 21, 1902 – November 5, 1963) was a Spanish poet, a member of the Generation of '27. During the Spanish Civil War, in early 1938, he went to the UK to deliver some lectures and this became the start of an exile that lasted till the end of his life. He taught in the universities of Glasgow and Cambridge before moving in 1947 to the US. In the 1950s he moved to Mexico. While he continued to write poetry, he also published wide-ranging books of critical essays, covering French, English and German as well as Spanish literature. He was frank about his homosexuality at a time when this was problematic and became something of a role model for this in Spain. His collected poems were published under the title La realidad y el deseo.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Poetry
- 2.1 Collections
- 2.1.1 Primeras poesías (1924-7)
- 2.1.2 Egloga, Elegía, Oda (1927-8)
- 2.1.3 Un río, un amor (1929)
- 2.1.4 Los placeres prohibidos (1931)
- 2.1.5 Donde habite el olvido (1932-3)
- 2.1.6 Invocaciones (1934-5)
- 2.1.7 Las nubes (1937-40)
- 2.1.8 Como quien espera el alba (1941-4)
- 2.1.9 Vivir sin estar viviendo (1944-9)
- 2.1.10 Con las horas contadas (1950-6)
- 2.1.11 Desolación de la Quimera (1956-62)
- 2.2 Influences
- 2.3 Poetics: the role of the poet and poetry
- 2.1 Collections
- 3 Translations
- 4 Prose poetry and criticism
- 5 Cernuda and his contemporaries
- 6 Gide, the dandy and homosexuality
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Notes
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 External links
Seville and early life
Cernuda was born in the Barrio Santa Cruz, Calle Conde de Tójar 6 (now Acetres), in Seville in 1902, the son of a colonel in the Regiment of Engineers. He had two older sisters. The recollections and impressions of childhood contained in his poems, and the prose poems collected in Ocnos, suggest that he was always a solitary, introverted, and timid child whose unhappiness in the family led to his living vicariously through books and through his strong visual impressions of his native city. His first encounter with poetry came at the age of 9 when he glanced through a copy of Bécquer's Rimas that had been lent to his sisters by their cousins Luisa and Brígida de la Sota. Despite the fact that he later testified that this left no more than a dormant impression upon him, he began to write poetry himself during his studies at the Escolapios School in Seville from 1915 to 1919 around the age of 14. In 1914, the family moved into the Engineers' Barracks in the Prado, on the outskirts of Seville. In 1918, they moved to Calle del Aire, where he would later write the poems of Perfil del aire.
In 1919 he began to study Law at the University of Seville, where, during his first year, he attended classes In Spanish Language and Literature given by Pedro Salinas. His extreme shyness prevented him from mentioning his literary activities until Salinas' notice was caught by a prose poem published in a student magazine. He gave Cernuda encouragement and urged him to read both classical Spanish poetry and modern French literature. It was at Salinas' suggestion that Cernuda sent his first collection of poetry, Perfil del aire, to Altolaguirre and Prados, who had begun, late in 1926, to publish a magazine called Litoral. As was the practice in those days, many such magazines published collections of poetry as supplements.
His father died in 1920 and he continued to live at home with his mother and sisters. In 1923 he did military service in the Regiment of Cavalry. In 1924, as he was reaching the end of his undergraduate course, he participated in a series of meetings with a small group of fellow students in Salinas's house. These stimulated his poetic vocation and helped to guide his readings of French literature.
He became a Bachelor of Law in September 1925 but was undecided about what to do next. He thought about joining the diplomatic service but decided not to on discovering that it would entail a move to Madrid. In October, Salinas arranged for him to make the acquaintance of Juan Ramón Jiménez in the gardens of the Alcázar of Seville.
In January 1926, he made his first trip to Madrid, where Salinas was instrumental in arranging introductions to, among others, Ortega y Gasset - who had published some of his poems in his Revista de Occidente in December 1925 - Juan Chabás, Melchor Fernández Almagro, and Enrique Díez-Canedo; At the time his first book was being unfavourably received around April 1927, he was again in Madrid, at least for a while. Although he later described himself at that time as inexperto, aislado en Sevilla, he was in reality already known to a number of the influential Spanish literati of the period. His indecision about a choice of career continued through 1926-27. In December 1927, the Góngora tercentenary celebrations reached a climax with a series of poetry readings and lectures at the Arts Club of Seville by people such as García Lorca, Dámaso Alonso, Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillén, José Bergamín and others. Although he took no direct part in the proceedings, he did get the chance to read some of his poems and he made the acquaintance of Lorca.
Madrid and France
His mother died in July 1928 and, at the start of September, Cernuda left Seville. He spent a few days in Málaga with Altolaguirre, Prados and José María Hinojosa before moving to Madrid. Although he had a law degree, he had no intention of making practical use of it. He was starting to realise that poetry was the only thing that really mattered to him. He renewed acquaintance with Salinas and met Vicente Aleixandre. Salinas arranged for him to become the Spanish lector at the University of Toulouse. He took up post in November and stayed there for an academic year. The experience of living on his own in a foreign city led him to a crucial realisation about himself: his almost crippling shyness, his unhappiness in a family setting, his sense of isolation from the rest of humanity, had all been symptoms of a latent homosexuality which now manifested itself and which he accepted, in a spirit of defiance. This led to a decisive change in the type of poetry he wrote. He also discovered a love of jazz and films, which seems to have activated an interest in the USA.
Between his return from Toulouse in June 1929 to 1936, Cernuda lived in Madrid and participated actively in the literary and cultural scene of the Spanish capital. At the start of 1930, he found a job in a bookshop owned by León Sánchez Cuesta. All through this period, he worked with many organisations attempting to create a more liberal and tolerant Spain. For example, between 1932 and 1935, he participated in the Misiones Pedagógicas - a cultural outreach organisation set up by the Spanish Republic. He also contributed articles to radical journals such as Octubre, edited by Alberti and his wife María Teresa León, which could suggest at least a temporary adhesion to the Communist Party. In June 1935, he took lodgings in Calle Viriato, Madrid, above the flat of Altolaguirre and his wife Concha Méndez.
In February 1936, he participated with Lorca and Alberti in a hommage to the Galician writer Valle-Inclán. Since Perfil del aire, he had only managed to publish one collection - Donde habite el olvido - in 1934, and a few individual poems. This difficulty in getting published gave Cernuda the chance to revise and reflect on his work. It also occurred to him in the meantime that he could bring all his poetry together under the title La realidad y el deseo. In April 1936, José Bergamín published the book in his journal Cruz y Raya. Subsequent editions added new poems as separate books under this collective title. On April 21, there was a celebratory dinner, attended by Lorca, Salinas, Pablo Neruda, Altolaguirre, Alberti, Aleixandre and Bergamín himself.
Spanish Civil War
When the Spanish Civil War broke out, a friend of his, Concha de Albornoz, arranged for him to join her in Paris as secretary to her father, the ambassador Alvaro de Albornoz. He remained there from July to September 1936, but after that he returned to Madrid along with the ambassador and his family.
For perhaps the only time in his life Cernuda felt the desire to be useful, which he achieved by serving on the Republican side. He was hopeful that there was a possibility of righting some of the social injustices that he saw in Spanish society. From October 1936 to April 1937, he participated in radio broadcasts with A. Serrano Plaja in the Sierra de Guadarrama, north of Madrid. In April 1937, he moved to Valencia and began to write poems that would be collected in Las Nubes. He also came into contact with Juan Gil-Albert and the other members of the editorial team behind the periodical Hora de España and began to work with them. In June, he had trouble with a functionary from the Ministry of Education about a poem on the subject of Lorca - now dead - and had to remove a reference to the subject's homosexuality. He played the role of Don Pedro in a performance of Lorca's play Mariana Pineda during the Second Congress of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals in Valencia in 1937. At this time, he met Octavio Paz. In October, he returned to Madrid, where he remained until February 1938, working on the periodical El Mono Azul, edited by Alberti and María Teresa León.
Exile in Britain
In February 1938, an English friend, the poet Stanley Richardson, who died in the Blitz in 1941, arranged for him to give a series of lectures in Oxford and Cambridge. At the time, Cernuda thought that he would be away from Spain for one or two months, however this was to be the start of an exile that would last for the rest of his life. The lectures never took place. Richardson was well-connected, however, and arranged a party for him, attended by celebrities such as the Duchess of Atholl, Gavin Henderson, 2nd Baron Faringdon, the Chinese ambassador, Rebecca West and Rose Macaulay. Even by then, the situation in Spain meant that it was not advisable for Cernuda to return and so Richardson suggested that he should join a colony of evacuated Basque children at Eaton Hastings on Faringdon's estate.
After a few months in England, penniless and barely able to speak English, he went to Paris with the intention of returning to Spain. But he stayed on in Paris on receiving news of what was happening in his native land. In September 1938 Richardson secured him a position as Spanish assistant in Cranleigh School. In January 1939 he became the lector at the University of Glasgow.
Neither Glasgow nor Scotland appealed to him, which is perhaps noticeable in the downbeat tone of the poems he wrote there. From 1941 onward, he spent his summer vacations in Oxford, where, despite the ravages of the war, there were plenty of well-stocked bookshops. In August 1943, he moved to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was much happier. In Seville he used to attend concerts and music had always been very important to him. The artistic life of Cambridge and London made it easier for him to develop his musical knowledge. Mozart was the composer whose music meant the most to him and he devoted a poem to him in his last collection, Desolación de la Quimera.
In 1940, while Cernuda was in Glasgow, Bergamín brought out in Mexico a second edition of La realidad y el deseo, this time including section 7, Las nubes. A separate edition of this collection appeared in a pirated edition in Buenos Aires in 1943. He had been afraid that the situation in Spain after the end of the Civil War would create such an unfavourable climate for writers who had gone into exile like him, that his work would be unknown to future generations. The appearance of these two books was a ray of hope for him.
In July 1945, he moved to a similar job at the Spanish Institute in London. He regretted leaving Cambridge, despite the range and variety of theatres, concerts and bookshops in the capital. He began to take his holidays in Cornwall because he was tired of the big city and urban life. So, in March 1947, when his old friend Concha de Albornoz, who had been working at Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, wrote to offer him a post there, he accepted with alacrity. He managed to secure a passage on a French liner from Southampton to New York, where he arrived on September 10. He was coming from a country that was impoverished, still showing many signs of war damage and subject to rationing so the shops of New York made it seem as if he were arriving in an earthly paradise. He also responded favourably to the people and wealth of Mount Holyoke where, for the first time in my life, I was going to be paid at a decent and fitting level.
USA and Mexico
Although he was happy in Mount Holyoke, at the end of the 1947-48 year, a student advised him not to stay there and he himself began to wonder whether it was a beneficial force on his poetry. In the summer of 1949 he paid his first visit to Mexico and was so impressed that Mount Holyoke began to seem irksome. This can be seen in the collection of prose Variaciones sobre tema mexicano, which he wrote in the winter of 1949-50. He began to spend his summers in Mexico and in 1951, during a 6-month sabbatical, he met X (identified by Cernuda only as Salvador), the inspiration for Poemas para un cuerpo, which he started to write at that time. This was probably the happiest period of his life.
Scarcely had he met X than his Mexican visa expired and he returned to the USA via Cuba. It became impossible for him to continue living in Mount Holyoke: the long winter months, the lack of sun, the snow all served to depress him. On his return from vacation in 1952, he resigned from his post, giving up a worthy position, a decent salary, and life in a friendly and welcoming country that offered him a comfortable and convenient lifestyle. He had always had a restless temperament, a desire to travel to new places. Only love had the power to overcome this need and make him feel at home in a place, to overcome his sense of isolation. In this, there is perhaps a clue as to one of the reasons that he was attracted to the surrealists - the belief in the overwhelming power of love. In addition, he always had a powerful attraction to beautiful young men. He also had a constant urge to go against the grain of any society in which he found himself. This helped him not to fall into provincial ways during his youth in Seville, whose inhabitants thought they were living at the centre of the world rather than in a provincial capital. It also helped to immunise him against the airs and graces of Madrid or any other place in which he lived.
In November 1952, he settled in Mexico with his old friends Concha Méndez and Altolaguire(although since they had separated in 1944 and later divorced, Cernuda probably stayed with Concha). Between 1954 and 1960 he was a lecturer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In 1958, the third edition of La realidad y el deseo was published in Mexico. For this edition Cernuda wrote an essay Historial de un libro which considers his work in order to see not so much how I made my poems but rather, as Goethe said, how they made me. In 1958, Altolaguirre died and Cernuda took on the job of editing his poetry. His two sisters died in 1960.
In June 1960, he lectured at UCLA and became friendly with Carlos Otero, who was presenting a doctoral thesis on Cernuda's poetry that year. This stay seems to have revitalised Cernuda and, on his return to Mexico, he began to write poetry again. The poems he wrote in the autumn and winter of 1960-61 form the nucleus of his final collection, Desolación de la Quimera, which he completed in San Francisco a few months later. From August 1961-June 1962, he gave courses at San Francisco State College. After a brief return to Mexico, he made his third and final visit to California in September 1962, where he was a visiting professor at UCLA until June 1963. He spent the summer of 1963 in Mexico and, although he had an invitation to lecture at the University of Southern California, he declined it in August, because of the need to undergo a medical in order to extend his visa. He died in Concha Mėndez's house of a heart attack on 5 November 1963. He was buried in the , Mexico City. He never married and had no children.
Luis Cernuda was one of the most dedicated poets amongst the members of the Generation of 1927. Salinas, Guillén, Diego and Dámaso Alonso were as well known for their teaching activities and their critical writings as for their poetry. Altolaguirre and Prados are probably remembered more for their printing work than for their literary output. Alberti enjoyed fame for his political activism and Lorca was possibly as gifted in drama and music as he was in poetry. Cernuda drifted into university teaching simply as a way of earning a living and never held a prestigious post. Everything in his life was incidental to his work as a poet. His published criticism is valuable for the insights it gives into his development as a poet - he tends to discuss the authors and works that had most influence on his poetry and thinking. The development of his poetry from first to last is dictated by the development of his character and not by literary fashion - although his personal crisis, depicted in Un río, un amor, does coincide with the personal crises experienced by Alberti, Lorca and Aleixandre. The collective title he chose for his poetry, La realidad y el deseo, refers to the conflict that is its primary theme. He wrote:
Desire led me towards the reality that offered itself to my eyes as if only through possession of it might I be able to achieve certainty about my own life. But since I have only ever achieved a precarious grip on it, there comes the opposite tendency, that of hostility to the ironic attractiveness of reality...And so, in my view, the essence of the problem of poetry is the conflict between reality and desire, between appearance and truth, permitting us to achieve some glimpse of the complete image of the world that we do not know.
A significant stage of his development occurred in 1923-24, when he was doing military service. Every afternoon, along with the other recruits, he had to ride round the outskirts of Seville. One afternoon, he had an epiphanic experience as if he were seeing things for the first time. He also felt an uncontrollable need to describe this experience. This led to the writing of a whole series of poems which have not survived.
Another crucial phase of his development was his residence in Great Britain between 1938 and 1947. He learned English and read widely in English literature. He seems to have had a sense that he was predestined to read English poetry and that it corrected and completed something that was lacking both in his poetry and in himself. He began to see his work in the classroom as analogous to the writing of poetry - the poet should not simply try to communicate the effect of an experience but to direct the reader to retrace the process by which the poet had come to experience what he is writing about. His attitude to Britain was ambivalent. He learned a lot from the literature and greatly admired certain aspects of the national character, as displayed in wartime, but found it hard to summon up affection for the country and its people. He tried to sum up his ambivalent feelings in the poem "La partida", but he considered that he failed to do justice to the theme.
Primeras poesías (1924-7)
This was the title that Cernuda gave in La realidad y el deseo to the revised version of his first published work Perfil del aire, which had been published by Litoral in April 1927. The collection was dedicated to Salinas, and Cernuda sent a copy to him in Madrid, where he was spending the university vacation. Cernuda later recalled that this book was greeted by a stream of hostile reviews that tended to concentrate on a perceived lack of novelty and on its indebtedness to Guillén. It also really stung him that Salinas merely sent back a brief acknowledgement of receipt of the book. He dealt with the apparent debt to Guillén in an essay in 1948, in which he points out that in 1927, Guillén had yet to publish a collection. During the 1920s, Guillén had published poems here and there in various magazines - including 12 in two separate editions of the Revista de Occidente in 1924 and 1925 - but this is scarcely sufficient evidence to demonstrate significant influence, given that in December 1925 he himself had had 9 poems published in Revista de Occidente. His conclusion is that both of them were influenced by the works of Mallarmé - in the case of Guillén this influence was transmitted via Valéry - and shared an interest in pure poetry. José Bergamín, however, published a favourable review and Guillén himself sent him a letter praising the work and urging him to ignore the reviews. Nevertheless, he was never able to forget the criticism that this work had engendered. He was too thin-skinned for that.
The revision process removed ten poems and also some of the stylistic elements that might have triggered comparisons to Guillén - such as the use of exclamations and the rhetorical device apostrophe - but in reality the poets are very different in tone. Guillén reaches out joyfully and confidently to reality whereas Cernuda is more hesitant - the world might be an exciting place but something holds him back. Like Guillén, Cernuda uses strict metrical forms in this collection, such as the décima and the sonnet, and there is also an intellectual quality far removed from the folkloric elements that were being used by poets such as Alberti and Lorca, but the emotional restraint is far removed from the world of Cántico. The change of title suggests a recent desire to strip artifice away from his poetry. There are already poems that reject the real world in favour of a love that will lead to oblivion. The poet wants to find a place to hide from the world of reality, fully aware that such a retreat or escape can only be temporary. The overriding mood is one of adolescent melancholy. The debt to Juan Ramón Jiménez is also strong.
Egloga, Elegía, Oda (1927-8)
After the set-back of the critical reception of Perfil del aire, Cernuda decided to cultivate precisely those things that had been criticised, especially the lack of novelty. He wrote an eclogue, heavily influenced by his favourite Spanish poet Garcilaso. This was published in the first issue of a magazine called Carmen and was received very favourably by Salvador de Madariaga. This was followed by an elegy and then by an ode. Although he came to recognise that writing these poems had helped his technical fluency, he realised that there was something essential that these formal exercises did not allow him to express. However, he was encouraged to learn that it was possible to write poems of much greater length than was customary at that time, which was an important discovery for him. In Historial de un libro, he states that at this time he was trying to find an objective correlative for what he was experiencing - one of the many indications of the influence of TS Eliot on his work, although this is a rationalisation after the fact because he had yet to read Eliot.
This small group of poems can be read as Cernuda's participation in the Góngora tercentenary celebrations - except that he chose to evoke the memories of Garcilaso's eclogues and Luis de León's odes. However, their influence is evident only on the form of these poems - the subject-matter is more obviously influenced by Mallarmé. The languorous mood recalls "L'après-midi d'un Faune". There are hints of the poet's admiration for Greek mythology and also of his interest in male physical beauty.
Un río, un amor (1929)
Cernuda started work on this collection during his period in Toulouse. He visited Paris in the Easter vacation of 1929 and was bowled over by the museums and the book-stalls. He spent his days soaking up the sights. One day, back in Toulouse, he wrote "Remordimiento en traje de noche" and discovered a style that enabled him to express poetic needs that he had not been able to communicate up till then. He had not written any poetry since before his arrival in Toulouse in 1928 but he produced the first 3 poems of the new collection in quick succession. His dissatisafaction with the conventions of fashionable poetry had been freed by contact with surrealism, which for him was not just a literary phenomenon but the expression of an attitude against conformity. He continued work on this collection after his return to Madrid.
The influence of the Surrealists is shown by the complexity of the free-flowing imagery, some of it inspired by random discoveries such as the title of a jazz record (as a jazz fan, he used to scour record catalogues and was intrigued by titles such as "I want to be alone in the South"), the name of an American city such as Durango or Daytona, a title card from a silent film, or an image from a talking picture such as White Shadows in the South Seas which he had seen in Paris. The metrical schemes and rhyme patterns of the first two collections are largely abandoned; only a few of the poems in this book are written in alexandrine quatrains. Such metrical regularity is not a feature of most surrealist poetry. This was the first collection in which he made use of what he calls free verse. In reality, this amounts to ignoring classical Spanish verse forms and rhyme schemes, such as letrillas - in fact, from this point on Cernuda rarely uses full rhyme or even assonance - even though he often felt a need to write in a lyrical style. In a poem such as "¿Son todos felices?", Cernuda makes it clear what attracted him to the Surrealists, their protest against society and the pressure to conform. In this poem, honour, patriotism and duty are seen as worthless in comparison to the suffering they inflict on the rebel or non-conformist. Just being alive and living according to the rules is equivalent to being dead. It is noteworthy that this poem contains the first unequivocal expression of homoerotic attraction in his poetry. The collection, like its successor, remained unpublished until 1936, when they were gathered into the first edition of La realidad y el deseo.
Los placeres prohibidos (1931)
The poems gathered in this and the previous collection came to Cernuda fully formed. The poems that eventually got published were the same as the first drafts, which was very different from his experience with his first two collections.
The poet's homosexuality is made defiantly manifest in this collection. However, the title of the work suggests that there were other "forbidden pleasures" and he explores various ways of defying the norms of bourgeois behaviour. It is the product of an intensive period of literary production between April and June 1931, when Alfonso XIII abdicated and the Spanish Republic was proclaimed. In "Diré cómo nacisteis", Cernuda launches a war cry against a society in decay that represses and imprisons people who transgress the social norms of love. And in the next poem, "Telarañas cuelgan de la razón", he sets up the other major mood of the collection, an elegiac mood of sorrow. The poems in this book draw a distinction between the poet's freedom of imagination and the accepted rules of life that confine and limit his freedom. The predominant tone is one of desolation, recalling the transitory nature of love and the emptiness it leaves in its wake. In "De qué país", Cernuda looks at a newborn child and depicts the betrayal of his sense of wonder and innocence by the way the adult world imposes artificial codes of behaviour and a sense of guilt when the code is transgressed. It is a theme that is explored many times in his oeuvre.
Donde habite el olvido (1932-3)
This book resulted from a love affair that ended badly. Derek Harris has identified the other man as Serafín F. Ferro. In "Aprendiendo olvido", one of the prose poems included in Ocnos, Cernuda alludes to this episode. In later years, he was embarrassed by the candour with which he treated it, attributing this to the slowness of his emotional development, and admitted that this section of his oeuvre was one of the least-satisfying for him.
In this collection, Cernuda steps away from surrealism, feeling that what was lying around hidden in the depths of his subconscious had been dredged sufficiently. Instead of what he had come to see as the artifice and triviality of hermetic images deriving from the flow of thoughts through the poet's mind, he turned to the example of the 19thc. poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, who produced tightly controlled poetry on the subject of lost love. Cernuda continued to eschew rhyme and assonance but, like Bécquer's Rimas the stanzas are short and self-contained and their language is restrained. Sometimes, the poems return to the world of the Primeras poesías.
In "III", the theme is the emptiness left by the passing of love - just as in "Telarañas cuelgan de la razón" from Los placeres prohibidos - but rendered in a much simpler, more lyrical fashion. "IV" shows how the dreams and aspirations of youth are destroyed when they soar too high - probably a reference to the myth of Icarus. "VII" returns to the enclosed world of the early poems, suggesting that despite all his experiences the poet is still an unfulfilled dreamer. "XII" suggests that love alone makes life real. It persists as a universal force even though it might have died in a particular individual. The ideas behind surrealism are still present, although the presentation of them is markedly different.
This collection was originally called Invocaciones a las gracias del mundo but Cernuda later shortened it to make it seem less pompous. Tired with the habitual brevity of poems in the tradition of Antonio Machado or Jiménez, he starts to write much longer poems than hitherto. When he started work on these poems, he realised that their subject-matter needed greater length for him to be able to express everything he needed to say about them. He cast off all the remaining traces of "pure" poetry. He also notes, however, that there is a tendency to ramble at the beginning of certain poems in this book as well as a degree of bombast.
His principal subject-matter is still essentially himself and his thoughts but he starts to view things in a more objective way: the poetry is more analytical. For example, in "Soliloquio del farero", the poet finds an escape from desperation in an enclosed and solitary world very similar to that of his earliest poems. The poem is addressed to his "friend" - solitude - and he develops the idea that he has been chosen to serve mankind in some way by being separated from them, just like a lighthouse-keeper. Other poems in the collection allude to Greek mythology or a golden age of innocence that has been lost. Early in 1935, Cernuda made the acquaintance of Stanley Richardson and dedicated "Por unos tulipanes amarillos" to him.
Las nubes (1937-40)
This collection was written during the Spanish Civil War and amidst all the disruption and uncertainty in Cernuda's life as he went into exile, drifting from Madrid, to London, to Paris, to Cranleigh and finally to Glasgow. Meditations about his isolation in foreign countries and about Spain, particularly about his growing feeling that nothing in Spain was going to change for the better and that intolerance, ignorance and superstition were winning the struggle, are the major themes. Stylistically, there is an increased concentration on clarity and simplicity of diction and his control over his means of expression is growing. He often uses combinations of 7 and 11 syllable lines.
When he left Madrid in February 1938, he took 8 new poems with him. In London, he wrote 6 more. He wrote "Lázaro" while Chamberlain and Hitler were negotiating about Czechoslovakia, and the poem is written in a mood of melancholy calm, trying to express the disenchanted surprise that a dead man might feel on being brought back to life. During his stay with the colony of evacuated Basque children at Eaton Hastings, he befriended a boy called Iñaki who had quickly mastered English and showed such promise that Lord Faringdon was prepared to finance his education at a private school - an offer refused by the boy on political grounds, according to the story told by Cernuda to his fellow émigré Rafael Martínez Nadal. Shortly afterwards, the boy fell ill and was taken to the Radcliffe Infirmary. On March 27, he was close to death. He refused the last sacraments and turned away from the crucifix held out by a priest. He wanted to see Cernuda, however, and asked him to read a poem. He then turned to the wall and died. This was the inspiration for the poem "Niño muerto", written in May 1938.
A key poem in the collection is "A Larra, con unas violetas (1837-1937)", in which he identifies himself with Mariano José de Larra, the brilliant, satirical journalist of 19thc. Madrid. Larra was a fierce critic of the governments of his day and of the state of Spanish society but was at heart very patriotic. Cernuda sees in Larra a kindred spirit, embittered, misunderstood, isolated and unsuccessful in love.
Como quien espera el alba (1941-4)
This work was begun during his 1941 vacation in Oxford, continued in Glasgow and completed at Cambridge in 1944. The autumn, winter and spring of 1941-2 was one of the most fertile periods of his life and it seems that this collection was one of his favourites. He read widely in English poetry and criticism and made acquaintance with the writings of TS Eliot, Dr Johnson, Coleridge, Matthew Arnold and Keats's letters amongst others. He also began to read Goethe and Kierkegaard. Whilst this extensive reading does not show through specifically in any poem, his handling of longer poems is more assured. There are poems that suggest a nostalgia for the Seville of his youth - not an emotion that Cernuda often displays, but a longing for bright sunshine and warmth is easily explicable in the circumstances. It is only in such indirect ways that a reader can sense what was happening around him. Glasgow was bombed 5 times by the Luftwaffe in the Blitz and suffered extensive damage but it would be impossible to gather this from reading Cernuda.
In an extended poem, "Noche del hombre y su demonio", he reflects on the course of his life and the possibility of being remembered after his death. The demonio attacks the concept of the poet's vocation and suggests that Cernuda might sometimes have been tempted to try to live a normal life. "Góngora" is another poem that takes a historical figure and projects the poet's own psychological state onto him.
The title of the collection alludes to the atmosphere of Britain during the Second World War when "it was only possible to hope for an end to the world's retreat into a primitive world of darkness and terror, in the middle of which England was like the ark in which Noah survived the flood."
Vivir sin estar viviendo (1944-9)
Begun in Cambridge, continued in London and completed in America, this is very similar to the previous collection in that it contains a mix of introspective and self-analytical works and shorter impressionist poems. As a result of his reading of Hölderlin, Cernuda had started to use enjambement. His increasing use of this device gave his poetry a duality of rhythm - the rhythm of the individual line and the rhythm of the phrase. Since he tended not to use rhyme or even assonance, the rhythm of the line tends to be swamped by that of the phrase, resulting in an effect that is often close to prose.
The first eight poems were written in Cambridge and he added another 13 which he wrote during holidays in Cornwall. The title alludes to the state of mind in which he found himself at that time - living vicariously in foreign countries where he scarcely knew anybody. His voracious reading was taking the place of living. He could see nothing ahead of him but death.
Con las horas contadas (1950-6)
This collection was started in Mount Holyoke during the winter of 1950 and completed in Mexico. One of the most noteworthy things about this book is that it contains a group of poems - Poemas para un cuerpo - about an intensely physical affair he had with an unidentified man in Mexico. The title suggests not merely Cernuda's obsession with the passing of time but also the sense of strangeness he felt whilst living this amorous adventure - an old man in love as he describes himself. As already stated, this was one of the happiest times in his life. The bulk of the poems in the collection are shorter than in previous books and start to incorporate assonance more frequently in an attempt to concentrate the thematic material rather than explore it at length and also to seem more purely lyrical.
"El elegido" is an objective account of the choosing, preparation and killing of an Aztec sacrificial victim. It is recounted in very simple language but it clearly picks up on the thoughts behind the soliloquy in Invocaciones. The poem presents an allegory of the choosing, beguilement and final destruction of the poet by life or the "daimonic" power.
Desolación de la Quimera (1956-62)
Cernuda's last book of poems is a summing up of his career. It was published in Mexico in November 1962. It mingles poems in the style of his first book with epigrammatic works and extended reveries in his mature style. There are poems that are derived from song-titles or catch-phrases - "Otra vez, con sentimiento" - and historical poems about figures such as Mozart, Verlaine and Rimbaud, Keats, Goethe, Ludwig of Bavaria. In "Niño tras un cristal", he completes a cycle of poems about the unawareness and hope of a child before its corruption by the world - a theme present right from the start of his poetic career.
It is clear that he knew that his life was coming to a close and he wanted to settle his accounts. This is shown by the titles of poems such as "Antes de irse", "Dos de noviembre", "Del otro lado", "Epílogo" and "Despedida". There are direct links to previous collections. For example, "Epílogo" is explicitly related to the Poemas para un cuerpo, and "Pregunta vieja, vieja respuesta" links back to Donde habite el olvido.
He also returns to the theme of Spain, which had first appeared in Las nubes, analysing what he admires and dislikes. There are poems about other poets he knew, sometimes splenetic in tone. The major theme is, however, that of the impossibility of finding happiness in a world where desire and reality diverge - cf "Hablando a Manona", "Luna llena en Semana Santa", or "Música cautiva". However, he does find some kind of consolation in the realm of art - listening to Mozart's music, or considering the world of Goethe compared with that of Napoleon's drunken soldiers. Also, by this time, he had gathered some degree of fame in Spain and there were signs that people were responding to his writings. In "Peregrino", he reacts to enquiries about whether he might return to his homeland in a characteristically grumpy way which shades into a tone of resolute stoicism as he explains that he is driven to keep moving forward and can never return to the past.
It was at the urging of Pedro Salinas that Cernuda began to read classical Spanish poets such as Garcilaso, Luis de León, Góngora, Lope de Vega, Quevedo and Calderón de la Barca. He also urged him to learn French and to read modern French literature, in particular André Gide and the poetry of Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Rimbaud. Cernuda also became acquainted with the poetry of Pierre Reverdy and counts him as a major influence over the poems in his first collection, Perfil del aire, for his qualities of spareness, purity and reticence. No contemporary critic recognised this influence. In Un río, un amor, Destierro echoes Reverdy's poetry in its evocation of a solitary existence in a hostile urban world. He also read Lautréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror and Préface a un livre futur, although their influence emerged at a later time.
Just before he completed Perfil del aire, in March 1926, the Madrid book-seller León Sánchez Cuesta had already delivered to him a copy of Le Libertinage by Louis Aragon. In the time just after the publication of Perfil del aire, he began to read other books by the leaders of the Surrealist movement - André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon and René Crevel. He strongly identified with their boldness and their sense of alienation from their society and this emerges clearly in his third and fourth collections.
While he was halfway through writing the poems of Invocaciones, he began to read Hölderlin, which he describes as one of his greatest experiences in poetry. He had grown tired of the very restricted range of literature championed by the French surrealists and was starting to interest himself in English and German poetry. In order to read them, he began to learn these languages. He was enthralled by the depth and poetic beauty that he discovered in Hölderlin and discovered not just a new vision of the world but also a new means of poetic expression. During his stay in Paris in 1936, he bought a copy of the Greek Anthology in a French translation. He was stimulated by the concise and penetrating style of these poems and epigrams.
After his move to Great Britain in September 1938, Cernuda continued the exploration of English literature that he had begun the previous spring. While he was reading Eliot, Blake, Keats, Shakespeare's plays, he was struck by their lack of verbal ornamentation compared with Spanish and French poetry. He discovered that a poet could achieve a deeper poetic effect by not shouting or declaiming, or repeating himself, by avoiding bombast and grandiloquence. As in those epigrams in the Greek anthology, he admired the way that concision could give a precise shape to a poem. He learned to avoid two literary vices, the pathetic fallacy and "purple patches", avoiding undue subjectivity or features that did not fit in with the overall conception of the poem. The tendencies had been there, to gradually increasing extent, in his poetry from the outset but his reading confirmed him on this route. He also read Browning and learned how to take a dramatic, historic or legendary situation and to project his own emotional state onto it, in order to achieve greater objectivity, as in poems such as Lázaro, Quetzalcóatl, Silla del Rey, or El César.
At Mount Holyoke he started to read Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (The Fragments of the Presocratics) by Hermann Diels with the help of an English translation. In Mexico, he read John Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy. These fragments of pre-Socratic thought seemed to him the most profound and poetic philosophical works he had ever read. The world of ancient Greece is often recalled in his poetry. It recalled his childhood reading of a book of Greek mythology which, even at that early age, had been sufficient to make his religious beliefs seem sad and depressing. He tried to express something of that experience in El poeta y los mitos in Ocnos.
Poetics: the role of the poet and poetry
Cernuda's poetry shows a continual process of stripping away artifice and modish elements. This accounts in part for the abrupt changes in style and tone between various collections. He was also convinced that a poet needs to gain as much variety of experience and knowledge as possible, otherwise his work will be pallid and restricted. A poet's work should reflect his growth, his intellectual and emotional development.
When he describes things, it is his individual perception of them that he is trying to convey, what they mean to him, rather than their objective existence. However, after his early collections, he rarely uses the first-person. He frequently tries to create a sense of distance from his poetry by using the "tú" form but the person he is addressing is usually himself. The effect of this is that much of his poetry seems to be a self-conscious interior monologue. In part, this is because he was always conscious of a difference between the Cernuda who lived and suffered and the Cernuda who wrote poetry. In part, it is also probably a result of his natural reticence and caution against disclosing too much of himself, despite the fact that personal history lies behind much of his output. Whereas Browning might use a figure such as Fra Lippo Lippi or Andrea del Sarto to live imaginatively what he would not present as his own experience, Cernuda's characters have Cernuda's voice and present versions or aspects of his own thoughts and feelings.
He was convinced that he was driven by an inner daimon to write poetry and that the poet is in touch with a spiritual dimension of life that normal people are either blind to or shut off from. it is a topic which he alludes to frequently in his critical writings. His urge to write poetry was not under his control. Reading some lines of poetry, hearing some notes of music, seeing an attractive person could be the external influence that led to a poem but what was important was to try to express the real, deep-lying poetic impulse, which was sometimes powerful enough to make him shiver or burst into tears.
Although he was a self-absorbed person, dedicated to the art of writing poetry, he was vulnerable enough to need to know that he had an audience. After November 1947, when an edition of Como quien espera el alba was published in Buenos Aires, rumours of its favourable reception reached him in Mount Holyoke. He was gratified to learn that he was starting to find an audience and that his name was getting mentioned when Spanish poetry was discussed.
During the writing of Invocaciones, he met the German philosopher and linguist Hans Gebser, who was living and working in Madrid. This was at a time when Cernuda was beginning to become enthused by the poetry of Hölderlin and, with his help he began to translate selected poems. These appeared in Cruz y Raya in early 1936. Because his knowledge of German was rudimentary, he made an error in translating the final line of one of the poems. A second edition was published in Mexico in 1942 but, since Bergamín did not advise him of this and Cernuda himself was living in Scotland at the time, he was unable to correct this and other infelicities.
During his time in London, probably 1946, he began to translate Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida into Spanish. This was a task that taught him a lot and which gave him a great deal of satisfaction.
Prose poetry and criticism
Cernuda produced two collections of prose poetry. Ocnos was originally published in 1942 in London. Subsequent augmented editions were published in Madrid in 1949 and Xalapa in 1963. Variaciones sobre tema mexicano was published in 1952.
He published critical articles all through his career however he also produced 4 major works of criticism:
- Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea (Madrid 1957) in a heavily bowdlerised version that omitted the chapters relating to living figures such as Guillén, Aleixandre, Altolaguirre, Diego and Alberti.
- Pensamiento poético en la lírica inglesa (Mexico 1958)
- Poesía y literatura, I y II (Barcelona 1960, 1964)
Cernuda and his contemporaries
Salinas and Guillén
He came to the attention of Pedro Salinas in his first year at Seville University - 1920-21 - and recorded, as late as 1958, that he would probably never have found his vocation as a poet had it not been for the older man's encouragement. However, his attitude towards Salinas seems to have been quite complex, as far as can be judged from his writings. In 1929 and 1930, his growing political militancy, inspired by his attraction to surrealism, made it difficult for him to tolerate friends whom he had come to consider bourgeois - such as Guillén, Salinas and even Aleixandre. Even though he might have reverted to friendly terms with Salinas and Guillén (it seems unlikely that he would have shunned Aleixandre), in a collection of essays published in 1957, Estudios sobre Poesía española contemporánea, it is possible to see that he continues to view them as adhering to a different conception of poetry. For Cernuda, a true poet has to break away from society in some way, even if he might live a lifestyle that looks totally conventional from the outside, and these two poets never managed to do that. He does not approve of the playful qualities in Salinas's poetry and his seeming refusal to deal with profound subjects. When he considers the change that came over Salinas's poetry with La voz a ti debida, he dismisses it as
just another game, a desire to show that he was as human as the next man.
In truth, the poetry of Salinas was alien to Cernuda - so alien as to be antipathetic to him. His personal relationship with Salinas had probably never fully recovered from the blow of his apparent rejection of Perfil del aire in 1927. Not even his favourable review of the first edition of La realidad y el deseo seems to have appeased Cernuda for long. Salinas wrote an introduction to an anthology of Spanish poetry that was published in the 1940s and referred to Cernuda as el más Licenciado Vidriera de los poetas, an allusion to a famous short story by Cervantes in which the hero retreats timorously from life under the delusion that he is made of glass. In a poem called "Malentendu", included in Desolación de la Quimera, Cernuda launches a bitter attack on a man who, he claims, consistently misunderstood and ill-treated him, alluding specifically to that description.
His contacts with Guillén seem to have been more sporadic. Cernuda clearly valued his supportive words when Perfil del aire first appeared and he does not seem to have done anything to vex Cernuda. However the latter's assessment is based solely on the evidence of Cántico - the later collections had not begun to appear when Cernuda wrote about him. Clearly, the poet who wrote in "Beato sillón" that
El mundo está bien
has a different view of reality than Cernuda. Nevertheless, Cernuda respects his dedication to his poetry and his commitment to revising it and making it better. However, he does regret that Guillén should have expended so much care and energy on expounding such a limited view of life. He notes what he views as Guillén's tendency to draw everything he sees into a contained, bourgeois viewpoint. He also notes the way that when Guillén writes about Lorca, the latter's life and works become a personal affair of the Guillén family. His assessment ends in a contradictory way. He views Guiillén as a poet in the manner of Coventry Patmore - a now forgotten 19thc. British poet - and yet also one of the 3 or 4 finest poets of his generation.
One of the first things that Cernuda did on arriving in Madrid in 1928 was to pay a visit to Vicente Aleixandre. This was their first meeting. However, they did not immediately become friends and Cernuda blames it on his own timidity and distrust. He was struck by Aleixandre's warmth and friendliness, not realising until a later date that his visit had been during the hours when Aleixandre, for the sake of his health, would normally have been resting. Unfortunately he was also struck by Aleixandre's calmness and the sense of ease that he exuded at being in familiar surroundings. For Cernuda, who was always uneasy about feeling at home anywhere, this was a reason for deciding that he did not want to see Aleixandre again.
After his return to Madrid from Toulouse in June 1929, he met Aleixandre again: he recounts that it was Aleixandre who re-introduced himself to Cernuda as he himself did not recognise him. Gradually, over the course of many meetings, Cernuda's habitual reserve and distrust faded. His friendship with Vicente Aleixandre developed into the closest he had ever had. They often met in Aleixandre's house, sometimes with Lorca and Altolaguirre there as well. Aleixandre seems to have had a special gift for friendship, because he also became one of Lorca's closest friends (according to Ian Gibson). and Cernuda notes specifically his skill as an attentive and sympathetic listener. The implication is that he was trusted with the intimate confessions of many of his friends. Cernuda also gives a very favourable account of Aleixandre's poetry in Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea, seeing in his work the struggle of a man of intense feeling trapped inside a sick body, an analogous situation to his own struggle for fulfilment.
However, not even Aleixandre was able to escape from Cernuda's sensitivity about his future reputation. In the 1950s, he wrote a few essays on his memories of Cernuda, which of course were fixed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He describes his friend's apparent detachment from the world and unwillingness to engage. No attempt was made to see whether that old image still fitted the man who had gone through all the upheaval that Cernuda had experienced while going into exile. Perhaps more importantly, there was no attempt made to dissociate the poetry written by Cernuda, from Cernuda the man as Aleixandre had known him 20 years earlier.
Cernuda's relationship with Lorca was one of the most important in his life, notwithstanding the fact of its brevity. He first met Lorca in Seville in December 1927, during the celebrations in honour of Góngora. He recalled this meeting in an article he wrote in 1938. They met on the patio of a hotel in the evening. Cernuda was struck by the contrast between Lorca's large, eloquent, melancholy eyes and his thickset peasant's body. He was not favourably impressed by his theatrical manner and by the way he was surrounded by hangers-on - reminiscent of a matador. However, something drew them together: Something that I hardly understood or did not wish to acknowledge began to unite us....he took me by the arm and we left the others.
He next met Lorca three years later in Aleixandre's apartment in Madrid after Lorca's return from New York and Cuba. He noticed that something in Lorca had changed; he was less precious, less melancholy and more sensual.
Considering the friendship between them and his admiration for Lorca, Cernuda is dispassionate in his assessments of Lorca's poetry. He is not a whole-hearted admirer of the Romancero gitano, for example, unimpressed by the obscurity of the narratives in many of the individual poems and by the theatricality and outmoded costumbrismo of the collection as a whole. When he discusses Canciones, he deplores the jokiness of some of the poems -
an attitude unworthy of a poet, but more appropriate to the son of a wealthy family who, comfortable in his very bourgeois status, is able to mock it, because he knows that it will not cost him anything and that it will earn him the reputation of being a smart, witty chap.
He notes that this is a fleeting characteristic in Lorca but more persistent in someone such as Alberti. For Cernuda, poetry is a serious business and he tends not to approve of people who take it lightly. It also tends to show how his criticism is guided by his own principles. He tends to be more lenient in his judgments of poets who are like him. He seems to approve of the fact that after the success of the Romancero gitano, Lorca continued along his own track, not seduced into writing more gypsy ballads. In Poeta en Nueva York, a collection not published in Spain in Lorca's lifetime, Cernuda identifies the heart of the collection as the "Oda a Walt Whitman". This is interesting as it is a poem in which Lorca clearly shows his identification with homosexuals but Cernuda's reference is rather obscure -
in it the poet gives voice to a feeling that was the very reason of his existence and work. Because of that it is a pity that this poem is so confused, in spite of its expressive force.
On 8 March 1933, he was present at the premiere in Madrid of García Lorca's play Bodas de sangre. but he makes no reference to it, or indeed to any of Lorca's plays in his writings. He notes at the end of the chapter on Lorca in Estudios sobre Poesía española contemporánea that Lorca's later poems give clear signs to suggest that he had a lot more to say at the time of his death and that his style was developing in emotional force.
Cernuda wrote an elegy for Lorca which he included in Las nubes and to the end of his life took pains to try to ensure that the image of Lorca was not academicised, that he remained a figure of vitality, rebellion and nonconformism.
In 1948, Cernuda published an open letter to the famous critic Dámaso Alonso in reaction to an article by the latter titled Una generación poética (1920-36). He takes exception to 2 passages:
- Cernuda, at that time very young
- Cernuda was still a boy, almost isolated in Seville, in the year of our excursion to Seville, the same year in which Perfil del aire appeared in Málaga, which neither represents his mature work....
He points out that he was 25 at this time, so can scarcely be considered "very young" or a "boy". As for his isolation in Seville, Alonso should recall that he had already had poems published in the Revista de Occidente and elsewhere. However, it is noteworthy that in his later essay, Historial de un libro, he used the same expression to depict his sense of confusion at the hostile reviews to his first collection. He also criticises Alonso's use of the word "mature". He points out the essential inconsistency in saying that the poet was young and then expecting maturity in his early work. He then states that for him the key factor is not whether a poem is mature or not but whether it has artistic merit. He goes on to say that, even after the passage of time, he still prefers some of his earlier poems to certain poems written later.
The major complaint he raises is that this critique is just a lazy repetition of the initial critical reaction in 1927. One of his key beliefs is that there are poets who find their audience at once and poets who have to wait for an audience to come to them - he reiterates this in Historial de un libro. He is one of the latter. So when people like Alonso, who rejected his early work and still persist in calling it immature, now say he is a fine poet, he takes that to mean that they are merely picking up on the favourable reactions of people 20 years younger to his recent works - in other words, the audience that has found him - and that they are unable to see the continuities between the earlier and the later work.
This develops into a key theme of Cernuda's final collection. In "Malentendu", he shows his unease that his own reputation could be shaped beyond the grave by the perceptions of someone such as Pedro Salinas and his reference to El Licenciado Vidriera. In "Otra vez, con sentimiento", he shows the same unease on behalf of Lorca. Alonso had written in the same article (Una generación poética (1920-36)) a tribute to Lorca, calling him "my prince". Cernuda is keen to save his old friend from appropriation by reactionary forces, defending his unconventional lifestyle (homosexuality) and everything else about him that would prevent him from being free to live in Franco's Spain.
Alberti and political commitment
Alberti was another of the people whom he met for the first time in the Góngora celebrations in Seville in 1927. Alberti describes him as dark, thin, extremely refined and meticulous. However, it is not likely that Alberti ever became close to Cernuda although the latter contributed to many of the former's journals during the early 1930s. Alberti invited him to contribute to the celebratory album that he was editing but Cernuda did not follow it up. His relationship with Alberti is suggestive of the pathways along which his mind was moving after his initial contact with surrealism. In 1933, for example, he wrote for Alberti's magazine Octubre a piece called Los que se incorporan (Those who join up). In it he calls for the destruction of bourgeois society: I trust in a revolution inspired by communism to achieve this.
In an article written for Hora de España in 1937, he wrote that: the poet is inevitably a revolutionary... a revolutionary with full awareness of his responsibility. However, by that time, it seems clear that he did not expect poets to get directly involved in revolutionary actions. In an essay devoted to Aleixandre in 1950 he goes so far as to say that, for a poet to take the course of direct action is absurd and tends to ruin the poet as a poet.
This attitude seems to colour his response to Alberti's poetic output but it is noticeable that he does try to differentiate between the man and the poet. It is clear that he was always in favour of Alberti's efforts on behalf of exploited Spaniards. The problem is that Alberti stepped over Cernuda's line where poetry becomes activism. A key point in Cernuda's view of Alberti's poetry is that Alberti seemed to lack any sense of self. He also highlights the fact that Alberti was a virtuoso versifier, able to counterfeit the manner of Gil Vicente or any other folk poet. Cernuda does not approve of the playfulness that Alberti shows in his first three collections. He does not believe that Alberti rises above the level of his models, such as Góngora and Guillén in Cal y canto - in other words he sees Alberti as a parodist rather than as an original poet. There is a sense in which he envies the fact that Alberti became so successful so rapidly, using him as an example of a poet who found his public immediately. And yet, he ends up by praising his poetic fluency while stating that he had nothing to say and that his work is basically deprived of passion and emotion. Cernuda wonders whether Alberti's recognition of the social injustice of Spain was the inspiration for him to write political poetry or whether his assumption of Communist beliefs forced him to reject personal values.
Altolaguirre and his family
That there was a close bond between Altolaguirre, his wife Concha Méndez, and Cernuda seems clear. Cernuda devoted separate chapters in both Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea and Poesía y literatura to the poetry of Altolaguirre, consistently asserting that he was not a minor poet, despite the critical consensus to that effect. In Desolación de la Quimera, he defends his dead friend from superficial, mistaken memories of "Manolito" the endearing man, held by people who have forgotten or never knew his rare gifts as a poet, in "Supervivencias tribales en el medio literario". It is like an echo of his fears for what will happen to his own reputation after death - will people remember him or turn to the legends promulgated by people like Salinas.
When Altolaguirre and Concha married in June 1932, Cernuda was one of the witnesses at their wedding, along with Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Guillén. When in March 1933 their first child died in childbirth, Cernuda dedicated a poem to him - "XIV" in Donde habite el olvido. They lived in the same building in Madrid from 1935 to 1936 and, in Mexico, he lived in Concha's house. At times, it seems that this was his real family. In Desolación de la Quimera, there are two poems that suggest this. "Animula, vagula, blandula" is a tender poem about watching Altolaguirre's five-year-old grandson, whom he nicknamed Entelechy, playing in the garden and wondering how his fate will differ from his own. "Hablando a Manona" is like a nursery rhyme addressed to their granddaughter.
Generation of 1898
Cernuda's best critical writing tends to be about writers who interested and inspired him. His writing about the Generation of 1898 is objective but nevertheless lacking in sympathy for the most part. For example, he regards Valle-Inclán as a playwright rather than the novelist, poet and general literary artist that history remembers him as. Cernuda does not seem to have very much respect for the great figures of this generation, unlike most of his own generation. Regarding Juan Ramón Jiménez and Valle-Inclán, he recalled that they were so intent on their own speech that they neglected to listen to other people. And even in respect of Antonio Machado, so revered by for example Alberti, he recalled that he spoke little and listened to even less. In contrast to most Spanish thinkers, he respected Unamuno more as a poet than as a philosopher. For Ortega y Gasset, he had little positive to say: scattered all through Cernuda's critical writings are remarks such as [he] always understood very little when it came to poetry and with his strange ignorance of poetic matters. The member of that generation who had most impact on him is Jiménez, although when he went to Britain one of the very few books that he took with him was Gerardo Diego's anthology Poesía española and he found solace for his nostalgia for Spain in reading the selection of poems by Unamuno and Machado contained within. It is also true that in his study of Unamuno, he makes a comment that seems to relate directly to his own practice as a writer, his preoccupation with creating and perpetuating himself in his poetry, transforming the circumstances of his life into myth:
Alive and striving beyond what was only current circumstances, moments that pass and do not remain, Unamuno was hoping to create himself, or at least create his personal myth, and to be forever what was passing.
He first met Jiménez in late September-early October 1925 in Seville. The meeting had been arranged by Pedro Salinas and he suggested to Cernuda that he should ask one of his friends, whose father was a warden of the Alcázar, for permission to visit the gardens, out of hours. Cernuda's account is interesting. He was overawed by being in the presence of such an important figure. In addition, there was the presence of Jiménez's wife - Zenobia Camprubí - which also put him at a disadvantage, both because of his shyness and a lack of interest in women, although he had not yet realised why women did not interest him. He placed himself in the role of a disciple, just listening to the Master. He records how gracious Jiménez was to him that evening and on subsequent meetings. At that time, he was something of a hero to Cernuda and he notes how much effort it cost him to free himself from Jiménez's type of personal, subjective poetry with no connection to the world and life, so influential as it was in Spanish cultural circles at that time.
In this essay, he analyses the Jekyll and Hyde personality of Jiménez. On the one hand he was a famous poet, worthy of admiration and respect. On the other hand, he was the man who launched abusive attacks on numerous literary figures. This latter side gradually became more and more dominant. In particular he took against the poets of Cernuda's own generation, at first confining his attacks to verbal ones but then turning to print. He continued to print vilifications right to the end of his life, which had the effect of turning Cernuda's former admiration into indifference or even worse.
Cernuda wrote many pieces about Jiménez, including 2 satirical poems included in Desolación de la Quimera. The early influence was decisively rejected and his essays identify all the stylistic elements that he cast off, such as the impressionistic symbolism, hermeticism, the fragmentation of his poems, his inability to sustain a thought, the lack of desire to go beyond the surface of things.
Gide, the dandy and homosexuality
His sexual awakening seems to have coincided with the birth of his desire to write poetry, around the age of 14, but it was many years later before he really came to terms with this side of himself. A very important influence on his emotional development was the writings of André Gide. In his essay of 1946, he writes: "the transcendent figure for Gide is not that of a man who by means of abstention and denial searches for the divine, but that of a man who seeks out the fullness of humanity by means of effort and individual exaltation." In other words, he was affected by the idea of total hedonism without any sense of guilt.
As seen in his accounts of his first meetings with Jiménez in 1925 and Lorca in 1927, he had not really come to terms with his sexuality. This only seems to happen once he finally left Seville in 1928, after his mother's death. He had already become noted as something of a dandy during his time at the University of Seville, as noted by Salinas - "a well-cut suit, a perfectly-knotted tie". This tendency seems to have intensified during his brief stay in Madrid before going to Toulouse - the pose of a man who frequents bars, drinks cocktails, affects English shirts, discussed in an article by Villena (La rebeldía del dandy en Luis Cernuda). Villena diagnoses it as the sign of a refined hermit trying to hide his hyper-sensitivity and repressed desire for love. In Toulouse, he wrote to a friend that he was starting to think that he was too well-dressed. Alone, in a foreign country, and still not at ease in his skin, he was taking refuge in dazzling the provincial bourgeoisie - thumbing his nose at them by wearing an immaculate three-piece suit. In some way, however, the combination of his contact with the world, the attitudes and thinking of the surrealists, the influence of Gide, and his pent-up fight against bourgeois tendencies coincided in the belated acceptance of his sexuality, as expressed finally in Un río, un amor.
- Villena intro to edition of Las Nubes p 11
- Poesía completa: Cronología biográfica
- Connell p 201
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 625
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 627
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 629
- Gibson p 200
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 632
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 633
- Connell p 202
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 636
- Gibbons intro p 10
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 641
- Gibson p 432
- Cernuda: OCP Historial de un libro vol 1 p 642
- Stanley Richardson and Spain
- Murphy: Pub Poets
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 644
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 645
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 648
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 649
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 647
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 651
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 654
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 655
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 656
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 659
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 660
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Palabras antes de una lectura p 602
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 626
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 649-50
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 653
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 El crítico, el amigo y el poeta p 607-624
- Villena intro to edition of Las Nubes p 15
- Connell p 203
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 630
- Harris intro to Un río, un amor etc p 13
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 631
- Derek Harris: Introduction to Poesía completa p 51
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 634
- Connell p 204
- Cernuda. OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 635
- Harris notes to Un río, un amor p 82
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 637
- Harris notes to Un río etc p 85
- Harris notes to Un río etc p 89
- Connell p 205
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 639
- Connell p 206
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 640
- Connell p 207
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 646
- :Connell p 208
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 650
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 658
- Villena intro to Las Nubes etc p 43
- Villena intro to Las Nubes etc p 44
- Villena intro to Las Nubes etc p 55
- Connell p 209
- Harris notes to Un río etc p 55
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 657
- Gibbons intro to Selected Poems p 13
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Palabras antes de una lectura p 604
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 638
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Historial de un libro p 652
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Salinas y Guillén p 196
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Salinas y Guillén p 197
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Salinas y Guillén p 199
- El licenciado Vidriera
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Salinas y Guillén p 203
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Salinas y Guillén p 202
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Salinas y Guillén p 205
- Cernuda: OCP vol 2 Vicente Aleixandre (1950) p 201
- Cernuda: OCP vol 2 Vicente Aleixandre (1950) p 202
- Gibson p 199
- Cernuda: OCP vol 2 Vicente Aleixandre (1950) p 204
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Vicente Aleixandre p 228
- Harris A Study of the Poetry p12
- Cernuda OCP vol 2 Federico García Lorca (1938) p148-154
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Federico García Lorca p 210
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Federico García Lorca p 210-211
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Federico García Lorca p 211
- Gibson p 297
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Federico García Lorca p 212
- Gibson p348
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Federico García Lorca p 214
- Villena intro to Las Nubes etc p 50
- Cernuda OCP vol 2 Carta abierta a Dámaso Alonso p 198-200
- Alberti p. 239
- Alberti p. 242
- Cernuda OCP vol 2 Los que se incorporan p 63
- Cernuda OCP vol 2 Líneas sobre los poetas y para los poetas en los días actuales p 121
- Cernuda: OCP vol 2 Vicente Aleixandre (1950) p 207
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Rafael Alberti p 220
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Rafael Alberti p 221
- Cernuda: OCP vol 1 Rafael Alberti p 223
- Altolaguirre intro to Las Islas invitadas p 14
- Altolaguirre intro to Las Islas invitadas p 15
- Villena notes to Desolación de la quimera p 200
- Cernuda OCP vol 2 Teatro español contemporáneo p 191
- Alberti p 216
- Cernuda OCP vol 2 Juan Ramón Jiménez 1941 p 156
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Miguel de Unamuno p 128
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Miguel de Unamuno p 126
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Gómez de la Serna p 175
- Derek Harris: Introduction to Poesía completa p 48
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Miguel de Unamuno p 129
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 PyL II Los Dos Juan Ramón Jiménez p 733
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 PyL II Los Dos Juan Ramón Jiménez p 734
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 PyL II Los Dos Juan Ramón Jiménez p 731
- Harris A Study of the Poetry p5
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Juan Ramón Jiménez p 149
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Juan Ramón Jiménez p 147
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 Juan Ramón Jiménez p 143
- Cernuda OCP vol 1 PyL I André Gide p 549
- Harris intro to Poesía completa p 52
- Villena intro to edition of Las Nubes p 12
- Villena intro to edition of Las Nubes p 16
- Villena intro to edition of Las Nubes p 17
- Harris intro to Poesía completa p 53
- Villena intro to Las Nubes etc p 56
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- J . A. Coleman, Other voices. A study of the late poetry of Luis Cernuda (North Carolina University Press, 1969)
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