Miguel Hernández

1910–1942
Miguel Hernández
Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born on 30 October 1910 in the town of Orihuela, near Murcia, in southeastern Spain, to poor parents. His father, Miguel Hernández Sánchez, a herdsman and dealer in sheep and goats, took for granted that his son would soon be hard at work helping with the family business. From a very early age the young Miguel was expected to perform menial tasks around the house and stable. A lengthy, enriched education was out of the question, both for economic and socio-cultural reasons; instead of starting school at the usual age, Hernández was forced for years to shepherd his father's flock. This grueling, solitary experience had a profound impact on him. His work on the farm led him to establish a special bond with nature, and he later drew on that experience in his poetry.

When Hernández's passion for reading and writing became evident, his father tried hard to discourage such impractical pursuits. However, Hernández had made a conscious decision to become a poet. Gifted with an ability to versify and a phenomenal memory, he survived a difficult apprenticeship during which, with the help and advice of close friends and mentors, he managed to learn Hispanic literature and culture, particularly the poetry and theater, at the same time mastering a wide variety of styles of poetry from earlier decades and other cultures. Against enormous odds, he broke loose from the severe limitations of his humble beginnings to emerge as one of the greatest and best-loved Spanish poets.

One common thread in the lives of so many of Hernández's contemporaries is their education, erudition, and worldliness; unlike them, he was rigidly forbidden to indulge in such interests by his father, who saw no use for formal education or for what his son wrote and recited. Throughout most of his youth Hernández was in conflict with his father over his desire to read and study, and later over his ambition to become a poet. Hernández’s early poems were thus shaped and inspired as much by the numbing routine of his pastoral chores as by the poets whose works he read. His day-to-day chores provided a common motif in poems, such as "En cuclillas, ordeño una cabrita y un sueño" (Squatting on My Heels, I Milk My Goat and My Dream, in Obra completa, 1992), a short poem which illustrates his early predilection for creating visual and auditory metaphors out of the down-to-earth scenes of everyday life. In "Aprendiz de Chivo" (The Apprentice Kid, also in Obra completa) Hernández depicts the miracle of birth, the awkward yet splendid first moments of a newborn goat as it slowly awakens to the pleasures of its mother's milk and the sheer joy of being alive. Although many of Hernández's early poems probably have not survived, about forty of them were published for the first time in Obra completa, which includes over one hundred previously unpublished works.

In the years immediately after Hernández left school, he befriend the Catholic writer Sijé (Marín Gutierrez) who was drawn to Hernández for his poetry and intellect. Sijé became Hernández's mentor and guru, suggesting that he study in great depth the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Spanish poets and dramatists and teaching him to fashion his verse with particular care for allegory, semantics, and symbols. Hernández’s poem, "Pastoril," which he had written in his beloved orchard, was published in the Pueblo de Orihuela on 13 January 1930; his career as a published poet had begun.

Madrid at the time was the literary and cultural capital of Spain; Hernández naturally was drawn to it and made his first trip in 1931. His enthusiasm was dispelled by the cool reception he met within the Spanish metropolis. The tension caused in Hernández by the differences between big-city and country life was to affect him and pervade his poetry at every stage of his life. The butt of mildly unflattering articles, Hernández returned to Orihuela but not before publishing a poem, "Reloj rústico" (Rustic Clock, now in Obra completa ), in the Gaceta Literaria (1 May 1932). On his way home, however, he was stopped and imprisoned for not having the proper documentation—the first of two such arrests that left indelible impressions on Hernández. He was obliged to contact his family and friends for funds to get him out of jail, where he remained for several days. He felt that his six months in Madrid had been a disaster; help from the cultural powers had not been forthcoming, nor would it be for years to come.

Back in Orihuela, Hernández worked menial jobs and wooed the daughter of an officer of the Guardia Civil, Josefina Manresa. Their long and tumultuous courtship would be an inspiration for much of Hernández’s later love poetry. Sijé's influence on Hernández also became especially strong following his return in seeming disgrace from Madrid. Hernández was hard at work composing his first book, "Poliedros"—published as Perito en lunas (Lunar Expert, 1933). Although he had absorbed through his reading the styles and techniques of baroque pastoral poetry, his "lunar" Arcadia was far removed from its aristocratic source. Beneath the artifice of his culteranismo (art for the sake of art) conceits, his poetry abounds with regional themes, rustic flavors, and popular images intimately linked with the common elements of life on the land: wells and irrigation systems; trees and vegetation; bulls and roosters; and palms and snakes—proof of Hernández's deep attachment to the natural world around him, the wellspring of his pantheism.

With the publication of Perito en lunas Hernández had finally proved himself a full-fledged poet. His career took off rapidly from that point, and his work evolved from the hermetic baroque style of Perito en lunas through the sensual love poems and quasi-religious themes of early versions of El silbo vulnerado (The Injured Whistle, posthumously published in 1949), to the crystal clarity and sexual candor of the sonnets in later versions of El silbo vulnerado and Imagen de tu huella (Image of Your Footprint, published in 1963), which were reworked in Hernández's first major work, El rayo que no cesa (1936; translated as Unceasing Lightning, 1986).

Hernández returned to Madrid in March 1934 where he befriended poets like Frederico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Vicente Aleixandre. Drawn deeper and deeper into the circle of poets that favored the Republican government and its socialist views, Hernández moved further away from Orihuela and Sijé's influence. When Sijé paid him a visit in Madrid, it was clear that, though they remained close friends, irreconcilable changes had drawn a permanent intellectual barrier between them. Hernández remained torn between two worlds, between the artificial, decadent city and the pure, Arcadian countryside. In June 1935 Hernández collaborated on an homage to Neruda which included a warm dedication (collected in Obra completa) and three then-unpublished cantos materiales (material songs) from Residencia en la tierra. His support of Neruda cost him Sijé’s friendship and he returned to Orihuela emotionally drained; however, the loss also occasioned one of his great poems. In late December 1935, Sijé died of pneumonia. Devastated by the news and beset by terrible feelings of guilt, Hernández turned inward to concentrate and distill his sorrow, composing an elegy to Sijé that many critics consider to be one of the finest elegies in the Spanish language. First published in Revista de Occidente on 10 January 1936, the elegy is an earthy evocation of his friendship and love for Sijé and of Sijé's long-standing influence on Hernández:
 
Yo quiero ser llorando el hortelano
de la tierra que ocupas y estercolas,
compañero del alma, tan temprano.
 
Alimentando lluvias, caracolas
y órganos mi dolor sin instrumento,
a las desalentadas amapolas
 
daré tu corazón por alimento.
Tanto dolor se agupa en mi costado
que por doler me duele hasta el aliento.
 
I want to be the grieving gardener
of the earth you fill and fertilize,
my dearest friend, so soon.
 
With rain and snails my stifled sorrow
nourishes the organs of your body
and I would feed your heart
 
the drooping poppies. Pain bunches up
between my ribs till every breath I draw
becomes an aching stitch.
 
—translation by Edwin Honig (from The Unending Lightning, 1990)
 
Hernández’s style evolved from a tendency toward traditionalism to greater and greater independence of form and imagery. His early preference for the octava and the sonnet and his penchant for la tropología culterana (culturalist tropology) eventually gave way to the simpler textures and more direct language of the canción (song) and the romance (ballad), revealing his kinship with Machado and Lorca. This coexistence of popular and sophisticated art, common throughout most of Spanish history, was also typical of Spanish literature in the 1930s.

The culmination of Hernández's enthusiasm for traditional forms can be found in El rayo que no cesa. These poems were composed over a crucial two-year period in Hernández's career: 1934–1935. As such, El rayo que no cesa is a pivotal work in Hernández's development as a poet. His discovery of love, in the person of Josefina, caused him to search out a richer, yet more restricted, vocabulary, less excessively decorative and more functional. Hernández still exhibits a love of wordplay, conceits, and occasional verbal and rhetorical excess, but much less so than in earlier works. The influence of the religious eroticism latent in the Song of Songs and de la Cruz's Cántico Espiritual (Spiritual Canticle, 1584) can be felt throughout, as well as echoes of Neruda's Residencia en la tierra and Aleixandre's La destrucción o el amor.

On 18 July 1936 a Spanish military uprising led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the North African province of Melilla caused vital Spanish services, such as mail and trains, to come to a stop. Sometime during the next day, Lorca, who ironically had left Madrid to seek the comparative peace and safety of his beloved Andalusia, was captured by the military and killed with some other prisoners near Granada. Such mass executions and other chaotic events threw the country into turmoil and exemplified the wanton death and destruction of the next three years. The Spanish Civil War had a disastrous effect on all aspects of life in the country, particularly those involving culture. Many of the greatest intellectuals and finest artists eventually left the country to live in exile; others, like Lorca, Miguel de Unamuno, and Machado, died at the onset or during the war; and a few others, such as Hernández, died not long afterward as a direct result of that brutal conflict and the subsequent savage reprisals and executions.

Hernández soon enrolled in the well-known Fifth Regiment, part of the Republican forces fighting Franco and the Nationalists; he also joined the First Calvary Company of the Peasants' Battalion as a cultural-affairs officer, reading his poetry daily on the radio. He traveled extensively throughout the area, organizing cultural events and doing poetry readings for soldiers on the front lines, or even pitching in where necessary to dig a ditch or defend a position. As more and more war poems flowed from his pen, he slowly approached the status of prime poet of the nation during the war years.

Hernández and Josefina were finally married in Orihuela on 9 March 1937 in a no-frills civil ceremony attended by close friends Carlos Fenoll and Jesús Poveda. The atmosphere at the wedding was not entirely happy, but Hernández's post-marital poetry soon took on new tones and colors, full of sensuality and sexuality seemingly fulfilled. Hernández kept busy working on his poetry during the war, correcting proofs of Viento del pueblo and preparing speeches. When his propaganda unit was shifted to Castuera in Estremadura province, he took time off from his exhausting pace to see Josefina and came down with a severe case of anemia. Hugh Thomas, noted Spanish Civil War historian, mentions the accelerating pace of Hernández's literary activities during the war years, a pace that inevitably took a heavy toll on the poet's health and required him to rest and recuperate on several occasions.

During the war, Hernández also took part in the International Writers’ Congress, held in Madrid and Valencia, and the Fifth Festival of Soviet Theater in Moscow. Attending as one of a group of Spanish intellectuals, the Moscow trip influenced Hernández’s burgeoning dramatic style. However, his commitment to a democratic Spain, and his inability to escape into exile after the triumph of Franco’s troops, meant that he faced a life of arrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to death at one point, his term was commuted to 30 years. Years of war and struggle had left him weakened, however, and Miguel Hernández died in prison, of tuberculosis, in 1942.

Bibliography

Books
  • Perito en lunas (Murcia: Sudeste, 1933).
  • Quién te ha visto y quién te ve y sombra de lo que eras (Madrid: Cruz & Raya, 1934).
  • El rayo que no cesa (Madrid: Héroe, 1936); translated by Michael Smith as Unceasing Lightning (Dublin: Dedalus, 1986); enlarged as El rayo que no cesa y otros poemas, edited by Rafael Alberti (Buenos Aires: Ferreiro, 1942); enlarged again as El rayo que no cesa; El silbo vulnerado; Poesías publicadas en El Gallo Crisis, edited by José María de Cossío (Madrid & Buenos Aires: Espasa-Calpe, 1949).
  • Viento del pueblo (Valencia: Socorro Rojo, 1937).
  • El labrador de más aire (Valencia: Nuestro Pueblo, 1937).
  • Teatro en la guerra (Valencia: Nuestro Pueblo, 1937).
  • El hombre acecha (Valencia: Subsecretaría de Propaganda, 1939).
  • Sino sangriento y otros poemas (Havana: Verónica/Altolaguirre, 1939).
  • Seis poemas inéditos y nueve más, edited by Vicente Ramos and Manuel Molina (Alicante: Ifach, 1951).
  • Antología poética de Miguel Hernández, edited by Francisco Martínez Marín (Orihuela: Aura, 1951).
  • Obra escogida, edited by Arturo del Hoyo (Madrid: Aguilar, 1952).
  • Dentro de luz y otras prosas, edited by María de Gracia Ifach (Madrid: Arión, 1957).
  • Cancionero y romancero de ausencias, edited by Elvio Romero (Buenos Aires: Lautaro, 1958).
  • Los mejores versos de Miguel Hernández, edited by Molina (Buenos Aires: Nuestra América, 1958).
  • Los hijos de la piedra (Buenos Aires: Quetzal, 1959).
  • Obras completas, edited by Romero and Andrés Ramón Vázquez (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1960).
  • Antología, edited by Ifach (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1961).
  • Canto de independencia (Havana: Tertulia, 1962).
  • Poemas de adolescencia; Perito en lunas; Otros poemas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963).
  • El hombre acecha; Cancionero y romancero de ausencias; Últimos poemas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963).
  • Imagen de tu huella; El rayo que no cesa; Viento del pueblo; El silbo vulnerado; Otros poemas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963).
  • Poemas, edited by José Luis Cano and Josefina Manresa (Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 1964).
  • Poesía (Havana: Consejo Nacional de Cultura, 1964).
  • Poesías, edited by Jacinto Luis Guereña (Paris: Seghers, 1964; Madrid: Taurus, 1967; enlarged edition, Madrid: Narcea, 1973).
  • Dieci sonetti inediti di Miguel Hernández, edited by Dario Puccini (Rome: Societ� Filologica Romana, 1966).
  • Unos poemas olvidados de Miguel Hernández, selected by A. Fernández Molina (Caracas: Universal, 1967).
  • La prosa poética de Miguel Hernández (Tres obras desconocidas; Valoración), edited by Juan Cano Ballesta (Palma de Mallorca: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1968).
  • Cinco sonetos inéditos, compiled by Dario Puccini (Caracas: Revista Nacional de Cultura, 1968).
  • Poemas de amor, edited by Leopoldo de Luis (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1969).
  • El hombre y su poesía, edited by Cano Ballesta (Madrid: Cátedra, 1974).
  • Obra poética completa, edited by Luis and Jorge Urrutia (Bilbao: Zero, 1976).
  • Reformatorio para adultos 1942 (N.p., 1976).
  • Teatro (Havana: Arte y Literatura, 1976 [i.e., 1977]).
  • Poesía y prosa de guerra y otros textos olvidados, edited by Cano Ballesta and Robert Marrast (Pamplona: Peralta, 1977).
  • Poemas sociales de guerra y de muerte, edited by Luis (Madrid: Alianza, 1977).
  • Teatro completo, edited by Vicente Pastor Ibáñez, Manuel Rodríguez Maciá, and José Oliva (Madrid: Ayuso, 1978).
  • Poesías completas, edited by Sánchez Vidal (Madrid: Aguilar, 1979).
  • Veinticuatro sonetos inéditos, edited by José Carlos Rovira (Alicante: Instituto de Estudios Juan Gil-Albert, 1986).
  • Prosas líricas y aforismos, edited by Ifach (Madrid: Torre, 1986).
  • El torero más valiente, edited by Agustín Sánchez Vidal (Madrid: Alianza, 1987).
  • Dos cuentos para Manolillo (para cuando sepa leer), edited by Rovira (Madrid: Palas Atenea, 1988).
  • Ultimas ausencias para un niño, edited by Rovira (Madrid: Palas Atenea, 1988).
  • Obra completa, 2 volumes, edited by Sánchez Vidal, Rovira, and Alemany Bay (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1992).
  • Songbook of Absences: Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, translated by Thomas C. Jones, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Charioteer, 1972).
  • Miguel Hernández and Blas de Otero: Selected Poems, edited by Timothy Baland and Hardie St. Martin, includes translations by Baland, St. Martin, Robert Bly, and James Wright (Boston: Beacon, 1972).
  • The Unending Lightning: Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, translated by Edwin Honig (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow, 1990).
  • I Have Lots of Heart: Selected Poems, translated by Don Share (Bloodaxe Books, 1997).
  • The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, translated by Ted Genoways (University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Play Productions
  • El refugiado, Alicante, Teatro Principal, 27 April 1938.
  • Los hijos de la piedra, Buenos Aires, Teatro del Pueblo, 11 April 1946.
  • El labrador de más aire, Madrid, Teatro Muñoz Seca, 17 October 1972.
  • Quién te ha visto y quién te ve y sombra de lo que eras (auto sacramental), Orihuela, Teatro Circo de Orihuela, 13 February 1977.
Other
  • "Poemas de Miguel Hernández (1930-1932) no recogidos hasta la fecha," in Literatura alicantina, edited by Vicente Ramos (Madrid & Barcelona: Alfaguara, 1965).
  • "Miguel Hernández," in Modern European Poetry, edited by Willis Barnstone (New York: Bantam, 1966).

Further Reading

  • Las cartas a José María de Cossío (Santander: Casona de Tudanca, 1985).
  • Epistolario, edited by Agustín Sánchez Vidal (Madrid: Alianza, 1986).
  • Cartas a Josefina, edited by Concha Zardoya (Madrid: Alianza, 1988).
  • Agustín Sánchez Vidal, José Carlos Rovira, and Carmen Alemany Bay, eds., Obra completa, 2 volumes (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1992), II: 2763-2793.
  • Concha Zardoya, Miguel Hernández Vida y obra; Bibliografía; Antología (New York: Hispanic Institute, 1955).
  • María de Gracia Ifach, Miguel Hernández, rayo que no cesa (Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 1975).
  • Ifach, Vida de Miguel Hernández (Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 1982).
  • F. Bravo Morata, Miguel Hernández (Madrid: Fenicia, 1979).
  • Juan Cano Ballesta, La poesía de Miguel Hernández (Madrid: Gredos, 1962; revised, 1971).
  • Marie Chevalier, L'homme, ses oeuvres et son destin dans la poésie de Miguel Hernández (Paris: Institut d'Etudes Hispaniques, 1974); Spanish translation, two volumes: La escritura poética de Miguel Hernández (Madrid & Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1977); Los temas poéticas de Miguel Hernández (Madrid & Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1978).
  • Claude Couffon, Orihuela et Miguel Hernández (Paris: Institut d'Etudes Hispaniques, 1963).
  • Juan Guerrero Zamora, Miguel Hernández, poeta (Madrid: Grifón, 1955).
  • Hermanamiento: Miguel Hernández--Federico García Lorca, special issue (1990).
  • María de Gracia Ifach, ed., Miguel Hernández (Madrid: Taurus, 1975).
  • Insula, special issue on Hernández, 15 (November 1960).
  • Charles D. Ley, "Miguel Hernández," in his Spanish Poetry since 1939 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1962).
  • Litoral, special triple issue on Hernández, 73-75 (1978).
  • Marcela López Hernández, Vocabulario de la obra poética de Miguel Hernández (Cáceres: Universidad de Extremadura, 1992).
  • Josefina Manresa, Recuerdos de la viuda de Miguel Hernández (Madrid: Torre, 1980).
  • Manuel Molina, Miguel Hernández y sus amigos de Orihuela (Málaga: Guadalhorce, 1969).
  • Manuel Muñoz Hidalgo, Como fue Miguel Hernández (Barcelona: Planeta, 1975).
  • Geraldine Cleary Nichols, Miguel Hernández (Boston: Twayne, 1978).
  • Jesús Poveda, Vida, pasión y muerte de un poeta: Miguel Hernández (Mexico City: Oasis, 1975).
  • Dario Puccini, Miguel Hernández: Vida y Poesía (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1970); revised and enlarged as Miguel Hernández: Vida y poesía y otros estudios hernandianos (Alicante: Instituto de Estudios Juan Gil-Albert, 1987).
  • Vicente Ramos, Miguel Hernández (Madrid: Gredos, 1973).
  • Revista de Occidente, special issue on Hernández, 139 (October 1974).
  • William Rose, El pastor de la muerte: La dialéctica pastoril en la obra de Miguel Hernández (Barcelona: Puvill, 1983).
  • Agustín Sánchez Vidal, Miguel Hernández, de-samordazado y regresado (Barcelona: Planeta, 1992).
  • Sánchez Vidal, Miguel Hernández, en la encrucijada (Madrid: Edicusa, 1976).
  • Andrés Sorel, Miguel Hernández, escritor y poeta de la revolución (Madrid: Zero, 1976).
  • Symposium, special issue on Hernández, 22 (Summer 1968).

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION Spain

LIFE SPAN 1910–1942

Miguel Hernández

Biography

Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born on 30 October 1910 in the town of Orihuela, near Murcia, in southeastern Spain, to poor parents. His father, Miguel Hernández Sánchez, a herdsman and dealer in sheep and goats, took for granted that his son would soon be hard at work helping with the family business. From a very early age the young Miguel was expected to perform menial tasks around the house and stable. A lengthy, enriched . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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