Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Although Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s fame rests mainly on his only volume of poetry, The rhymes, he was also a notable prose writer. Bécquer demonstrated his talent at an early age with the publication of Historia de los templos de España (1857; a history of Spain’s temples), an ambitious project of which only the first volume, a study of the churches of Toledo, was completed. Posterity has recognized the greater value of a variety of prose works which appeared in Madrid’s newspapers and magazines during Bécquer’s lifetime. Outstanding among these works are the newspaper letters published under the heading Cartas desde mi celda (1864; From My Cell, 1924). They were written from Veruela’s monastery in Aragón, where the author had gone to seek relief for his failing health. In these “letters,” Bécquer pours out his moral biography, revealing himself to be a religious man who is both aware of the problems of his surroundings and sensitive to the legends and traditions he hears from shepherds and rovers in the northeast of Spain.

Also of great importance among Bécquer’s prose works are the four Cartas literarias a una mujer (1860-1861; Letters to an Unknown Woman, 1924) and the prologue to the book La Soledad (1861) by his friend Augusto Ferrán. In these works, Bécquer expresses his ideas about love, literature in general, and, above all, poetry. In his prologue to Ferrán’s book, Bécquer categorizes his own poetic production as the kind that is “natural, brief, dry, that which germinates in the soul like an electric spark, touches the feelings with a word and flees. . . .”

Bécquer’s most celebrated prose works were his more than twenty legends, Leyendas (1858-1864). The themes of these prose tales do not differ substantially from those of the tales in verse typical of the Romantic movement in Spain and throughout Europe; they reveal a taste for the macabre, for medieval settings and exotic lore. What differentiates Bécquer’s legends from the verse narratives and plays of the Duque de Rivas and José Zorrilla y Moral is their greater emphasis on the mysterious, the uncanny, the supernatural.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer achieved fame only after his death. Although in his last years he was beginning to be recognized as a good journalist and an excellent prose writer, he was virtually unknown as a poet; only a handful of his poems were published during his lifetime.

Bécquer’s recognition as a poet began with the publication of The Rhymes one year after his death. By 1881, when the third edition of his poems was published, Bécquer was acknowledged as an important poet, and his fame was spreading throughout the Hispanic world. Since that time, Bécquer’s reputation has grown steadily; his verse has achieved both critical acclaim and an extraordinary popular appeal. Indeed, after Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615), no literary work has had as many editions in Spanish as Bécquer’s The Rhymes. In the last 150 years, no Spanish poem has touched as many hearts or has been recited and memorized as often as “Rime of the Swallows,” and in that period, no poet has surpassed Bécquer’s influence on Hispanic poetry. All the movements, groups, and poetic generations that have come after Bécquer in Hispanic literature have been indebted, directly or indirectly, to his innovations.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Bynum, B. Brant. The Romantic Imagination in the Works of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Interpretation of Bécquer’s work with an introduction to Romantisicm and an extensive bibliography.

Havard, Robert. From Romanticism to Surrealism: Seven Spanish Poets. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1988. Brief biography and critical analysis of Spanish poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Includes bibliographic references.

Mayhew, Jonathan. “Jorge Guillén and the Insufficiency of Poetic Language.” PMLA 106 (October, 1991). Discusses the skepticism of Bécquer and other poets regarding the capacity of language to convey the poets’ experiences.

Mizrahi, Irene. La poética dialógica de Bécquer. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998. The author’s principal objective in this critical analysis is to establish Bécquer as a poet whose works undermine previous literary and philosophical motifs and anticipate those to come. Published in Spanish.