Juan Ramón Jiménez was born in Moguer, a typical town in Andalusia, steeped in tradition, colorful but slow-moving. His father, Victor, had come from north-central Spain to make his fortune in viniculture, acquiring extensive vineyards and numerous wineries in Moguer. Purificación, Jiménez’ mother, was a native Andalusian and a very good mother, although perhaps too indulgent toward her youngest child, Juan Ramón. The future poet had a comfortable and happy early childhood in the family’s new home on the Calle Nueva. Later, he learned to ride and, on horse or donkey, developed his love of nature in the beautiful countryside, which offered some compensation for the scant cultural stimulation of the town. After four or five years of elementary education in Moguer, Jiménez, then eleven years old, was sent with his brother to a Jesuit school near Cádiz, where he completed his secondary studies at age fifteen.
The colegio offered the best education available in the region, and Jiménez was a good, well-behaved student. Although somewhat homesick and averse to the school’s regimentation, he was alert, imaginative, and intellectually curious, enjoying a variety of subjects, especially drawing and literature. His meditative mind and love of nature inclined him to religion and, despite later aversion to the Church, among the six schoolbooks that he kept permanently were the Bible and Thomas à Kempis’s Imitatio Christi (c. 1427; The Imitation of Christ, c. 1460-1530). Upon graduation, Jiménez went to Seville to study painting and to develop his passion for poetry. His father had wanted him to study law at the university, but he had no interest in prelaw studies and neglected them for the arts. The family’s prosperity made it possible for Jiménez to indulge himself and choose between two financially unpromising careers. Some early paintings show that he might have become a fine painter, but the publication of his first poems, evoking favorable criticism, turned him to poetry.
Fatigue and emotional strain in Seville put Jiménez under the care of doctors in Moguer, yet he continued to write feverishly, sending poems to magazines in Madrid and establishing contacts with poets there. Somewhat capricious and unreasonable, he shunned social events in Moguer and, despite two or more youthful love affairs, preferred to be alone. The poems sent by Jiménez to Vida nueva met with such favor that the magazine’s editor, Francisco Villaespesa, and Rubén Darío, the Nicaraguan poet and leader of Modernismo who had been in Spain since 1899, invited the young poet to visit Madrid to help them reform Spanish poetry. Life in Madrid was exciting. Jiménez became close friends with Darío and other contemporary poets, and despite some excesses criticized by the academicians, his first collections were hailed as the work of a promising newcomer. His father’s sudden fatal heart attack in 1900 caused Jiménez’ nervous illness, which had recurred during the stimulating sojourn in Madrid, to...
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