Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Spanish Image of Death,” collected with fourteen other poems in España, aparta de mí este cáliz, presented by Vallejo as poems about the Spanish Civil War, seems also to be principally about the war. The title and the reference to Irun, the town devastated by the war, nationalize the death which is the focus of the poem, and war images form a majority of the poem’s imagery. However, earlier versions of the poem lacked any references to war, and some critics have come to believe that it was written earlier than the outbreak of the Civil War and that Vallejo added the war references in order to work it into the fabric of the España collection.

Regardless, with Vallejo the Spanish Civil War, and any war, is much more than a political event; it is suffering and death and dismemberment (“global enigmatic fractions [that] hurt, pierce”) of the unity he so values. With this in mind, the poem becomes an expression of Vallejo’s compassion for humankind far wider than the specific political issues at hand. The poet-speaker, then, embodies both the individual human and the soldier—Vallejo would count both as members of humankind—who either defended or attacked Irun.

The battle described in “Spanish Image of Death” may be the battle of the Spanish Republicans against the Fascists, but it is also the battle of life against death, of creativity against stagnation, of courage against fear as well as the attempt on...

(The entire section is 487 words.)