Aleixandre, Vicente (Poetry Criticism)
Vicente Aleixandre 1898–1984
Spanish poet, critic, journalist, and editor.
Recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, Aleixandre was a poet of the "Generation of 1927" whose prolific output has strongly influenced the work of subsequent Spanish poets. His selection for the Nobel Prize came as a surprise to much of the literary world although Aleixandre's first collection had appeared in Spain almost fifty years earlier and his reputation in his country was well established. Prior to 1977, Aleixandre's works available to English readers, including Vicente Aleixandre and Luis Cernuda: Selected Poems and The Cave of Night: Poems, had received little notice. Critical attention abroad increased following his reception of the award and several additional works of selected poems in translation have been published. Despite this interest and the vital role he has played in the evolution of Spanish-language poetry, the complexity of Aleixandre's work and the inherent difficulties in translating it have resulted in a limited general readership.
Aleixandre was born in Seville and raised in Málaga, a nearby city that figures symbolically in much of his work. When he was eleven he moved with his family to Madrid, where he later received degrees in law and business administration and began a career in economic law. In 1925 Aleixandre contracted tuberculosis, thus beginning the series of illnesses that plagued him for the rest of his life. His health eventually forced him to abandon his career and he began to concentrate on writing poetry. His first book, Ambito (Ambit), published in 1928, was written in the tradition of poésie pure that was characteristic of Spanish poetry in the 1920s. Around the same time, Aleixandre began to associate with Pedro Salinas, Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, and other poets based in Madrid, culminating in the innovative literary movement referred to as the "Generation of 1927." Writers in this group reacted against the provincialism of Spanish literature. They advocated poetry as a means to discover and explore the relationship between external reality and the poet's internal world, and, while they rejected sentimentality, love was a dominant theme in the work of Aleixandre and other members of the group. Unlike most other writers of his generation, Aleixandre remained in Spain during the Civil War and the subsequent reign of Francisco Franco. Although never a political poet, his works were banned in the postwar years due to his antifascist beliefs and his
independence from the official regime. Aleixandre's works were reinstated during the 1940s. As one of the few representatives of the earlier period still living in Spain, Aleixandre served as an inspiration to younger generations of Spanish poets, who viewed him as a great master. He continued to publish new works, including the critically heralded volumes Poemas de la consumación (Poems of Consumation) and Diálogos del conocimiento (Dialogues of Knowledge), the latter published when the poet was 76 years old. He died in 1984.
Most of Aleixandre's poetry can be divided into three periods. The first includes Pasión del la tierra (Passion of the Earth, composed 1928-1929), La destrucción o el amor (Destruction or Love, composed 1933), and Mundo a solas (World Alone, composed 1934-1936). Most of the poems in these collections were written just prior to or during the Spanish Civil War, but they do not reflect current events. Rather they employ surrealistic imagery in presenting a cosmic, mystical vision of the world. Aleixandre's thematic focus during this period centers on the elemental forces of the human mind, a yearning for the solace of nature, and the inextricable connection between love and death and between the forces of creation and destruction. In contrast to Ambit, these volumes are more complexly constructed free verse, in which Aleixandre's sweeping, passionate meditations are given freer rein. Aleixandre's first post-Civil War collection, Sombra del paraíso (Shadow of Paradise), is a transitional volume leading to the second phase of his career. Poems in the middle period, which include those from Historia del corazón (History of a Heart) and En un vasto dominio (In a Vast Dominion), share with earlier ones a nostalgia for the lost union between humanity and nature, but a dramatic shift in focus is evident. Previously, Aleixandre had looked inside the individual, rejecting historical and social reality. During the middle period he reached outward, emphasizing temporal and physical connections between the self and the surrounding world and projecting a universal compassion for humanity. With a firmer grounding in earthly reality, surreal imagery and irrationalist techniques gave way to a more direct approach in which the affirmation of love predominates. Aleixandre's final period, consisting of Poems of Consumation and Dialogues of Knowledge, is characterized by a return to the structural and metaphysical complexity of his early work. In Poems of Consumation, the poet views the past from the perspective of old age and mourns the passing of love. In Dialogues of Knowledge, he attempts to comprehend the depths and limitations of human knowledge, a process marked by emotional intensity and somber brooding.
Aleixandre has described his poetry as a "longing for the light." Many critics, and the poet himself, have noted the influence of Sigmund Freud on Aleixandre's exploration of the hidden passions and driving forces that operate beneath the surface of consciousness. Lewis Hyde, one of Aleixandre's noted translators, observed in his introduction to Twenty Poems that a desire to explore "the strong undertow beneath the accelerating tide of rationalism" connects Freud, surrealism, and the early poetry of Aleixandre. Of Aleixandre's poems, Hyde says: "[They] are not an affirmation. They are not working out a full and nourishing surreality, but away from the reality at hand. That …is part of their tension—they are the reflective mind trying to think its way out of coherence and precision."
Ambito [Ambit] 1928
Espadas como labios [Swords like Lips] 1932
Pasíon del la tierra [Passion of the Earth] 1935
La destrucción o el amor 1935; also published as Destruction or Love: A Selection from "La destrucción o el amor" of Vicente Aleixandre, 1976
Sombra del paraíso [Shadow of Paradise] 1944
Mundo a solas 1950; also published as World Alone, 1982
Poemas paradisiacos [Poems of Paradise] 1952
Nacimiento último [Final Birth] 1953
Historia del corazón [History of a Heart] 1954
Mis poemas mejores [My Best Poems] 1956
Poemas amorosos [Love Poems] 1960, revised 1970
Poesías competas [Complete Poems] 1960
Antigua casa madrileña [Ancient Madrid House] 1961
En un vasto dominio [In a Vast Dominion] 1962
Retratos con nombre [Portraits with Names] 1965
Obras completas [Complete Works] 1968, revised 1977
Poemas de la consumación [Poems of Consumation] 1968...
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SOURCE: A review of Poesía superrealista, in Books Abroad, Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer, 1972, pp. 455-56.
[An American educator and critic specializing in Spanish literature, Ilie is the author of The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Poetry (1968) and Documents of the Spanish Vanguard (1969) and has published book-length studies of Camilo Jose Cela and Miguel de Unamuno. In the following excerpt, Ilie comments on the surrealist qualities of Aleixandre's poetry.]
After more than a generation of denials that a surrealist mode of poetry and fiction existed in Spain, an important breakthrough seems to be taking place. Vicente Aleixandre himself, who once wrote that he was never a surrealist, has published an anthology [Poesía superrealista] designed to demonstrate the secuenica irracionalista of his poetic career. The reason for his change of heart is a radically revised definition of surrealism which Aleixandre formerly conceived of as automatic writing "and the consequent abolishment of artistic conscience." He now apparently regards superrealismo as characterized by "associations of verbal elements in which discursive logic breaks down, or approximations which, obeying another, more profound coherence, distort, on the altars of expression, their everyday sense." While this view is imprecise, it is a step forward in the direction of specifying the esthetic foundations and concrete...
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SOURCE: "'Knowing' and 'Known' in Poems of Consummation and Dialogues of Knowledge," in Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry, edited by Vicente Cabrera and Harriet Boyer, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, pp. 87-96.
[A Spanish poet who began publishing in the late 1960s, Carnero is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the generation of native poets that preceded him for their singleminded focus on social issues and elevation of political content over such artistic concerns as form, style, and language. In the following essay, which was originally published in Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos in 1973, Carnero explains that Aleixandre's poetry contrasts vitality—exemplified by such traits as inquisitiveness, impulsiveness, and desire for new experiences—with dogmatism and detachment].
The major premise of Aleixandrine discourse is, as Carlos Bousoño has indicated in his excellent book [La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre], vitality, at least in what is considered the first stage of his poetic production which comes to a close with the publication of The History of the Heart. The vitality to which I refer is double: on the one hand it is the act of recognition of the world which surrounds the poet, or rather his intuition, since the word "recognition" is condemned in Aleixandre's universe as is manifest in the texts which serve as...
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SOURCE: "Kinds of Knowing," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3,820, May 23, 1975, p. 559.
[An English educator and critic, Terry has published studies of the Spanish poets Joan Maragall and Antonio Machado and is the author of Catalan Literature (1972) and coauthor of Introduccion a la lengua y la literatura catalanas (1977). In the following review, he finds that in Diálogos del conocimiento, Aleixandre has continued to develop the style and insights of his poetry.]
Vicente Aleixandre's most recent book of poems [Diálogos del conocimiento] is one of his best, and unmistakably different from any of the others. This is an unusual and gratifying thing to be able to say of a poet in his late seventies who for many years has been regarded as a master by younger generations of Spanish poets. His Obras completas, published seven years ago, seemed at the time to round off an achievement which could be seen to have grown naturally and organically from its earliest premises. This organic quality comes largely from Aleixandre's central preoccupation with the process of creation itself. In his earlier, Surrealist-influenced, poems, love becomes a metaphor for the self-destructive and self-renewing powers of the universe; later, from Historia del caramón (1945-53) onwards, the emphasis shifts to the contemplation of man in his human context, where the living and the...
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SOURCE: "The Man Who Stayed Behind," in The New York Times Book Review, October, 30, 1977, pp. 3, 52.
[One of the most prominent and influential figures in contemporary American poetry, Bly writes visionary and imagistic verse distinguished by its unadorned language and generally subdued tone. His poems are pervaded by the landscape and atmosphere of rural Minnesota, where he has lived most of his life, and are focused on the immediate, emotional concerns of daily life. In the following excerpt, Bly comments on the significance of Aleixandre's verse for the tradition of Western poetry.]
How fitting it is that Vicente Aleixandre has won the Nobel Prize! He is one of the greatest poets alive and his work stands for endurance, the roots under the tree of consciousness, the slowly growing trunk. He receives the prize for all the others of his generation in Spain, especially Jorge Guillen and Rafael Alberti. His generation was the astounding one, a concentration of genius unheard of in Spain for centuries, amazing in any country. Federico Garcia Lorca was the joyful bird of the group, composing poems on the piano; Rafael Alberti, the rationalist turned sailor, an ecstatic rationalist; Pedre Salinas, the gentle mason of love; Jorge Guillen, a worshipper of light; Luis Cernuda, who sang like a sad Job; and the enthusiastic Vicente Aleixandre, who was and is a kind of river, carrying trees torn up by the roots,...
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SOURCE: "Nature and Society in the Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre," in Texas Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 206-14.
[A Mexican-born American educator, poet, and critic, Gonzalez-Gerth has published several volumes of verse. Here, he examines Aleixandre's treatment of love, fellowship, and humankind's relationship to nature.]
Vicente Aleixandre has been writing poetry for over half a century. To date he has written over thirty books and pamphlets of verse, and his collected poems and prose writings comprise two very substantial volumes. He belongs to an outstanding generation of Spanish poets, called the generation of 1927 because that year marked the tercentenary of Luis de Góngora's death and many young poets of the time visited Seville, where the Baroque master is buried, and gathered at the local Athenaeum to hold a ceremony. It was as if Spanish poetry, while reacting to the latest European literary currents, were self-consciously reaching back in its own history and tradition to rediscover the metaphorical genius of Góngora. For metaphor was indeed the poetic currency of the day.
One of the immediate models, perhaps the main one, for the Spanish poets of 1927 was Juan Ramon Jiménez. In his Segunda antolojía poética, which had appeared in 1922, at the end of the book, there is a number of aphorisms and final notes written in prose. Those statements and much...
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SOURCE: "Vicente Aleixandre, Last of the Romantics: The 1977 Nobel Prize for Literature," in World Literature Today, Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring, 1978, pp. 203-08.
[Durán is a Spanish-born educator, critic, and poet who has published books on many Spanish and Latin American writers, including Pablo Neruda, Miguel de Cervantes, José Ortega y Gasset, Amado Nervo, Luis de León, and Francisco Quevedo. In the following overview of Aleixandre's career, Durán perceives a Romantic strain in the poet's verse.]
Why Aleixandre? More explicitly, why should the Nobel Prize for Literature be awarded to Vicente Aleixandre in 1977? Barbara Walters, speaking through a nationwide television program, declared that the poet was virtually unknown outside his native Spain (which only proves the lack of intellectual preparedness of our television announcers). And yet, if Lorca had been alive today, there is no question that the prize would have been his. The prize belongs not to a man, in this case, but to a whole generation, the generation of Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Rafael Al berti—perhaps the brightest and most original poetic generation in twentieth-century Western Europe. Not a restricted, disciplined group, as the French surrealists became, but rather a band of friends open to all influences.
I remember Aleixandre in the courtyard of his Madrid house, a great conversationalist who also knew when to...
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SOURCE: "World Alone: A Cosmovision and Metaphor of Absent Love," in Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry, edited by Vicente Cabrera and Harriet Boyer, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, pp. 53-70.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in Spanish in Journal of Spanish Studies: Twentieth Century in 1978, Cabrera asserts that Mundo a solas (World Alone), is a pivotal work between the early and middle phases of Aleixandre's career.]
The poetic work of Vicente Aleixandre from Passion of the Earth up to Shadow of Paradise, which makes up his first and perhaps richest period, is characterized as much by the unity of the elemental and cosmic conception of its theme as by the coherent and imaginative homogeneity of its diction. This substructure of vision and diction on which the poetry of this period rests is the result of an ongoing evolution in which each book becomes an outgrowth of the former one; that is, a lyrical step forward which, deriving from the earlier work, consolidates a new poetic vision. This evolution, however, is interrupted with the appearance of Shadow of Paradise, a work which, although it remains within the cosmic and elemental vision of the others, stylistically represents a change which had not previously occurred, for example, between Passion of the Earth and Swords like Lips, or between the...
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SOURCE: "Vicente Aleixandre Lights the Way," in The Christian Science Monitor, January 2, 1980, p. 17.
[Der Hovanessian is an American educator, poet, and translator. In a review of A Longing for the Light: Selected Poems of Vicente Alxeixandre, she asserts that Aleixandre moved definitively from the dark imagery of his early work toward more hopeful and humanist poems as his career progressed.]
"The poet," according to Vicente Aleixandre, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, "is essentially a prophet…. His job is to illumine, to aim light."
Poetry, for Aleixandre, is "a longing for the light."
Lewis Hyde uses that existential phrase as the title for Aleixandre's first volume of selected poems in English [A Longing for the Light].
Why, we might ask, since Aleixandre is 81, did it take so long for his work to appear in English? The answer: This poet, prophet or not, was neither controversial enough nor political enough to interest a commercial publisher before he won the Nobel.
Some of his early poetry might tax a reader with its mysticism and disjointed style. But Aleixandre's poetry loses much of the disconnectedness in later years, and begins to address people directly—real people, and people of the past. Gone are the terrible black mountains at the bottom of the sea. Instead, we find the sunlit streets...
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SOURCE: "Rhetorical Strategy in the Surrealist Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre," in Denver Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall, 1980, pp. 21-6.
[In the following essay, Garrison provides a close reading of the poem "Vida" in order to demonstrate that Aleixandre employs a definite rhetorical strategy in his surrealist poetry, imbuing irrational images with an intrinsic, palpable coherence.]
Surrealists in Spain, like their French counterparts, sought to liberate poetry and language itself from the confines of the rationalist...
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SOURCE: "Vicente Aleixandre: A New Voice of Tradition," in Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Santiago Daydí-Tolson, Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, 1981, pp. 1-34.
[A Chilean-born American educator and critic, Daydí-Tolson is the author of The Post-Civil War Spanish Poets (1983) and Five Poets of Aztlan (1985). In the following excerpt, he traces Aleixandre's early career from Ambito to Sombra del paraíso—the collection that marks the arrival of artistic maturity for Aleixandre, according to Daydí-Tolson.]
When in 1977 the Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to the Spanish poet Vicente Aleixandre, the name and works of the new laureate were little known outside of Spain and Latin America. He was mainly an author for hispanists, the poet for literary experts. Post-war Spanish poetry was represented in the mind of foreigners by Federico García Lorca and, in some cases, by the less popular poet Jorge Guillén, both of them contemporaries and good friends of Aleixandre. After the Civil War (1936-39) Spain had become for many a silent world, the domain of intellectual backwardness and governmental censorship; a Nobel Prize could not have been found in such a land, barren of literary greatness. But in later years Spain had begun to change, and no longer could it be considered a repressed society and a cultural wasteland—poetic voices were heard...
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SOURCE: "Vicente Aleixandre's In a Vast Dominion: The Completion of a Submersion of Personality in the World Ground," in La Chispa '85: Selected Proceedings, edited by Gilbert Paolini, Louisiana Conference on Hispanic Languages and Literatures, 1985, pp. 153-62.
[In the following essay, Hanak discusses several poems from In a Vast Dominion, especially "Antigua casa madrileña," in order to support his contention that Aleixandre endorses a mystical view of fulfillment through the individual's submersion into a collective unconscious.]
In a Vast Dominion is the ninth cyclus of poems in the first volume of Aleixandre's Obras completas (1977). It first appeared under the title En un vasto dominio in 1962. The "vast dominion" in question is the spatiotemporal infinity of a strictly telluric dimension, the only true reality of existence. Space and time permeate each other without differentiation, for the here-and-now and the there-and-then are deceptive inventions of human self-consciousness that reveal the unreality of an egocentric world view. The following analysis gives a brief synopsis of six short poems as an introduction to a more detailed scrutiny of a seventh, a longer work entitled "Antigua casa madrileña," which can be considered the culminating point of the cyclus.
"Materia humana" is the poet's exploration of humanity's spacial dimension. The...
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SOURCE: A review of Shadow of Paradise, in Hispanic Review, Vol. 56, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 385-87.
[In the following review of Shadow of Paradise, Gullón calls attention to light imagery in Aleixandre's poetic vision, and considers the difficulties faced by translators in rendering the vivid and precise imagery of Aleixandre's poems into English.]
In the Foreward [to Shadow of Paradise, translated by Hugh A. Harter, 1987] Claudio Rodríguez indicates that opposing forces await the reader of this book:
Clearly, Shadow of Paradise is a book about a paradise lost, about the loss of the innocence of love. Paradise and its absence, harmony and destruction, light and shadow, elegy and exaltation: the playing out of human destiny under the immortal canticle of trees, ocean foam, and moonlight: the glittering, unifying energy of erotic forces within a diversity of organic forms.
In the Introduction by Hugh A. Harter, a different view of Aleixandre's paradise is offered, one based on how a sense of loss in the postwar years—Madrid: dark, present—combines with bliss—Málaga: light, past—in a mind highly sensitive to beauty:
For these poems present neither paradise nor a vision of it, but only the illusory, hallucinatory contours of its shadow—diaphanous,...
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SOURCE: "Vicente Aleixandre: 'Límites y espejo,'" in The Poetics of Self-Consciousness: Twentieth-Century Spanish Poetry, Bucknell University Press, 1994, pp. 52-65.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in Modern Language Notes in 1990, Mayhew explores Aleixandre's concern with the limitations of language as a tool for describing reality.]
The image of Vicente Aleixandre as a relatively unsophisticated creator has been remarkably tenacious, although no one has ever called into question his mastery of language. The stylistic analyses of Carlos Bousoño, the author of the first and most influential monograph on the poet, have provided ample demonstration of the subtlety and power of Aleixandre's poetic technique. Still, few studies of his poetry have emphasized his linguistic self-consciousness, his awareness of the verbal medium as a theoretical problem. In a recent study, Philip Silver has given voice to the widespread view that Aleixandre is essentially naive as a poetic thinker. For Silver, the author of La destructión o el amor typifies the Hispanic poet who, like Antaeus in Greek mythology, derives all of his strength from his ties to the earth [Philip Silver, Le casa de Anteo: Estudios de poética española, 1985]. Aleixandre would thus lack the theoretical self-consciousness that is essential to the modern poet.
This assessment, I would...
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Bradford, Carole E. "From Vicente Aleixandre to Claudio Rodríguez: Love as a Return to the Cosmos." Hispanic Journal 4, No. 1 (Fall 1982): 97-104.
Close reading of two poems, "Unidad en ella" by Aleixandre and "Ahí mismo" by Claudio Rodriquez, focusing on their treatment of love as a fundamental, unifying force of nature.
Cabrera, Vicente, and Boyer, Harriet, eds. Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry. Lincoln, Nebr.: Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, 195 p.
A collection of translated critical essays.
Cannon, Calvin. A review of Presencias. Hispania L, No. 2 (May 1967): 389-90.
Considers an assertion in the preface of Presencias that Aleixandre's poetry is "objective," concluding that such a label must be understood "in a special sense, paradoxical, even ironical. Briefly, we may understand it as the surrender of self through love to the world (object) beyond self, as the submergence of the self in the object, in which the dualism of self-object is somehow transcended."
Daydí-Tolson, Santiago, ed. Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal. Ypsilanti, Mich.: Bilingual Press, 1981, 353 p.
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