Study Guide

Vicente Aleixandre

Vicente Aleixandre Essay - Aleixandre, Vicente (Poetry Criticism)

Aleixandre, Vicente (Poetry Criticism)

Introduction

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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."

Principal Works

Poetry

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

Picasso 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

Poems (bilingual edition) 1969

Antologia del mar y del la noche [Anthology of the Sea and the Night] 1971

Poesía superrealista [Surrealistic Poetry] 1971

Sonido del la guerra 1972

Diálogos del conocimiento [Dialogues of Knowledge] 1974

Vicente Aleixandre and Luis Cernuda: Selected Poems (bilingual edition) 1974

Antología total [Total Anthology] 1975

The Cave of Night: Poems (bilingual edition) 1976

Twenty Poems 1977

Poems-Poemas (bilingual edition) 1978

A Longing for the Light: Selected Poems of Vicente Aleixandre 1979

The Crackling Sun: Selected Poems of the Nobel Prize Recipient 1981

A Bird of Paper: Poems of Vicente Aleixandre 1982

Nuevos poemas varios [Selected New Poems] 1987

Other Major Works

Algunos caracteres de la poesía española contemporanea [Some Characteristics of Contemporary Spanish Poets] (criticism) 1945

Los encuentros [The Meetings] (critical and biographical sketches) 1958

Aleixandre para niños [Aleixandre for Children] 1984

Criticism

Paul Ilie (essay date 1972)

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...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Guillermo Carnero (essay date 1973)

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...

(The entire section is 3206 words.)

Arthur Terry (essay date 1975)

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...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)

Robert Bly (essay date 1977)

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...

(The entire section is 1216 words.)

Miguel González-Gerth (essay date 1978)

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...

(The entire section is 3706 words.)

Manuel Durán (essay date 1978)

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...

(The entire section is 4257 words.)

Diana Der Hovanessian (essay date 1980)

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...

(The entire section is 330 words.)

David Garrison (essay date 1980)

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.]

(The entire section is 2526 words.)

Santiago Daydí-Tolson (essay date 1981)

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...

(The entire section is 7607 words.)

Miroslav John Hanak (essay date 1985)

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)....

(The entire section is 2782 words.)

Agnes Money Gullón (essay date 1988)

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....

(The entire section is 1074 words.)

Jonathan Mayhew (essay date 1990)

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...

(The entire section is 5029 words.)