Blas de Otero Muñoz was born in 1916 in the industrial city of Bilbao, Spain, that “dark lap” of his youth, a city “damp with rain and smoky with priests.” His ancestry was Basque, and though he boasted of being a “universal Basque” and occasionally wrote poems to fellow Basques such as the poet Gabriel Aresti, his powerful love for Spain as a single entity precluded regional or ethnic partialities.
Otero was a laconic man who did not leave behind an abundance of biographical detail. “I write and am silent,” he wrote in one of the most valuable autobiographical documents available, the poem “Biotz-Begietan”; when Otero was questioned on whether the poem were indeed autobiographical, he replied with one word: “Almost.”
His early schooling in Bilbao was typically Basque: traditional, Catholic, and Jesuit in an environment of fear, severity, and intellectual repression that contributed to the distrust he felt toward priests and the Catholic Church. He began writing poetry at an early age; he tells the story of being struck at school by a priest who disliked some of his youthful verses. Although many of Otero’s poetic anecdotes from childhood are painful, he speaks warmly of such things as the light of August streaming down upon the cherry trees of his grandmother’s orchard, the happy days of his confused adolescence in Madrid, and the laughter of a youthful girlfriend nicknamed “Little Porcelain Jar.” He was graduated from high school in Madrid, took a law degree at the University of Valladolid (although he never practiced law), and then began the study of literature at the University of Madrid. By the time he was nineteen, he had published several poems, including “Baladitas humildes” (humble little ballads) and “Cuerpo de Cristo, por mi amor llagado” (“body of Christ, by my love wounded”), in the Revista de la Congregación (Kostkas) de Bilbao. Then, the Spanish Civil War erupted, and Otero, apparently caught between shifting lines of battle, found himself fighting on one side and then the other. The postwar period was for...
(The entire section is 857 words.)