Blas de Otero Otero, Blas de - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Otero, Blas de 1916–

Otero is a Spanish poet. His early poetry is marked by its anguished and isolated tone, reflecting the young poet's struggle with the question of God and of faith. Later in his life, however, Otero overcame his sense of alienation and expanded his poetic concerns to include the social and political problems of contemporary Spain. He is generally considered one of the finest and most influential poets of the postwar generation in Spain.

Hardie St. Martin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Blas de Otero reaches back to the roots of Spain for his poems. In his earlier work words exploded with savage passion in love poems to a withdrawn God and in poems about death—poems became tender and more lyrical when a woman or sad little girls came into them—, but the poetry he was now doing was loaded with quiet indignation and anguish…. The poet is possessed by an Unamunesque preoccupation with himself, with God—if such a being exists—and eternal peace…. Peace, in this world, must replace hunger, suffering, injustice.

Common oppression joins men. Now that the smoke has lifted from the ruin laid round by the Spanish Civil War the poet has to examine reality like other men….

Otero's approach sometimes takes the form of popular or traditional song—sometimes he imitates its rhythms and sometimes he inserts bits or even just echoes of an actual song in his poems—and sometimes he draws the reader with a conversational tone. The violence that follows out of wasted love for God in his earlier poetry gives way to a more mature calmness in his later work. Driven out of himself to a more human kind of poetry by a hard historical circumstance, from the sadness and desperation of private concern to a deep interest in his fellowman, the poet's wild anger becomes less concentrated and more compassion comes into his words. There is also hope. (pp. 7-8)

Many things happen to words in Otero's poetry. One senses a strange...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

Geoffrey R. Barrow

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Historias fingidas y verdaderas Blas de Otero renounces the lyric in favour of prose, avoids crisp denunciation and protest and rejects a clear and distinct syntax. In place of the assertive confidence that has dominated his writing during the last decade, he raises doubts as to his poetic identity; instead of faith in a revolutionary immensa mayoría, he engages in intensive self-scrutiny. The tension of the work lies in the depiction of conflicts within the personality of the poet. A psychological reality is expressed in prose pieces that are a projection of states of mind, of fears, memories and dreams, as well as a personal record of daily life. The prose is now contorted and compressed, now casual and rambling. The lack of serenity is mirrored in this prose style and in an often private symbolism that point to a fragmented and purposeless everyday life and project a disintegrated world picture.

The section on Cuba and the autobiographical pieces in the work suggest that the immediate catalysts for this prise de conscience are Otero's visit to an Hispanic revolutionary socialist state and the approach of middle age. At the same time, the roots of this intimate journal lie in contradictions already latent in the poet's work. The discrepancies between revolutionary idealism and a tedious, futile, wandering existence; between nostalgia for the tranquility of Vizcaya, his patria chica, and the actual problems of Spain; between idealistic, moral criticism and the course of historical events emerge as sources of tension. The poet's social marginality, his practical inability to effect any social change, is implicit. The total effect is that of paradox, specifically, the paradox of exile, of indefinite suspension…. (pp. 39-40)

Historias fingidas y verdaderas is Otero's first venture into prose apart from a handful of prose fragments in Ancia and En castellano and was written concurrently with the last poems to be included in Que trate de España. It represents an important stage in the disintegration of traditional poetic forms begun in Pido la paz y la palabra. The brevity of the prose pieces and their recourse to the sound effects, imagery and density of expression usually associated with verse preclude them from being considered as a legitimate effort to develop an authentic prose style. True, there is a tendency toward the anecdotal, descriptive, and expository, but the work is essentially experimental. It marks a transformation of the lyric, a further slackening of poetic convention, not a premature termination of Otero's development as a lyric poet.

The movement toward a greater formal freedom already demonstrated in Otero's poetry by the gradual introduction of free verse, the occasional suppression of punctuation and the use of collage technique is now taken a step further. The prose pieces vary in length from less than a dozen lines to almost three pages and the flexible arrangement of paragraphs permits a variety of formal structures…. There is no single dominant principle of organisation…. Discursive autobiographical accounts appear beside impressionistic sequences, cinematographic montages and newspaper-like press releases, not to mention arguments and commentaries. Otero is rethinking his notions of literary form and genre in order to render the whole of his many-sided personality. Diversity of form is one way of coping literarily with inner tensions and contradictions.

On another level, the uncertainties of Otero's syntax and diction represent an uncannily accurate reproduction of the inflections and rambling irrelevancies of everyday speech, with the stress upon speech rhythms as the basis for prose…. [Free] associations, ellipses and paratactical constructions help to free the sentence from the restrictions of logic and convention. This is more than just the integration of a number of already existing techniques derived from surrealism. It is an act of resistance, an assertion of the value of freedom and spontaneity over formal, technical craftsmanship. (pp. 40-1)

Otero constantly questions his function, allegiances, and antecedents, either directly or by allusion and pastiche. He is intricate to the point of self-contradiction, but this lack of a consistent mask, the obsessive doubts and negations of his poetic identity, gives his writing a peculiar range and depth. His theory of poetry swings between the ethical and the aesthetic although he comes close to losing faith in literature itself. Such uncertainties reflect the troubled relationship of authorship to authority, the isolation of the poet and the collapse of a shared community to which both writer and reader belong.

Linking the cause of poetry with that of politics, Otero asserts the ethical or utilitarian function of literature. He is trying to re-establish a lost unity between poet and audience in which the personal and the collective become one. (p. 41)

No consistent political theory of art emerges from [his] scattered and piecemeal statements. The dream of revolution serves as an ideal upon which values can be based but there is no understanding of the dialectical evolution of the new world from the old and the precise role of the poet in this transformation. Moreover, there is in Historias fingidas y verdaderas a vacillation between the figure of the poet as revolutionary, however visionary and utopian, and that of the poet as aesthete, a curious coexistence of extreme political and poetic tendencies.

Several accounts of the nature and function of poetry convey a belief in the autonomy of the poem which suggests Otero has turned aesthete, specialist, and refuses to see further than his specialisation. He claims that the poetic image preserves what is lasting and essential in everyday experience, capturing an immanent or transcendent reality that it alone can convey…. The process of naming is a consuming interest of the poet and is evidence of an attempt to create a poetic world abstracted from the phenomenal world. What 'is' is...

(The entire section is 2511 words.)