Blas de Otero Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Blas de Otero experimented with progressively freer verse forms. An evolution began with the collection Pido la paz y la palabra (I ask for peace and the right to speak) and continued until his poetry approached prose. In their brevity, their imagery, and their dependence on sound effects, the pieces collected in his only full-length book of prose, Historias fingidas y verdaderas (1970), resemble poetry more than prose, as in “Andar” (walking): “And I saw the world as a sea churning with people, hanging on to one another as they went down; and the world just risen among broken tombs and inscriptions that lied.”

As Geoffrey Barrow has noted, Otero’s prose represents a further slackening of poetic convention rather than an abjuration of poetry. The first section of Historias fingidas y verdaderas (false and true history) includes fifty-six pieces in which Otero meditates on his own personality. The next section comprises his thoughts on Spain, its long and tangled history and how it could profit from the Socialist Revolution. The third section is devoted to speculation on the human condition in general. In contrast to the confidence that typified his writing of the previous decade, he raises doubts about the effectiveness of his role as a poet; it is now self-scrutiny rather than faith in the revolutionary potential of the majority that occupies him. Although no political theory of art emerges from his desultory observations, he attributes the social marginality he experiences as a poet to the written nature of the transference of his poetry. The secular millenarianism to which he subscribes, his belief in the imminent redemption of Spain and the world heralded by the Cuban Revolution, betokens the incontrovertible romanticism of his revolutionary stance.


(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

During his lifetime, Blas de Otero certainly did not lack recognition and praise. He was hailed as one of the most virile poets Spain had produced since its civil war; Dámaso Alonso placed his sonnet “Hombre” (man) in the company of the sonnets of Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas; and the social and metaphysical concerns of his poetry have prompted comparisons to the work of Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Lowell. Otero was awarded the Premio Boscan in 1950, and later the Premio de la Critica and the Premio Fastenrath from the Real Academia Española de la Lengua. His works have been translated into many languages, and criticism of his work has appeared in all of the major European languages.

Language and Style

(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

As regards Otero’s style, he is partial to words that convey violence and passion (such as rasgar, “to tear”; arrancar, “to wrench”) and derivative verbs and participles using the prefix des- (such as desterrar, “to drive away”; desarraigar, “to uproot”; desgajar, “to wrench off”), the violence of which presents a striking contrast to the more positive condition of the word without the prefix (terra, “land”; arraigo, “stability”; gajo, “branch”). He commonly adds the suffix -azo to nouns, thereby incorporating the strong Castilian th pronunciation (as in trallazo, “whiplash”; zarpazo, “thud”). Among colors, yellow (amarillo) appears the most frequently, redolent of aging and decay.

In contrast, when moments of violence and anger give way to resigned melancholy and “when roses spring forth from the wall of grief,” some of Otero’s favorite words are paz (peace), luz (light), the neologism frondor (the lushness of fronds), and the names of various birds and flowers. Generally, Otero adheres to a basic Spanish vocabulary, almost colloquial, and for the most part he avoids literary or unusual words. An exception is his delight in some of the more unusual designations for rugged terrain (such as llambria, galayo, cantil), whose very “difficulty” seems to mimic that which they denote.

Otero’s conception of man as adrift in a vast abysmal ocean, straining to grasp some support, or as an island, floating with its flora of anxieties and its fauna of...

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Women and Love Poetry

(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Although Otero did not customarily write love poetry unmarred by the dark thoughts connected with one or another of his compulsive searches, he was not reluctant to name names, and he identifies in his poems a significant number of women important to him. In his earliest poems, he treats the desired woman as a virginal symbol and his potential union with her as a union of body and soul: “Mademoiselle Isabel,” apparently his teacher of French as an adolescent, with her carnation-colored breasts and rose-colored body; “Little Porcelain Jar,” who smelled of hyacinth; “La Monse” reclining in a field of yellow flowers. A special case is Tachia, nickname of Conchita Quintana, who, little more than a teenager when she befriended Otero, then in his thirties, gave the poet some of the happiest moments of his life. In fact, it was Tachia who helped the poet to realize the futility of his marathon bout with God, and it was she who invited him to concern himself instead with the brotherhood of humankind: “You said: Entwine your grief with mine,/ like a long and jubilant tress;/ immerse your dreams in my kind; push aside/ your thirst for God. My kingdom is of this world.”

In later poems, this ethereal love becomes tainted by the tantalizing pain caused by the body of a woman, and Otero’s imagery becomes less dainty: The poet lifts the warm skirts of one woman to find a shadow, fear, and a “silent hole,” and he writes cheerlessly of the impoverished Laura, who has a “little accordion/ between her legs.” In the relatively late “La palmatoria de cobre” (“the copper ferule”), Otero avails himself of the appellation “sister,” borrowed from the biblical Song of Solomon to address the consoling female subject of his poem. The consolation of love with women, however, is not enough to provide the poet with a permanent distraction from his Weltschmerz. In fact, one of the only times he speaks of women generically is in the form of a savage diatribe, where women are characterized as “Cunning, calculating, liars/ lily-white in public, notorious with their masks.”

Cántico espiritual

Otero destroyed hundreds of early poems, or so he claims in “Es a la inmensa mayoría” (to the immense majority). His attempts to maintain his faith in God after the horrors of the Spanish Civil War are the theme of his first published work, Cántico espiritual (spiritual canticle), written in homage to Saint John of the Cross on the occasion of the fourth centenary of his birth (1942). These homage poems, which establish the relationship of God and man as the product of a violent meditation (“I moan and clamor for You like a sin”), Otero never allowed to be reprinted, and in comparison to his later poems, they seem rather less spontaneous.

Ángel fieramente humano

For the next eight years, Otero published in the Basque literary magazine Egan and began to acquire a following. In 1950, Ángel fieramente humano appeared, dedicated to the “immense majority” and bringing into sharper focus Otero’s personal quarrel with God and his conception of the vacancy and loneliness to which man is subjected in this life. The Existentialism of these poems recalls SØren Kierkegaard; Otero’s views during this period were influenced by discussions among the young Basque intellectuals connected with Egan. Otero speaks of the terrible silence of God, a silence made to seem even more terrible in the wake of the unnecessary killing (twenty-three million, by Otero’s count) in World War II. When the poet raises his hand, God, clearly the angry God of the Old Testament rather than the loving Jesus of the New, lops it off; when he raises his eyes toward God, God gouges them out. If man is an angel in the image of God, then his wings are like chains. Nevertheless, there are still to be found in this work vestiges of Otero’s deep religious feeling, as in “Salmo por el hombre de hoy” (“Psalm for the Man of Today”), written as a prayer: “Raise us, O Lord, above death./ Extend and sustain our gaze/ so that it can learn henceforth to see You.”

Redoble de consciencia

Otero’s next collection, Redoble de consciencia, was devoted to the same theme and written mainly in free verse. The lament of Job that he was ever born serves as the epigraph of the sonnet “Tierra” (land), and St. John’s observation that the soft hand of God can weigh heavily on the soul of man, serves to introduce “Déjame” (leave me). In the latter poem, Otero, equal in pride to God who made him, reaches the point of wishing he could kill God as God kills man; a godless abyss without hope is thus preferable to an abyss reigned over by an oppressive God who tantalizes with a hope that is unattainable.

Pido la paz y la palabra

In Pido la paz y la palabra, Otero, heeding the advice of Tachia, devoted himself to the working class in poems which J. M. Cohen has called monotonous in their anger. Such apparently...

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(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Barrow, Geoffrey R. The Satiric Vision of Blas de Otero. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. A critical examination of de Otero’s work. Includes bibliographic references and an index.

Cannon, Calvin, ed. Modern Spanish Poems: Selections from the Poetry of Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, and Blas de Otero. New York: Macmillan, 1965. A collection of twentieth century Spanish poetry with commentary by the editor.

Debicki, Andrew Peter. Spanish Poetry of the Twentieth Century: Modernity and Beyond. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994. Debicki examines the sweep of modern Spanish verse, which he situates in the context of European modernity, tracing its trajectory from the Symbolists to the postmodernists.

Mellizo, Carlos, and Louise Salstad, eds. Blas de Otero: Study of a Poet. Laramie: University of Wyoming, 1980. A collection of critical essays in English and Spanish. Includes bibliographic references and an index.