Dámaso Alonso

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Andrew P. Debicki

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Dámaso Alonso is generally recognized as a major literary critic of contemporary Spain, and as the founder of a whole school of stylistic analysis. At the same time he is considered an important poet who, having started his career by writing "pure" and somewhat abstract verse, changes his style after the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 and takes the lead in a movement toward a direct and anguished "human" poetry.

This characterization of Alonso as a poet of two styles, though in many respects correct, does not take into account the fundamental cohesiveness of his literary production. If we examine all of his verse, for example, we can see that in spite of certain external differences between his early and his late books of poetry, all of them deal with the same general themes and make use of similar devices. All of them, for example, offer a dual perspective on reality, artistically embodied in certain techniques of imagery and point of view. Likewise, if we study Alonso's criticism, we find certain ideas which pervade and link his stylistic analyses and his more general essays, his earlier works and his later ones. Alonso's views, for example, on the relationship between analysis and intuition, on the ways in which a poem infuses new values into traditional themes and techniques, and on the connections between form and meaning, exemplify such constant points in his criticism. In addition, if we consider Alonso's verse and his criticism in relation to each other, we are able to see some viewpoints and concerns which underlie and shed light on both genres. In both, for instance, Alonso strives to reconcile personal intuitions with objective visions; in both he bases his work on his attitude toward literary form as a unique way of embodying complex essential meanings which cannot be seized in any other way. (p. 7)

[There is] a constant duality in Alonso's work, a shift between the precise and the affective, the learned and the immediate, which can be discerned both in his verse and in his criticism. This seems to be in Alonso's case a particular form of the conflict between the conceptual critic and the poet who seeks meanings intuitively. Alonso, on the one hand, is constantly delving as deeply as possible into the nature and the meaning of phenomena in general and of literature in particular, using his tremendous philological and critical knowledge and acumen to obtain the fullest insights possible. But at the same time he comes to feel the limitations and the imperfections of human intelligence and of humanity, to have an affective awareness of Man's plight and tragedies, and to embody vividly this plight and these tragedies. Alonso's great triumph is that he manages to fuse and combine his two attitudes and his two quests. He does so largely thanks to his sense of what is personally crucial for Man: in his criticism he always asks the question that yields insights as to the works' value for the reader, in his verse he focuses on themes of key import to Man's life. He does this also because of his sense of the creative power of language: in all his writing … Alonso combines and orders words so as to pull out of them a wide range of meaning, conceptual as well as affective. (p. 23)

The conflict between an idealized view of life and a harshly realistic one, a conflict which is central to Poemas puros , prefigures the clash between a religious outlook and an existential one, and this clash is central to Alonso's later verse. The protagonist who must...

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choose between the poetic and the trivial inPoemas puros is an earlier version of the anguished seeker of Hijos de la ira. The use of images which combine symbolic and metaphoric values can be seen throughout all of Alonso's poetry: the use of a prosaic vocabulary for poetic effects can be discerned in Poemas puros and becomes dominant in Hijos de la ira. All this suggests that the poetry of Dámaso Alonso constitutes a single path: his early poems already reveal human, philosophic, and poetic concerns which blossom fully in his later books, and which enable him to become a leader in the poetic renewal which follows the Civil War. (pp. 33-4)

Much of the poetic value of Poemas puros is due to the way in which symbols give dramatic precision and concreteness to the otherwise ethereal theme of a common outlook in conflict with an elevated one. At times, indeed, the work might seem too exact in its use of natural and human symbols. But the paradoxical nature of the speaker … and the use of detailed tangible images … keep the book from falling into an inhuman neatness; while concern with the issue of time relates the work and its theme of a dual reality to a basic question facing Man.

The most successful images that appear in the book seem therefore to possess a dualistic nature. On the one hand they fulfill the traditional role of symbols: that of representing, conceptually and completely, certain meanings outside of themselves. (Thus the speaker embodies the search for ideals, the beloved is an ideal, etc.) In this fashion they pin down exactly the conflict between two points of view. On the other hand, however, these same images add complexity to several poems, and in this fashion operate more like metaphors. (p. 38)

Oscura noticia, like Alonso's earlier poetry, is centered on the conflict between an idealistic attitude and a prosaic one. But now Alonso relates this conflict even more explicitly to the particular issues and problems of human life, to time, death, love. As a result, it becomes less an absolute contrast between the elevated and the ordinary; and more the very immediate struggle which Man faces between his desire to reach various types of perfection (the perfect love, the perfect work of art, timelessness) on the one hand, and the forces which pull him to egoism, which limit him, and which make him susceptible to death on the other. And as the theme of the duality of life is brought closer to our immediate existence, so the techniques of the work place greater stress on the complexities and the shadings to be found in reality. By developing and stressing the role of the protagonist, by using bisemic symbols, and by using details with greater complexity, Alonso incorporates into his poems more of the aspects and the elements related to the dualities actually present in our world.

Possibly the most obvious feature of Hijos de la ira is the anguish which it expresses by means of its images of horror, its free verse, its seemingly direct style, and its ordinary and at times prosaic language…. [But] this negative picture of the world is balanced by a hopeful view of God, of beauty, and even of certain aspects of Man…. Hijos de la ira marks the culmination of the conflict between the ordinary and the elevated which we have noted all along in Alonso's creative work. This conflict, however, becomes even more related to the basic problems of immediate human existence. As a result, what was a somewhat abstract contrast between the prosaic and the poetic in Poemas puros, and turned into the struggle between the desire for perfection and the limitations of Man in Oscura noticia, now becomes an even more vital and individualized conflict between Man's search for religious and personal transcendence on the one hand, and his temptation to egotism, pettiness and destruction on the other. (Now the poet looks at the destructive elements more closely, finding them harder to overcome.)

The book reveals a continued use of the techniques observed in Alonso's earlier verse, but now developed and enriched even further to meet the requirements of the work's more vital nature. Alonso makes use of the protagonist, of a combination of symbol and metaphor, and of a variety of subordinate images and figures; more than in previous books, he forms these elements, and the different poems of the volume, into a tightly knit and unified vision. (pp. 51-2)

The main protagonist of Hijos de la ira sees himself negatively more often than not, but this must be interpreted in the context of the book as a whole. Several times we notice that the condemnation which this protagonist heaps on himself becomes, paradoxically, his very means of salvation…. [It appears] that it is a confession of his own inadequacy which allows Man to transcend the limitations of the common and the material, and to achieve an elevated attitude. This view becomes, indeed, a major theme of Hijos de la ira. (p. 53)

[Hijos de la ira takes] us dramatically from acceptance to rejection to renewed acceptance. Thus it has involved us in the path followed by the protagonist, and has embodied forcefully the theme of selflessness as a prerequisite to insight and to a higher outlook.

Although in the context of the book the protagonist symbolizes Man, it is as a particular being who draws shifting attitudes from the reader that he gives the poem its forcefulness. A clear initial identification between this speaker and Everyman would weaken the dramatic effect, and therefore the final paradox: only in renunciation does Man acquire acceptance and dignity. The particular characterization of this man serves, as some of the metaphors seen previously, to give vitality and concreteness to the work, and to prevent us from reducing it to a neat scheme. Yet the symbolic level of the poem is also indispensable. (This level is stressed by allusions in the poem, by the picture of the speaker as a man praying to God, by the context of the book.) Without this symbolic level, the speaker's plight would be trivial—the mere sufferings of an emotionally unstable man. This poem, therefore, reveals a perfect blend of two levels: the descriptive or metaphoric, which focuses on a particular being and makes us feel the immediacy of a particular reality; and the symbolic, which points to a more universal theme. This combination allows the poem to treat its theme both richly and significantly. (pp. 56-7)

The protagonist of Hijos de la ira is … the cornerstone of the general pattern of the book. Representing Man as he travels through life, he must choose between a selfish, limited outlook on the one hand, and a selfless, wider, and more poetic one on the other. Whatever connections he might have with Dámaso Alonso himself, this protagonist is primarily a literary device embodying a dramatic and complex battle going on within Man. Endowed with both symbolic and metaphoric value, he embodies the basic scheme of the work and is the major factor in its unity. (p. 59)

Without resolving the ultimate problems of religious truth, Hijos de la ira [offers] a coherent attitude which Man—be he an orthodox Christian or not—can take in the light of the problems of existence. The protagonist's belief in the order of the universe, his acceptance of a pattern wider than his own whims, and his desire to curb and transcend these whims underlie the whole book. They forcefully represent a way of standing against all that is petty and chaotic in our world, and of asserting the higher dignity and possibilities of Man. They are, indeed, an existential and philosophic attitude which can be asserted by men of widely differing religious creeds. And the dramatic and patterned nature of the book makes it clear that the protagonist's "story" is important as one version, one example of Man's quest for elevation, not as a way of telling us what we should believe.

It is true, of course, that the work accepts the existence of a divine force; and that it leaves the detailed characteristics of this divine force undefined. (God will become more enigmatic in Alonso's later poetry.) Both these attitudes are again, however, quite wide in scope, and could be held by practicing Catholics as well as by skeptics…. While operating within his Catholic tradition, Alonso does not limit Hijos de la ira to any particular religious view…. [He is] constructing a poetic work rather than presenting his own beliefs. (pp. 64-5)

Hijos de la ira, though deeply concerned with basic philosophic questions, treats them in a human and poetic, rather than in a theological or systematic, fashion. The book embodies, vividly and dramatically, Man's struggle for value in his life, his opposition to the chaos and the meaninglessness which surrounds him, and his renunciation of a petty view in favor of a wider one. It offers one version, one compelling example of Man's battle to affirm his dignity; in that it holds meaning for all men of our time—and of all times.

What I have just said about Hijos de la ira is also applicable to Alonso's later books, Hombre y Dios and Gozos de la vista. There too we will find a protagonist struggling against the limitations of his pettiness, of the world, of time, of death. There too we will find the embodiment of a significant human attitude in the face of the philosophic and existential dilemmas facing us. (p. 65)

The choice between viewpoints which [Hijos de la ira] presents is a clear outgrowth of the theme of the ordinary versus the elevated which we have been observing since Poemas puros. The conflict between Man's search for religious transcendence and his temptation to egotism is but a more personal, more immediate, and at the same time more essentially human version of that constant theme…. And the whole theme of a conflict between Man's desire to elevate himself and his awareness of the concrete problems and limitations of existence could perhaps be linked in some way to the duality observable in Dámaso Alonso's own outlook, to the tension between the search for precise and exact insights and the feeling for affective human problems and limitations.

Hijos de la ira also represents a continuation and a development of the techniques already seen in Alonso's earlier work. The book still explores its meanings through symbols which both point beyond themselves to wider issues and retain concrete and metaphoric values. These symbols now reveal greater concreteness, greater wealth of allusion, greater connection with our present era; their metaphoric aspect is more apparent. Most important among these symbols is the protagonist … who has constantly helped portray, concretely yet precisely, Alonso's view of the basic conflict faced by Man. All this confirms the feeling that Hijos de la ira, for all its directness, is above all an artistic embodiment of its theme. (p. 66)

The central subject of Dámaso Alonso's Hombre y Dios (Man and God) is clearly a religious one: the presence of God and Man's relationship to Him. This fact, and the seemingly straightforward and easy-to-understand language in which the book is written, might tempt us into thinking of it as a direct philosophic statement. We might even surmise that Alonso has abandoned the complex art of his earlier poetry to give us a neat vision of a religious creed. Yet such a view would obviously be unsatisfactory; for one thing, it is clear that the overt theses of some poems of Hombre y Dios contradict those of others, so that no single philosophic statement could encompass them all.

Hombre y Dios constitutes, in my opinion, a complex poetic inquiry into the question of Man's role in the universe. It does not achieve its complexity by embodying all the different meanings and shadings in each individual poem, but rather by building a carefully constructed whole out of a balance of individual poems, each of which presents a partial (and sometimes simple) view. In this sense Hombre y Dios is a tightly-knit dramatic whole, which juxtaposes several opposing views of Man's situation and his relationship with God; on the basis of these views, the book constructs a new synthesis, a new multifacted vision. (p. 67)

Alonso has always achieved some of his most powerful effects by developing his meanings gradually, and by juxtaposing one part of a work to another—rather than by structuring a work as a static architectural unit, to be encompassed all at one time. In Hijos de la ira he has in addition made different poems and different characters develop diverse aspects of the central conflict of the book…. Hombre y Dios [is] a culmination of Alonso's progressive and dramatic technique….

In Hombre y Dios, Alonso again presents a contrast between different views of human existence. An easy, God-centered faith shown in the first poems contrasts with a simple, earth-centered outlook revealed in the last one; in between these, the middle section of the book develops an ultimately positive and religious, but at the same time complex and ambiguous, resolution. The very titles of poems and of sections of the book illustrate this dialectical process. (p. 68)

By means of images of Man's role as God's eyes, of Man's free will, and of Man's gift for poetry, [in the middle section Alonso] manages to unite the earlier viewpoints into a new whole—which we may deem paradoxical and logically enigmatic, but which we accept as poetically and humanly valuable. The neat scheme around which the book is organized, its use of philosophic concepts as images, and its stress on absolute questions and on their resolution may make Hombre y Dios perhaps a little less immediate, less close to the particular anguish of human beings than Hijos de la ira. But thanks to its structure and its use of lyric and dramatic devices it remains a vital embodiment of its theme, an excellent poem; and also one which gives us an even fuller view than Alonso's earlier books of a basic conflict between points of view. (p. 84)

As the title indicates, Gozos de la vista treats the subject of human sight, its glories, and its limitations. This subject is, however, also the means of dealing with even wider preoccupations. The values and the perils of human sight evoke the great worth as well as the tragic shortcomings of human beings. The book, as its predecessors, portrays a basic clash between two views. One of these stresses the unique merits of human sight and the consequent dignity of Man, while the other suggests the limitations of his sight and Man's consequent fragility and mortality. The dialectical conflict so important in Alonso's poetry is here renewed; it is focused on a more specific trait and situation than in Hombre y Dios—on sight and on the tragedies of blindness. (In this the book resembles more Hijos de la ira.) It is related even more explicitly, on the other hand, to basic problems of human existence—to time and to death. Gozos de la vista represents an individualized and yet essential treatment of the theme of the dual nature of our existence: its values and its shortcomings.

On the surface, the clash in viewpoints is not as clear-cut here as in Hombre y Dios; likewise the work is not so neatly divided into sections representing opposite points of view. Yet the work does reveal a dramatic structure, and much of its meaning does depend on the relations that exist between sections, between poems, and between parts of poems. These relations unfold gradually, however, usually as a result of shifts and reversals within the book. Rather than an "architectural" structure, a single and more static scheme such as the one found in Hombre y Dios, we have here a more dynamic one. This structure … reveals itself gradually as we follow the path of the protagonist and watch his insights accumulate and modify each other. In this fashion Alonso keeps using dramatic techniques while staying even closer to the predicament of the particular being. (p. 85)

Of the ten sections of Gozos de la vista, the first four seem to constitute a unit. Within them the protagonist defines the importance of human sight, climaxing his presentation with a prayer for its survival. In them the tension between the worth and the shortcomings of sight is outlined. The first of these sections is centered on the idea that sight brings man out of a static self-centeredness, permitting him to join together the multiple and changing elements of the world and thus to extend his own existence…. (p. 86)

It is important to note that the external reality seen by the protagonist is only defined through its effects on him. Reality is furthermore reduced to a neat scheme, to a series of vertical and horizontal lines which his sight attracts just as an antenna attracts electronic impulses. The focus is then on the man [and] … his reception of the outer world's signals…. (pp. 86-7)

[Alonso] conveys the idea that Man's sight is a vehicle through which God obtains a human perspective on the world, a perspective otherwise unavailable to Him. In the middle section of Hombre y Dios, this idea functioned as an image bringing together a God-centered and a Man-centered view of existence. Here in Gozos de la vista the idea plays a somewhat similar role, in that it makes us feel Man's importance as well as his participation in a higher, nonmaterial scheme of things. But in the context of the book, the poem also picks up and stresses an idea already developed in [earlier] sections: that Man's sight is valuable, not because of its physical power, but because it lets Man transcend purely physical nature. By now making sight the instrument of divine perception and a creative force modeled on God, Alonso strengthens greatly the earlier view of Man's transcendence. Therefore, this poem serves now, not so much to merge opposing outlooks, as to stress the unique importance of Man as a superior being, endowed with a perspective both realistic and elevated. (p. 88)

Alonso stresses above all the purely material, base, and unconscious nature of a sightless world. By indicating that such a world cannot be described visually or conceptually, he sets it beneath human thought, human perception, human words. By describing the animals as bubbling, as touching, as gnawing, he accents their base physical characteristics, their lack of intelligence, their inhuman horizontal postures. All this again makes sight the distinguishing trait between a human existence and a lower one: before sight there is no thought, no human dignity. (p. 90)

Glancing back over all of Gozos de la vista, we can see that Alonso has used in it something like a large-scale version of a symbol which initially is only suggested, and then gradually becomes defined…. After making us feel implicitly that sight alludes to Man's values and blindness to his limitations in sections one through four, Alonso gave us a specific story of a blinding. We could see the wider implications of the story, but did not ignore its particularity; the symbolic level had not yet been defined conceptually, and did not distract us from the specific reality. Now Alonso links blindness and Man's limitations exactly and conceptually, allowing us to see the vast range of his subject. Since this comes only after the concrete level has been established, we do not deem it an excessively abstract presentation. Alonso has used a large-scale version of the "bisemic symbol" again to give his work richness of detail on the one hand, and wider scope and greater precision on the other.

As the symbolic value of sight and blindness is made clear, so is Man's essential tragedy. The human inability to understand God picks up the earlier visions of Man's fragility and mortality, uniting them in a single image of his incapability fully to understand or control his situation. This incapability is stressed in the next two stanzas of the poem, which portray the speaker's unsuccessful efforts to explain colors to a blind man, and his final prayer asking that God should give the blind a new sight. Given the symbolic meaning of blindness just established, these efforts and this prayer represent a desperate (and hopeless) effort to overcome or at least hide Man's shortcomings. The protagonist still requests the concrete and earthly, yet superior and creative, vision which is the unique property and value of Man. But the last sections studied have made clear the impossibility of preserving this vision forever. (pp. 97-8)

Gozos de la vista, like Hombre y Dios, reveals a total structure, though one based on a gradual unfolding of parts (I have called it "dramatic"), rather than on the more schematic and static (or "architectural") pattern of the earlier book. The use of general structures in both books seems appropriate, given their combined philosophic and poetic nature. Both of them explore a conflict between opposite views of Man, as did Alonso's earlier verse; but both delve into the more philosophic ramifications and the ultimate implications of this conflict, pointing also to final views or resolutions. Their structures allow these books to move toward these resolutions in a concrete and dramatic manner, making them both full and poetically successful embodiments of their visions.

The use of a structure that unfolds gradually in Gozos de la vista forces the reader to follow more closely the path of the protagonist. Certain repeated images, which keep the same general value throughout the work but which also reveal shifts in attitude, support the general structure…. (We can remember how colors, windows and a lighthouse repeatedly portrayed Man's outlook; how whiteness alluded to an abstract vision and touch to an animalistic attitude; how eagles portrayed sight and its loss.) All this links diverse parts of the book into a progressive whole. This procedure fits very well the book's increased stress on more immediate predicaments, signalled also by its use of a particular and developing protagonist, its stress on particular happenings, and on the particular image-concept of sight. The wider philosophic view emerges in Gozos de la vista from this particularity. In this, we might say that the book combines the greater philosophic stress of Hombre y Dios with the greater immediacy and particular intensity of Hijos de la ira. (pp. 104-05)

Technical and mechanical terms often undercut any tendency to make Man appear elevated. The scientific terminology also makes us see the protagonist as a painstaking man, curious about scientific detail, and yet also whimsical: he uses scientific terms to comment ironically on Man and his world…. All in all, such terms help make the protagonist and the work less pretentious. A work endeavoring to define the value of Man could easily have seemed pompous and hollow, and lost the reader's assent. By making his speaker and his poem aware of the traits of our particular world, Alonso avoids this danger.

Although it deals with the theme of conflicting outlooks on Man with great particularity, Gozos de la vista also relates this theme to the basic problems of time and of death. More than Alonso's earlier verse, it rejects any easy confidence in God, and shows anguish at Man's final fate. Yet, in still asserting Man's dignity, the nobility of his belief in higher values and of his trust in an undefinable God, Gozos de la vista upholds a positive view. Alonso's concern with the conflict between the high position and the pettiness and shortcomings of human beings has been expressed throughout his poetry; it has received an increasingly existential and immediate, but at the same time more philosophic, treatment; it has led finally to a work less easily optimistic about Man's fate, but one which asserts all the more his value. (p. 105)

[All] of Dámaso Alonso's verse, from Poemas puros on down to Gozos de la vista and other recent poems, was centered on a conflict between opposing views of Man and his world. At first presented as a rather neat clash between a prosaic and a poetic outlook, it later becomes the conflict between a mundane and a spiritual view in Hijos de la ira and Hombre y Dios; and the battle between a pessimistic and an elevated attitude to Man and his sight in Gozos de la vista. In all these works, Alonso deals with the tension present between Man's awareness of his material nature and his desire to transcend its shortcomings; in all he tries to configure a final outlook which will uphold Man's higher value without depriving him of his own concrete and complex nature. The combined religious and existential perspective embodied in Hijos de la ira and in the middle section of Hombre y Dios, as well as the final assertion of human dignity in Gozos de la vista and the value of poetry presented by several works, are all examples of such a final outlook. (pp. 110-11)

Alonso's constant search for the fullest and most precise knowledge of poetry, as well as his insight into the meanings that can be created by poetic techniques, embody indeed the human quest for order and exact insight. His awareness of affective human problems and his view of the basic existential anguish conveyed by poetry suggest, on the other hand, the realization of Man's tragedies and limitations. Alonso's poetry, like his own career and outlook, strives constantly to bring together in a valuable and enduring vision these two fundamental aspects of human life. Alonso's success in this quest, achieved by means of the techniques and patterns studied, parallels his success in developing a dual yet cohesive outlook on poetry….

In the light of all this, one cannot call Alonso, in my opinion, an initially "pure" and "abstract" poet who later changes his work. Neither can one describe Hijos de la ira as a "social" poem: the work transcends immediate social problems, and uses ordinary language to point to wider themes. Nor does Hombre y Dios signal a retreat to purely religious statements: we have seen the book's complex outlook, embodied in a dramatic structure. If there is one way of characterizing Alonso's poetry and doing justice to its unity, it is by calling it philosophic. This poetry has constantly portrayed a conflict which is a version of a fundamental problem facing mankind: the tension between the elevated and the common, the abstract and the concrete. Alonso has presented this conflict in increasingly intense and direct ways; he has handled it with greater richness and complexity; and he has made it more and more applicable to particular realities of human life. His poetry, then, is marked by a single but gradually unfolding attempt to uncover a basic reality of our existence. (p. 111)

An awareness of the dramatic nature of Alonso's poetry explains the presence in it of some seemingly redundant statements and some seemingly weak lines (which can be seen most frequently in Hombre y Dios and Gozos de la vista). Seen in context, these statements and lines of verse dramatize the desperate (and at times petty) speaker, caught in his world, yet trying to rise above it…. Alonso does not embody his meanings in tight, static forms; rather he develops them via many progressive or cumulative devices and techniques. These seem most appropriate, of course, to Alonso's basic theme of a conflict in points of view. They turn this conflict into a poetic reality, available to the readers of the future; they allow Alonso's work to remain the best proof of his own view that poetry preserves human values and overcomes human limitations. (p. 112)

Poesí española; ensayo de métodos y límites estilísticos (1950) is probably Alonso's fundamental work of criticism. [It] represents the culmination of his years of thought and work in criticism and critical theory. (p. 117)

[In this work] Alonso tackles a situation faced by many critics: the need to assert simultaneously that a work of art is an independent and irreducible entity, and that it is a means of conveying meaning to a reader. Ignoring the former can make a critic too willing to let anyone read the work as he pleases; ignoring the latter can rob the work of any relevance to Man. By asserting the primacy of the poem's personal value for the reader, and yet pointing out that this value originates in the objective features of the work, Alonso constructs a critical outlook which avoids both an excessive concern with the affective state of the reader, and an unduly cold objectivism. (p. 118)

Always ready to use historical methods for critical ends, Alonso, on the other hand, objects to the grouping of literary works for purely historical or chronological ends, particularly if such a grouping is used as a substitute for criticism. (He does accept cultural history as a discipline independent of criticism.)…

It is important to note that for Alonso the "meaning" is not a concept, but a full and complex representation of a reality. It includes multiple conceptual, sensorial, and affective values, organized into a single whole…. [The poem is] an irreducible representation of a reality which contains the shadings present in any significant human experience. (p. 119)

If Lengua poética, Poesía española, and Seis calas [Alonso's primary works of criticism] have mainly characterized Alonso as the founder of a new and precise analytic criticism, his last books accent his stature as a practical critic of extraordinary intuition, who may offer us sensitive insights into every important work of Spanish poetry and prose. Such a division of Alonso's work, of course, reflects a difference in emphasis, not in basic approach…. [Alonso's criticism] is always attentive to the literary work as, on the one hand, a precise unique structure, demanding exact intrinsic study; and, on the other, as a vehicle which transmits an irreducible significant vision to the reader. (This double view reflects Alonso's general double perspective, scientific on the one hand and personal on the other. And it relates to the tension between an abstract and an existential outlook … in his own poetry.) Alonso merely adapts his cohesive dual view to the needs and circumstances of the times. In earlier books he stresses accurate intrinsic analysis as a necessary vehicle for making the reader see a work as more than a historical example or a collection of data. Having done so, he can in his later works talk more directly about the work's personal value for the reader.

In addition to giving increased emphasis to the poem's impact upon the reader in his later books, Alonso now also pays more attention to the personal situation of the poet. While insisting, as always, that the poet is important for him not as a subject of biography, but as the creator of a unique work, Alonso nevertheless spends time conjuring up a vision of this poet as an individual…. In addition, Alonso now writes books based on biography. In Menéndez Pelayo, crítico literario, he studies the reversals in outlook and the growth of perspective of this great Spanish critic, and makes his integrity and persistence examples for all critics. In a book on two figures of the Golden Age [Dos españoles del siglo de oro], Alonso used biographical materials to shed light on several aspects of poetry, and on certain constant ambiguities of human nature…. [In] all these works Alonso does not use his biographical materials to search for the intentions behind literary works…. All he is doing is reminding us that the literary work, for all its uniqueness, comes from a human poet and from an era of human history; and that it is directed, in turn, at other human beings. (pp. 129-30)

With his extraordinary insight, his skill in literary, historical, and linguistic analysis, his vast knowledge of all the needed background, and his amazing productivity, Dámaso Alonso emerges as the foremost Spanish critic of our time, and one of the foremost of the world. (p. 131)

Dámaso Alonso makes us both understand and feel how language can be used creatively to embody essential human visions in unique fashion, and thus to overcome the limitations and the chaos facing Man. His criticism shows us these values in the literary works of others; his poetry offers them to us directly. In both genres, by combining exactitude and precision together with a deep personal feeling for literature and for humanity, Alonso shows us how poetry is Man's way of creating and perpetuating meaningful visions. (p. 132)

Andrew P. Debicki, in his Dámaso Alonso (copyright © 1970 by Twayne Publishers, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of Twayne Publishers, A Division of G. K. Hall & Co, Boston), Twayne, 1970, 167 p.

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