Enrique González Martínez González Martínez, Enrique - Essay

Enrique GonzálezMartínez


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Enrique González Martínez 1871-1952

Mexican poet, autobiographer, journalist, editor, and short story writer.

While maintaining a career as a physician, then as a high-level public servant, González Martínez also became a significant force in Mexican literature. Challenging the conventions of literary Modernism, he played a key role in defining how that movement would affect modern Hispanic writing.

Biographical Information

González Martínez wrote his first poems as a teenager growing up in Guadalajara, winning an award in 1885 for his translation of a sonnet by John Milton. He regarded writing as a hobby, however, and while he continued to contribute poems to various Mexican journals, he attended medical school, eventually setting up a practice in Sinaloa. When in 1900 a false obituary of González Martínez appeared in a newspaper, the resulting outpourings of praise for the supposedly dead young poet caused him to revise his opinion of his writings and publish his first poetry collection, Preludios (1903). Thereafter he maintained an active career as a poet. He also served in various capacities in the national government following the 1911 revolution, including diplomatic posts in Argentina, Chile, Spain, and Portugal.

Major Works

Critics have noted the influence of the French Symbolist and Parnassian movements on González Martinez's poetry, with its emphasis on simplicity and formal beauty. His characteristic themes, expressed in the verse collections Lirismos (1907), Silénter (1909), and Los senderos ocultos (1915), include nature, solitude, and the contemplation of life and death. Although he is identified as a Modernist, his relationship to certain aspects of Modernism was antagonistic. In one of his most famous poems, the sonnet "La muerte de cisne" ("Death of the Swan,") he derided the art-for-art's-sake attitude espoused by Nicaraguan Modernist poet Rubén Darío and his followers, declaring that the poet's task is to express his or her true perceptions of life.

Critical Reception

Critics note that González Martinez's simple, intuitive approach to verse did not have any direct stylistic influence on other writers, and his works are not well known to contemporary readers. However, his reputation endures as one of Mexico's most distinguished poets.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Preludios (poetry) 1903

Lirismos (poetry) 1907

Silénter (poetry) 1909

Los senderos ocultos (poetry) 1915

*Jardines de Francia [translator] (poetry) 1915

Parábolas, y otros poemas (poetry) 1918

La palabra del viento (poetry) 1921

Algunos aspectos de la lírica mexicana (prose) 1932

Poemas truncos (poetry) 1935

Poesía, 1898-1938. 3 vols, (poetry) 1939

Bajo el signo mortal (poetry) 1942

El hombre del buho: misterio de una vocación (autobiography) 1944

Segundo despertar, y otros poemas (poetry) 1945

Vilano al viento (poetry) 1948

Babel (poetry) 1949

La apacible locura, segunda parte de "El hombre del buho: misterio de una vocación" (autobiography) 1951

El nuevo Narciso, y otros poemas (poetry) 1952

Cuentos, y otras páginas (prose) 1955

Enrique González Martínez: Antología de su obra poética (poetry) 1971

Obras completas (poetry and prose) 1971

*Includes translations of works by Charles Baudelaire, Maurice Maeterlinck, Paul Verlaine, and other French poets.

Isaac Goldberg (essay date 1920)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Studies in Spanish-American Literature, Brentano's Publishers, 1920, pp. 81-92.

[In the following essay, Goldberg contends that González Martínez introduced a "new orientation of Modernism" with his emphasis on reason and contemplation of ethe-real beauty.]

[González Martínez] comes at a time when Mexico's need is for stern self-discipline, solid culture and widespread education, rather than for effete æstheticism and ultra refinement. The verses that he wrote as a child were probably of the same character as is produced by most gifted children; his training as a physician, however, with the necessary scientific application to concrete phenomena, must have had not a little to do with his substitution of the owl for the swan. Social need and a scientific discipline aptly merged with a poetic pantheism furnished the background for the physician-poet's new orientation of modernism. …

A host of contradictory influences have played upon the idol of young Mexico's poetry lovers. Lamartine, Poe, Baudelaire, Verlaine (the ubiquitous Verlaine!), Heredia, Francis Jammes, Samain. Yet here we find no morbidity, no dandyism, no ultra-refinement. Where other poets feel the passing nature of joy and cry out, admonishing mortals to "seize the day" ere it fly, González Martínez ("a melancholy optimist" de Icaza has termed him, in a paradoxical phrase that seems to sum up modern optimism) feels rather the transitory character of grief. He is what I may call an intellectual pantheist,—his absorption of nature is not the ingenuous immersion of the primitive soul into the sea of sights and sounds about him; it is the pantheism of a modern intellect that gazes at feeling through the glasses of reason, and having looked, throws the glasses away. … In all things, as he tells us in the beautiful poem "Busca En Todas Las Cosas," from his collection Los Senderos Ocultos, he seeks a soul and a hidden meaning. The modernist poets are prodigal with poems upon their artistic creeds and practises. In this series of melodious quatrains González Martínez enlightens us upon his poetic outlook:

Busca en todas las cosas un alma y un sentido
Oculto; no te ciñes a la aparencia vana;
Husmes, sigue el rastro de la verdad arcana
Escudriñante el ojo y aguzado el oído.

Ama todo lo grácil de la vida, la calma
De la flor que se mece, el color, el paisaje;
Ya sabrás poco á poco descifrar su lenguaje. …
Oh, divino coloquio de las cosas y el alma!

hay en todo los seres una blanda sonrisa,
Un dolor inefable ó un misterio sombrío
¿Sabes tu si son lágrimas las gotas de rocío?
Sabes tu que secretos va cantando la brisa?

That is the secret of the poet's charm. His pantheism is as much wonder as worship; as much inquiry as implicit belief. As he has told us in "La Plegaría de la Noche en la Selva": "Now I know it, now I have seen it with my restless eyes, oh infinite mystery of the nocturnal shadows! To my engrossed spirit you have shown the urn in which with jealous care you hoard your deepest secrets." If poets must have heraldic birds, if Poe must have his raven, Darío his swan, Verlaine his hieratic cat, González Martínez has his owl and night is his ambient,—not the Tristissima Nox of a Gutiérrez Nájera, but that night which unto night showeth knowledge.

To Miss Blackwell I am indebted for versions of some characteristic poems by González Martínez. These reveal the poet's mood of communion as well as his peculiarly contemporary pantheism. The first selection is one of the most popular of modern Mexican poems and almost at once found its way into the anthologies:

"Like Brother and Sister"

Like brother with dear sister, hand in hand,
We walk abroad and wander through the land.

The meadow's peace is flooded full tonight
Of white and radiant moonlight, shining bright.
So fair night's landscape 'neath the moon's clear
Though it is real, it seems to be a dream.
Suddenly, from a corner of the way,
We hear a song. It seems a strange bird's lay,
Ne'er heard before, with mystic meaning rife,
Song of another world, another life.
"Oh, do you hear?" you ask, and fix on me
Eyes full of questions, dark with mystery.
So deep is night's sweet quiet that enrings them,
We hear our two hearts beating, quick and free.
"Fear not!" I answer. "Songs by night there be
That we may hear, but never know who sings

Like brother with dear sister, hand in hand,
We walk abroad and roam across the land.

Kissed by the breeze of night that wanders wide,
The waters of the neighboring pool delight,
And bathed within the waves a star has birth,
A swan its neck outstretches, calm and slow,
Like a white serpent 'neath the moon's pale glow,
That from an alabaster egg comes forth.
While gazing on the water silently,
You feel as 'twere a flitting butterfly
Grazing your neck—the thrill of some desire
That passes like a wave—the sudden fire
And shiver, the contraction light and fine
Of a warm kiss, as if it might be mine.
Lifting to me a face of timid fear
You murmur, trembling, "Did you kiss me, dear?"
Your small hand presses mine. Then, murmuring
"Ah, know you not?" I whisper in your ear,
"Who gives those kisses you will never know,
Nor even if they be real kisses, dear!"

Like brother with dear...

(The entire section is 2553 words.)

Robert Avrett (essay date 1931)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Enrique Gonzáles Martínez: Philosopher and Mystic," in Hispania, Vol. XIV, No. 3, May, 1931, pp. 183-192.

[In the following essay, Avrett discusses the philosophy underlying González Martinez's poetry.]

Enrique González Martínez, physician, poet, journalist, and diplomat, was born on April 13, 1871, in the city of Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, Mexico. In 1893 he received his degree in medicine from the Facultad of Jalisco. The young doctor soon moved to the state of Sinaloa, where he settled down to the serious practice of his profession. His first slender volume of poems came out in 1903, under the very appropriate title of...

(The entire section is 3280 words.)

John Eugene Englekirk (essay date 1934)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Edgar Allan Poe in Hispanic Literature, Instituto De Las Espanas, 1934, 504p.

[In the following essay, Englekirk explains the influence of the works of Edgar Allan Poe on González Martínez.]

Francisco A. de Icaza testifies to the contradictory influences that have shaped the personal art of Enrique González Martínez:

"Con gran agilidad rítmica y mental, pasa del sentimentalismo ordenado y pulcro de Lamartine a las alucinaciones y sacudimientos patológicos de Poe; refleja el 'clair de lune' de Verlaine, la idea hosca, encajada en el pulido verso de Baudelaire; la plasticidad objectiva del alejandrino de Heredia; el...

(The entire section is 886 words.)

Helen P. Houck (essay date 1940)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Personal Impressions of Enrique Gonzáales Martínez," in Hispania, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, December, 1940, pp. 331-335.

[In the following essay, Houck discusses González Martinez's life and personality.]

The title, Mexico's best-loved poet, which once belonged to Amado Nervo—and still does in a sense—may fittingly be applied to Enrique González Martínez. Certainly, as among living poets, the epithet would be given him by acclaim. Of Mexico's brilliant modern galaxy of poets, beginning with Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, there remains only one of the major luminaries, González Martínez, conceded generally to be the greatest of them all. Hence the intellectuals...

(The entire section is 2010 words.)

Jefferson Rea Spell (essay date 1946)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Review," in Hispania, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, February, 1946, pp. 155-156.

[In the following essay, Spell reviews the first volume of González Martinez's autobiography, El hombre del bu o. Misterio de una vocación, praising the work's "contribution to the cultural history of Mexico since 1880. "]

In this first volume of his autobiography El hombre del buho. Misterio de una vocación, Enrique González Martínez (b. 1871), one of Mexico's leading poets, recreates the atmosphere of the Guadalajara of his childhood and youth; draws subtle pen-pictures of the members of his family, his teachers and friends; details his studies in medicine and...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Anderson, Robert Roland. "Enrique González Martínez (1871-1952)." In Spanish American Modernism: A Selected Bibliography, pp. 71-6. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970.

Cites critical sources, mostly in Spanish.


Brushwood, John S. Enrique González Martínez. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1969, 166 p.

Survey of González Martinez's poetry.

Craig, G. Dundas. "Enrique González Martínez." In The Modernist Trend in Spanish-American Poetry: A Collection of Representative Poems of the Modernist Movement and the Reaction: Translated into English Verse with...

(The entire section is 153 words.)