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Guillén, Jorge 1893–

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A Spanish poet, critic, and translator, Guillén celebrates life in a poetry that is pure, complex, and highly disciplined. Although his life was touched by the violence of the Spanish War, he has retained his optimism and spirituality. Showing the influence of Valéry and Juan Ramón Jiménez, his work transcends the local to achieve an artistry that is of universal proportions. He is considered by many to be Spain's greatest living poet.

Robert G. Havard

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1141

What Guillén's early poems indicate, above all, is a scrupulous care on the part of the poet, an ideal of perfection that is apparent both in a thematic context and in the business of making poems. (p. 111)

[The basic idea of the theory of pure poetry] is that of elimination, which in turn contains implicitly the notion of a compression or synthesis: elimination of the non-poetic…. The stringencies of this theory, which must have influenced (though not riveted) Guillén's sensibility, help to explain his special affection for the short poem where strict confines allow for a more densely worked piece, and from which, hopefully, flaws may be cast out.

Outstanding amongst the short poetic forms employed in the first Cántico is the décima. The seventeen décimas of this volume are most representative of Guillén's inclination towards a concision coupled with a disciplined roundness of form. The décimas also express, in one image or another, Guillén's most characteristic theme: that of man's fundamentally positive relationship with reality…. [The] essential property of the décima, which is its concision, makes this poetic form most appropriate for correlating the poet's dynamic concept of reality. It is more accurate to speak in terms of poetic tension than in terms of theme: the décima's tendency to concentrate itself into stark image form, as opposed to the more discursive tone of the sonnet, for example, is a key factor in its accommodation of Guillén's uncomplicated positivism in the first Cántico. (p. 112)

[Guillén has a] predilection for an unusual rhyme-scheme constructed out of two quatrains and a central couplet in lines five and six [patterned as ababccdeed]. (p. 114)

[This] pattern affects not only the words that rhyme but also the rhythmic structure of the poem as a whole. The couplet has the function of concentrating and even partially arresting the poem's rhythm at its centre. In the [traditional rhyming pattern of the décima, called the] espinela … a pause inevitably occurs at the end of the fourth line; and lines five and six, with their distinctive overlapping rhymes, have the function of relating the poem's separate parts and of re-charging its momentum. It is likely that Guillén objected to this somewhat rigid system and wanted more variation in his rhythm; indeed, even in his espinelas he prefers to abandon the traditional pause at line four, often using enjambement instead. Both types of décimas show that Guillén wished to complicate the rather fluent or andante rhythm which had been a feature of this form; but his achievement is more apparent in the new couplet décima, with its additional rhyme and central compression…. [Its] centralized couplet has the effect of organizing the poem in a symmetrical fashion (4-2-4). Now this is no incidental distribution, for the notion of symmetry or, more specifically, of concentricity, is a key motif in Guillén's early work and is inextricably related to his concept of perfection. A correspondence between the poem's form and theme may be found in the majority of these early décimas. (pp. 115-16)

[In the poem 'Panorama' for example, the poet stands at the top of a tower and views the patterned placement of streets in the town, all...

(The entire section contains 2003 words.)

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Guillén, Jorge (Poetry Criticism)