Jorge Guillén Analysis

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

0111225044-Guillen.jpg Jorge Guillén Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Jorge Guillén is a literary theorist and translator as well as a poet. His critical work Language and Poetry (1960) was first published in English translation, appearing in Spanish as Lengua y poesía the following year. Guillén edited the Cantar de los cantares of Luis de León and the Aguilar edition of the works of Federico García Lorca; in addition, he published volumes of correspondence and essays on García Lorca and Gabriel Miró.

Guillén’s translations of poetry into Spanish are included in Homage under the heading “Variaciones”; among them are three of William Shakespeare’s sonnets; “Torment,” by the Portuguese Antero Tarquínio de Quental; poems by Arthur Rimbaud; “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by William Butler Yeats; several poems by Paul Valéry; and others by Jules Supervielle, Saint- John Perse, Archibald MacLeish, and Eugenio Montale.

Huerto de Melibea (pb. 1954; the orchard of Melibea) is a short poetic drama re-creating the tragedy of the Fernando de Rojas play La Celestina (1499; The Spanish Bawd); it was later incorporated into Clamor in Our Air.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The most classical and intellectual member of the generación del 27, Jorge Guillén’s rank among modern Spanish poets is high. The clean beauty of his lyrics has been recognized by contemporaries as diverse as García Lorca and Jorge Luis Borges, and Guillén is widely regarded as one of the greatest Spanish poets. He has been called the Spanish equivalent of T. S. Eliot and Paul Valéry. His greatness as a poet stems from the high quality of his verse rather than from the influence he has exerted.

Guillén’s “Salvación de la primavera” (“Salvation of Spring”) has been called one of the greatest love poems of the Spanish language. In the wake of a century of Spanish poetry that lacked interest in pantheism, Guillén and his friend Pedro Salinas are credited with creating a mode of poetry whereby hidden reality is disclosed by the contemplation of simple things.

Guillén was awarded the Etna-Taormina International Poetry Prize in 1961, and he received numerous other awards as well, including the Bennett Literary Prize (New York, 1976), the Miguel de Cervantes Prize (Alcaláde Henares, Spain, 1977), and several Italian literary prizes.

Love and Lovers

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

It comes as no surprise that a poet who is keenly aware of the miraculous should frequently concentrate on the nature of love. For Guillén, the love between man and woman suggests the larger relationship between man and cosmos and allows the individual to become greater than he is, to transcend the confines of time and space, of history and geography. In addition, love can give the assurance that death itself has been transcended, synchronizing the lovers with the natural cycle of the world. Moreover, the lover can be her beloved’s salvation by protecting him from “phantoms” that might keep him from communicating with his own inner vitality.

For Guillén, the body of a woman is the epitome of perfect creation. In “Desnudo” (“Nude”), for example, the poet observes that the female body needs no embellishment, no backdrop to improve its perfection, for that perfection consists not in its “promise” but in its “absolute presence.” Another example of a sensuous achievement is the epithalamium “Amor dormido” (“Love Asleep”). The poet and his beloved are together in bed, bathed by moonlight. He contemplates her as she sleeps. Without waking up, she embraces him, and the poet feels himself transfigured, drawn into the realm of her dream.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Guillén has a special tenderness for the company of women, and his students at Wellesley became the subjects of a number of affectionate poems such as “Muchachas” (“Girls”), “Poesía eres tú” (“You Are Poetry”), “Nadadoras” (“Swimmers”), and “Melenas” (“Hair”). He is emphatic about the need for a man to become a man in the total sense, through the welcome intercession of a woman, and in a short poem, “El caballero” (“The Gentleman”), Guillén writes contemptuously of the typical Spanish café scene (“All men, terrible world of men/ Life that way could not be uglier”). Here, he employs a humorous neologism, machedumbre (composed of macho, meaning “male,” and muchedumbre, meaning “crowd”) to convey precisely how ridiculous and unthinkable such a world without women would be for him. The strong convictions that Guillén holds on this subject lead him to pontificate, in a later poem, “Sucesos de jardín” (“Garden Happenings”), that “He who never embraces [the other sex] is ignorant of everything.”

Despite the foregoing quotation, Guillén is generally successful in avoiding clichés and seldom indulges in arrant nostalgia. In “Su persona” (“Her Person”), for example, the poet chides himself for attempting to feast upon the memory of an old love, a figment of mist not anchored concretely in his current physical reality. He refuses to allow “phantoms” to convert him into a phantom, and love as a memory is condemned as a “fictitious delight.” According to Guillén, one can relive and enjoy the past most profitably by continuing to savor new experiences rather than by wallowing in memories.

Humor and Religion

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Humor and self-deprecation are not alien to Guillén. In “Perfección de la tarde” (“Afternoon Perfection”), for example, the poet depicts a garden setting in lofty imagery, complete with alliteration and ecstatic utterances. In the midst of this garden idyll, however, a robin’s dropping lands smack on the poet’s bald pate, and the poet stands humbled in his pomposity.

Guillén himself has characterized Canticle as a “dialogue between man and the world,” wherein “man affirms himself in affirming creation,” and there is a noticeable absence of traditionally religious subject matter in this volume. In Clamor, there is clearly a greater emphasis on the message of Christianity, as in “Epifanía” (“Epiphany”)—in whose manger scene the helpless infant “says in silence: I am not a king,/ I am the way, the truth and life”—and in “Viernes santo” (“Good Friday”): “A centurion already understands./ The three Marys weep. Sacred Man./ The Cross.” A poem in Homage, “La gran aventura” (“The Sublime Adventure”), may provide a more balanced view of Guillén’s religious stance. In this poem, he speculates whether the creation of man by God or the creation of God by man is the worthier marvel, concluding that in either case, there is no escape from the miracle of creation—that “the earth is a sublime adventure.”

Guillén’s achievement as a poet stems from his rare ability to seize a fragment of time and transform it into a single, simple jewel of articulation. When his lapidarian stance became obsessive and threatened to dehumanize his poetry, he dared to change and strove for means to make his work more human. Nor was he oblivious to evil and suffering; rather, he sought to be attentive to the “well-made world” while in the shadow of the other, “badly made world.” The words which Guillén once wrote in a dedicatory passage to his readers were true of himself as well: He was eager to share life like a fountain and to realize that life more fully through the power of words.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Brown, G. G. A Literary History of Spain: The Twentieth Century, 1972.

Havard, Robert. Jorge Guillén, Cántico. London: Tamesis, 1986. A critical study of Guillén’s Cántico. Includes bibliographic refences.

MacCurdy, G. Grant. “The Erotic Poetry of Jorge Guillén’s Homenaje.” Hispania 65, no. 4 (December, 1982): 586-593. A critical study of one of Guillén’s poetic works.

MacCurdy, G. Jorge Guillén. Boston: Twayne, 1982. An introductory biography and critical study of selected works by Guillén. Includes bibliographic references.

Matthews, Elizabeth. The Structured World of Jorge Guillen: A Study of Cantico and Clamor. Liverpool, England: F. Cairns, 1985. Matthews analyzes Guillén’s Cántico and Clamor. Includes bibliographic references.

Miller, Martha La Follette. “Self-Commentary in Jorge Guillén’s Aire Nuestro.” Hispania 65, no. 1 (March, 1982): 20-27. A critical study of on of Guillén’s works.

Miller, Martha La Follette. “Transcendence Through Love in Jorge Guillén’s Cántico.” Modern Language Notes 92, no. 2 (March, 1977): 312-325. A critical analysis of Cántico.

Sibbald, K. M., ed. Guillén at McGill: Essays for a Centenary Celebration. Ottawa, Canada: Dovehouse, 1996. A collection of critical essays on Guillén’s works. Text in English and Spanish. Includes bibliographical references.