Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406
José María Heredia (ay-RAYTH-yah), Cuba’s national poet, is considered one of the New World’s first Romantic poets, despite the classical form of most of his verse, because of the intensity of his melancholy and introspective emotion and his deep feeling for nature. He was also one of the first to write about the American landscape. His En el teocalli de Cholula (on the temple pyramid of Cholula), written during a visit to Mexico when he was only seventeen, preceded the first Romantic poetry in Spain by thirteen years. His reaction to nature is shown in En una tempestad (in a hurricane), and especially in his ode about visiting Niagara Falls after having been turned down by his Cuban sweetheart.
As a young boy, José María Heredia y Campuzano, related to the famous Cuban-born French poet of the same name (the author of the 1895 The Trophies), traveled with his parents to Florida, Santo Domingo, Venezuela, and Mexico, then returned to Havana to study law. Poetry and the theater also attracted him. At the age of fifteen, he wrote Eduardo IV, in which he and his contemporary, poet-dramatist Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, both performed. That was her only recorded stage appearance, but she continued to write plays, as did Heredia, in Cuba and in France.
In 1823, Heredia received his law degree and was admitted to the bar, but that same year, because of his liberal ideas and revolutionary activities, he was permanently banished from Cuba. In New York, in 1825, he published a volume of poetry that attracted wide attention, Al sol. William Cullen Bryant’s version of his “Ode to Niagara” was the first Latin American poetry translation published in the United States. Heredia reissued the book in an enlarged form in two volumes in 1832. He made several trips to France. Finally, he was invited by the president of Mexico to make his home there, and he became a Mexican citizen.
Some criticism has suggested that Heredia might qualify as the author of one of the earliest Spanish American novels, Jicoténcal, which appeared anonymously in Philadelphia in 1826. Jicoténcal is a historical novel dealing with the conquest of Mexico, following the spirit of the Enlightenment pretty much attuned to Heredia’s own vision of Mexican history as expressed in his earlier poem En el teocalli de Cholula. Other critics, however, insist on the authorship of another Cuban, Father Félix Varela (1788-1853).
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