Luis Cernuda Analysis

Other Literary Forms

0111225024-Cernuda.jpg Luis Cernuda Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although Luis Cernuda is best known for his poetry, he was also a prolific essayist and critic. He published several works in prose, three of which, devoted to criticism, appeared during his lifetime. In his Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea (1957; studies on contemporary Spanish poetry), Cernuda analyzes the most important trends in Spanish poetry since the nineteenth century. He bestows upon Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer the distinction of having reawakened poetry after more than one hundred years of lethargy, and he lauds Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo as the most important Spanish poet of the twentieth century. Cernuda’s Pensamiento poético en la lírica inglesa (siglo XIX) (1958; poetic thought in English lyricism), a study of the theory of poetry as practiced by nineteenth century British poets, reveals Cernuda’s deep appreciation of and attachment to English verse of the Romantic and Victorian periods. Many of Cernuda’s essays and magazine and newspaper articles—which appeared originally in such publications as Caracola, Litoral, Octubre, Cruz y raya, Heraldo de Madrid, and Insula—have been collected in the two-volume Poesía y literatura (1960, 1964; poetry and literature) and in Crítica, ensayos, y evocaciones (1970; criticism, essays, and evocations). Variaciones sobre tema mexicano (1952; variations on a Mexican theme), often referred to as poetic prose, is an affectionate reflection by the poet on the people of Mexico, their music, their art, their churches, and their poverty and misery. Mexico was the poet’s adopted homeland, after some years in what he perceived to be alien environments, and he felt warmed by the Mexicans, their culture, and their climate, so reminiscent of his native Andalusia. Ocnos (1942, 1949, 1964) is a meditation upon time, a prose poem that becomes the lyrical confesson of a poet writing about himself and his art. Because it contains Cernuda’s analysis of his work, this volume is a useful companion to his poetry. Cernuda also undertook the translation into Spanish of the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, Paul Éluard, William Wordsworth, and William Blake, as well as plays by William Shakespeare. He did not devote much effort to fiction, leaving behind only three short pieces: “El indolente” (“The Indolent One”), “El viento en la colina” (“The Wind on the Hill”), and “El sarao” (the dancing party), all published in the collection Tres narraciones (1948; three narratives).


While Luis Cernuda is recognized as an important member of the generación del 27 (considered by some a second Spanish Golden Age), he did not receive during his lifetime the acclaim and recognition extended to some of his contemporaries, such as Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Rafael Alberti, and Vicente Aleixandre. Furthermore, Cernuda never enjoyed financial or professional security. His position as a self-exile—he never returned to Spain, even for brief periods, after 1938—might explain his lack of popularity during the 1930’s and 1940’s; his political sympathies (staunchly Republican), his open homosexuality, his reticence, and even the seemingly simple structure and language of his poetry were all factors that may have distanced him from an entire generation of readers. More recently, Cernuda’s audience has been growing: A number of important critical studies have appeared in the last fifteen years, a complete edition of his poetry has been published, and a collection of many of his extant essays was issued in 1970—clear indications that Cernuda is being reappraised by a new generation of Spanish poets and critics.

Even now, however, as Carlos-Peregrín Otero has observed, it might be premature to evaluate Cernuda’s impact and his role as an innovator in Spanish letters. Cernuda displayed, first and foremost, a commitment to poetry and to the creative act. His work allowed him to express himself and served to sustain him. It was through his poetry that he came to understand himself and the world, and this understanding helped him to endure the solitude and melancholy of his alienated and withdrawn existence. Through his writing, he was able to objectify his desire, his passion, and his love and to liberate himself in ways that his social persona never could. He also used his poetry to battle against his obsession with time and its relentless passage. These were the principal themes of Cernuda’s works. He expressed them with increasing clarity and simplicity of language, yet, toward the end of his life, his work began to acquire the quiet, meditative tone of a man who is confident in the knowledge that his art, if nothing else, will escape decay.

Passage of Time as Theme

The publication of Las nubes marked a new beginning for Cernuda, the man and the poet. He had departed from Spain; he was approaching the age of forty—an age which, for a man who associated beauty with youth and joy with youthfulness, must have created much anxiety. His prospects for recognition in Spain had been shattered by political events. Cernuda responded to this situation by creating a protagonist with a distinct identity; he created the poet, whose role it was to substitute as the main character for the author and who would, when called upon, assume all responsibility for failure. Thus, Cernuda created what Phillip Silver calls his “personal myth” and entered into the mature stage of his poetic production. Poetry became a means to understand and preserve the past. The need to fulfill a grand passion was discarded; man must resign himself to a world that belongs to the gods, a world in which he cannot partake of paradise. If man can be made into a myth, however, his life will be eternal and his beauty everlasting. In poems such as “Noche del hombre y su demonio” (“A Man’s Night and His Demon”) and “Río vespertino” (“Evening River”) from Como quien espera el alba, Cernuda expresses an attitude of acceptance, as if recounting a life already lived. He anticipates, without fear, the inevitability of death. There is but one small consolation: There is no ash without flame, no death without life. In the long poem...

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Harris, Derek. Luis Cernuda: A Study of His Poetry. London: Tamesis, 1973. A critical study of Cernuda’s poetry. Includes bibliographic references.

Harris, Derek. Metal Butterflies and Poisonous Lights: The Language of Surrealism in Lorca, Alberti, Cernuda and Aleixandre. Anstruther, Fife, Scotland: La Sirena, 1998. An analysis of the use of surrealism in the poetry of Cernuda and other poets. Includes bibliographical references.

Jiménez-Fajardo, Salvador. Luis Cernuda. Boston: Twayne, 1978. An introductory biographical and critical analysis of selected works by Cernuda. Includes bibliographic references.

Jiménez-Fajardo, Salvador, ed. The Word and the Mirror: Critical Essays on the Poetry of Luis Cernuda. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989. A collection of critical essays dealing with Cernuda’s works.

McKinlay, Neil C. The Poetry of Luis Cernuda: Order in a World of Chaos. Rochester, N.Y.: Tamesis, 1999. A brief biographical and critical study. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Martin-Clark, Philip. Art, Gender, and Sexuality: New Readings of Cernuda’s Later Poetry. Leeds, England: Maney, 2000. A critical interpretation of selected works by Cernuda. Includes bibliographical references and index.