Juan Ramón Jiménez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956. Though he is most famous for his poetry, his contributions to the development of Spanish prose are considered equally important. He began writing poetry at the age of fourteen, and he began experimenting with prose poetry at seventeen. His first prose poem, “Andén” (“The Railway Platform”), shows a strong influence of Spanish Romanticism in its imagery, structure, and vocabulary. It tells of a woman afflicted with a mental disorder that causes her to wait forever on the platform for a train to bring her the child that she never had. The Spanish romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and the Nicaraguan modernist Rubén Darío, along with the Germans Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine and the French Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé, were clearly influential in his early prose poems. Jiménez went on from there to set new standards for prose poetry in a series of highly original works that started in 1917 with Platero and I, one of the best examples of prose poetry in Spanish literature.
Platero and I, written between 1907 and 1912, is based on material Jiménez gathered in his hometown of Moguer (in the province of Andalusia) while recuperating from the severe depression caused by his father’s sudden death in 1900. At a time when many of his contemporaries—the writers of the literary Generation of ’98—were focusing on Castile, a province long dominant in the history of Spain, Jiménez turned for inspiration to his native Andalusia. Platero and I draws on many of the area’s resources and characteristics, including the country towns, the ringing bells, the sounds of children, the animals, the small houses, and the golden moon. The work also draws on the traditionally impressionistic style of the region. The elegiac tone of Platero and I, however, is markedly different from Jiménez’s other poetry of that time. The tone here expresses grief and real suffering.
The first publication of Platero and I, in 1914, was an abbreviated version of the poem, written for a collection of children’s literature, that contained only 73 of the 135 prose poems that were composed over a number of years and make up the complete edition of 1917. During his lifetime, Jiménez wrote 250 prose poems that he ultimately hoped to publish in a collection titled “Versos para ciegos” (verses for the blind). This title reveals that Jiménez thought poetry to be distinguished from prose based only on the presence in poetry of assonant or consonant rhyme. Once an author eliminates rhyme, the verses become like poetry read to a blind person. Unable to see the physical disposition of the text on the printed page and unguided by the familiar presence of rhyme, the blind person would not be able to distinguish between poetry and prose. The poetic element of Platero and I is Jiménez’s masterful use of the natural rhythm of the Spanish language to generate melodic sentences that are flexible in syntax and in the use of clause structures—sentences that produce the almost cinematographic effects of slow motion and close-up and wide-angle views. He frequently suppresses cause-and-effect relationships and logical connections in an impressionistic style of writing that values the poetic image above all else.
“Platero” is the name generally given to a type of silver-colored donkey (plata is the Spanish word for silver). In these prose poems, the donkey is Jiménez’s companion, the one to whom the author makes his observations and in whom he confides. Although it may be tempting to look for parallels between Platero and Juan Ramón and Miguel de Cervantes’ Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, Platero, unlike Sancho, neither speaks nor participates actively in the work. On the contrary, Platero is the ideal listener and, though not “blind,” perhaps also the ideal reader.
The events in Platero and I take place in one year, starting in one spring and ending in the next. Platero is actually a synthesis of the many silver donkeys the author knew during the years of his recuperation in Moguer. The symbolism in Platero’s year of life is important for Jiménez, for it represents the...
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