Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

About his life, Juan Ramón Jiménez said very little. He was born in the small Spanish village of Moguer, in Andalusia, and educated at a Jesuit school. A few poems published in a Madrid magazine brought him an invitation to visit the capital where the poet Ruben Dario and others befriended him. Violent critical attacks on a volume of his poetry, however, and the death of his father so upset him that he spent some time in a French sanitarium. From then on, in spite of enthusiastic reception of later volumes of verse, he lived almost a recluse either in Spain or as a political refugee, after the Spanish Civil War, in Cuba and Puerto Rico. By the time he was thirty-five years old, he had published twenty volumes of what he called borradoras (rough drafts); the rest of his life was spent polishing them, beginning with his Selected Poems in 1917.

In prose, his best-known work is PLATERO AND I, a series of brief, unconnected sketches, 138 in all, about life in Moguer, the whole given unity by the presence of a silver-gray donkey, Platero. There are both narrative and descriptive sections in poetic prose. The subtitle is “Andalusian Elegy,” making the donkey a symbol of the simplicity and purity of the soul. Like Sancho Panza’s donkey in Don Quixote de la Mancha, Platero seems headed for immortality in a volume “capable of giving back to people their childhood soul.”

Platero was a hairy donkey, so soft that he might have been made of cotton, without bones. Only his eyes were hard, like two scarabs of black crystal. He fed on oranges, grapes, and figs when he was not nibbling the grass of the meadow. To the country people he looks like steel, as the narrator, telling his story in the first person, rides him through the town of Moguer on Sundays. Coming back at dusk, he tells the customs collector that all they have brought with them are white butterflies. Then he rides on through the miserable streets down by the river, where poor children are playing games of make-believe.

Unconnected episodes are presented. Once Platero and the author saw an eclipse of the sun. In the eerie light, the town seemed to shrink, and even the donkey appeared diminished.

At the age of four, Platero should have entered kindergarten, but there were no chairs big enough for him. In the opinion of his master, the wisest plan was to take Platero to the fields where he could learn about flowers and stars. There no one would ever put a dunce cap on Platero or call him an ass.

Riding his donkey, the author, with his long brown beard and small black hat, must have looked strange, for ragged children ran after him, shouting “Crazy man!” Later, the children were the ones who seemed crazy on the day before Easter, as they celebrated their feast by shooting at Judas, to the terror of the little donkey.

The lengthening days, as the year went on, brought the ripening of the first figs, and Jiménez and Platero went to Rica to pick them. Everybody raced to see who could get there first and arrived panting and excited. The author picked a few of the ripe ones and put them on a tree trunk for Platero. Somehow a fig fight started; the pickers threw the bluish fruit at everybody, including the donkey. On another occasion, Jiménez, with a book of prints that he had received the day before from Vienna, told the children that he would give it as a prize to the first one who reached the violets at the end...

(The entire section is 1412 words.)