José María Heredia y Campuzano, born in Cuba at a time when the island was beginning to resent its position as a territorial possession of Spain, was regarded by Spaniards as “the compendium and epitome of all enmity toward Spain.” Yet, at least in his early period, he considered himself a Spaniard and referred in his poetry to “tender Mother Spain.” During his youth, his father was chief judge in a court in Caracas that had to try rebels against the tyranny of Monteverde. Because of leniency, the judge was demoted to a position in Mexico where José María lived until his father’s death. Then he went to Havana to complete his law studies.
There he became a member of a club of revolutionists called Soles de Bolivar (Suns of Bolivar), who were plotting for Cuban independence. Heredia supported the 1820 revolution in Spain of Rafael del Riego and wrote angry poems against a “stupid Spain” for executing him. It is no wonder that after he had been admitted to the bar in 1823 and had begun to practice law in Matanzas, he was picked up at the outbreak of a revolution that same year and sentenced to perpetual banishment. With all the poetry he had written in Mexico and Cuba, he went to New York. There he spent two years as a journalist, writing literary and theatrical criticism, and in 1825 publishing his first volume of poems, which contains practically all that are best known. A later supposedly “augmented edition” from Toluca in 1832 contained only a few unimportant new original poems, some translations, and a philosophical dissertation in verse on immortality that added little to his reputation. The New York printing contained a preface in English extolling the virtues of the volume as an aid for North Americans wanting to learn Spanish. Heredia added: “May the readers accept this small service from an exiled young man as an expression of gratitude for the asylum he has found in this happy country.”
Among the long poems in this volume were “En el teocalli de Cholula” (“On the Temple Pyramid of Cholula”), “En una tempestad” (“In a Hurricane”), “A Niagara” (“Ode to Niagara Falls”), and “Al sol” (“To the Sun”). They were well received. Possibly their tinge of melancholy, so like his own poetry, made William Cullen Bryant decide to translate two of them, “In a Hurricane” and “Ode to Niagara Falls,” that were published in the UNITED STATES REVIEW AND LITERARY GAZETTE, in 1827, the first Latin American poetry to appear in English.
In 1830 the youthful Argentine poet Esteban Echeverria returned to his native Buenos Aires after spending five years among the Romantic poets of France; his advice to his fellow writers was to break away from literary dependence on Spain and to hymn the natural beauties of the New...
(The entire section is 1147 words.)