Critical Evaluation

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1098

One of a group of intellectuals classified as the “Generation of ’98” and concerned about Spain’s political and literary position following the Spanish-American War, was the Andalusian poet, Juan Ramón Jiménez, born in Moguer, near Cadiz, in 1881.

At his father’s urging, he had gone to Seville to study law....

(The entire section contains 1098 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The Poetry of Jiménez study guide. You'll get access to all of the The Poetry of Jiménez content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Critical Essays
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

One of a group of intellectuals classified as the “Generation of ’98” and concerned about Spain’s political and literary position following the Spanish-American War, was the Andalusian poet, Juan Ramón Jiménez, born in Moguer, near Cadiz, in 1881.

At his father’s urging, he had gone to Seville to study law. While there he became interested in poetry and painting, possible reasons why he failed in his studies and returned to Moguer. There occurred an incident that explains much about his later life. One night his sister awakened him to report his father’s death. Despite a long illness, the sudden passing was such an emotional shock that Jiménez was filled with presentiments of his own sudden death and continued to have periods of melancholy that several times sent him to a sanitorium.

He wrote much poetry. Submitted to publications in Seville and Madrid, they attracted such attention that poets in the capital, especially Francisco Villaespesa and Ruben Dario founder of a movement called Modernish, invited him to join them in Madrid.

Because Modernism in poetry meant pretty verses, a cult of form, and refined but artificial emotions, one can imagine the sort of verse Jiménez had been writing. His friends encouraged publication. Dario titled one volume ALMAS DE VIOLETAS (VIOLET SOULS) and Villaespesa suggested NINFEAS (WATERLILIES) for the second. Both volumes appeared in 1900. Like Ruben Dario, however, Jiménez soon turned his back on many of the ideals of Modernism. Many years later when Gerardo Diego questioned Spain’s outstanding poets about their inspirations, Jiménez listed as his models Luis de Gongora, Ruben Dario, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, and the ROMANCEROS, sixteenth century collections of ballads.

Declaring that modern Spanish poetry began with Becquer, Jiménez now looked for inspiration to the delicately wrought, simply expressed poetry of his acknowledged master. In fact, he called his third volume RIMAS, the name Becquer gave to his own poems. His poetic purpose, as Jiménez expressed it, was to give permanence to what he saw and felt was beautiful. To transmit that beauty became a sort of religion. He wrote that what he thought poetic was also deeply religious but not limited by the tenets of any creed.

With his next volume, ARIAS TRISTES (SAD AIRS), published in 1903, Jiménez felt he had fully embarked on his career. In fact, later in life he rejected the lyric fire of his early period and directed that nothing published before 1903 be reprinted.

To him, life was a succession of imperishable moments. In 1912 came one of those moments, his meeting with Zenobia Camprubi Aymar, a Vassar graduate, vivacious, intelligent, but not sure that she wanted to marry a poet. When she went to New York to visit her brother, Jose Camprubi, the founder of LA PRENSA, Jiménez’s thoughts followed her and before long he did the same. In DIARIO DE RECIEN CASADO (DIARY OF A RECENTLY MARRIED POET), published in 1917, he distilled his experience and impressions of his marriage to the woman who was to contribute so much to his career as a poet. Better than most foreigners, he interpreted the United States in impressionistic word pictures of New York, Boston, and other places. Jiménez called it the first in a new period of his art.

It was followed the same year by other volumes, ESTIO (SUMMER) and SONETOS ESPIRITUALES. Although Jiménez had been reading Irish poets and had translated Synge’s RIDERS TO THE SEA, his experiments in free verse in SUMMER cannot be ascribed to them. The simplicity of the sonnets, full of his obsession with death, represented a departure from the sonorous and brilliant exteriorized sonnets loved by baroque and romantic poets. Jiménez had become an original poet, able to assimilate and transmute.

ETERNIDADES, published in 1916-1917, shows what might be called the intellectual side of his poetry. It contained “Poetry,” a much quoted poem in unrhymed lines of six, eight, and ten syllables. It says that poetry garbed in pure innocence first appeared to him, but then changed, and when he did not understand the change to richer dress he became angry. But when he saw her once more, disrobed, a vision of naked purity and as innocent as before, he realized that she was basically the same and forever his.

The purification of poetry, simplicity, the abandonment of any ornamental embellishments, and a freer poetic style which he called “naked poetry”—these became the characteristics of Juan Ramon, as his followers called him. He sought the essence, simplicity attained by the fewest separate elements, as achieved by the ballad writers who appeared in the Spanish ROMANCERO GENERAL of 1600. But Jiménez added another quality, a delicacy not always found in primitive poetry. The poetry also embodied a sad tone, an authentic melancholy, and not the self-pity of the Romanticists.

Since so much of his poetry had appeared in slight volumes and small editions, in 1917 under the sponsorship of the Hispanic Society of America he completed the first of his collections, POESIAS ESCOGIDAS, 1899-1917 (SELECTED POETRY). In 1922 appeared SEGUNDA AUTOLOGIA POETICA 1917-1923, and in 1957 TERCERA ANTOLOGIA POETICA 1898-1953. For readers wanting to sample all his styles found in thirty-nine separate volumes, this is the book to consult.

Every time Jiménez reprinted a poem, it had to be carefully scrutinized. Though to him poetry was an inspiration, a wellspring rising from deep within the poet, silently, covertly, yet the poem once visible, demanded a second inspection before republication. Sometimes he changed a word, or inverted the sentence order; sometimes he changed a title. “Manana de la cruz” reappeared as “Manana de la luz.” The British critic J. B. Tread tried to explain Jiménez’s penchant for revision by saying that the changes from the original text were not intended for smoothness of line or greater clarity of thought, but to relate them more closely to the vision of nature expressed in the whole unified body of his work.

Jiménez believed that the force of nature resides in everything, a mountain or a person that has the life proper for it. So he felt that a poem would live if it were filled with cosmic force.

In 1956 the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to this writer to whom poetry was an end, not a means. He believed in poetic expression for itself and not for its relation to the emotions it tries to express. He could dwell anywhere without having his surroundings interfere with his existence as a poet. Everywhere he could continue his search for absolute Beauty.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Poetry of Jiménez Study Guide

Subscribe Now