Vicente Aleixandre

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Vicente Aleixandre Merlo was born on April 26, 1898, in Seville, Spain, the son of Cirilo Aleixandre Ballester, a railway engineer, and Elvira Merlo García de Pruneda, daughter of an upper-middle-class Andalusian family. Married in Madrid, Aleixandre’s parents moved to Seville, the base for his father’s travels with the Andalusian railway network. Four years after Aleixandre’s birth, the family moved to Málaga, remaining there for seven years, spending their summers in a cottage on the beach at Pedregalejo a few miles from the city.

Aleixandre seems to have been very happy as a boy in Málaga, where he attended school, frequented the movie theater across the street from his house (he particularly liked the films of Max Linder), and read the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Happy memories of Málaga and the nearby sea appear frequently in Aleixandre’s poetry: He calls them “ciudad del paraíso” (city of paradise) and “mar del paraíso” (sea of paradise), respectively.

In 1911, the family moved to Madrid, where Aleixandre continued his studies at Teresiano School, but he found the strict requirements for the bachelor’s degree tedious and preferred reading the books in his grandfather’s library: classical and Romantic works and detective novels, especially those by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Aleixandre frequently visited the National Library, where he read novels and drama from Spain’s Golden Age to the generación del 98. During the summer of 1917, his friend Dámaso Alonso lent him a volume by Rubén Darío, a book which, Aleixandre said, revealed to him the passion of his life—poetry. The next year, he discovered the works of Antonio Machado and Juan Ramón Jiménez, as well as the Romantic world of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, and his interest in poetry was firmly established.

At the age of fifteen, Aleixandre began to study law and business administration, finishing the two programs in 1920. He became an assistant professor at the School of Commerce of Madrid and worked at night editing a journal of economics in which he published several articles on railroads. In 1921, he left his teaching post to work for the railway company, but when in 1925 he suffered an attack of renal tuberculosis, he dropped all professional and social activities, dedicating himself to his poetry, reading, and traveling with his family through Portugal, France, England, and diverse regions of Spain.

Aleixandre’s first poems appeared in Revista de occidente (journal of the West) in 1926, and two years later his first collection, Ámbito (ambit) was published. In 1929, he discovered Sigmund Freud, James Joyce, and Arthur Rimbaud, and, although he suffered a relapse into his tubercular condition in 1932, this period of his life was very productive, resulting in three collections published between 1932 and 1935.

After the removal of his diseased kidney in 1932, Aleixandre retired to Miraflores de la Sierra to convalesce, but in 1933 he returned to Madrid. Carlos Bousoño reports that during this year, Aleixandre read French translations of the German Romantic writers Ludwig Tieck and Novalis, as well as Les Romantiques allemands (1933; a translation of Ricarda Huch’s Blüthezeit der Romantik, 1899; the German Romantics). He completed this new spiritual phase with the lyric poetry of William Shakespeare, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth. In 1934, Aleixandre’s mother died, and there were more travels through England, France, and Switzerland. During the years of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Aleixandre was isolated from political turmoil, spending much of the time in convalescence after renewed bouts of illness. The death of his father in 1939 brought him even closer to his sister Concepción.

Aleixandre’s work reflects his psychological and physiological state as a vitally passionate man and a chronically sick man, as a calm, patient man and a creative man. His poetic production has been sustained over a...

(The entire section is 1,490 words.)