Vicente Aleixandre Aleixandre, Vicente (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism) - Essay


Vicente Aleixandre 1898-1984

Spanish poet, critic, journalist, and editor.

Recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, Aleixandre was a poet of the “Generation of 1927” whose prolific output has strongly influenced the work of subsequent Spanish poets. His selection for the Nobel Prize came as a surprise to much of the literary world even though Aleixandre's first collection had appeared in Spain almost fifty years earlier and his reputation in his country was well established. Prior to 1977, Aleixandre's works available to English readers, including Vicente Aleixandre and Luis Cernuda: Selected Poems (1974) and The Cave of Night: Poems (1976), had received little notice. Critical attention abroad increased following his reception of the award, and several additional works of selected poems in translation have been published. Despite this interest and the vital role he has played in the evolution of Spanish-language poetry, the complexity of Aleixandre's work and the inherent difficulties in translating it have resulted in a limited general readership.

Biographical Information

Aleixandre was born in Seville, Spain, and raised in Málaga, a nearby city that figures symbolically in much of his work. When he was eleven he moved with his family to Madrid, where he later received degrees in law and business administration and began a career in economic law. In 1925 Aleixandre contracted tuberculosis, thus beginning a series of illnesses that plagued him for the rest of his life. His ill health eventually forced him to abandon his career and concentrate instead on writing poetry. His first book, Ámbito (Ambit), published in 1928, was written in the tradition of poésie pure, which was characteristic of Spanish poetry in the 1920s. Around the same time, Aleixandre began to associate with Pedro Salinas, Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, and other poets based in Madrid, culminating in the innovative literary movement referred to as the “Generation of 1927.” Writers in this group reacted against the provincialism of Spanish literature. They advocated poetry as a means to discover and explore the relationship between external reality and the poet's internal world, and, while they rejected sentimentality, love was a dominant theme in their works. Unlike most other writers of his generation, Aleixandre remained in Spain during the Civil War and the subsequent reign of the dictator Francisco Franco. Although never a political poet, his works were banned in the postwar years because of his antifascist beliefs and his independence from the official regime. Aleixandre's works were reinstated during the 1940s. As one of the few representatives of the earlier period still living in Spain, Aleixandre served as an inspiration to younger generations of Spanish poets, who viewed him as a great master. He continued to publish new works, including the critically heralded volumes Poemas de la consumación (1968; Poems of Consumation) and Diálogos del conocimiento (1974; Dialogues of Knowledge), the latter published when the poet was seventy-six years old. Aleixandre died in 1984.

Major Works

Most of Aleixandre's poetry can be divided into three periods. The first includes Pasión del la tierra (1935; Passion of the Earth), La destrucción o el amor (1935; Destruction or Love), and Mundo a solas (1950; World Alone). Most of the poems in these collections were written just prior to or during the Spanish Civil War, but they do not reflect the events of the time. Rather, they use surrealistic imagery to present a cosmic, mystical vision of the world. Aleixandre's thematic focus during this period centers on the elemental forces of the human mind, a yearning for the solace of nature, and the inextricable connection between love and death and between the forces of creation and destruction. In contrast to Ámbito, these volumes are more complexly constructed free verse, in which Aleixandre's sweeping, passionate meditations are given freer rein. Aleixandre's first post-Civil War collection, Sombra del paraíso (1944; Shadow of Paradise), is a transitional volume leading to the second phase of his career. Poems in the middle period, which include those from Historia del corazón (1954; History of the Heart) and En un vasto dominio (1962; In a Vast Dominion), share with earlier ones a nostalgia for the lost union between humanity and nature, but a dramatic shift in focus is evident. Previously, Aleixandre had looked inside the individual, rejecting historical and social reality. During the middle period he reached outward, emphasizing temporal and physical connections between the self and the surrounding world and projecting a universal compassion for humanity. With a firmer grounding in earthly reality, surreal imagery and irrationalist techniques gave way to a more direct approach in which the affirmation of love predominates. In Aleixandre's final period, consisting of Poems of Consumation and Dialogues of Knowledge, he attempted to comprehend the depths and limitations of human knowledge, a process marked by emotional intensity and somber brooding.

Critical Reception

Aleixandre described his poetry as a “longing for the light.” Many critics, and the poet himself, have noted the influence of Freudian psychoanalysis on Aleixandre's exploration of the hidden passions and driving forces that operate beneath the surface of consciousness. Lewis Hyde, one of Aleixandre's translators, observed in his introduction to Twenty Poems (1977) that a desire to explore “the strong under-tow beneath the accelerating tide of rationalism” connects Freud, surrealism, and the early poetry of Aleixandre. Of Aleixandre's poems, Hyde says: “[They] are not an affirmation. They are not working out a full and nourishing surreality, but away from the reality at hand. That … is part of their tension—they are the reflective mind trying to think its way out of coherence and precision.”

Principal Works

Ámbito [Ambit] (poetry) 1928

Espadas como labios [Swords Like Lips] (poetry) 1932

La destrucción o el amor [Destruction or Love] (poetry) 1935

Pasión de la tierra [Passion of the Earth] (poetry) 1935

Sombra del paraíso [Shadow of Paradise] (poetry) 1944

Algunos caracteres de la poesía española contemporanea [Some Characteristics of Contemporary Spanish Poets] (criticism) 1945

Mundo a solas [World Alone] (poetry) 1950

Poemas paradisiacos [Poems of Paradise] (poetry) 1952

Nacimiento último [Final Birth] (poetry) 1953

Historia de corazón [History of the Heart] (poetry) 1954

Mis poemas mejores [My Best Poems] (poetry) 1956

Los encuentros [The Meetings] (critical and biographical sketches) 1958

Poemas amorosos [Love Poems] (poetry) 1960

Poesías competas [Complete Poems] (poetry) 1960

Antigua casa madrileña [Ancient Madrid House] (poetry) 1961

Picasso (poetry) 1961

En un vasto dominio [In a Vast Dominion] (poetry) 1962

Retratos con nombre [Portraits with Names] (poetry) 1965

Obras completas [Complete Works] (poetry) 1968

Poemas de la consumación [Poems of Consumation] (poetry) 1968

Anthologia del mar y de la noche [Anthology of the Sea and the Night] (poetry) 1971

Poesía superrealista [Surrealistic Poetry] (poetry) 1971

Sonido de la guerra (poetry) 1972

Diálogos del conocimiento [Dialogues of Knowledge] (poetry) 1974

Vicente Aleixandre and Luis Cernuda: Selected Poems (poetry) 1974

The Cave of Night: Poems (poetry) 1976

Twenty Poems (poetry) 1977

A Longing for the Light: Selected Poems of Vicente Aleixandre (poetry) 1979

The Crackling Sun: Selected Poems of the Nobel Prize Recipient (poetry) 1981

A Bird of Paper: Poems of Vicente Aleixandre (poetry) 1982

Nuevos poemas varios [Selected New Poems] (poetry) 1987

Kessel Schwartz (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “The Early Works,” in Vicente Aleixandre, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970, pp. 65-80.

[In the following essay, Schwartz presents an overview of Aleixandre's early poetry.]


Ambito (Ambit), Aleixandre's first volume of poetry, was composed between 1924 and 1927. It went to press in the summer of 1927, appearing the following year in Litoral, the poetry review of Emilio Prados and Manuel Altolaguirre in Málaga. Ambit, supposedly a marginal work in the author's production, is somewhat related to Shadow of Paradise, to be published years later. Composed of seven sections plus eight...

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Kessel Schwartz (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “La destrucción and Mundo a solas,” in Vicente Aleixandre, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970, pp. 81-98.

[In the following essay, Schwartz examines major themes in Destruction or Love and World Alone.]


Manuel Machado, Gerardo Diego, and Dámaso Alonso were members of the jury which awarded the National Prize to La destrucción o el amor (Destruction or Love). In granting the award they found “the novelty is in the themes, in the landscape, in the image—many times, nevertheless, more reducible to reality than that of the previous book: a total renovation of the...

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Vicente Aleixandre (lecture date 1977)

SOURCE: “Nobel Lecture,” in Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Santiago Daydí-Tolson, Bilingual Press, 1977, pp. 35-40.

[In the following lecture, which Aleixandre originally delivered at his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, the poet expresses his gratitude and discusses his major poetic influences.]

At a moment like this, so important in the life of a man of letters, I should like to express in the most eloquent words at my command the emotion that a human being feels and the gratitude he experiences in the face of an event such as that which is taking place today. I was born in a middle-class family, but I had the benefit of...

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Vincente Cabrera (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: “World Alone: A Cosmovision and Metaphor of Absent Love,” in Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry, edited by Vincente Cabrera and Harriet Boyer, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, pp. 53-70.

[In the following essay, Cabrera examines the pessimism in World Alone, noting how it fits into the larger vision of Aleixandre's works.]

The poetic work of Vicente Aleixandre from Passion of the Earth up to Shadow of Paradise,1 which makes up his first and perhaps richest period,2 is characterized as much by the unity of the elemental and cosmic conception of its theme as by the coherent and...

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Darío Fernández-Morera (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: “Vicente Aleixandre in the Context of Modern Poetry,” in Symposium, Vol. 33, 1979, pp. 118-41.

[In the following essay, Fernández-Morera offers an appraisal of Aleixandre's poetry in the context of modern poetry outside of Spain.]

“Spanish surrealist poet little known outside the Spanish speaking world,” “A poet the world had forgotten.”1 Thus the New York and London Times spoke about the recipient of the 1977 Nobel Prize for literature. A weary Hispanist might observe that Aleixandre is not only a surrealist poet; and that, if Spain is part of the world, Aleixandre is not a poet the world had forgotten. He might add that in 1949...

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Kessel Schwartz (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: “The Isakower Phenomenon and the Dream Screen,” in Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry, edited by Vincente Cabrera and Harriet Boyer, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1979, pp. 39-46.

[In the following essay, Schwartz discusses the symbolism of the subconscious in Aleixandre's poetry.]

Much of the early poetry of Vicente Aleixandre reveals his view of nature and the world through subjective connotations which relate to a number of conflicts, anxieties, and unconscious fantasies. The poet clarifies some of this poetry, rooted in his unconscious depths, by combining creative and destructive impulses in the apparently ambivalent...

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Kessel Schwartz (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “Eros and Thanatos: The Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre—Surrealism or Freudianism?”, in Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Santiago Daydí-Tolson, Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 200-20.

[In the following essay, Schwartz questions the influence of surrealism on Aleixandre, suggesting instead that the poet may have been more swayed by early psychoanalytic theory.]

Dámaso Alonso states that Vicente Aleixandre may have helped initiate surrealism in Spain without any intention of doing so. He denies that Aleixandre had any knowledge of the French school.1 Other critics qualify their statements with limiting adjectives such as...

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Federico Revilla (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: “Spiritual Coincidences between Marc Chagall and Vincente Aleixandre,” in Neohelicon, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1987, pp. 193-207.

[In the following essay, Revilla finds similarities in the respective artistic visions of Aleixandre and the painter Marc Chagall.]

There are apparently few common features between the biography of Marc Chagall, a “total artist” he may be, but above all a painter, and that of Vicente Aleixandre the poet and 1977 Nobel Prize winner. Indeed one can claim that the lives of the two men are absolutely different. Chagall, a Russian Jew, grew up in and was formed by Hassidism, a faith which imprinted an indelible mark upon him, even if in...

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Alice Poust (essay date June 1992)

SOURCE: “Pure Poetry, Phenomenology and Vicente Aleixandre's Ámbito,” in Revista Hispanica Moderna, Vol. 45, No. 1, June, 1992, pp. 45-59.

[In the following essay, Poust argues that Ámbito represents common ground between purist poets and phenomenologists.]

Vicente Aleixandre's ambivalence with regard to the relationship of his first book, Ámbito (1928), to his poetic creation as a whole, centers on his interpretation of this work as “traditional” (“A la segunda edición de La destrucción o el amor,Obras 1442). According to Aleixandre, the “revolutionary” second work, Pasión de la tierra (written in...

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Alice Poust (essay date October 1992)

SOURCE: “Phenomenological Hermeneutics and Vicente Aleixandre's Self-Reading,” in Revista de Estudios Hispanicos, Vol. 26, No. 3, October, 1992, pp. 32-43.

[In the following essay, Poust contends that Aleixandre's belief that his works represented a unified poetic whole aligns with the conception of “phenomenological hermeneutics.”]

While the celebration of multiple beings and perspectives within a united world is one of the best-known aspects of Vicente Aleixandre's poetry, the Spanish poet's insistence that his diverse poetic works constitute a unified corpus has received little critical attention in its own right. For the most part, Aleixandre's attitude...

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Alice J. Poust (essay date Spring 1993)

SOURCE: “Phenomenological Traces in Vicente Aleixandre's Sombra del Paraíso,” in Symposium, Vol. 47, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 36-49.

[In the following essay, Poust examines Aleixandre's notion of the evolution of unity in his poetic works.]

Vicente Aleixandre's understanding of the intertextual dynamics of his works stresses Sombra del paraíso's key role in ensuring the coherence of his poetic creation. Soon after the work's completion in 1944, Aleixandre described it as “el último eslabón de una cadena evolutiva” initiated in 1928-29 with Pasión de la tierra (2: 523). Twelve years later, a retrospective glance at Sombra del...

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E. C. Graf (essay date March 1994)

SOURCE: “May I Have This Dance? Unveiling Vicente Aleixandre's ‘El Vals’”, in Romanic Review, Vol. 85, No. 2, March, 1994, pp. 313-26.

[In the following essay, Graf argues that Aleixandre's “El vals” suggests a linguistic and thematic sophistication in the poet's works that most critics fail to recognize.]

Un pájaro de papel en el pecho
dice que el tiempo de los besos no ha llegado
vivir vivir el sol cruje invisible
besos o pájaros tarde o pronto o nunca

—Vicente Aleixandre (“Vida”)

Due to the supposed obscurity of his text, critical approaches to Vicente Aleixandre have remained tentative, at times even fearful....

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Further Reading


Beltrán de Heredia, Pablo. “Vicente Aleixandre: Another Universal Andalusian.” Texas Quarterly 21, No. 4 (1978): 176-82.

Appraises Aleixandre's career up to his Nobel Prize award and compares his work to that of other Andalusian writers.

Harris, Derek. “The Shadow of Paradise in Aleixandre's Espadas como labios.” In Essays in Honour of Robert Brian Tate from His Colleagues and Pupils, edited by Richard A. Cardwell, pp. 38-45. Nottingham, England: University of Nottingham Monographs in the Humanities, 1984.

Examines contradictory elements in Espadas como labios to unearth ambiguous...

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