Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 914
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 235
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
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6281
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 “Nights,” including an initial and final “Night” and one “Sea,” it contains classical and gongoristic forms, not unexpected at the time, since it was partly composed during the tercentenary of Góngora when baroque formalism ruled the day. One can find a minor delicate reminiscence of the poetry of Juan Ramón Jiménez. Nature is everywhere, but although there is a faint reflection of the cosmic force, the poet is largely descriptive and objective in a somewhat traditional way. He contemplates nature as in later works he will seek to possess her and be one with her. Written during his illness, the book sensually examines the fleeting aspects of time. Within his own boundary, the limits of his sickroom where he lived a solitary existence, he waxed both tender and uncontrollably passionate. Yet Ambit's formal beauty, pleasure in the contemplation of nature, desire for perfection, and joy in life reflect both Juan Ramón Jiménez and Jorge Guillén more than the later Aleixandre. The poet himself claims: “Ambit, the first book, is born within a climate in a certain way traditional, although in its interior there strained, with expressiveness, the forces which later will reveal themselves.”1 Ricardo Gullón finds that it is “a complex of hidden nostalgias, an adolescent little book, clear in language and in sentiment, without anything revolutionary, nor even too daring.”2 Ventura Doreste feels the germ of all Aleixandre's later poetry is contained in these “delicious, moving, crystalline poems.”3 The poetry deals with the world of the senses, classic and cold at times, but also warm and romantic. The elusive imagery, the nature of shadows and clouds convey a meaning like the reverberations of a musical instrument. The poet employs traditional ballad form instead of the free verse he will later use almost exclusively, and his ten-and six-syllable lines and other experimentation reveal his great sense of rhythm.
“Cerrada” (“Closed”), a portion of the “Noche inicial” (“Initial Night”), is a descriptive humanization of night which he views as: “Oh flesh or light of flesh,”4 as he makes us experience the loneliness of a cold, windy night in a naked field. “Idea,” a somewhat baroque conception, apparently concerns the poetic process. Thoughts, like flocks of white birds, flutter in the waters of the forehead, while true thought emerges like a boat to project the threads of its sail left by the wind, outward to its farthest extremity, that is, to become words on the tongue which,
knife which exempts it from its marine entrails and from the total landscape, profound and retarded, rends it.
(cuchilla que la exime de su marina entraña, y del total paisaje, profundo y retrasado, la desgarra.)
“El viento” (“The Wind”) and “La fuente” (“The Fountain”) convey placid, almost nostalgic nature symbols, but “Cinemática” (“Cinematic”) shows a shadowy night again humanized:
… Passion of night, lights up, lantern of the breast, the heart, and thou subduest thirst of blackness and silences.
(… Pasión de noche enciende, farol del pecho, el corazón, y derribas sed de negror y silencios.)
“Niñez” (“Childhood”) recalls happiness on the beach; “Retrato” (“Portrait”), portraying Ramón Sijé, intimate friend of Miguel Hernández who died, his promise unfulfilled, pictures a lad who held the essence of things in his hands while painting the living landscape. “Forma” (“Form”) reflects on temporality, for as he imprints his foot on the sand, the rising wind blows it away. “Riña” (“Quarrel”) evokes a theme to recur throughout his poetry, that of the cruel moon which, as it struggles with the shadow, opens a bloody wound in gushes of light. The moon kills the night, but the poet hopes for dawn which will steal upon the moon by night and destroy it. “Adolescencia” (“Adolescence”) laments the passing of youth. “Retrato” (“Portrait”), a common poetic title, here used in section three, is filled with tender emotion and vague sadness, as the poet watches a figure-skating friend who may dare both in life and in the rink. “Amante” (“Lover”) enumerates the qualities of the loved one, the grace and hollow of her pillow, the warmth of her eyes, the light of her secret breast. Filled with subtle grace, the poem's imagery of light and hope are reminiscent of the lyrical ideal in Renaissance poetry. “Agosto” (“August”) combines the standard elements of stars, wind, sea, and night, a limitless one which gives itself to open eyes.
The fourth section contains some of the themes which will preoccupy him in later works, the idea of limits, of time, of the need for light and joy, the naked body, as nature and youthful love link him to the security of childhood. In “Juventud” (“Youth”),
One day there will fall, the limits. What a divine nakedness! Pilgrim light. Joy, Joy!
(Se le caerán un día límites. ¡Qué divina desnudez! Peregrina luz. ¡Alegría, alegría!)
“Voces” (“Voices”) conjectures that in the resounding valleys there still remain the voices of the day, refreshing themselves in the fresh lymph of the hours. The lyrical freshness and human and nature identification continue in “Cabeza, en el recuerdo” (“Head, in My Memory”), as in the play of light and shadows the poet identifies with light and growth.
Sprouts grow from thy eyes, night rears tall its foliage, and thou sharest, pure sap, vegetable and human.
(Tallos te crecen de tus ojos, yergue alta la noche su ramaje, y savia pura compartes, vegetal y humana.)
As in many of his poems of this volume, it concerns an expanding ámbito, ambit, contour, limit, or boundary; “it broadens the boundary in my memory, and remains” (p. 91).
In a continuing “Night” section, “Pájaro de la noche” (“Bird of Night”), the bird is enslaved in the night, a mute block of ebony and a mold which keeps it motionless until it can be freed with the coming of dawn. The following section, “Mar” (“Sea”), contains “Mar y aurora” (“Sea and Dawn”), the first of many poems on the sea, which, as we have seen, has such symbolic value for Aleixandre. He evokes a pre-dawn sea with the faint sparks of day in the east. The still cold waters emerge from the night, running through the entire “ambit” as the streaks of light replace the sterile shadows of the night. The light disarms the dark skeleton of the air, exacting its daily worship as it drinks of the waves. “Mar y noche” (“Sea and Night”) is the counterpart, the sea at night, seeking to swallow the heavens in a ravenous throat; the moon, round and pure, sinks and rises again from the waves, as the sea, crucified on its black bed, struggles towards heaven.
The fifth section continues the already familiar imagery, the interplay of day and night, the effect of light and its reflection on the earth, the birth of light in a new day. The “Night” section following, and Part VI, bring out the human element more strongly. In “Integra” (“Whole”) the poet is alone at the hour of the setting sun as the harsh touch of night brushes him; in “Final,” he sits in the cool breeze during the last twilight hour, after a walk. “En el alba” (“At Dawn”) evokes the morning light “between the shores of night” (p. 119). Morning light continues to fascinate the poet, ecstatic in following poems over the beauty and light of day, the rays of the sun, and the yielding of night to the sweet hour of dawn. This interplay of light and darkness continues in his section “Reloj” (“Clock”), with its four hour poems, exemplifying in turn, warm light, afternoon shadows, and the power of night. Each landscape that inspires him reflects an emotion for him to experience, an ecstasy or exhilaration.
Section Seven, especially in “Alba” (“Dawn”), insists on the qualities of light which cleans the sleeping mountains, awakens colors and reflections, and finally consumes the shadows. The following poems, “Materia” (“Material”) and “Memoria” (“Memory”), turn from feeling for the countryside to aspects of concrete and remembered, fulfilled and unsatisfied love.
The final poem in Ambit, “Posesión” (“Possession”), sums up Aleixandre's identification with nature. His love object is the night which he seeks to possess, a loving solidarity which converts the poet into an elemental fragment of nature, night itself, which with the moon, dew, dawn, and tactile senses, conveys allegorical symbols. The moon impatiently tries to build its bridges on the shadows as the poet, aware of the mature night on the spun snow, finds his mouth full of love and current fire.
Drunk with lights, with night, of lustre, my body extends its members, treading stars?
(Ebrio de luces, de noche, de brillos, mi cuerpo extiende sus miembros, ¿pisando estrellas?)
The poet then finally becomes the night, but on his tongue is “a taste of a growing dawn” (p. 144).
In this volume of youthful love, Aleixandre skillfully manipulates nature's elements and human love. He describes delicately, in gentle movements, his love affair with nature, a love of mental abstraction at times, whose equations resist completely logical interpretations.
II PASIóN DE LA TIERRA
Aleixandre's second work, composed in 1928-1929 but not published until 1935 in Mexico, was originally announced under the title La evasión hacia el fondo (Evasion toward the Deep) and later as Hombre de tierra (Man of Earth), but the publishing company became bankrupt before it could publish the volume. Thus Aleixandre published Swords Like Lips first. Gerardo Diego, who arranged the appearance of the first edition of only 150 copies, originally called for twenty-one poems. Many of the poems beyond that number were eliminated.5
In the prologue to Passion of the Earth, Aleixandre claims that the poet is an “illuminator, the razor strop of light of a sesame which is, to a certain extent, the word of his destiny.” Seeking the authentic elemental life in these prose poems, with the minimum of elaboration, the poet considered them “poetry in a nascent state,”6 written under the influence of Freud and Surrealism, poetry in which he could recognize himself. This passion for light and life must be seen as one of the keys to the work. The poems cannot be understood intellectually as individual entities without attributing to them arbitrary symbols. Ricardo Gullón says: “But—at least for me—certain fragments of Pasión de la tierra are so hermetic that their meaning has not yet been accessible to me.”7 In spite of the difficult dream symbols where tears become the head, the back, a celestial heaven, and the material of the visible world not distinguishable from an imagined one, the reader can sense the striving for emotional release and the search for identity for both the body and the soul. These prose poems possess a spiritual richness, interior flame, and the human aspects of pain and sorrow, which they convey in a rhythm all their own which has led critics to declare “the prose in its intention and result, pure, or impure, poetry.”8 Indeed, in Aleixandre's aesthetic word play combined with human passion, in his struggle to find himself as a creature of the earth and the world, there is already “implicit all his later poetry, while … the substantive poetry of the book consists, precisely in being implicit poetry.”9
Ambit had a traditional coherence which Passion of the Earth, based on emotions and the subconscious drives of the poet, destroyed. It represents a fairly violent rupture with his first work, and according to the author, “with the crystallized world of a part of the poetry of the period.”10 Others have viewed this poetry in the same way. “But it is not Ambit but Passion of the Earth which is the beginning of a new poetry. … Here the whole purely real zone disappears, so that an interminable succession of enchained visions … form the nucleus of the work.”11
“The poet is found on the eve of a profound human and aesthetic crisis. … But these poems in prose describe him, they discover the secrets of his passionate and fighting soul. Nothing more revealing than the contrast, the apparent contradiction between his sonnets … and these poems of Passion of the Earth, so overflowing, so without limits, so delivered voluntarily to the dark instincts.”12
Passion of the Earth contains twenty-four poems, grouped in five sections, which have a vague connection with each other. The title, of course, conveys the unifying force which is both “passion,” in its human existential force, and “earth,” the total reality for the poet and mankind. Whereas in following volumes the material of the universe is to predominate, in this early collection, the passion, spontaneous, instinctive, cries out. One sees Aleixandre's anguish in his relationship to the material universe which for him lacks order and, more important perhaps, which in its chaotic confusion offers no clear-cut destiny for man, a victim of the world and civilization, much as Aleixandre, sick and solitary, was a victim.
Ricardo Gullón called Passion of the Earth a “book of dazzling obscurity. … The poet has felt life like a stingy place, a sordid waiting room in which we wait for death to signal our turn. …”13 Germán Bleiberg, himself a poet of considerable stature in the so-called Generation of 1936, finds it the “most anguished of the books of V. A.,”14 a terribly sincere book, in sentiments and words, but one which the poet has not wanted understood in spite of his overwhelming uncontrollable compulsion to write it. It is therefore, says Bleiberg, “a long poem which ends in its very origin: in the poet.”15
As stated above, these poems individually often appear illogical and senseless, but as a whole they form a meaningful pattern. In “Vida” (“Life”) the poet is filled with a “shadow or masticated sadness which in passing, pains” (p. 149). He recalls a one-breasted mermaid, her breast like a mouth, who seeks to kiss him on the surface of the sea. As she floats face up in the purplish water, gasping for breath in what for her is airless air, her eyes, possessed by night, fail to stir life in him. The poet rejects his death, concomitant with that of the mermaid, rebounding to face life. “El amor no es relieve” (“Love Is Not a Relief”) conjectures a loved one's charms which fail to arouse his love and passion as he faces approaching death in loneliness. “La muerte o antesala de consulta” (“Death or the Waiting Room”) reveals the anguish of all mankind at the prospect of death. When death impassively issues her call, blind lovers can ignore her for a time, but they, too, must finally yield. He depicts shipwrecked people with the taste of dry earth on their tongues, the old with their fears, the young with their dreams of love, as their final hour approaches. “Fulguración del as” (“The Flashing of the Ace”) outlines the frustration and empty promises of a future unfulfilled. Life evaporates much as a game of cards is played, the individual cards serving as a kind of horoscope which conveys a hypocritical hope, since one's “palpitating heart does not know that high tide is a horizontal dream under a moon of grass” (p. 157). That death awaits us all continues to be the theme, and in “Ser de esperanza y lluvia” (“Being of Hope and Rain”) his illness and sterile solitude prevail.
The second section starts with “Víspera de mí” (“Imminence of Me”), concerning his fears of chaos and death, and his finding a kind of life through his words. He longs for life, its colors and sounds, trying to be born again as an individual with a name. This creative process or struggle, fixing limits on things as the flux continues, converts hope into desire; sleep and night, symbolized by drowned pianos, an extinguished note or sinking harp, may give way to radiant dawn. The moon, with its cruel yellow light, awakens his desire for love, one he cannot fulfill, but he exclaims “Therefore I am here, now forming myself” (p. 164). Gerardo Diego found this poem especially passionate and lyrical.16 “Rosa y serpiente” (“Rose and Serpent”), as well as other titles in the section, continues the themes of love, anxiety, and pain. Love turns out to be an empty gesture in the face of the threatening image of night. Death, the great serpent, waits for us all, an illogical mystery we cannot solve. “La forma y no el infinito” (“The Form and Not the Infinite”) realizes that the ultimate truth and reality is death, as the poet identifies with the night, which, while it offers pain, also suggests joy, for love and life are lies. The poet, indeed, becomes night: “I am Night” (p. 169). “La ira cuando no existe” (“Ire When It Exists Not”) stresses his favorite themes of forgetting the limits of forms, the play of light and darkness, the illogical moon, and his identification with the earth. “Thus I shall drag myself like a nard, like a flower which grows in search of the entrails of the earth, because it has forgotten that day is in the heights” (p. 172).
In Part Three, “Del color de la nada” (“Of the Color of Nothingness”) identifies love and night, in a meaningless and hopeless place of scattered mannequins who uselessly offer their nakedness to the surrounding air in a world where death is inevitable; “Fuga a caballo” (“Flight on Horseback”) notes the poet's fear of nothingness as he enters the world of playing cards in which one may identify with another world where the capacity to love and live exists; but, in any event, when he dies he will return to the earth, dissolve into it, “become pure vegetation” (p. 179). “El crimen o imposible” (“The Crime or Impossible”) seeks the earth and death which will give him back the world as an innocent child. “El mar no es una hoja de papel” (“The Sea is Not a Sheet of Paper”) opposes the sea life to the wormy earth. “Sobre tu pecho unas letras” (“On Thy Breast Some Letters”) contrasts the sunlight of the day which for him is love and happiness, with the moonlight of the night.
Part Four views the moon in all its menace. “El solitario” (“Solitaire”) is dedicated to a dangerous moon which seeks to hide its evil passions “while you seek the clear lymph, innocent, final, in which to bathe your ugly body” (pp. 18-19). The poet recalls his night of love and tries his fate at a game of solitaire, but the wind sweeps away his cards and only death remains. “Hacia el amor sin destino” (“Toward Love Without Destiny”) warns his love of the new moon; “Fábula que no duele” (“Fable Which Pains Not”) laments the destruction of the nightingale by the treacherous moon. “Del engaño y renuncia” (“Of Deceit and Renunciation”) invokes in surrealistic imagery the inevitably menacing moon, as Aleixandre seeks to become one with various elements by breaking the limits of form. “Ansiedad para el día” (“Anxiety for the Day”) fuses the poet with nature, the limits breaking. He rows, lost on the ocean of life, seeks to wet his tongue in the subheaven or ecstatic blue, becoming one with the shore and the ocean.
The final section stresses similar themes. “El mundo está bien hecho” (“The World Is Well Made”) sings of his love for the forests, the cacti, the hills, all of which clamor for love. People, dragged by forces they cannot control, spend their lives within whitewashed walls which turn to boiling lava. They seek to escape their destiny, the great serpent which awaits them all. “El alma bajo el agua” (“The Soul Beneath the Water”) opposes the beauties of nature to the creations of man. Aleixandre is sustained by an enormous sea, and his soul fuses with the light. He is saved by love as he becomes one with all nature. “Hacia el azul” (“Toward the Blue”) paints the glory of the day, the sun on the water. The poet wants to fuse with the sun which will give flame to what is now ash. In the final poem, “El amor padecido” (“Love Suffered”), he longs for the world which he cannot fully possess, and feels at the mercy of the universe, because he can fuse with but portions of the mother earth.
The concept of mother earth in this collection combines with Aleixandre's Freudian preoccupations, discussed earlier, especially in his interest in breast symbolism. “Vida,” as we have seen, contains a green, moon-colored mermaid who thrusts forth her “wounded breast, parted in two like a mouth” (p. 149). The idea of eating and being eaten by an object is also a way of becoming united with it, and as Otto Rank claims, “mermaids represent the primal mother.”17 In “Ansiedad para el día” Aleixandre views the potential threat of “the gullets of the humid sirens” (p. 201), as he fuses with the ocean and thus loses his identity to the larger whole. “A shore is my hand. Another my leg” (p. 201). As one psychoanalyst explains, “In anxiety dreams with this content (merging with a larger whole), the dreamer feels that he will … perish as an individual, absorbed by the larger unit.”18 The sea may represent then the devouring breast, and sinking and merging with it repeats the feeling of sinking, relaxing, and losing the sense of one's individuality, which is characteristic of going to sleep. “El alma bajo el agua” contains again the image of sinking and yet being supported by the immense sea. “If the waves ascend, if you soak in all the sad melancholies which flew by, managing to avoid grazing you with their hollow, fine woods, they will stop exactly in your throat, decapitating you with their light, leaving your head like the flower …” (p. 207).19 The room in which the poet finds himself moves on the fearful waves, as he is borne up. “An enormous, extensive sea sustains me in the palm of its hand and demands respect of me” (p. 208). The symbols Aleixandre uses vacillate in significance to match the author's mood, often appearing incomprehensible to the reader whose sensibilities, nevertheless, quicken to empathize with the poet, inspired by the same life and challenged by the same sufferings and enigmas which belong to all mankind.
III ESPADAS COMO LABIOS
Begun in the summer of 1929, Espadas como labios (Swords Like Lips) concerns the central themes of life, death, and love, which the poet, in his moment of inspiration and suffering, views in a new relationship. As Dámaso Alonso points out, “… it is useless to search through it for what it does not contain: history, anecdote and rational sequence. This poetry does not have—literally—common sense.”20 Clearly from the initial quotation from Lord Byron at the front of the volume, to the effect that the poet is “a babbler,” no conventional “meaning” was intended. The work as originally presented was filled with poetic transpositions and capriciously arranged punctuation to help Aleixandre release what he considered his “interior fire.” Many critics believe this work to be typically surrealistic, as Aleixandre confessed was his intention. “We find here this confession of the poet. It reveals that, in the years of greatest influence of that manner in modern French poetry, the Spanish poet participated in some form in its experience … tends to be, without achieving it completely, a typical surrealistic work.”21 … Aleixandre's intention was not to induce a surrealistic trance, but to create a voluntary pattern of unusual images. Carlos Bousoño has shown that Aleixandre, in his somewhat illogically and incoherently developed poetic structures, does not know exactly what theme he will develop. The diffuse emotion he creates in this confused and disturbed work gives rise to apparent indecisions for the poet which transfer to the reader. “… will impose in his poetry, many times an idiomatic and mental illogicality which … will not entail … a detriment of lyrical value. …”22 Aside from syntactical tricks and an insistence on a great number of relatives and determiners, constantly repeated, the use of “where” with relative value, the constant use of the conjunction “or” in a comparative sense, and the like, Aleixandre in his oneiric representations utilizes visions, visionary images and symbols, as we have seen, characteristics of his highly rhythmical free verse.
His liberty of form and his use of varying lengths, greatly changed from Ambit, allow him to cover a variety of subjects in a dream atmosphere which hovers between sensation and thought. Dámaso Alonso finds two kinds of poems in this collection, short compositions of about twelve lines and longer poems, the first group in hendecasyllables and the second in free verse, the first restrained and elegant, the second less logical.23
Swords Like Lips, in its examination of reality, petrifies it, or, as one critic phrases it, indulges in the “immobilization of the moment.”24 Aleixandre's bitter-sweet perusal involves an imagery of dead roses, coals of silence (because they lack life-giving flame), and a series of other death representations. In the world's changing reality he seeks to remove the charade of life which hides behind the mask of death, endeavoring constantly to establish an equivalence among various orders of reality. Leopoldo de Luis claims that Swords Like Lips, in its ironic and bitter projections, is “the rejection of a corrupt, outmoded society which must be ejected from its artificial and sycophantic shell … from its false and unjust principles.”25 Ricardo Gullón, admitting the bitterness and despair, finds in the poetry a principle of order and a spark of hope in Aleixandre's ascent toward the light.26
Almost all agree that this volume represents a break with Ambit, but critics express differing views as to its place in the development of twentieth-century Spanish poetry. Dámaso Alonso states it is part of the curious phenomenon between 1929 and 1932 of the so-called dehumanized poets to evolve towards a neo-romantic revival, and considers it a “bitter, disordered, harsh, suppurated, veined, livid, roseate, beatific, archangelic … mixture of pain and sarcasm, tenderness and delicacy.”27 Admitting to its passionate, tortured, stormy and grotesque aspects, he finds it “the most literarily revolutionary of all his works.”28 Eugenio de Nora sees Swords Like Lips as a rejection of pure poetry and “neo-juanramonianism” and says that it sweeps away with one blow “the affected world of exquisiteness in which poetry seemed to have been residing captive. …”29
As one examines the individual poems, one encounters the poet's constant longing to be, combined with a fear of not being. “Mi voz” (“My Voice”) relates his birth on a summer night; he senses in his beloved a possibility of hope and happiness; the sea like a warm medal gives promise of a possible light and life. But in “La palabra” (“The Word”), the poet cannot communicate and feels drained of life; in “Partida” (“Departure”) his straining toward life gives way in the following poem, “Muerte” (“Death”), to “Under earth the unexpected kisses, / that silence which is coal, not flame” (p. 223). In “Circuito” (“Circuit”) Aleixandre seeks the love of virginal sirens beneath a harsh cruel moon; and in “Ya es tarde” (“Now It Is Late”) he wants life, “ignoring that the rose has died forever” (p. 225). In following poems he continues to seek love and light as opposed to death and darkness until in his final poem of this first section, “Nacimiento último” (“Final Birth”), he fuses the two concepts and sees death as joy and awakening. He becomes the sun, the happy earth which welcomes the day, shifting in Spanish from masculine to feminine and thus implying a change from the concrete, he visto el mar, la mar, los mares, los no-límites (“I have seen the sea, the sea, the seas, the non-limits”), to the abstract. He wants to break the limits which prevent things from returning to earth:
What clouds or what palms, what kisses or everlasting flowers seek that forehead, those eyes, that dream, that growth which will end like a newly born death?
(¿Que nubes o qué palmas, qué besos o siemprevivas buscan esa frente, esos ojos, ese sueño, ese crecimiento que acabará como una muerte reciennacida?)
The second section begins with the poem which has elicited the most critical comment, “El Vals” (“The Waltz”). Dedicated to García Lorca, who in turn dedicated a similarly titled poem to him, the poem reflects Aleixandre's early awareness of humanity and society, to become so great a part of his latest poetry. Aleixandre caricaturizes the end-of-the-century salon as he describes a real or imagined social event in which the poet recognizes himself as a participant. Sarcasm, sympathy, tenderness, repugnance, death, and the macabre alternate. In an elegant ballroom “the ladies await their moment seated on a tear” (p. 235). The dancers swirl about the room. The imagery grows more and more erotic, until at the height of the dance the dresses change to birds, “the windows into shouts, / the lights into Help!” (p. 236) and the innocent kiss between two humans into a thorn which death dispenses as it says: “I love you.” For Carlos Barral, who considers it Aleixandre's best poem, “The rhythmic figure of the poem is like a perfect parody of the narrated vertigo in which a most lively succession of images assaults the imagination like a landscape seen from a progressively more rapid center, and toward which there converge, as they approach, attitudes and things.”30
In “En el fondo del pozo” (“At the Bottom of the Well”) we see death finally as a concrete reality. Subtitled “The Buried One,” the poem views the buried man (surely the poet) living a death which is a prolongation of life. The cadaver feels sensations, for death is the only reality which can keep one in contact with life. There where no wind blows nor sea threatens, perhaps a voice or freed hand reaches toward the moon, recalling other times of warmth and light. Filled with temporal images, the poem stops and prolongs each moment of time, changing it into eternity.
Thus the eternity was the minute Time only a tremendous hand on the long detained hair.
(Así la eternidad era el minuto. El tiempo sólo una tremenda mano sobre el cabello large detenida.)
Each moment, as it lasts, thus gives up all of the essence of its love to the poet.31
Other poems foreshadow future themes. “Toro” (“Bull”) relates to cosmic fusion and self-eroticism; “Resaca” (“Undertow”) involves an affirmative negation, “The flower in the water is not a moan” (p. 242). The poet thinks of the world in flux in which his hands become two mountains, his body an encompassing foam.
Love may take many forms; some of the Freudian ones we have already examined. The poet seeks truth and beauty in a hypocritical world where dreams are not fulfilled and where one must seek true sexual and erotic expression in the more primitive and even threatening natural forces. In “El más bello amor” (“The Most Beautiful Love”), his possessive anxiety for love is like the voracity of a shark. In other poems he identifies with those seeking love in America, and other world travelers in “Poema de amor” (“Poem of Love”); contrasts love and nature, adult passion and childhood purity in “Muñecas” (“Dolls”); becomes nature as he becomes a wasp, the breeze, a stone, in “Acaba” (“Complete”); and experiences the frustration of an incomplete love and identification with nature and life, “all is coal which hurts and sobs / on the false vegetable which exists” (p. 252), in “Por último” (“Finally”).
The third section, dedicated to the youngest member of his poetic generation, Manuel Altolaguirre (the first two sections were dedicated to Dámaso Alonso and García Lorca respectively), seeks truth in “Verdad siempre” (“Truth Always”); expresses his need for love from the forces of nature in “Siempre” (“Always”); stresses his identification with mother earth in “Madre, Madre” (“Mother, Mother”); acknowledges the brevity of life in “Desierto” (“Desert”), and the inability of his tongue to express the beauty of nature as expressed through a naked girl in “Palabras” (“Words”). Other poems in this section reveal his love of nature, of different seasons and hours, which he sees in human terms, of cold and heat, dreams and light, temporality, and death.
Thus death is floating on a memory not life, on that final blue made from overheard tears, from that labyrinth of threads which like dead hands place a lily as though girding a world.
(p. 270, “Río” [“River”])
(Así la muerte es flotar sobre un recuerdo no vida, sobre ese azul postrero hecho de lágrimas oídas, de ese laberinto de hilos que como manos muertas ponen una azucena como un mundo ciñendo.)
The final section, dedicated to Luis Cernuda, yet another member of his poetic group, continues the already established themes. “Salón” (“Salon”) and its party of fainting ladies recalls “El vals”; “Suicidio” (“Suicide”) expresses the poet's wish to live the eternity of love in singular form, but the world remains deaf to his pleas and his desire for a fresh juxtaposition with nature.
Open the world to me, open to me; I want to illuminate only one kiss, lips which irritate, pitiless trees.
(Abridme el mundo, abridme; quiero iluminar sólo un beso, unos labios que irritan árboles despiadados.)
In this section the fusion with nature in flux, where a human arm can weigh more than a star, takes on new dimensions. Aleixandre searches for liberty to dissolve his limits in “Libertad” (“Liberty”) and wants to become a floodtide, appearing on the beach as timid foam in “Playa ignorante” (“Ignorant Beach”). The poet hears the music of distant planets and momentarily becomes the universe, but he is frustrated in his desire to be the fish in the river. It serves him little to sink his arm in the water, for fish are not hands, and thus the poet is reminded of his tangible limits. These themes, occurring in “Con todo respeto” (“In All Respect”), “Blancura” (“Whiteness”), and “Mudo de noche” (“Mute at Night”), reach a peak in “Cada cosa, cada cosa” (“Each Thing, Each Thing”), included in the first edition of Destruction or Love, but later returned to Swords Like Lips, to which it really belongs. Aleixandre somewhat ironically investigates the limits and boundaries imposed upon him. In the remaining poems such as “Donde ni una gota de tristeza es pecado” (“Where Not Even a Drop of Sadness Is a Sin”) and “Formas sobre el mar” (“Forms on the Sea”), he looks at form and matter while continuing to plumb the limits of a world where things are fixed in immobility, but where both love and time pass.
Swords Like Lips represents imaginative fragments grounded in the visionary. Its unity depends on the poetic sensibility and interest which permeate all of Aleixandre's poetry, but unlike his following masterpiece, Destruction or Love, its totality is not greater than the sum of its parts.
Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores (Madrid, 1956), p. 15.
Gullón, “Itinerario poético de Vicente Aleixandre,” pp. 195-96.
Doreste, “La unidad poética de Aleixandre,” Insula, V, No. 50 (February, 1950), 6.
Aleixandre, Poesías completas (Madrid, 1950), p. 52. Further citations in the text are to this edition.
Gerardo Diego, “Pasión de la tierra,” Corcel, Nos. 5-6 (1944), 81. “Today these other poems are perhaps definitely lost with other papers of the poet, and I would regret it because their quality was as great as that of those chosen.”
Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 31. “It is my work closest to surrealism, although … never felt … surrealistic poet … not believed in the strictly oneiric … nor in the consequent abolition of the artistic conscience.”
Gullón, p. 204.
José Luis Cano, Poesía española del siglo veinte (Madrid, 1960), p. 299.
Luis Felipe Vivanco, Introducción a la poesía española contemporánea (Madrid, 1957), p. 342.
Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 10.
Bousoño, La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre, p. 100.
Diego, Corcel, p. 81.
Gullón, pp. 198-201.
Bleiberg, “Vicente Aleixandre y sus poemas difíciles,” Insula, V, No. 50 (February, 1950), 6.
Ibid., p. 6.
Diego, Corcel, p. 81.
Rank, The Trauma of Birth, p. 149. See also: Geza Roheim, Gates of the Dream (New York, 1952), p. 347. Roheim points out that these water beings devour their victims: “… the possible interpretation of these man-eating beings as the infant's oral aggression in talion form. …”
Lewin, “Phobic Symptoms and Dream Interpretation,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, XXII, No. 3 (July, 1952), 313.
Lewin, “Reconsiderations of the Dream Screen,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, XXII, No. 2 (1953), 187. “… the inside of a hollow space or concavity may represent the breast. …” Also Freud, The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (New York, 1938), p. 372. “… ‘wood,’ generally speaking, seems, in accordance with its linguistic relations, to represent feminine matter.”
Alonso, “Espadas como labios,” Revista de Occidente, CXIV (December, 1932), 329.
Charry Lara, pp. 20, 31.
Bousoño, La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre, p. 48.
Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos, p. 292.
Rodrigo Fernández Carvajal, Corcel, p. 107.
Leopoldo de Luis, “El sentido social en la poesía de Vicente Aleixandre,” Papeles de Son Armadans, XI, Nos. 32-33 (1958), 418.
Gullón, “Itinerario …,” p. 206.
Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos, p. 293.
Ibid., p. 327.
De Nora, “Aleixandre, renovador,” Corcel, Nos. 5-6 (1944), 95.
Barral, “Memoria de un poema,” Papeles de Son Armadans, XI, Nos. 32-33 (1958), p. 394.
Rodrigo Fernández Carvajal, p. 105.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7350
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.]
I LA DESTRUCCIóN O EL AMOR
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 expressive means of language, which characterizes the entire work of the poet. …”1
One may view Aleixandre's poetry as both a reply to nature and a call to the original forces of life. The poet offers us a visionary transfiguration of the world in flux, a world of mystery and darkness at times, whose basic fabric is erotic love. Aleixandre proclaims here his romantic concept of love and the universe and sees the latter as a place of cosmic and human passion, of a frustrated and desperate clamor, and of unchained telluric forces which often prove fatal to man, absorbing him and destroying him. For Aleixandre men can obtain love only by destroying themselves and fusing with the cosmos, for human love is fleeting, and a final fusion with the earth will prove to be the most enduring love of all. Aleixandre excludes the life beyond and salvation, for his world matter, absorbed in the living unity of nature, evokes no religious connotations.
As part of the thematic structure of the collection, Aleixandre stresses the idea that the unity of the world includes man's works and his civilization, but they remain peripheral to the primary instinctive life. Perhaps love can save him from society's mask, for love fuses all things, animal, vegetable and mineral, into one substance. But to achieve fusion one must give up his limiting structures. Thus the title involves destruction or love, that is, destruction identified as love. Concha Zardoya states it well when she says: “All is love nevertheless, and all is destroyed. A hunger of being in everything impels to that autodestruction: in order to be everything or something one stops being what one really is.”2
The animal and the vegetable world constantly interact with the thoughts and feelings of the poet. In virgin forests ferocious beasts surround man who seeks to find himself fruitlessly, half glimpsing his salvation in an identification with nature in all its forms, and thus affirming rather than denying love for all creation. Animals, the forest, and the sea live in intimate union with elementary forces of nature, and tender small animals exist with large destructive ones, the beetle and the scorpion with the cobra, the eagle, lions and tigers. Bousoño has counted some thirty-one different animals mentioned, aside from the poems entirely dedicated to specific animals, all of whom in some way identify with the rest of the world. Thus, the tiger is an elastic fire of the forest, and the eagles resemble the ocean. These animals may be virginal and innocent or terrible and destructive, as may the other aspects of nature, such as the ocean, the moon, or the heavens. And in this vision of nature as a physical whole in which violence and love are but two parts of the total picture of the primary forces of life which include the wind, the sun, hills, and animals, a fusion of things by a creative paradoxical force which impels all to fulfill itself, to integrate, to fuse in the cosmic scheme of things for a final birth or death, everything attacks, destroys and loves everything, and in so doing, loves, attacks and destroys itself. Life is death. The limits between flora and fauna disappear in a new unity; the sea's fish appear to be birds; the foam is hair; a body becomes an ocean, a heart, a mountain; man may be metal or a lion. Throughout the scheme of things the eternal temporal verities of nature and the temporal brevity of love reveal themselves, but the erotic nature is exceptionally potent and its sexual symbols are singularly discernible.
Dámaso Alonso finds a mystic pantheism in Aleixandre's work. As the mystic poets of old, in order to fuse with God, had to die in order to find eternal life, Aleixandre offers a mystic fusion or death with the sea, the earth, the maternal earth which sustains him at her breast.3 Others have commented on “the pantheistic vision of the world”4 offered by Aleixandre. Pedro Salinas sees a similar pantheism and the essential identity of love and death in the work corroborated “tragically at times … languidly … at others.”5 Man's role varies; at times he hardly exists except as a sterile impotent being. Yet he suffers anguish, and albeit pessimistically, exhibits an existential feeling and longing to be. The pessimism may stem from the long illness suffered by Aleixandre in 1932. He began to write Destruction or Love at the end of the year, and with a rebirth of energy, finished it the following one in the little town of Miraflores de la Sierra, a mountain village. He composed it, he claims, “from the central thought of the amorous unity of the universe.”6
This amorous unity, seen by most critics, impels some to insist that Aleixandre's work is neo-romantic. Pedro Salinas and Dámaso Alonso consider it passionate and romantic, and José Luis Cano states, “He does not believe it possible that any beating heart in life does not love, does not offer the gift of its blood to love … book of cosmic passion, fatal inexorable force of love … one only reaches the root of love by the self-destruction of the lover to be born—to live—in the blood of the loved being. And this human love is a simulacrum—the only possible—of total love which only in ultimate fusion with the earth—death—can be obtained. Therefore, in this book the poet identifies himself so many times with … the jungle, the light, the sea.”7 Charry Lara finds Aleixandre's position a “spiritual one confronting the problem of love. An attitude entirely romantic; the only form possible of love is pain.”8 Finally Juan Chabás, commenting on what he finds to be an instinctive and romantic exaltation stemming from Surrealism, sees in him the influence of Alberti, Neruda, and also Baudelaire and Nerval, especially in his thesis that love is no longer a fountain of life, but a destructive force of violent imprecations, a romantic world full of sobs, thorns, pain, death, dreams, tears, hearts, burning, pallor, sadness, sobbing, and suffering, all part of a romantic vocabulary where tigers are the size of hate, lions have hirsute hearts, and nature, earth, and the sea form one destructive poetic cosmos.9
Destruction or Love consists of fifty-four poems divided into six parts. Structurally, Pedro Salinas finds it difficult poetry, which rearranges normal values and confuses terms, stemming from “the new forms and lyric craving of a surrealistic type which … have encountered now … their perfection in this book of Aleixandre.”10 Yet he finds in it an internal logic which subordinates the surrealistic elements, although he comments on the rather outward use of metaphors and the poetic transpositions. For him one of the principal values of Aleixandre's book is “having given to Spanish poetry an example of an instrument of lyric expression, of magnificent verbal altitude, moving, rich, of plastic force, accurate and of sufficient subtlety to reach the highest level of the poetic state.”11
José Luis Cano, admitting the radical freedom of lyrical expression and richness and variety of lyrical elements, finds also an internal unity along with a powerful subjectivity, and a poetic world very much like that of Guillén, and “very rich in sensations of being, in life … resulting in a song full of insatiable impetus.”12 In this work one will find graceful lines of both peace and passion. Often Aleixandre's verbs will lead up to an explosive frenzy and then will give way to a lack of motion to convey peace and serenity. His adverbs and conjunctions possess unusual values.
Throughout, Aleixandre stresses a special use of the conjunction “or” as inclusive and equal rather than involving two mutually exclusive objects. Thus when he says kisses or birds, his kisses are like birds. He wants love or death, a fish or a dry moon, a body or a river, eliminating all but the one quality he wishes to emphasize. Aleixandre constantly uses negations with affirmative force: I am not the sea, I am not the sky, I'll never call the air, hands, nor the mountains, kisses.” He repeats a word or words at the beginning of successive clauses: “that water like air, that fine dust, which is stirred up, which is pacified. …” Quite often Aleixandre will sum up in a final stanza or in a recapitulated last line the central theme of the composition. Although his metaphors often have objective reality where blond hair is gold and pearls death, his special imagery also allows him to reach the sun, the moon, or the stars. Writing his poems in free verse which “only occasionally descend into rhetoric,”13 he shows little respect for traditional rhythms, “… the poet smashes to pieces the classic preceptive and breaks the syllabic harmony and logical sense of the phrases whenever in his judgment the integrity or purity of the expression demands it.”14
Dámaso Alonso sees a bond between Swords Like Lips and Destruction or Love. Both are passionate, tortured, stormy books, but the latter is far superior in “efficacy and clarity.”15 Eugenio Frutos feels that the poet achieved real authenticity only with Destruction or Love.16 Del Río views it as a desperate desire to understand the enigma of things.17 Dámaso Alonso finds it a “burning book, pierced by the darts … of a gale of a very dry summer,”18 and also one of “the most genuine books, most faithful to the eternal heart of poetry, as well as one of the richest, and pierced by universal passion which Spanish literature in these last years has produced.”19
“La selva y el mar” (“The Jungle and the Sea”) exemplifies clearly the powerful destructive force of love, as well as a formless world in flux where each being wishes somewhat existentially to be the other and through an erotic act partially discovers his real essence. Bousoño has shown, “in the act of killing which the beasts instinctively realize, Aleixandre sees the most simple form of amorous action.”20 Much as in Lorca's representation, the sword, the tusks, and the teeth are sharp instruments synonymous with death, but they and the threatening animals also represent a kind of overly energetic love which will result in the equation, previously discussed, that love equals death.
The tiger, the hunting lion, the elephant who in his tusks carries some soft collar, the cobra who resembles the most burning love, the eagle who caresses the rock like harsh brains, the small scorpion who with his claws only aspires to oppress life for an instant, the diminished presence of a body of man which will never be confused with a jungle. …
(El tigre, el león cazador, el elefante que en sus comillos lleva algún suave collar, la cobra que se parece al amor más ardiente, el áquila que acaricia a la roca como los sesos duros, el pequeño escorpión que con sus pinzas sólo aspira a oprimir un instante la vida, la menguada presencia de un cuerpo de hombre que jamás podrá ser confundido con una selva, ….)
The wild beasts kill not for hate but for love, and their powerful claws, “the love which cleaves,” seem to individualize the animals as poetic creatures as well as symbols of a desired fusion with all of creation, where “a hope ever green” is maintained. While tigers the “size of hate” and others “battle with the yellow hyena which takes the form of an insatiable setting sun,” Aleixandre also contrasts the stars and meteors with the setting sun, fusing heavenly bodies with the animals. In relating to the latter, Aleixandre substitutes unreal for real images to convey to us what reality is for him. Thus, “The beasts show their swords or teeth like the beating of a heart” creates a vision of nature which may or may not be receptive to the blandishments of man.
Throughout this poem Aleixandre uses his creatures as representing the elemental force of nature where love and death are interchangeable. The animals, as forces of fantasy, represent a form of love, but the implied sexual force may also show a passive masochistic gratification previously referred to. To wish to be eaten by menacing animals may reflect a death fantasy, and Aleixandre's ambivalent attitude clearly conveys the fusion of the Eros-Thanatos instincts. As love and fear are mixed, so Aleixandre, while scorning man and deeming animals and the natural force they represent superior, longs for the very thing he fears. Thus, just as the forest remains virginal and untouched by the impregnating sea and its life, it cannot be fertilized either by the longed-for and yet feared powerful animal forces.
The peaceful wait that ever green hope bird, paradise, pomp of untouched feathers, invents the highest branches where the tusks of music, where the powerful claws, the love which cleaves, the burning blood which gushes from the wound, will not reach, no matter how the fountain lasts, no matter how the half-opened breasts on earth project their pain or their eagerness to the blue heavens.
(La espera sosegada, esa esperanza siempre verde, pájaro, paraíso, fasto de plumas no tocadas, inventa los ramejes más altos, donde los colmillos de música, donde las garras poderosas, el amor que se clava, la sangre ardiente que brota de la herida, no alcanzará por más que el surtidor se prolongue por más que los pechos entreabiertos en tierra proyecten su dolor o su avidez a los cielos azules.)
“No busques no” (“Search Not, No”) shows a poet who has loved as never before. The woman he loves is seen as blue as the night, a place where all the beauty of life ends. Thus the living body of the woman evokes the same sensation as the night whose darkness ends the light of day. The poet strives to arouse love in “The living dryness of some withered eyes” (p. 301), but fails. As a poor man sleeps under the moon which scarcely grazes him, he vainly seeks heat, the minimum blood or tear. Aleixandre pities the poor human who, unable to fuse with the earth, cannot find love.
The following poem, “Después de la muerte” (“After Death”), seeks the reality which lives “in the depths of a sleeping kiss.” Again a sea furiously but vainly crashes against the glass which encloses him as he lies peacefully in the earth, his reality. Since in the final analysis everything happens and changes, eventually the sea will triumph, “those thick waters which like black lips now erase the difference” (pp. 303-4). “Noche sinfónica” (“Symphonic Night”) uses to good effect a stanza beginning with “Perhaps” which governs following stanzas and coordinates a series of different imagery. He achieves thus the same effect as with his equivalent “or,” employed so effectively in much of the poetry of this volume. His head may fall on a sounding turf where the tongue may be a sweet savor of violins, the breasts have the form of a harp, and the lips form an arpeggio of water.
One of the frequently anthologized poems from this collection, “Unidad en ella” (“Unity in It”), is one of the clearest statements of Aleixandre's position. From the first lines we see the mystic fusion and the human love of the poet for a loving creation.
Happy body which flows between my hands, beloved face where I contemplate the world, where graceful birds fugitively copy one another flying to the region where nothing is forgotten.
(Cuerpo feliz que fluye entre mis manos, rostro amado donde contemplo el mundo, donde graciosos pájaros se copian fugitivos, volando a la región donde nada se olvida.)
Throughout, the poet Aleixandre suggests that human love, his own love for nature, and the erotic force of nature are all fragments of the same unity, as the poet dissolves in living flesh against a cosmogonic background where nature is both destroyed and engendered. The creative force may also prove destructive in a constant interchange of cosmic human relationships. Thus, tinged with love, as he beholds his beloved, he will die and renounce life forever. While the loved one as a symbol takes a human form, these human aspects play a secondary role to cosmic infinity, and as the poet contemplates the beloved face, he seeks a special reality and passion. To love is to feel truly the limits of life and the nearness of death, and to die completely one must have passed through life, the hot blood of one lover burning that of the other. The poet exclaims:
I want love or death, I want to die completely, I want to be you, your blood, that raging lava which enclosed, irrigating beautiful extremities, feels thus the beautiful limits of life.
(Quiero amor o la muerte, quiero morir del todo, quiero ser tú, tu sangre, esa lava rugiente que regando encerrada bellos miembros extremos siente así los hermosos límites de la vida.)
The passionate call to the eternal communion of a final total love which only death can offer, reveals death transfigured into love itself. The romantic invocation continues, and in his final stanza, as is usually his custom, Aleixandre gives us the meaning and title of his work.
This kiss in your lips like a slow thorn, like a sea which flew made a mirror, like the sine of a wing, is still some hands, a review of your crackling hair, a crackling of the vengeful light, light or mortal sword which threatens at my neck, but which never can destroy the unity of this world.
(Este beso en tus labios como una lenta espina, como un mar que voló hecho un espejo, como el brillo de un ala, es todavía unas manos, un repasar de tu crujiente pelo, un crepitar de la luz vengadora, luz o espada mortal que sobre mi cuello amenaza, pero que nunca podrá destruir la unidad de este mundo.)
Thus Aleixandre in his poetic pantheism suffers a slow thorn, a carnal love, a mutual destruction and yet a fusion with the elementary aspect of the earth.
Similar themes occur and recur, emphasizing now the sea, now other natural elements, now the light, now the darkness, at times joy, at others anguish. “Sin luz” (“Without Light”) imagines a swordfish in a marine cosmos where fatality and limits rule but where there exists a desire for freedom, light, and love. In “Mina” (“Mine”), claiming he is not the sea nor sky nor world, Aleixandre identifies with the sun and becomes the sun.
In “Ven siempre, ven” (“Come Always, Come”), the last poem of the first section, an obviously erotic poem, the poet is struck by the thought of shining kisses and the idea that if he drank at that shining fountain he would have the life of a star, a star without love. He feels, nevertheless, the temptation to fuse with the loved object which brings love and death. The usual pantheistic mysticism is visible, as orgiastic Dionysian efforts to recreate reality through imagery struggle with Apollonian tendencies to control the subconscious world of fantasy. The poet becomes almost desperate, longing for love or death, as he contemplates the solitary cold and loveless stars. The poet searches for the right word to convey his thought and emotion, repeating in almost frenzied fashion and with punishing intensity, “that brilliance which … that contagious brilliance … that luminous river …” (p. 316). Identifying man with cosmic force, Aleixandre invokes the loved one, again recapitulating the theme in the final stanza.
Come, come, death, love; come soon, I destroy you; come, for I want to kill or love or die or give you all; come, for you roll like a light rock, confounded as a moon which asks for my lightnings!
(¡Ven, ven, muerte, amor; ven pronto, te destruyo; ven, que quiero matar o amar o morir o darte todo; ven, que ruedas como liviana piedra, confundida como una luna que me pide mis rayos!)
The second section continues in the same vein, stressing especially temporal matters as in “Mañana no viviré” (“Tomorrow I Shall Not Live”). The poet searches for light and love against the background of the forest and the sea in “Ven, ven tú” (“Come, Come Thou”); feels repulsion and attraction at the thought of an unyielding and eternal nature, finding optimism in the illusion of youth which conveys warm happiness, watching the flowing of time and the ebb and flow of love, an eternal river which passes constantly, in “A ti, viva” (“To You, Alive”); and discovers solidarity and mystery as he looks for answers in nature in “Quiero saber” (“I Want to Know”). Aleixandre sees the universe as a development of mysterious unknown forces, but he keeps seeking for meaning. At first he denies the identity of that force but seeks to define it, asking whether the heart is rain or a margin, and what the limits are among flowers, doubt, thirst or sun, but he concludes that “the world all is one” (p. 335).
Section Three is labeled “Elegies and Elegiac Poems.” “A la muerta” (“To the Dead Girl”) declares man's great need to love. Indeed, the poem conveys the central message, if message there is, in Destruction or Love.
To love, to love, who does not love if he is born? Who ignores that the heart has limits, has form, is tangible to the hands, to recondite kisses when one never cries?
(Amar, amar, ¿quién no ama si ha nacido?, ¿quién ignora que el corazón tiene bordes, tiene forma es tangible a las manos, a los besos recónditos cuando nunca se llora?)
In “La luz” (“The Light”), light is a loving, living form in an harmonious breast, the noise of celestial music. Aleixandre views it as a “celestial tunic which with the form of a luminous ray / caresses a forehead which lives and suffers …” (p. 343). Light is a kind of messenger, and the poet conveys the idea of striving optimistically upward. Aleixandre uses an interesting imagery transposition, for the luminous ray is not clad in a celestial tunic, but rather it is the celestial tunic which has the form of a luminous ray. In “Humana voz” (“Human Voice”) “the scar of light gives pain” (p. 345). The entire world suffers, day and night, and death is present in the room “where white doves like blood / penetrate the skin without stopping at the lips” (pp. 345-46). “Canción a una muchacha muerta” (“Song to a Dead Girl”) points out that if death is a continuation of life, then destruction or death is necessary for a complete love. The buried girl longs for life as she senses the sky and beloved feet which tread the soft turf above. “Plenitud” (“Plentitude”) exclaims that all love is truth, that “All is blood or love or beat or existence, / I am all for I feel how the world is stilled / and how thus the sob or earth gives me pain” (p. 352). In other poems of the section he visualizes the cold moon, the setting sun, and an October day, but all are within the cosmic framework of love, light, and death.
Section Four comments on his happiness as he sings to the blue heavens, to love and to existence in “La dicha” (“Happiness”), and an unjust moon, the solitude of the world, and the glory of a fragrant naked body, a fairly constant image in his work, in “Triunfo del amor” (“Triumph of Love”). “El frío” (“The Cold”), the final poem of the section, sums up both its theme and its imagery, as Aleixandre once more stresses his pantheistic mysticism. As the wind pierces his bones and the sea his veins, in a burning freezing contrast, the poet evokes the wind as a living being, a fish within its own waters, a gigantic hand which oppresses the world, and creates other analogies. Man then becomes an absolute ocean, and his body is the sea shaken by the wind, under the light of the stars. But the same wind,
Black secret wind which blows between the bones, blood of the sea I have in my closed veins absolute ocean that I am when, asleep, I irradiate green or cold a burning question. …
(Viento negro secreto que sopla entre los huesos, sangre del mar que tengo entre mis venas cerradas, océano absoluto que soy cuando, dormido, irradio verde o fría una ardiente pregunta.)
which assumes the form of a fish or a human, is finally one with man, for it exclaims “I am your shadow, a road which carries me to that limit” (p. 370).
The fifth section begins with “Soy el destino” (“I Am Destiny”), an ardent poem of implacable passion which reveals his anxiety to fuse in amorous communion with the beings who populate the earth. He wants to live like the grass, or the snow, or the coal, for he is music, an innocent bird with bloody wings, the sea, a horse, a line, a tiger, a beetle—in short, the world. “Mar en la tierra” (“Sea on Land”) is especially interesting because of its breast symbolism and suggestion of a dream screen occurrence. Throughout the poem Aleixandre seems to use the sea as a surface on which to project his images. According to the dream screen theory, the original blankness of the dreaming infant is considered as its dreaming of the breast, and the later events and situations seem projected onto this original blankness (an image of the breast during the infant's sleep) as if it were a cinematic screen.21
The resounding sea converted to a lance lies on the dryness like a drowning fish clamoring for that water that can be the kiss, that can be a breast which is ripped and flooded.
But the dry moon will not reply to the reflection of pale scales
Then the happiness, the dark happiness of dying, of understanding that the world is a grain which will dissolve, which was born for a divine water, for that immense sea which lies on the dust.
Happiness will consist in dissolving into the minuscule, in transforming into the severe thorn, remains of an ocean which disappeared as the light, a drop of sand that was a gigantic breast which upon leaving through the throat lies here like a sob.
(El resonante mar convertido en una lanza yace en lo seco como un pez que se ahoga, clama por ese agua que puede ser el beso, que puede ser un pecho que se rasgue y anegue.
Pero la seca luna no responde al reflejo de las escamas pálidas.
Entonces la dicha, la oscura dicha de morir, de comprender que el mundo es un grano que se deshará, el que nació para un agua divina, para ese mar immenso que yace sobre el polvo.
La dicha consistirá en deshacerse como lo minúsculo, en transformarse en la severa espina, resto de un océano que como la luz se marchó, gota de arena que fue un pecho gigante y que salida por la garganta como un sollozo aquí yace.)
Aleixandre's dark happiness stems from the sea which gave him birth. The “gigantic breast” gives the theoretical genetic origin of the screen, that is, the way it would look to a baby. Aleixandre's fantasy, in contrast to the general run of adult dreams in which the screen-ocean itself occupies part of the manifest content, is projected on the sea screen in many different forms at the same time. The gigantic breast which comes out of the poet's throat may be viewed as a withdrawal from the breast. The dry breast is a frustrating one and explains the “dry” ocean. A desert is, in a way, a dry ocean, and we speak of a camel as a ship of the desert. The dry moon, naturally, symbolizes the dry breast. “It is striking that the screen is frequently represented precisely as something inedible, tasteless or even disagreeable to the mouth such as a … desert, or other wastes and barren tracts.”22 Throughout the poem Aleixandre stresses the relationship of the sea and dryness. The dry moon fails to respond, and the immense sea lies on the dust. The dryness and sand represent thirst sensations, much as a gritty mouth would be projected onto the breast symbol.
The moon, love, and death continue as symbols in “La luna es una ausencia” (“The Moon Is an Absence”), “Quiero pisar” (“I Wish to Tread”), “Sólo morir de día” (“Only to Die by Day”), and “Cuerpo de piedra” (“Body of Stone”). Animals merit their own poems, in “Cobra” and “El escarabajo” (“The Beetle”).
The sixth and final section of Destruction or Love includes a series of blander images in “Nube feliz” (“Happy Cloud”), such as the “breeze in search of dawn,” and the beauty and innocence of a childhood love in “Hija de la mar” (“Daughter of the Sea”). Yet one of the most powerful projections of the love-death force is to be found in “Las águilas” (“The Eagles”). Bousoño states that “the visionary imagery, the quality which the sphere of fantasy emphasizes, will result more or less … indeterminate … determinable only in a generic and not specific way.”23 In this poem the powerful and destructive eagles, with their metal feathers, powerful claws and “that zeal for love or death” (p. 401), with their violent wings which destroy veins and section congealed blood, “break the wind into a thousand pieces, / marble or impenetrable space” (p. 402). The wind is marble to show how impenetrable space is, thus setting off the violent intensity of the eagles who are so strong that they can even destroy the impenetrable. In “La noche” (“Night”), commenting on a heart or a breathing breast which may have limits, Aleixandre sees them converted into a star in the water. Animal, vegetable, and human limits disappear, and fusion occurs as human beings abdicate their responsibility to exterior force.
The final poems of the volume recapitulate previous themes in a rising crescendo. “Se querían” (“They Loved Each Other”), listing lips, faces, moonflowers, earth, and a series of other emphasized nouns, stresses love outside of time. Filled with a languid melancholy, the poet recognizes the harsh reality of the loving lips which involve an inevitable fatality in the closed system of night which is death, and yet he sees the possibility of communication with the rest of the universe, for everywhere and at all times, day, night, twilight and dawn, on sea or on land, love abounds. “Total amor” (“Total Love”) also seems to involve an eternal love not limited by time, for the poet's body dissolves happily in the sea, finds the limits of the world like remote shores, becomes one with nature, and the sunlight on his skin, like the far-off noise of young teeth, devours its daily ration. The poet longs to live in the folds of the mountain or the sea. “Hay más” (“There Is More”) claims a kiss is a dove which becomes a whiteness between his hands, the sun is a cloud and then a heart, a dove-like winged heart capable of flight. In an unusual use of synecdoche, where the part becomes the whole, it is also a flying world with the light of a live star like a body, or two souls or a final bird. “El desnudo” (“The Naked One”) views death as the clothing, the accumulation of centuries on which a sobbing breast looks in vain for love or the naked body. “Cerrada puerta” (“Closed Door”) continues the symbols of love and death,
A hand the size of hate, a continent where veins circulate,
where love was the clashing of crashing rays on human bodies demolished on the earth.
(Una mano del tamaño del odio, un continente donde circulan venas,
donde el amor era el chocar de los rayos crujientes sobre los cuerpos humanos derribados por tierra.)
The last poem of Destruction or Love, significantly titled “La muerte” (“Death”), sums up Aleixandre's views of death as the final surrender to the nature he loves, hence the final and greatest act of love. To become one with the world through death will insure his complete liberty. In a final struggle with the sea, where names and limits cease, the poet is finally overwhelmed.
Death like a handful of sand, like the water which remains solitary in the grave, like the seagull who in the middle of the night has the color of blood on a non-existent sea.
(Muerte como el puñado de arena, como el agua que en el hoyo queda solitaria, como la gaviota que en medio de la noche tiene un color de sangre sobre el mar que no existe.)
José Luis Cano viewed the poem as of radical liberty in lyrical expression, and his “amorous poetics, his conception of love, as a copy or essential form of death.”24
II MUNDO A SOLAS
Mundo a solas (World Alone), begun in 1934 and finished in 1936, originally bore the title of Destino del hombre (Destiny of Man). The Civil War kept it from being published, and it did not appear until 1950 in a very limited edition. Aleixandre feels it is a transition work, “segregated—degraded—man—of his primordial elementality, distant and extinguished the dawn of the universe … is what is sung in this book, perhaps the most pessimistic … of the poet.”25 Possibly the least known of his works, it is still filled with furious birds, wounding metal, frenzy, violence, tormented love, a world in which man is a vague shadow, but it also contains a virginal world of light and purity, to be so much a theme in his next work. Man is unworthy of living in a beautiful world because he destroys nature and his fellow man. The world, lacking a perfected logical order, still forms part of the destructive impulse, but the poetry involves “a first and powerful approach of the poet to human life.”26
Yet it appears to be an imperfect approach to humanity. The world the poet portrays is an anguished one where humans are incapable of reaching paradise, a shadow world which might have been, a world where the moon, queen of death, reigns. Man is not kind and rejects the consolation or salvation which nature may offer. Thus the world is a terrible place, for man has not taken advantage of his opportunities. As the editorial note which precedes it says, it is a “terrible world, the world alone, without containing in its breast a perfect man, but what might have been and was not, the remains which an outraged life has left.”
The volume contains only seventeen poems, a number of them previously published in literary reviews, in three sections, headed by a quotation from Quevedo, the great Spanish satirist, “Life lies enveloped in a dark forgetfulness” (p. 419). In the first part of the collection, the poet seems to reject civilization and seek cosmic unity. Man's presence is a mistake in this almost frozen world. In the second part, a loveless moon skims through a loveless world, for nobody can recognize love when it approaches on silent stars or invisible roads—nobody, that is, but the poet. The poems interchange between those of beauty and light and love, and those where indifferent suns and cold moons rule a desolate humanless world.
Concha Zardoya sees World Alone as a world given us like “a growth of tall trees without underbrush, not of natural elements, but of men.”27 Ventura Doreste feels that the poet identifies human life with evil and cruelty, an “attitude which is only the result of an excessive love.”28 Bousoño comments on the stupor and astonishment at the appearance of Shadow of Paradise six years before World Alone, its originality, and its explosion of serene, sweet and placid clarity. He considers World Alone the connecting link between Destruction or Love and Shadow of Paradise in its combination of exclamatory sentences with those of great simplicity.29 An ABC review of World Alone, stressing this latter aspect, found in it “a classical tradition which gives strict continuity to his poetry … the language, patently rich, precise, profound.”30
“No existe el hombre” (“Man Does Not Exist”), the first poem, sets the mood. The poet contemplates the world around him and finds that only the ghost of man, residual man who might have been, exists. Only the moon suspects the truth of man's non-existence, and it sees that inevitable death impedes man's progress to paradise. The moon rises from a limited sea in pursuit of the bones, of what once were man's veins and blood, “But man does not exist, / He has never existed” (p. 424).
“El árbol” (“The Tree”) is one which never sleeps. Unable to cast shade on non-existent mortals, it becomes a thigh reared from the earth, ever green, satisfied to be a tree. “Bulto sin amor” (“Loveless Bundle”) finds no love in the loved one's body. The poet exclaims:
I loved you … I do not know, I do not know what is love. I suffered you gloriously like blood itself, like the painful hammer which makes one live and kills.
(Te amé … No sé. No sé qué es el amor. Te padecí gloriosamente como a la sangre misma, como el doloroso martillo que hace vivir y mata.)
Feeling that life is death and love a daily dying, he finds the earth indifferent to his kisses. Unable to love his loved one, he clutches a stone as though it were a bird, but finds only the harsh mountain, for his beloved is a shadow sharing the common non-existence of man on earth. “Pájaro sin descenso” (“Bird Without Descent”) shows us escaping birds almost desires or foam, leaves of a radiantly beautiful sky. But man ignores the sea, the beach, a bit of grass, and cannot recognize the birds and life. The poem exudes graceful vigor and tenderness, but reveals a man still inert. In “Bajo la tierra” (“Under the Earth”) Aleixandre knows that heaven exists. One lives beneath the earth with the rock and dark skyless water, and deeper yet can undergo a purifying fire, one normally forbidden to man. In “Humano ardor” (“Human Ardor”), the final poem of this section, knowing that love is death, he still loves the form which may never become human.
In the second section, in “Ya no es posible” (“No Longer Is It Possible”), Aleixandre has a tragic moon which casts its shadow on a loveless world; in “El sol victorioso” (“The Victorious Sun”), he shows a powerful cosmos which crushes great mountains, a killing sun from which he seeks death; in “Al amor” (“To Love”) he reveals love's naked presence without artifice or cosmetics; it arrives in many ways, not as a river, nor the terrible beauty of the forests, but rather as the simple quiet of mountains. Nobody knows this love which comes on silent steps and invisible roads, but the poet feels her: “But I felt you, I saw you, I guessed you” (p. 442). Along with the terror goes the happiness, warmth, and light, such a central part of Shadow of Paradise. “Filo del amor” (“Edge of Love”) allows the loved one to assume its cosmic form in all sizes and shapes, as a mountain, a rose, a butterfly, a pile of nubile wheat; in spite of destroying light, living lovers kiss.
The third section approaches most clearly the themes of Shadow of Paradise. In “Mundo inhumano” (“Inhuman World”) elemental creatures and the forces of nature predominate. Man's supposed civilizing influence damages nature, which rejects him. The poet must then seek his identity in a hostile world with joys which mortals cannot know, where there is no night and where death clamors against life in vain. Walled off from this happy world to which he cannot aspire, man withers and is destroyed. “Tormento del amor” (“Torment of Love”) shows the poet's love for a beautiful woman, but being human and mortal, by definition she is evil. Anguished at not knowing who he is in the blood-stained world, where he cannot hear his voice in the thunder “nor the bloody rain which tints the grass which has grown / between my feet bitten by a river of teeth?”, the poet wants to know who he is and whom he loves.
The poet realizes the limits of his love, its cruelty, and his own frustration and impotence. “Guitarra o luna” (“Guitar or Moon”) portrays a moon fatal to the poet, for its mere cold touch spells danger. As the moon sings her song of death, animals bathe in her changing light where man does not exist. The moon moans disconsolately as she fruitlessly seeks a life not yet on earth, sadly becoming a tragic guitar. “Amor iracundo” (“Irate Love”) pictures a beautiful woman, loved like the noonday sun, like a shadow, a lightning flash, like the sea and the beach; she is both light and blood, cruelty and lies, and life. “Nadie” (“Nobody”) projects man into the solitary world where he partakes of the elemental cosmos. The poet, crossing rivers like panthers sleeping in the shade, hearing the unhearable howl of night, crossing the forests, breaking branches with his forehead, contemplates the heavens, but he can communicate with nobody in an empty world. In the final poem, “Los cielos” (“The Heavens”), he advises one to search for life beneath the sea, which sustains the heavens, a breast of love, on its arms. But the heavens, the luminous unmoving heavens, do not smile, nor fly; they are for eyes and ears where “the moon moans enclosed in air, in pure air” (p. 460), and man, sadly, is dead. Concha Zardoya feels that this collection “closes the door of chaos and opens the door of Paradise, or perhaps, just the opposite, if we want to find in it a more exact meaning within the Aleixandrine cosmic conception.”31
Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos, p. 327.
Concha Zardoya, “Los tres mundos de Vicente Aleixandre,” Revista Hispánica Moderna, XX (1954), p. 67.
Alonso, Corcel, Nos. 5-6, p. 88.
Concha Zardoya, Poesía española contemporánea (Madrid, 1961), p. 411.
Salinas, Literatura española del siglo XX (Mexico, 1949), p. 213.
Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 57.
Cano, “El amor en la poesía de Vicente Aleixandre,” Corcel, Nos. 5-6 (1944), p. 97.
Charry Lara, p. 28.
Juan Chabás, Literatura española contemporánea (Havana, 1952), p. 543.
Salinas, Literatura española del siglo XX, p. 211.
Ibid., p. 219.
Cano, Corcel, p. 86.
Times Literary Supplement, “Poetry of the Dispersion,” 776.
Nora, “Forma poética y cosmovisión en la obra de Vicente Aleixandre,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 7 (January, 1949), 117.
Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos, p. 294.
Eugenio Frutos, “Las poesías completas de Vicente Aleixandre,” Indice, XV, Nos. 150-51 (1961), 30.
Angel del Río, “La poesía surrealista de Vicente Aleixandre,” Revista Hispánica Moderna, II (1935), 22.
Alonso, “La destrucción o el amor,” Revista de Occidente, CXLIV (June, 1935), 331.
Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos, p. 303.
Carlos Bousoño, La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre, p. 234.
Lewin, “Phobic Symptoms and Dream Interpretation,” p. 313.
Lewin, “Reconsiderations of the Dream Screen,” p. 187.
Bousoño, La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre, p. 23.
Cano, Corcel, p. 86.
Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 93.
Ventura Doreste, “Aspectos de Aleixandre,” Insula, XV, No. 167 (October, 1960), 1.
Concha Zardoya, “Los tres mundos de Vicente Aleixandre,” p. 70.
Doreste, “Aspectos de Aleixandre,” p. 6.
Bousoño, “Un nuevo libro de Aleixandre,” Insula, V, No. 53 (1950), 2, 7.
Melchor Fernández Almagro, “Mundo a solas,” ABC (May 14, 1950), 27.
Concha Zardoya, Poesía española contemporánea, p. 452.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2356
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 its eminently open and liberal outlook. My restless spirit led me to practice contradictory professions. I was a teacher of mercantile law, an employee in a railway company, a financial journalist. From early youth this restlessness of which I have spoken lifted me to one particular delight: reading and, in time, writing. At the age of 18 the apprentice poet began to write his first verses, sketched out in secret amid the turmoil of a life which, because it had not yet found its true axis, I might call adventurous. The destiny of my life, its direction, was determined by a bodily weakness. I became seriously ill, of a chronic complaint. I had to abandon all my other concerns, those which I might call corporal, and to retreat to the countryside far from my former activities. The vacuum thus created was soon invaded by another activity which did not call for physical exertion and could easily be combined with the rest that the doctors had ordered me to take. This unforgettable, all-conquering invasion was the practice of letters; poetry occupied to the full the gap in activity. I began to write with complete dedication and it was then, only then, that I became possessed by the passion which was never to leave me.
Hours of solitude, hours of creation, hours of meditation. Solitude and meditation gave me an awareness, a perspective which I have never lost: that of solidarity with the rest of mankind. Since that time I have always proclaimed that poetry is communication, in the exact sense of that word.
Poetry is a succession of questions which the poet constantly poses. Each poem, each book is a demand, a solicitation, an interrogation, and the answer is tacit, implicit, but also continuous, and the reader gives it to himself through his reading. It is an exquisite dialogue in which the poet questions and the reader silently gives his full answer.
I wish I could find fitting words to describe what a Nobel Prize means to the poet. It cannot be done; I can only assure you that I am with you body and soul, and that the Nobel Prize is as it were the response, not gradual, not tacit, but collected and simultaneous, sudden, of a general voice which generously and miraculously becomes one and itself answers the unceasing question which it has come to address to mankind. Hence my gratitude for this symbol of the collected and simultaneous voice to which the Swedish Academy has enabled me to listen with the senses of the soul for which I here publicly render my devoted thanks.
On the other hand, I consider that a prize such as I have received today is, in all circumstances, and I believe without exception, a prize directed to the literary tradition in which the author concerned—in this case myself—has been formed. For there can be no doubt that poetry, art, are always and above all tradition, and in that tradition each individual author represents at most a modest link in the chain leading to a new kind of aesthetic expression; his fundamental mission is, to use a different metaphor, to pass on a living torch to the younger generation which has to continue the arduous struggle. We can conceive of a poet who has been born with the highest talents to accomplish a destiny. He will be able to do little or nothing unless he has the good fortune to find himself placed in an artistic current of sufficient strength and validity. Conversely, I think that a less gifted poet may perhaps play a more successful role if he is lucky enough to be able to develop himself within a literary movement which is truly creative and alive. In this respect I was born under the protection of benign stars inasmuch as, during a sufficiently long period before my birth, Spanish culture had undergone an extremely important process of swift renewal, a development which I think is no secret to anyone. Novelists such as Galdós; poets like Machado, Unamuno, Juan Ramón Jiménez and, earlier, Bécquer; philosophers like Ortega y Gasset; prose writers such as Azorín and Baroja; dramatists such as Valle-Inclán; painters like Picasso and Miró; composers such as Falla: such figures do not just conjure themselves up, nor are they the products of chance. My generation saw itself aided and enriched by this warm environment, by this source, by this enormously fertile cultural soil, without which perhaps none of us would have become anything.
From the tribune in which I now address you I should like therefore to associate my words with this generous nursery ground of my compatriots who from another era and in the most diverse ways formed us and enabled us, myself and my friends of the same generation, to reach a place from which we could speak with a voice which perhaps was genuine or was peculiar to ourselves.
And I do not refer only to these figures which constitute the immediate tradition, which is always the one most visible and determinative. I allude also to the other tradition, the one of the day before yesterday, which though more distant in time was yet capable of establishing close ties with ourselves; the tradition formed by our classics from the Golden Age, Garcilaso, Fray Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz, Góngora, Quevedo, Lope de Vega, to which we have also felt linked and from which we have received no little stimulation. Spain was able to revive and renew herself thanks to the fact that, through the generation of Galdós, and later through the generation of 1898, she as it were opened herself, made herself available, and as a result of this the whole of the nourishing sap from the distant past came flowing towards us in overwhelming abundance. The generation of 1927 did not wish to spurn anything of the great deal that remained alive in this splendid world of the past which suddenly lay revealed to our eyes in a lightning flash of uninterrupted beauty. We rejected nothing except what was mediocre; our generation tended towards affirmation and enthusiasm, not to scepticism or taciturn restraint. Everything that was of value was of interest to us, no matter whence it came. And if we were revolutionaries, if we were able to be that, it was because we had once loved and absorbed even those values against which we now reacted. We supported ourselves firmly on them in order to brace ourselves for the perilous leap to meet our destiny. Thus it should not surprise you that a poet who began as a surrealist today presents a defense of tradition. Tradition and revolution—here are two words which are identical.
And then there was the tradition, not vertical but horizontal, which came to help us in the form of a stimulating and fraternal competition from our flanks, from the side of the road we were pursuing. I refer to that other group of young people (when I too was young) who ran with us in the same race. How fortunate I was to be able to live and to mold myself in the company of poets so admirable as those I came to know and devote myself to with the right of a contemporary! I loved them dearly, every one. I loved them precisely because I was seeking something different, something which it was only possible to find through differences and contrast in relation to these poets, my comrades. Our nature achieves its true individuality only in community with others, face to face with our neighbors. The higher the quality of the human environment in which our personality is formed, the better it is for us. I can say that here, too, I have had the good fortune to be able to realize my destiny through communion with one of the best companies of men of which it is possible to conceive. The time has come to name this company in all its multiplicity: Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, Manuel Altolaguirre, Emilio Prados, Dámaso Alonso, Gerardo Diego, Luis Cernuda.
I speak then of solidarity, of communion, as well as of contrast. If I do so, it is because such has been the feeling that has been most deeply implanted on my soul, and it is its heartbeat that, in one way or another, can be heard most clearly behind the greater part of my verse. It is therefore natural that the very way in which I look upon humanity and poetry has much to do with this feeling. The poet, the truly determinative poet, is always a revealer; he is, essentially, a seer, a prophet. But his “prophecy” is of course not a prophecy about the future; for it may have to do with the past: it is a prophecy without time. Illuminator, aimer of light, chastiser of mankind, the poet is the possessor of a Sesame which in a mysterious way is, so to speak, the word of his destiny.
To sum up, then, the poet is a man who was able to be more than a man: for he is in addition a poet. The poet is full of “wisdom”; but this he cannot pride himself on, for perhaps it is not his own. A power which cannot be explained, a spirit, speaks through his mouth: the spirit of his race, of his peculiar tradition. He stands with his feet firmly planted on the ground, but beneath the soles of his feet a mighty current gathers and is intensified, flowing through his body and finding its way through his tongue. Then it is the earth itself, the deep earth, that flames from his glowing body. But at other times the poet has grown, and now towards the heights, and with his brow reaching into the heavens, he speaks with a starry voice, with cosmic resonance, while he feels the very wind from the stars fanning his breast. All is then brotherhood and communion. The tiny ant, the soft blade of grass against which his cheek sometimes rests, these are not distinct from himself. And he can understand them and spy out their secret sound, whose delicate note can be heard amidst the rolling of the thunder.
I do not think that the poet is primarily determined by his goldsmith's work. Perfection in his work is something which he hopes gradually to achieve, and his message will be worth nothing if he offers mankind a coarse and inadequate surface. But emptiness cannot be covered up by the efforts of a polisher, however untiring he may be.
Some poets—this is another problem and one which does not concern expression but the point of departure—are poets of “minorities.” They are artists (how great they are does not matter) who owe their individuality to devoting themselves to exquisite and limited subjects, to refined details (how delicate and profound were the poems that Mallarmé devoted to fans!), to the minutely savored essence in individuals expressive of our detail-burdened civilization.
Other poets (here, too, their stature is of no importance) turn to what is enduring in man. Not to that which subtly distinguishes but to that which essentially unites. And even though they see man in the midst of the civilization of his own times, they sense all his pure nakedness radiating immutably from beneath his tired vestments. Love, sorrow, hate or death are unchanging. These poets are radical poets and they speak to the primary, the elemental in man. They cannot feel themselves to be the poets of “minorities.” Among them I count myself.
And therefore a poet of my kind has what I would call a communicative vocation. He wants to make himself heard from within each human breast, since his voice is in a way the voice of the collective, the collective to which the poet for a moment lends his passionate voice. Hence the necessity of being understood in languages other than his own. Poetry can only in part be translated. But from this zone of authentic interpretation the poet has the truly extraordinary experience of speaking in another way to other people and being understood by them. And then something unexpected occurs: the reader is installed, as through a miracle, in a culture which in large measure is not his own but in which he can nevertheless feel without difficulty the beating of his own heart, which in this way communicates and lives in two dimensions of reality: its own and that conferred on it by the new home in which it has been received. What has been said remains equally true if we turn it around and apply it not to the reader but to the poet who has been translated into another language. The poet, too, feels himself to be like one of those figures encountered in dreams, which exhibit, perfectly identified, two distinct personalities. Thus it is with the translated author, who feels within himself two personae: the one conferred on him by the new verbal attire which now covers him and his own genuine persona which, beneath the other, still exists and asserts itself.
Thus I conclude by claiming for the poet a role of symbolic representation, enshrining as he does in his own person that longing for solidarity with humankind for which precisely the Nobel Prize was founded.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6414
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 imaginative homogeneity of its diction. This substructure of vision and diction on which the poetry of this period rests is the result of an ongoing evolution in which each book becomes an outgrowth of the former one; that is, a lyrical step forward which, deriving from the earlier work, consolidates a new poetic vision. This evolution, however, is interrupted with the appearance of Shadow of Paradise, a work which, although it remains within the cosmic and elemental vision of the others, stylistically represents a change which had not previously occurred, for example, between Passion of the Earth and Swords like Lips, or between the latter and Destruction or Love, the work immediately preceding Shadow of Paradise.
There is no doubt that Aleixandre's silence between 1933 and 1944 led critics to suspect some sort of poetic crisis in the writer.3 But these speculations disappear with the publication of World Alone in 1950. Aleixandre says in the introductory note that this book was composed between 1934 and 1936, that is, between Destruction or Love and Shadow of Paradise. The author also explains that although “chronologically it antecedes it [Shadow of Paradise] in composition and therefore in style, in the development of a world to be expressed it is later.”4 In his note to My Best Poems, he adds that World Alone is “perhaps the most pessimistic” of his books.5 This idea has been misinterpreted by critics as they attempt to deal with the whole as a simple negative canto and nothing more. The reason for this pessimism has not been explained nor have the other elements been explored. These new elements not only enrich the book's cosmovision but also make of this cosmovision a thematic outgrowth of the previously mentioned first period.
Seventeen poems were included in the first edition. Later one was added for the publication of the Complete Works, “Final fire,” and three more for the edition which in 1970 Aleixandre stated was the “complete” one: “In a Cemetery,” “Smoke and Earth,” and “Fallen Moon.” In the first poem, “Final Fire,” hope and even the certainty of surviving the final fire of death is found in love:
You are as beautiful as the hope of living yet. As the certainty of loving you day after day.
Little girl small or sweet who are love or life, a promise when the fire nears, a promise of living, of living in May, without having those flames which are burning the world reduce you to nothing. …
In the other three, especially in “In a Cemetery” and “Fallen Moon,” the poetic vision is more ambiguous and severe because of the opposition of elements of life and death in the same equation and because of the juxtaposition of doubt and anguish with the drive to survive and integrate himself with the cosmos, expressed in “In a Cemetery” as follows:
I still live, yes. I still live and seek earth, earth in my arms, while all the air is filled with its dark birds,
The poet feels that his cosmic reintegration achieved through death divests it of its negative nature. These four poems do not alter the general spirit of the book; they broaden it by adding new visions which emanate from its matrix: the being and the cosmos in their union and disunion.
The circumstances surrounding this work (the year of its publication, the apparent complications which its style represents in the poetic development of Aleixandre and the late—1970—inclusion of poems to complete it) have kept it from having the same popularity and impact as the earlier books.6 Also the enthusiasm and “stupefaction”7 produced by Shadow of Paradise overshadowed its importance. But, as will be seen in this study, World Alone is intrinsically as artistic as the works published just before and after it.
There are three thematic currents in World Alone: love, the cosmos and man. Although it is impossible to separate one from the other, for the sake of clarity we shall try to study them separately here.
A) Love. The poet comes to feel or to comprehend that love is a means of knowing, a means of salvation and therefore a means of fulfillment. He comes to comprehend that love is knowing, not by reflecting on such a possibility, but by loving, by giving oneself over to one's marvelous fate or destiny which is to become elemental, as stated in “Form without Love”:
I loved you … I don't know. I don't know what love is. I suffered you gloriously like blood itself, like the painful hammer which gives life and kills.
I felt daily that life is death. I knew what it is to love because I died every day.
But I never died. One does not die. One dies … One dies on an emptiness, on an unloving shoulder. On an earth indifferent to the very kiss.
He does not know what love is; what he does know is that by suffering it, by dying, which is to say by living, he can know what it is to love. By living or dying or loving he comes to know himself. His existence would be a useless vacuum if he did not love. The blood which loves and the hammer which kills are on the same symbolic level. Death (unloving) is found only in an emptiness, on a sterile shoulder or on an indifferent world which ignores the dimension of a kiss. Time is introduced to intensify love: “I felt daily that life is death. / I knew what it is to love because I died every day (italics mine).” As a result, love comes to be a means of salvation when death or the indifferent world which is “burning up” becomes an immediate threat to the being. This is one of the underlying concepts of “Final Fire.” In this poem, “the hope of living yet” is the “little girl small or sweet” with whom the self desires to unite in one single light or “swords in the shadow which motionless will burn up, / will melt united when the flames come.” The world aflame which groans and perishes is paradoxically the salvation of the lovers because in their almost mystical union they create a new fusion or unity of loving transubstantiation: that of the sword which melts united.
Besides the concept of love as a means of knowledge and salvation, there are other conceptual components. On the one hand, there is the mysterious transformation of love into negative death with the concommitant metaphysical melancholy of the poet because of this change; on the other hand, there is the indifference of the world to the presence of and even to the call of love which requires the being to love. The disconsolate poet becomes irritated in the face of the indolent heart which does not respond. The complexity which these components add to the thematic vision of the book derives from the antithetical nature of love which comes, meets the lover, and abandons him, and from the love which, in coming, invites and is ignored by the lover. Furthermore, there is a painful double tension which is inferred from the conflict underlying each conceptual component within itself and from the antithetical relationship with each other: love comes, possesses the being and then abandons him; love comes and the being does not respond. This tension is one of the internal forces which forges the bitter and pessimistic character of World Alone.
The poems which develop the first thematic aspect or component are “Form without Love,” “Storm of Love,” “Angry Love,” and “Human Burning”; those which develop the second one are “Edge of Love” and “To Love.”8 Among the poems of the first group “Angry Love” adds a new twist to the poet's insistence on love when it is discovered that “she” is the destructive “light and darkness”:
You were the light; the anger, the blood, the cruelty, the lie you were. You, life which creaks in the bones, flowers, sending forth by fistfuls their aromas. Birds that enter through the eyes and blind the man, nude upon the earth, who looks.
But the lie he discovers in her will not overcome him; to the contrary, he will continue forward with greater impetus as if trying to redeem her and exalt his own self:
I love you; I loved you, I loved you! I have loved you. I shall love you the way the body without skin bleeds, like the last pure stripping of the flesh that feeds the rivers reddened by anger.
It is important to point out that the negative character of this poem is suggested in its first lines: “I loved you the way one loves the furious light of a vibrant noon, / summer that hurts like a red whip.” It is the same whip which at the end will leave him without skin but insisting in his loving desire.9 In comparison with this desperate situation, in “To Love” he goes on to lament the indifference and the indolence of the world's silence toward love which invites:
But you came imitating the simple quiet of the Mountain. You came the way the warm feather falls from a shaken sky. The way a rose grows in blind hands. The way a bird spurts from an adored mouth. Just like a heart beats against another breast.
The sweet, tender, cosmic elementalness of love which has just arrived is supreme. The metaphors the poet uses to capture the nature of love and its manner of coming are effective: the mountain, the feather, the rose, the bird and the heart. All suggest elementalness and variety which are joined into one single loving unit. How does it come? Like the simple peace and quiet of the mountain, like the smooth and slow falling of the feather, like the sudden bursting forth of a bird and like the quick beating of a loving heart upon another. But this whole gift of loving grace will be ignored by man: “No one, no one knows you, oh Love, who arrive by a silence ladder, / by a road from another land invisible.” But the poet transcends this ignorance and states clearly: “I felt you, I saw you, I divined you.” He cannot be confused with the rest which is a formless mass, deaf to the outcry of the blood. From this point of view, love turns into the most effective means for the poet's individual affirmation and fulfillment as a man and as an artist:
B) The cosmos. In World Alone Aleixandre presents the cosmos as a refuge for the being who flees the indifferent world which, like Nineveh, burns sulphuriously, and also is the painful echo or reflection of the human void. The cosmic refuge can be 1) up above as described in “The Skies,” “Smoke and Earth,” “Birds without Descent,” “The Victorious Sun” and “Celestial Freedom,” whose last strophe reads.:
Round clear sky in which to live flying, in which to sing fluttering eyes that shine, in which to feel blood like blue firmament that circulates joyously copying free worlds!
Up above one lives, one sings, one feels; the being circulates freely like blood. In “Smoke and Earth,” he makes the same reference but with a painful reserve in his soul:
I am the trace of an ended pain. I am the greeting to the purest atmosphere, to that transparent blue which like one single hand feels a silent smoke on its eternal skin.
2) Refuge is found in the depths of the earth, as is suggested in “Under the Earth,” in that:
No. I am the dark shadow which, among the roots of the trees coils like a serpent making music. A serpent thick like a tree trunk under earth breathes without imagining the grass.
At the end, the poet accuses those who live above of not feeling or knowing the destiny of man. 3) Refuge is found in the sea, as expressed in “Birds without Descent” and in “The Skies,” whose title contrasts paradoxically with the content of the poem in that the sea, not the sky, is exalted:
Robust the sea rises without wings to love you, oh gradual sky where no one has lived.
Robust, alien, like a Titan it holds up a whole sky or a breast of love in its arms.
The poet also laments because man without love, indifferent, does not feel the presence of this refuge. This he does in one of the most beautiful and expressive stanzas of “Birds without Descent”:
That is why, stretched out here, on the beach. Stretched out there afterwards on the hard road. Stretched out beyond, on the enormous mountain, a man is unaware of the kind green of the seas, he is unaware of its melodious and empty surf and he does not know the eternal cannon of its foam.
Besides his own lament, he has the sea punish the man by casting him far away: here on the beach, there on the road, and beyond on the mountain. By using the adverbs here, there, beyond, the sea's rejection becomes visualized.
3) The last cosmic refuge is the breast of the east, stated in “Inhuman World”:
Everything flies ceaselessly on the way to the east, on the way to the fast air towards the breast. There there are no birds but the clouds roll on as cautious as the foam of a total ocean.
There, there, among the clear joys of that blue unknown by mortal men, …
The poetic vision derives from the perspective of the western light through which everything flies toward the east, that is, toward the breast of the night unfelt by man.
If the poet takes pleasure in discovering these cosmic refuges (the breast of the heavens, of the earth, of the sea and of the night), at the same time he feels a great solitude because of the absence of the world which he imagines in the distance from his refuge. In itself, the refuge is not a total communion. Thus, in that east which is the night, “there beats a sea which is not blood.” In the breast of the earth it is not possible to imagine the life above; it is not perceived that “up above and free their petals / are pink, yellow, carmin or innocent.” In the sea, life means only “an unstable flash, / deep darkness for a single breast.” If the air is “greeting to the purest atmosphere,” it is also “the trace of an ended pain” or a “silent smoke.” This tension is another one of the internal forces which makes this book bitter, as clearly indicated in the title itself: World Alone.
Having examined the theme of the cosmos as a refuge for the being who flees the indifferent and unloving world, we must study the cosmos as an echo or a reflection of the emptiness of the world. Like this empty world, natural elements also manifest coldness and indifference toward love and life. “Guitar or Moon,” “It is No Longer Possible” and “Fallen Moon” are the poems which typify this attitude. In the latter:
the moon, trackless, rolls like doubt, imitating a pain, a farewell to kisses, imitating a sadness revealed by dropping the head on the breast, feigning that lilly torn off by the wind.
the moon feigns a pain it has never felt. It is a “terrible eye that does not shine, / because it looks within, abyss of the night, / the way dull steel that rolls looks.” The moon is a lie, a void “like a severed hand / which held in its fingers a broken ring.” All of the linguistic elements which make up this composition accumulate to express sharply the same negative idea; the same impact is felt in “It Is No Longer Possible.” Here, the poet's pain and anger overflow to such a degree that he says “let the moon roll through the stones of the sky / like an already dead arm without an inflamed rose.” Man and moon are placed on the same conceptual and symbolic level:
But the moon is a bare bone with no accent. It is not a voice, it is not a celestial cry. It is its hard hollow, a wall where they resounded, thick walls where the sound of kisses used to break.
In the moon, the memories of a dead love only echo. Most likely these were the poems which led the critics to oversimplify the complexity and the importance of this book.
C) Man. Following our analysis of love and the cosmos, little remains to be said about man, given that the study of the former themes involved the study of man. Still, this is the thematic course most decried by the critics who, basing themselves on such obvious poems as “Man Doesn't Exist” (the first in the book), “Inhuman World” and “Nobody”, concluded that the work was pessimistic without examining the complexity of it. What is important is to discover why and how it is pessimistic. Aleixandre's visonary world in this book is not merely a pessimistic outcry. Each poem presents a variation of the same symphony of despair; each piece comprises an expansion which complements, contradicts, questions, and endows the whole with a vital and artistic complexity.
Having studied the three thematic visions of World Alone, it is necessary now to analyze the technical elaboration of these themes, especially the various metaphoric forms and their effects.
A) Metaphoric contrasts. Frequently there appears at the beginning and end of the poem a chain of metaphors which through their poetic and real nature contrast with each other to such a degree that they seem to negate each other. The purpose is clear: to express the painful tension of the poet facing his intuition of the vision and to instill in the reader the unresolvable doubt inherent in the intuition. The first and next-to-last strophes of “Human Burning” exemplify this tension:
Calm ship which floats along a river, at times I wonder if your body is a bird. At times if it is water, water or the river itself; but always I embrace you like a voice between lips.
But you who rest here the way light rests on a summer afternoon, you are proud like nakedness without trees, violent like the reddened moon and burning like the river evaporated by a volcano.
In the first strophe, her loving serenity and calm are what fascinate and confuse the poet: She is “a calm ship,” “bird,” “water,” “river,” “voice between lips.” These five metaphors are so interrelated that they lose their individuality and forge one single idea and emotion: peace and innocence. The elemental nature of the bird, the water, the river and the voice is transmitted to the ship turning it into a cosmic element. Although the ship is a product of man, the imagery makes it elemental through its contact with the calm the other images suggest.
To present a conceptual and an emotional antithesis, in the ending strophe, the beloved is the opposite: proud, violent and inflamed. These negative qualities stated in a first degree of a comparison will be raised to a second degree of intensity so that the contrast with the former calm becomes sharper. Her pride is compared with the treeless nakedness: sterile, monotonous, egocentric earth. Her violence is not loving but sterile like the anger of the “reddened moon.” This is not the desired and loving violence which is perceived, for example, in “To Love”: “violent like doves who love, / cooing like those beasts unextinguished by a sunset.” Here it is uselessly inflamed like a river full of lava and smoke which, in contrast with the first river, cannot be navigated. The clarity and innocence of the first river reflects the clarity and innocence of the water. The second, however, has lost even its river-qualities. The smooth serene rhythm of the first lines contrasts with the brusk irregularity of the end lines. In sum, these are the antitheses which create the painful tension of this poem. It is important to point out that the “but” in the next-to-the-last strophe differs from the “but” which begins the last one: the first suggests the poet's confusion because of the change in his beloved, the second, resignation.
B) Metaphoric layering. Although this technical device is not, of course, exclusive to Aleixandre, it is important to explore how he uses it and what its effects are and herein lies his originality. This device is also typical of the Generation of '27 and of 17th century Spanish poetry. What happens with this linguistic device is that, using A. I. Richard's terminology, the vehicle of the first figurative level, becomes the tenor of the second; the vehicle of the second, in turn, becomes the tenor of the third which, in order to express it, has introduced a new vehicle.10 The poet says in “Under the Earth”:
No. I am the dark shadow which, among the roots of the trees coils like a serpent making music. A serpent thick like a tree trunk under earth breathes without imagining the grass.(11)
There is a linking together of three metaphors whose tenors are transformed into vehicles in order to lead into the following figurative level. 1) The being is like the shadow which goes through the roots of trees. The idea of life begins to emerge because of the direct association of the shadow with the roots, the dark shadow ceases being that and becomes paradoxically luminous. 2) The shadow is like a musical serpent; that is, it has overcome the silence of the shadow. Furthermore, its vitality is communicated by means of music. 3) The musical serpent is thick like a trunk which breathes in order to nourish the tree. Again vitality is communicated. The two extremes, the being and the tree, expressed by a chain of transmitting metaphors, form a vital cycle. This chain is particularly reinforced by the long presence of the serpent which carries life from the being to the tree. Each metaphor linked to the previous one interconnects all the lines and, similarly, makes the entire strophe a continuous communication of life and love. The effect of this metaphoric layering produces an artistic and a conceptual pleasure. Hence, its unique use is original. It is not a mere technical virtuosity on the part of Aleixandre, but rather a necessary form of expression. This uninterrupted communication of life required such layering so that each level introduces into the next its tenor to be converted into a vehicle and thus continue the figurative layering.
C) Metaphoric proliferation. Aleixandre's poetry and especially his first period is primarily characterized by its imaginative force which pours forth with effusion—and with great artistic control—an abundance of metaphors. This is a typical of Destruction or Love, Swords like Lips (both before World Alone), and in Shadow of Paradise (after World Alone) it diminishes without disappearing altogether. This technique is still widely utilized in World Alone;12 as exemplified in “Birds without Descent”:
A blonde hair waves. Remote beaches can be seen, happy clouds, a wind so golden That it would connect bodies on the pure sand. Birds without descent flee through the blue. They are almost desires, they are almost foam. They are the leaves of a sky radiant with beauty, where a thousand throats sing light without death.
In this stanza which seems a whole poem in itself (notice the beginning, the development, and the conclusion) there are eleven independent and complementary metaphors: blonde hair (rays of the sun), light, desires, clouds, beaches, wind, sand, birds, foam, leaves, skies and a thousand throats (the musical birds). All are or allude to cosmic elements. Together with this elemental concert which the poet perceives in the radiant skies of any day are also suggested positive elemental states: freedom, love and life. The free verse and the quickness of its rhythm underline the content. One feels that the poet has let his flock of metaphors fly free through the sky of the poem. His enthusiasm in the presence of this elemental and loving world is evident in the overflowing spirit of his metaphoric creation; indeed the metaphoric profusion which is the expression or reflection of the profusion of cosmic elements creates the artistic unity which is similarly the reflection of the loving unity of the sky in the poem. It is important to add that when the poet says that from the sky “remote beaches can be seen,” there is suggested a fusion of the sky with the sea creating another elemental union. On those beaches, the poet imagines that the “golden” wind would fuse, “would connect [loving] bodies on the pure sand.” The fusion of sky and sea is expressed with the “music of a thousand throats which “sing light without death.” The verbs linking these metaphors, to wave, to connect, to flee, to sing, are a projection of cosmic freedom and joy; the adjectives, blonde, golden, pure, radiant, pursue the same celestial clarity.
This has been a love poem, but the same metaphoric formula is used by the poet to express his anger and disconcertion facing the opposite situation, as is the case in “Fallen Moon,” “Nobody” and “Man Does Not Exist.” What is ironic about the last poem is that it is precisely the moon, a vacuum in itself, that goes seeking man, another vacuum. From the metaphoric configuration of the poem, it is inferred that the more places the moon goes looking for the being, the more intensely the vacuum is felt. With the very same purpose the author, with thirty-five verbs of action (excluding the verb to be), gives the poem the proper sense of dynamism to capture the moon's mobility.
D) Metaphoric expansion. This device consists of the repeated and developed association of words which have to do, directly or indirectly, with the vehicle or tenor of the poem's central metaphor. We study it here because it is a device which requires great structural concentration and also because World Alone is a surrealist work. Indeed the author included thirteen poems from this book in his anthology of Surrealist Poetry.13 There are many poems which exemplify this phenomenon. In “The Tree,” the tenor is man, and therefore the other metaphors with which the poem is constructed are; leg, thigh, knee, muscles, arm, veins, blood, heart and eyes. The purpose? Not only to humanize the tree, but to make it take the place of man. Thus the human being is supplanted by the tree. Only at the end does the poem take an unexpected turn when the tree “never cries out / nor does it ever cast its shadow on mortal men.” This is its defect. Through expansion, the poem becomes a coherent, emotional, visual and conceptual experience in which the tree is transformed into a human reality. This technique will be further studied in “Form without Love” at the end of this [essay].
E) Metaphoric dynamism. (World Alone is a link between the first and the second poetic periods of Aleixandre). This device, very typical of the second stage, consists of a gradual internal movement of the poem's structure. In the case of “The Tree,” the metaphoric dynamism reinforces the poetic construction of creation of the tree in human terms. One can actually see the poet, like a god, constructing the tree from the base of its trunk up to the top of its branches. Having finished, he proudly contemplates his creation.
In “Under the Earth,” the poet resorts to the same method to suggest a dynamism of inverse direction. That is, the poetic vision moves from the first subterranean level to the soil itself penetrating its deepest and most hidden strata. Notice the careful use of certain key words which the poet selects precisely for this effect. These words are underlined in the following lines: “Under earth one lives, the moisture is blood”; “Beneath the earth there exists deeper, the rock”; “There is water under the earth”; “Deeper, deeper, fire purifies.” It is as if the poet were taking his reader on a flight through the deepest inwards of the earth, uncovering them to the world: the rock, the water, and the fire which “purifies,” a verb which endows the journey with a religious or mystical tone. In these compositions, one feels how the dynamic structure of the poem reflects the dynamic desire of the poet which erects the three and which penetrates deeper and deeper into the earth.
In Aleixandre's poetic evolution, the use of this device becomes increasingly accentuated, starting with Destruction or Love until it becomes typical in History of the Heart. Hence, World Alone connects the two stages. It evolves together with the gradual poetic de-hermeticization of Aleixandre. Also visible in this evolution is the diminishing use of the conjunction “or.” In World Alone there are approximately fifty identifiable uses of “or” in comparison with the two hundred in Destruction or Love and the ten or twelve in Shadow of Paradise.14 There are groups of negative formulas which, instead of negating, affirm. These do not exist in Destruction or Love; there are few of them in World Alone; and they abound in Shadow of Paradise. This indicates that World Alone is stylistically a link between the two books.
F) Metaphoric development in “Form without Love.” Having examined the principal technical characteristics of World Alone, it is appropriate to analyze a typical poem in order to comprehend more throughly the effects which the various stylistic and metaphoric devices produce in the whole of Aleixandre's production. It is also important to analyze the various internal and external shades of structure and the gradual evolution of the intuition throughout the poem. The poem chosen for this purpose is “Form without Love,” which has forty-two lines. Its external and internal structure permits a division into eight poetic moments:15
1. Line 1: With the emphatic “Enough, sadness, enough, enough, enough” there is as much evidence of sorrow because that body no longer loves as there is evidence of disgust because of the persistence of the sorrow. This moment presents the powerful psychological tension between wanting and not wanting to forget that loveless body.
2. Lines 2-4: The poet states that it is necessary to think no more of the eyes, or of the forehead, or of the beloved's blonde hair. The focus is on the luminousness of her face, the clarity with which he fell in love and which he now desires to cast aside. He is convinced about what he wants to do: abandon her.
3. Lines 5-8: But how to do it if he remembers the moment when he first possessed her, when he drank in light or sweet blood from her veins? Here, love is pain or sorrow; not an empty but a vital pain. This third moment negates the decision to abandon her stated in the second. Consequently the tension goes on tearing apart his being.
4. Lines 9-16: This moment is a reflection on the nature of the love he is suffering. He cannot define it rationally with logical formulas. But he does know what it is because of what he feels. Loving is dying every day. Dying is living. One only dies, one is only empty, when one does not love, when one does not live. He who lives and does not love is dead. This is the philosophical basis of World Alone.
5. Lines 17-190: He keeps on reliving her: “Your were so tender …” “sweet as the wind in the leaves / like a mound of roses for fixed lips.” He makes her elemental by associating her with the wind and the roses. Connecting the “there” of line 17 with the “mound of roses” in line 19, the image of her body stretched out is suggested. This is the ideal posture described in many other poems in this book (for example in “Edge of Love”). It is, besides, a natural, unarranged heap. In “Edge of Love” she will be a “mound of nubile wheat.” The wind and the roses are sweet because of the smoothness felt both on the leaves and on the lips. Notice the calmness and the delicacy of this crucial moment in the development of the inner world of the poet and his total surrender to his remote happiness.
6. Lines 20-28: The initial adverb “afterwards” introduces the unexpected and mysterious cause of her change into a form without love. “A vengeful flash, some enigmatic destiny” fell upon love, extinguishing it. There is not a clear reason. Through the metaphoric expansion the whole strophe acquires a dark tonality which corresponds with the death of her as a lover: “vengeful flash,” “cursed light,” “stormy sky,” “purple lightening.” This fatal flash struck her face: eyes and forehead, the very same features he refused to think about in moment 2. The evocation continues. The poet goes on reliving those happy and painful moments. At the same time he seeks relief, he wounds himself.
7. Lines 25-28: The initial conjunction “and” likewise suggests what that explosion of evil did to her: the center of hatred and death. Her clear loving eyes now are “phosphorous” red eyes which glare hatred toward the heavens and the mountains which now are barren and sterile.
8. Lines 29-38: “Who are you? What face is that, what diamond hardness? / What marble reddened by the storm / unappeased by kisses or by sweet memory?” These are the questions with which this strophe erupts. No longer is it a matter of an evocation. The poet now confronts his present and hers. Because of the change, she is unknowable. He perceives that a transformation he cannot comprehend has occurred. That sweet “mound of roses” which represented her body surrendered to his lips in moment 5 has been turned into “reddened marble” and “a stone rose without blood” by the purple lightening. Now water and kisses slide off her marble body and the poet feels that kissing her is only kissing his own anguish and his own tears.
9. Lines 39-42: He does not cast her off. To the contrary, he embraces her knowing well that the body is a stone, a rock, a hard mountain, a dead body from which he seeks death. This moment expresses the metaphysical confusion of the poet who, having reviewed the history of his love, ends up asking for his own death. The various moments of this poem correspond to the different moods of the poet, who, reliving his past with the purpose of freeing himself from pain or sorrow, enters into his present reality even more confused than before. The dynamism is appropriate to the poet's gradual discovery of his inner world, memory by memory, until he arrives at the only possible conclusion from an esthetic and emotional point of view.
World Alone, as was stated at the beginning of this essay, has suffered because of non-literary circumstances. They have directly affected its dissemination, popularity and the proper appreciation of its importance in the development of Aleixandre's first period. Regardless of what Aleixandre said, both thematically and stylistically, this book marks the transition between Destruction or Love and Shadow of Paradise. After completing Destruction or Love, what Aleixandre does in World Alone is focus his elemental cosmic vision from the perspective of the absent love. This aspect was defined already in several poems in the earlier book and what he does in the new one is carry this aspect to its final consequences. Furthermore, World Alone forces the poet to take, as a subsequent intuition, another step in his evolution toward what is expressed in Shadow of Paradise where, after having submerged himself in the depths of an indifferent and loveless world, he seeks the new paradisiacal light of childhood in a new world in which the being is affirmed and fulfilled as a loving and participating entity of the universe. The poet sings this world not with the surrealistic emphasis of his earlier works, but with a new, less hermetic diction no less effective than his earlier diction. This de-hermeticization becomes apparent in World Alone. In synthesis, the three moments of Aleixandre's evolutionary vision and creation are: loving destruction is life, in Destruction or Love; loveless destruction is death, in World Alone; from death the impetus to sing the new light of paradise will be reborn in Shadow of Paradise.
Ambit and Ultimate Birth are intentionally excluded from this group because of the immaturity and artificiality of the first and because of the lack of structural unity of the second.
It is interesting to note in Aleixandrine bibliography the preponderance of critical studies of the first period (Passion of the Earth, 1928, to Shadow of Paradise, 1944).
Eugenio de Nora, Mundo a solas, Correo literario, Año I (June 1, 1950), p. 10.
Aleixandre, Obras completas, 1968, pp. 1451-1452.
Aleixandre, Obras completas, 1968, p. 1451.
Aleixandre, Obras completas, 1968, p. 1471.
Carlos Bousoño, “Un nuevo libro de Aleixandre: Mundo a solas,” Insula, Num. 53 (May 15, 1950), p. 2.
There are seven poems devoted entirely to “love.” The study of “Final Fire” shows how the poet trusts in it for his salvation.
At the end of this chapter, when we study “Form without Love” from the point of view of technique, the clear development of this will become apparent.
Vincente Cabrera, Tres poetas a la luz de la metáfora: Salinas, Aleixandre y Guillén, (Madrid: Gredos, 1975), pp. 134-137.
We shall return to “Under the Earth” to examine in more detail the second part.
Cabrera, Tres poetas, pp. 125-131.
Vicente Aleixandre, Poesia surrealista (Barcelona: Barral, 1971). The author states in his preliminary note: “This irrationalist sequence is the one I have tried to represent in this anthology. The greatest contribution is made by the works closest to strictly defined surrealism (from Passion of the Earth to World Alone).”
The approximate number of occurrences of “or” in World Alone are by my own count; Carlos Bousoño counts the “or” in Destruction or Love and Shadow of Paradise. La poesia de Vicente Aleixandre, 3rd. ed. (Madrid: Gredos, 1968), p. 329.
See the poem in the last section of [Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre's Poetry].
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10044
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 Aleixandre was elected to the Spanish Academy, that in the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies he was the object of important literary homages in Spain, and that poet-critics as different yet as exacting as Jorge Luis Borges and Luis Cernuda have agreed on his excellence. But the widely-read assessment of these newspapers, although superficial, is partly correct; and it calls attention to the necessity of placing Aleixandre in a context broader than that of the Spanish language.
When Aleixandre's Ámbito appeared in 1928, it was hailed by Juan Ramón Jiménez as the best book written by the young poets of Spain. This praise is significant for two reasons. First, because Jiménez, who would himself win the Nobel Prize in 1956, was the most highly regarded Spanish poet of the time; and second, because those young poets Jiménez was talking about included, besides Aleixandre, writers such as Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, Luis Cernuda, and Rafael Alberti. It was, in fact, the most splendid generation of poets Spain had known since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In spite of its quality, however, Aleixandre's first book went relatively unnoticed, since the attention of the literary public was elsewhere. In 1928 Federico García Lorca published his immensely successful Romancero gitano, in which he exploited the very popular topics of gypsy lore—topics he would soon renounce, having seen his name too frequently associated with this type of poetry. In the same year, Jorge Guillén published the first collection of his Cántico, a book that assimilated and overcame the French tradition of poésie pure. Also in 1928, Rafael Alberti published perhaps his best book, Sobre los ángeles. Aleixandre's Ámbito, in short, appeared at the wrong time.
Several of his later books were to enjoy a better fate. Between 1928 and 1933, Aleixandre wrote Pasión de la tierra, Espadas como labios, and La destrucción o el amor, books that signaled a change in his poetry. Although the earlier Ámbito testified to many of Aleixandre's future concerns, it could still be placed within traditional categories. It was written in regular meter and owed much to Hispanic post-modernismo. But the new books were full of oneiric passages, of striking images without logical connection. They had, in other words, many characteristics of that literature called surrealist. The surrealism of these books came largely from Aleixandre's use of surrealist images. André Breton's definition of it may be recalled: “C'est du rapprochment en quelque sorte fortuit des deux termes [in an image] qu'a jailli une lumière particulière, lumière de l'image, à laquelle nous nous montrons infiniment sensibles. La valeur de l'image dépend de la beauté de l'étincelle obtenue; elle est, par conséquent, fonction de la différence de potentiel entre les deux conducteurs.”2
Probably the best known example of this kind of image occurs in Lautréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror (1868). In this extraordinary book, rediscovered and turned into their Bible by the surrealists, we find “la rencontre fortuite, sur une table de dissection, d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie.”3 Here the poetic spark comes, for the surrealist, from the pairing of two realities that cannot be paired, on a plane that is not suited to them. Moreover, for a surrealist there is an added meaning, of a sexual kind, and this meaning reveals the well-known dependence of the surrealists on Freudian thought: the umbrella is a male, the sewing machine a female, and the dissecting table a bed.
Three examples help show more clearly the contrast between figurative language in the traditional and surrealist sense. The first is from the seventeenth-century Spanish poet, Luis de Góngora. Góngora's lines read: “quejándose venían sobre el guante / los raudos torbellinos de Noruega.”4 Although apparently hermetic, the meaning of the Baroque poet becomes plain as soon as one learns that falcons used to be imported from Norway, that of course they flew extremely fast, and that they returned tired to the falconer's glove. Metaphorically, they are indeed whirlwinds from Norway. The second example comes from Charles Baudelaire: “Delacroix, lac de sang, hanté de mauvais anges, / Ombragé par un bois de sapins toujours verts.”5 Again the lines seem hermetic. Yet acquaintance with Delacroix's work makes them seem clear: “lac de sang” stands for the red color so frequently utilized by the French painter; “hanté de mauvais anges” alludes to Delacroix's supernaturalism; and “un bois de sapins toujours verts” refers to Delacroix's use of green as a complementary color.
The third example appears in Aleixandre's La destrucción o el amor (1933): “Los pechos por tierra tienen forma de arpa, pero cuán mudamente ocultan su beso, ese arpegio de agua que hacen unos labios cuando se acercan a la corriente mientras cantan las liras.”6 This time the logical correspondence is nonexistent, and scholarly knowledge does not help. Perhaps one might imagine a resemblance between the shape of a woman's breasts and the shape of a harp, or between the way a man can fondle those breasts and the way a musician may play on the strings of a harp, but one can hardly pursue these lines any further. No formula of the type “X means Y” is at work here. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the totality of the sounds and images conjured up by the words arpa, arpegio, cantan, lira, on the one hand, and pechos, beso, labios and acercan on the other, is indeed enough for an attuned sensitiveness to perceive an extraordinary poetic effect.
In Pasión de la tierra, Espadas como labios, and La destrucción o el amor are found other surrealist elements besides the surrealist image. Perhaps one of the most salient is Aleixandre's empathy with the earth and the most elemental forces of nature. Reacting against the anthropocentrism of Western tradition, surrealism tried to reduce man to a fragment of the world and thereby come in touch with those obscure forces that are inaccessible to the rational intellect and of which the savage and the animals seem to have an instinctive grasp. Surrealism wanted to destroy the barriers between inner man and the outer world, between the life of the unconscious and the real life. Inseparable from this ambition were sex and woman. Breton saw woman as a mediatrix between inner and outer reality: “C'est la terre qui, en quelque sorte, ordonne à travers la femme.”7 It was in a sense the traditional belief that woman stands closer than man to the irrational and therefore to nature. But tradition had placed woman, because of her irrationality, on a lower plane. The surrealists, on the contrary, placed woman higher than man, precisely because of this supposed quality of hers.
In Aleixandre, irrationality associated with woman and the world is vigorously portrayed in these lines from Pasión de la tierra: “¡Caballo de copas! ¡Caballo de espadas! ¡Caballo de bastos! !Huyamos!. … ¡Tomadme en vuestros lomos!. … ¡Tomadme! Envolvedme en la capa más roja, en ese vuelo de vuestros tendones, y conducidme a otro reino, a la heroica capacidad de amar, a la bella guarda de todas las cajas.”8 The poet asks the horses of the Spanish deck of cards to carry him to regions of passion where the secrets of the world would become open, and where woman, Pandora-like, guards those secrets. The association of ideas is extremely rich, but it is interesting to see that Aleixandre's principal symbol of irrationality is a traditional one, the horse. Mertens-Stiénon considered the horse a symbol of the cosmic forces of primaeval chaos.9 For Paul Diel, the horse stands for intense desires and instincts, in accordance with the general symbolism of the steed and the vehicle.10 And for Jung, the horse symbolizes the magic side of man, “the mother within us,” and he observes that in one of the Upanishads the horse is actually a symbol of the cosmos.11 In Spanish literature, one may recall the opening scene of La vida es sueño, in which Calderón, making a point exactly the opposite to the one Aleixandre is making, also utilizes a horse as a symbol of irrationality. And in that famous scene, who, but a woman, would be pursuing the galloping horse?
That for Aleixandre, as for the surrealists, woman is a mediatrix between man and the cosmos may become more evident by quoting three statements, two from Breton and one from Aleixandre, so that their similar outlook emerges. The first quotation from Breton describes woman as a “pierre angulaire du monde matériel.”12 In the second quotation, Breton hopes that the future will see the triumph of “l'idée du salut terrestre par la femme, de la vocation transcendante de la femme.”13 The third reference is a revealing statement that Aleixandre made in a letter to Dámaso Alonso: “el amor personal, es decir, individual, en mi trasciende siempre en imágenes a un amor derramado hacia la vida, la tierra, el mundo.”14 No wonder, then, that even a book like Historia del corazón (1945-53), in which surrealism has otherwise almost disappeared, was originally conceived as a record of an amorous passion, but ended up as an expression of universal love.15
Nevertheless, the differences between Aleixandre and the French surrealists are as great as the resemblances. First of all, Aleixandre never mixed the life of the unconscious with real existence. Nor did he share the radical stance towards society which characterized surrealism as a way of life. With regard to purely literary aspects, it may be noted that, like the French surrealists, Aleixandre has been obsessed with the darkest side of man and the world, but, in his case this obsession is inseparable from a desperate search for light—as Aleixandre himself has confessed.16 This is not the kind of light the French surrealists expected to find as a result of the new order they thought they were creating. Instead, it is an immediate craving and is reflected in Aleixandre's writings. As Jean-Pierre Richard has demonstrated, the work of a French surrealist poet like Paul Eluard is pervaded by darkness.17 But if one traced the imagination matérielle through Aleixandre's poetry, one would find that light is never entirely absent. The search for clarity may account for other important differences. In French surrealist books of poetry, it is very difficult to find a unifying theme. Nor is it easy to categorize or rationalize the subjects, all of which hark back to the surrealist's lack of interest in any traditional artistic effort. But thematic unity and clarity of subject matter distinguish Aleixandre's books. His books are not mere collections of poems; they are organic wholes.
Coherence and clarity probably result from the fact that Aleixandre has not practiced the surrealist technique of automatic writing. In theory at least, this method permitted the unconscious to rise unobstructed to the surface; “in theory” is stressed, because in practice automatic writing was extremely difficult, if not impossible. The unconscious operates more often than not in images, not in words, so that the very act of expressing it in writing creates an obstacle. Moreover, the rational part of the mind is so well developed and so inextricably bound to the unconscious that the irruption of the conscious was a constant problem for the surrealists. Ironically, a technique intended as a form of liberation became an almost impracticable askesis. Aleixandre, however, never even tried to divorce the flow of the unconscious from rational control. True, he allowed himself extraordinary freedom of association, but he never relinquished stylistic or moral considerations; like Joyce, whom he read in the 1920s, he consciously selected his “irrational” images.18
These limitations upon Aleixandre's surrealism may reflect the qualified success of surrealism in Spain. There was never a strong surrealist movement in that country. More exactly, there were individual instances of surrealism, and its practice was always modified by the needs of poets. What might have been the reasons for the limited yet substantial impact of surrealism in Spain? A question of this kind is never satisfactorily answered, but an hypothesis may be ventured.
For purposes of contrast, a brief examination of the fate of surrealism in England and France is in order. It is well known that, unlike English modernist poetry, English surrealist poetry was not very successful. Rather than being connected to some antisurrealist bias in the English psyche, the weakness of surrealism in England may result from the relative strength of the romantic tradition there.19 Conversely, the strength of surrealism in France may be connected to the relative weakness of the French romantic experience. The French romantics had to face the enormous prestige of French classicism, but no obstacle of comparable proportions existed in England. Though later efforts, undertaken by Leo Spitzer and continued by the nouvelle critique, have attempted to wrest Racine from the grip of the classicists, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Racine remained the bastion of classicism in France. And Racine's reputation is France's closest equivalent to the reputation of Shakespeare. Classicism therefore had a status in French that it did not have in English. In other words, since surrealism meant, to a certain degree, an exacerbation of the romantic experience (it was, in Breton's words, “la queue tellement préhensile” of romanticism), it was justified as a reaction against the established French tradition; whereas against the English tradition it was not. On the contrary, English literature from Blake to Coleridge already provided much of what English surrealism was trying to provide. If anything, an English reaction against the past was justified against the prestigious romantic tradition. This antiromantic bias is, in fact, one of the characteristics of Anglo-American modernism, and differentiates it from that other current of modern poetry that goes from the romanticists to Rimbaud (passing through Baudelaire—but Baudelaire is a crossroad for other currents, too) to the surrealists.
The qualified success of surrealism in Spain can be explained along similar lines. Although not unchallenged, Paul Ilie has argued that many tenets of French surrealism are preempted by the Spanish tradition, and he has attempted to demonstrate that the works of writers like Quevedo or Valle-Inclán may be called surrealist.20 In any event, it is hardly open to doubt that in Spain the classical tradition was far less prestigious than in France. The place of Corneille and Racine is not taken by the tragedies of Argensola or Cervantes, but by the comedias of Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca. These comedias are the true classicism of Spain and the kind fostered and loved by European romantics. No animosity existed toward the literary past; hence in Spain, unlike in France, there was never a break between the Golden Age and the most avant-garde writers of the twentieth century.21 On the other hand, the surrealist message did not go as unheeded as in England. A more favorable reception resulted, in part, because of the great weakness of the Spanish romantic experience; but, also, because of a few poets of great talent who found in surrealist techniques the best means of expression, at least for a time. No such group of poets ever adopted surrealism in England, and lack of individual talent is an obstacle that no movement, no matter how original, can survive. The surrealist-like books of Aleixandre, Alberti, Lorca, and Cernuda are not likely to lose much of their prestige in the years to come and they have certainly lost none of it since the 1920s. But who remembers today the works of Roland Penrose, or Simon Watson Taylor, self-avowed and prominent surrealists in the 1930s?
Besides the “Spanish circumstance,” there are other and more personal reasons for Aleixandre's original use of surrealism. By 1928 and 1929, the dates of composition of Pasión de la tierra, surrealism was well-established in France. Yet it seems that, at the time, Aleixandre had not read any French surrealist text.22 However, he had read Freud, Joyce, Rimbaud, and Lautréamont. This latter reading was important, first because in the 1920s few outside the French surrealist circles had read Lautréamont, and such an alert poet as Paul Valéry could say: “Oserai-je vous confesser que je le connais â peine?”23 Second, because Lautréamont (and of this the surrealists were unaware) was a master rhetorician who achieved many of his striking effects by imitation and montage ranging from Homer to the French Grand Siècle. Prior to Pasión de la tierra, Aleixandre may have read also the Spanish surrealist poems of José María de Hinojosa or the French ones of Juan Larrea, a Spanish poet who wrote mainly in French. In addition, in 1928 Alberti's important book Sobre los ángeles had just appeared. Finally, it should be pointed out that, as a child, Aleixandre was given to dreaming and fantasy, and he enjoyed reading German fairy tales in translation. Evidently, Aleixandre's surrealism was, from its inception, less a question of direct influence than a question of temperament nurtured and modified by his reading and his country.
Before turning to a different phase of Aleixandre's career, we should notice that Aleixandre's is the first Nobel prize awarded to a poet whose work falls, in part, within the surrealist literary tradition. Ironically, such award is the kind of act that a true-blooded surrealist would most fear; being honored by the hated bourgeois establishment. But it also means that for the first time a poetic movement of French origin owes such recognition, no matter how unwelcome, to a Spaniard. This obligation appears unusual, because one thinks of Hispanic-French literary relations as a one-way affair: literary movements begin in France and are imitated in Spain. It is true that some of the best individual works of Corneille, Lesage, and the nineteenth-century realists are indebted to Spanish, but no French literary movement seems to have owed anything to Spain or America. Some French movements, however, are actually indebted to the Hispanic world, though in ways that are not obvious and have nothing to do with any direct literary influence of Spain or America on France. Les Trophées, perhaps the most characteristic product of the French parnassiens, were sonnets written in French by a Cuban-born poet, José María de Heredia; the French symbolist-parnassian ideas were introduced to and assimilated by Spain and America through the work of a Nicaraguan, Rubén Darío; and the poet most admired by the French surrealists, Lautréamont, was born and brought up in Montevideo.24 Once we are aware of this curious pattern, it may seem less surprising that a Spaniard is the one poet who has given to surrealism the kind of dignity that none of its French followers were able to give it.
Aleixandre's surrealist phase is perhaps the most publicized. During the forties and fifties, however, he developed in a different direction. Now he looked for a less subjective, more accessible poetry. He was reacting both against the symbolist tradition of private poetry and against irrationalism. As he put it, he wanted to communicate more easily with his fellow men: “la poesía no es cuestión de fealdad o hermosura, sino de mudez o communicación. A través de la poesía pasa prístino el latido vital que la ha hecho posible, y en este poder de transmisión está quizá el único secreto de la poesía, que, cada vez lo he ido sintiendo más firmemente, no consiste tanto en ofrecer belleza cuanto en alcanzar propagación, comunicación profunda del alma de los hombres.”25 His search began with the mythic expression of man's feeling of loss in the book Sombra del paraíso (1939-1943), and reached its highest point in Historia del corazón (1945-1953) and En un vasto dominio (1958-1962).
This change did not come in a vacuum. Ezra Pound once said that “artists are the antennae of the race,”26 and that is particularly applicable to Aleixandre. Indeed, without knowing Pound's aphorism, Dámaso Alonso has called Aleixandre a “gran antena horizontal, recogedora de mundos, de trémulos cosmos”27 (alluding, in passing, to Aleixandre's chronic illness). Expectedly, this new phase of Aleixandre's work reflects the different conditions of the times.
The threat and eventual onset of the Spanish Civil War ended an epoch and started another. Before, poets had lived in an atmosphere of continuity, of relative intellectual security; therefore they could be concerned with their own psyches rather than with the world they lived in. They had their opinions, of course, but technical innovations interested them more than any moral or political implication in their work.28 It was the time of Ortega y Gasset's call for the deshumanización del arte.29 Hence the characteristic love of metaphor of the so-called generation of 1927, its revival of Góngora, and its ready use of French symbolist and surrealist techniques.30 But the growing turmoil made this attitude no longer feasible. Spain became a place where not only one's life but one's whole scheme of values was menaced. In such circumstances, detachment was very difficult. For some writers, literature even became overtly political, because anything else would have entailed mental dishonesty.
Aleixandre was not the only member of the generation of 1927 whose work, in one way or another, reflected these changes. After his difficult Sobre los ángeles (1927-1928) and Yo era un tonto y lo que he visto me ha hecho dos tontos (1929), Rafael Alberti returned to stylistic simplicity; eventually, he joined the Communist party and wrote four books of political verse. Although full of surrealist images, a later work of Federico García Lorca, Poeta en Nueva York (begun in 1930 and published posthumously in 1940), showed a social awareness not so obvious in his earlier poems.31 Between 1949 and 1957, exiled Jorge Guillén wrote Maremágnum, a tormented book that complemented the more optimistic outlook of his earlier Cántico. But perhaps the most striking instance was Dámaso Alonso, a scholar-poet who had not written anything impressive before.32 In 1944, however, he published Hijos de la ira. This book did not contemplate the conscious or unconscious inner landscape of the poet, or his pangs of love. Rather, it contemplated the world around, where a city like Madrid could contain, in his words, “más de un millón de cadáveres” (“Insomnio”). Despite frequent examples of quasi-surrealist imagery, the book aimed at direct and easy communication with a reader who shared the human predicament of the poet. Hijos de la ira was all the more surprising, because it came out at a time when more fashionable poetry, possibly as a kind of escapism, tried to imitate the exquisite forms and amorous content of the work of a Golden Age classic, Garcilaso de la Vega. But in Alonso's book the vocabulary was plain or even prosaic, and the sound very often harsh.
Aleixandre's Sombra del paraíso, begun in 1939 and finished in 1943, is closer to his earlier work; according to the author, it occupies a pivotal position between his “surrealist” period and his later writings.33 This book contains some of Aleixandre's most seductive images, and attempts a description of the world before and after the loss of Paradise. But Aleixandre utilizes the topic for its poetic value, not for its religious implications; thus in the love poem, “Sierpe de amor,” where the last stanza borrows in fact from Garcilaso's third ecologue (“boca con boca coge la postrera”):
Boca con boca dudo si la vida es el aire o es la sangre. Boca con boca muero, respirando tu llama que me destruye. Boca con boca siento que hecho luz me deshago, hecho lumbre que en el aire fulgura.
But if the “Fall” may function as a symbol of the loss of personal happiness, it may also function as a metaphor for the national circumstances;34 as when “today” cancels the visions of the lovely past in these stanzas from “Primavera en la tierra”:
Los árboles, las espumas, las flores, los abismos, como las rocas y aves y las aguas fugaces, todo supo de vuestra presencia invisible en el mundo que yo viví en los alegres días juveniles. Hoy que la nieve también existe bajo vuestra presencia, miro los cielos de plomo pesaroso y diviso los hierros de las torres que elevaron los hombres como espectros de todos los deseos efímeros. Y miro las vagas telas que los hombres ofrecen, máscaras que no lloran sobre las ciudades cansadas, mientras siento lejana la música de los sueños en que escapan las flautas de la Primavera apagándose.
The role of history in Sombra del paraíso appears even more obvious in the last stanza from “Los dormidos,” a poem that suggests the dead of the civil war:
Pero no; muertamente callados, como lunas de piedra, en tierra, sordos permanecéis, sin tumba. Una noche de velos, de plumas, de miradas, vuela por los espacios llevándoos, insepultos.
Aleixandre's next major book, Historia del corazón (1945-1953),35 continued to move in the direction of what may be called “communal” poetry.36 Originating in a conflict of personal love, Historia del corazón soon grew into a book about suffering man. The first set of poems, “Como el vilano,” begins with the furtive happiness of uncertain love, and ends with the sadness of abandonment. This personal drama, however, is overcome in the section “La mirada extendida,” where the narrator transfers to humanity his love for a woman:
Hermoso es, hermosamente humilde y confiante, vivificador y profundo, sentirse bajo el sol, entre los demás, impelido, llevado, conducido, mezclado, rumorosamente arrastrado. No es bueno quedarse en la orilla como el malecón o como el molusco que quiere calcárea- mente imitar a la roca. Sino que es puro y sereno arrasarse en la dicha de fluir y perderse, encontrándose en el movimiento con que el gran corazón de los hombres palpita extendido.
(“En la plaza”)
The group of poems “La realidad” returns to the lover's illusions. Finally, the section “La mirada infantil” examines the happy visions of childhood and prepares the meditative group of poems “Los términos,” the book concluding with a mixture of personal and universal love.
Although an unsympathetic reader, with some justification, might complain of discursiveness and sentimentality, Historia del corazón does not nurture the emotions much more than other books of Aleixandre, and remains one of the poet's own favorites. One of its last and most memorable poems is “Entre dos oscuridades un relámpago,” an answer to Rubén Darío's desperate “Lo fatal.” Here we notice the more affirmative tone of the opening lines:
Sabemos adónde vamos y de dónde venimos. Entre dos oscuridades, un relámpago. Y allí, en la súbita iluminación, un gesto, un único gesto, una mueca más bien, iluminada por una luz de estertor.
En un vasto dominio (1958-1962) completes Aleixandre's movement from a preoccupation with his self to a communal statement. Significantly, one finds no “love” poems in the book. Sentences are short, images come easily, and a will to communicate informs the whole. All these characteristics appear in the beginning stanzas of the first poem, “Para quien escribo”:
¿Para quién escribo?, me preguntaba el cronista, el periodista o simplemente el curioso. No escribo para el señor de la estirada chaqueta, ni para su bigote enfadado, ni siquiera para su alzado índice admonitorio entre las tristes ondas de música. Tampoco para el carruaje, ni para su ocultada señora (entre vidrios, como un rayo frío, el brillo de los impertinentes). Escribo acaso para los que no me leen. Esa mujer que corre por la calle como si fuera a abrir las puertas a la aurora. O ese viejo que se aduerme en el banco de esa plaza chiquita, mientras el sol poniente con amor le toma, le rodea y le deslíe suavemente en sus luces.
But the most endearing aspect of En un vasto dominio is the sympathetic description of scenes and types from Spanish daily life, as in “Félix,” and of parts of the human body, as in “La mano”—to which belong the following excerpts:
Es el esfuerzo humano, ciertamente. Ved esa mano que abre cinco dedos. O que separa tierra y mar, y avanza el dique. La que sobre las teclas ligerísimas pasa como un vapor acuoso, y se irisa el sonido. O cae, y estalla todo el fragor del mundo. O más, y queda ahí el silencio temblando.
He aquí el puente ferrado que se armó hierro a hierro, arco para la vida de esta ciudad, ya la mano durmió: joven aún vese. Es la que derribó el árbol: el baobab, sequoias, las ceibas, araucarias … Hierro al fin de los dedos para el beso final que mata o ama. La que botó esa nave, sin más que empujar suavemente, la que con los dos brazos sujetó catedrales, la que, más temerosa, armó castillos, sostuvo almenas, coronó torres ilusorias, labró espumas de piedra e hizo llamas duraderas, con roca solo, por noches infinitas.
Aleixandre's search for brotherhood and for a style capable of communicating as directly as possible, without resort to highly metaphorical language, was not without parallel in other countries. Well-known, for instance, is the fact that the modernist works of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in the 1920s were succeeded, during the economic depression of the 1930s, by the social poetry of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice.37 In France, surrealists like Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard joined the communists and wrote political verse. The Peruvian César Vallejo and the Chilean Pablo Neruda turned from subjectivism to plain, “communal” poems.38 In Germany, the Marxist aesthetician Theodore Adorno came to believe that poetry was impossible after Auschwitz. Nonetheless, poetry continued to be written, though differently; and in Germany itself the writings of Bertolt Brecht, whose experience in the First World War had long before triggered his break with the Symbolist tradition, steadily rose in prestige against the highly subjective poetry of Gottfried Benn.
To appreciate better the wide dissemination of this spirit during the mid-thirties and the post-war years, we have only to observe the similarities present in the statements of MacNeice (whose “commitment,” like that of so many other non-Spanish poets, was sparked by the Spanish war) and Neruda.39 In 1935 Neruda wrote: “Una poesía impura como un traje, como un cuerpo, con manchas de nutrición, y actitudes vergonzosas, con arrugas, observaciones, sueños, vigilia, profecías, declaraciones de amor y de odio, bestias, sacudidas, idilios, creencias políticas, negaciones, dudas, afirmaciones, impuestos.”40 Only three years later, MacNiece said of his own Modern Poetry (perhaps after having read Neruda): “This book is a plea for impure poetry, that is, for poetry conditioned by the poet's life and the world around.”41
In the same book he summed up his views on obscurity with a double shot at Symbolism and surrealism: “[obscurity] is a very dangerous doctrine for the poets themselves, as it can be developed into the vicious extremes of pure music poetry or surrealism.”42 More powerful than MacNeice's warning is Neruda's attack against “los poetas celestes,” in his Canto general, written in the late 1940s. Noticeable here are the direct, aggressive tone, and the absence of “beautiful” metaphors:43
¿Qué hicisteis vosotros gidistas, intelectualistas, rilkistas, misterizantes, falsos brujos existenciales, amapolas surrealistas encendidas en una tumba, europeizados cadáveres de la moda, pálidas lombrices del queso capitalista, qué hicisteis ante el reinado de la angustia, frente a este oscuro ser humano, a esta pateada compostura, a esta cabeza sumergida en el estiércol, a esta esencia de ásperas vidas pisoteadas?
(“Los poetas celestes”)
Of course, MacNeice and Neruda were very different, and so are their poems: unlike Neruda, but very much like Auden, MacNeice was the type of the “doubting intellectual,”44 and like Auden he eventually withdrew from politics. In any event, upper-class MacNeice was never quite able, either in literature or life, to “commune” with “proletarians” the way Neruda the son of a railroad worker did. But the point is that both Englishman and Chilean belonged to the realist literary currents of the times.
Together with Alonso and Aleixandre, many younger Spanish poets also wrote in the new vein—Leopoldo Panero, Blas de Otero, Felipe Vivanco, Gabriel Celaya, Angela Figuera. They all wanted to talk, in a simple style, about the everyday problems of the inmensa mayoría,45 about the prevailing social evils, or about life's familiar objects: the tree on the outskirts of the city, a dog, even the bucket in the backyard. They focused on those things that survived the terrible events of the Spanish war and gave one a sense of belonging and permanence. On the one hand, there took place a devaluation of writers who had attempted to make art fill the emptiness left by the collapse of Western values and, on the other hand, a revaluation of more ethical poets. To Juan Ramón Jiménez, therefore, the new poetry opposed the Antonio Machado of Campos de Castilla, and La tierra de Alvargonzález.46
It is true that this reaction produced in Spain, as in other parts of Europe, an epidemic of trivial or sentimental verse that is justifiably forgotten, and from which some of Aleixandre's poems are not exempt. But a reaction that made possible “Félix” or “La oreja” cannot be dismissed easily. At best, poems like these have a human warmth lacking in Brecht's Villonesque, unsentimental efforts at human communion; a human warmth that might be labelled Hugo-esque, were it not for the absence of that oratorical quality of the French poet which Domingo Faustino Sarmiento admiringly called resonancia de metal. One has only to compare Brecht's well-known “An die Nachgeborenen” with these lines from Aleixandre's “Félix”:
Dabei wissen wir doch: Auch der Haβ gegen die Niedrigkeit Verzerrt die Züge. Auch der Zorn über das Unrecht Macht die Stimme heiser. Ach, wir Die wir den Boden bereiten wollten für Freundlichkeit Konnten selber nicht freundlich sein. …
¿Deletreó? Pronto fue requerido por la azada y alquiló el brazo joven, y se arrendó para la sierga luego, y sobre el trillo arreó el mulo, y aireó el tamo, y condujo al almiar la espiga de otros. En la Fiesta tenía —cuando una vez al año el poblado hace fiesta— una camisa limpia, minuciosamente rehecha, una chaqueta conservada siempre, fuertes botas de cuero y una voluta de humo ante sus ojos tristes. Azules ojos siempre, lo mismo bajo el sudor del rostro que al mirar a la luz antes del tajo. Manos cortas, uñas casi de hueso, duras, con mucha tierra en ellas, arbóreas cuando alcanzan ese mango y lo empuñan, y cavan, y algo buscan. ¿Qué buscan? Tumba o cielo. Cielo en lo hondo. Una esperanza humana. Buscan encarnizada— mente, no tierra, luz, un rayo de luz que le dé al rostro. Buscan con furia. Se diría cavan para llegar al fondo, como si oyesen otra azada dura, del otro lado de la tierra, que también aspirase, que también esperase, hasta encontrarse, descansar la herramienta y estrecharse las manos de los cabos del mundo.
There is personal tragedy and possibly a deeper social awareness in Brecht; certainly a greater economy of means. But in Aleixandre we find compassion.
In the 1960s, “communal” poetry had already shown signs of exhaustion, and “communication” had often degenerated into banality. After the direct, narrative poems of the previous years, younger poets, for whom the war was either a childhood memory or something learned in history books, developed an acute interest in the sheer act of writing, in poetry as an object of itself.47 Many of them, turning to an “avant-garde” style, started a revaluation of the surrealist masters of the 1920s. Paradoxical as such ultramodern return to the past might appear, it was not without parallels in Europe, as could be seen from the writings of Christoph Meckel in Germany, or Michel Vachey in France, or from the growing prestige of old poets like René Char and Pierre Reverdy. This change, probably fostered by new literary ideas imported from France, and perhaps related to the radical atmosphere of the sixties, accounts for the renewed influence of Aleixandre's “surrealist” period, of books such as Pasión de la tierra, or La destrucción o el amor.
Aleixandre, however, was following a more original path, and in 1968 he published his Poemas de la consumación.48 The book consists of fifty poems, most of them short, in which Aleixandre, now seventy years old, contemplates life from the perspective of his old age. Yet one may discern a continuity between Poemas de la consumación and earlier texts. The starkness of the verse reminds us of En un vasto dominio, whereas its relative subjectivism harks back to Aleixandre's poems of the thirties. On the other hand, the gnomic style recalls the later Antonio Machado, and, through him, the medieval poetry of Sem Tob de Carrión.49 In this connection, Aleixandre's “El olvido” may be compared with two short poems from Machado's Proverbios y cantares CLXI (in Nuevas cancione [1917-1930]):
No es tu final como una copa vana que hay que apurar. Arroja el casco, y muere.
Por eso lentamente levantas en tu mano un brillo o su mención, y arden tus dedos, como una nieve súbita. Está y no estuvo, pero estuvo y calla. El frío quema y en tus ojos nace su memoria. Recordar es obsceno; peor: es triste. Olvidar es morir. Con dignidad murió. Su sombra cruza.
xliii Dijo otra verdad: busca el tú que nunca es tuyo ni puede serlo jamás. li Demos tiempo al tiempo: para que el vaso rebose hay que llenarlo primero.
In “El olvido” we notice, of course, the absence of some characteristics of the Proverbios y cantares, such as Machado's irony and the traditional expressions out of which he constructs his poem; but we also detect the same pithiness. It is worth mentioning, too, that some distinctive peculiarities of Aleixandre's style have remained unaltered: for instance, the bipartite structures underlying so much of his work (as the well known disjunction “La destrucción” o “el amor”): Arroja el casco, y muere; un brillo o su mención; Está y no está; Pero estuvo y calla; Olvidar es morir.
As in Xenia, written when Eugenio Montale also was seventy years old, in Poemas de la consumación the past acquires a new significance that overshadows the present. But in Aleixandre's Poemas, the personal past is not merely recollected and expressed as directly as possible; rather, the memory of the past functions as a point of departure for universal reflections—and these reflections are very sombre. Poemas de la consumación tells how an old man knows, but cannot truly live:
La decadencia añade verdad, pero no halaga. Ah, la vicisitud no se cancelará, pues es el tiempo. Mas, sí su doloroso error, su poso triste. Más bien su torva imagen su residuo imprimido: allí el horror sin más- cara. Pues no es el viejo la máscara, sino otra des- nudez impúdica; más allá de la piel se está asomando, sin dignidad. Desorden: no es un rostro el que vemos.
Since for Aleixandre living has always been a form of knowledge, it follows that, although an old man may know, in reality he does not know. Aleixandre develops the paradox by means of the two Spanish forms of the verb “to know.”50 For Aleixandre, conocer is an imperfective action implying an activity not yet consummated and therefore implying life, whereas saber is a finished process suggesting immobility, consummation, and death. An old man sabe and therefore possesses knowledge, but this possession is the equivalent of death. On the other hand, though the young no saben, they conocen, which is an on-going activity, and thus they truly live:
Conocer no es lo mismo que saber. Quien aprendió escuchando: quien padeció o gozó; quien murió a solas. Todos andan o corren, más van despacio siempre en el viento veloz que ahí los arrastra.
It is evident that a painful doubt invaded Aleixandre at this point in life. Poetry for Aleixandre had meant a search for light even in the midst of darkness, but this search had meant also a search for knowledge. Now it appeared to him that the possession of knowledge led merely to death. This realization opened a new stage in his poetry. His lyricism took an epistemological turn. It became a search for knowledge of the nature of knowledge itself. The result was the Diálogos del conocimiento, published in 1974.
The Diálogos del conocimiento consist of fifteen poems with a common structure. From opposite, yet complementary positions, two, or occasionally three, characters speak, but seemingly without listening to each other. The dialogs, therefore, are really dual monologs which become dialogs in the mind of the reader. The characters range from literary figures, like Lazarillo de Tormes or Swann, to figures representing an epoch, like an inquisitor or a dandy, and in them one recognizes the technique of poetic personae: though multiple, they are all projections of a single intelligence. But the dialogic structure imparts to the book a quality not found in the verses of a “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” a “Juan de Mairena,” or an “Alvaro de Campos.” For Aleixandre's avowed purpose in the Diálogos del conocimiento is to present, almost simultaneously, the often contradictory, yet equally valid perspectives from which mankind perceives a given reality.
To illustrate this dialectical quality of the book, we can consider two excerpts from the poem “Dos vidas,” placed by Aleixandre in the middle of the Diálogos probably on account of its thematic importance.
Joven poeta primero. En esta oscuridad mental, el mundo. En este pensamiento sólo una idea veo brillar: el mundo luminoso. En esta cavidad que piensa, luce una verdad o un número: el planeta. Así lo siento o lo razono. Yo amo sólo una idea que adoré, y persiste. Inmaculada resplandece a solas.
Joven poeta segundo. ¡Cuántos fuegos alegres en la noche! besad, amantes, con la luz los labios. Besad la luz y fluya en ella un seno. Oh la carne que llega. Las estrellas suspiran si besadas, mas no hay lágrimas, sino un cielo en desvelo. Todo expresa una verdad tangible: una materia, o es un rayo de luz que yo aprisiono. Ceñirte es darte amor, mundo otorgado. Mundo que casi rueda entre mis brazos. Como un beso, el espacio, y, ahora ardido, Queda en estrellas como su memoria.
The position of the joven poeta primero echoes sometimes Pythagoras, sometimes Plato, sometimes Berkeley; but in all cases it differs from that of the joven poeta segundo, who believes in the existence of a world outside his own mind, who sings the truth of matter and accepts the flesh. The two lives therefore oppose yet complement each other. Moreover, a careful study of “Dos vidas” reveals similarities of outlook: for instance, the common belief in the oneness of the world—“idea” in one case, “matter” in the other. Thus the poem suggests, among other things, that our perceptions are neither like those of others, nor totally different, and that while reality may be multiple, it may also be underlied by some kind of unity.
“Dos vidas” illustrates, too, the familiar continuity of Aleixandre's books. For example, the two poets are called “young” (jóvenes), which indicates that both are contemplated from the perspective of old age, as in Poemas de la consumación;51 this polarity between joven and viejo recurs in fact throughout the Diálogos: el brujo and el soldado, el viejo and la muchacha, el padre and el niño, and so on. One may identify other reminiscences from the rest of Aleixandre's work, such as the pithiness of the verse (“En esta cavidad que piensa, luce / una verdad o un número: el planeta”), the flashes of “surrealist” imagery (“Besad la luz y fluya en ella un seno”), or the search for an ultimate reality—either “mental” or “material” (“En esta oscuridad mental, el mundo,” “solo una idea veo brillar: el mundo luminoso”; “Todo expresa una verdad tangible: una materia”).
But while the Diálogos del conocimiento recall earlier texts, they have much in common with some literary currents of the 1970s which attempt to involve the reader in the creative act. For the book makes a point of rejecting univocal readings, and the incompleteness of its gnomic utterances, their frequent ambiguity and contradiction, tantalize the reader and invite him to fill in the gaps and participate in the text. Indeed, since the dialogues are actually monólogos entrecruzados52 that take dialogic form only in the mind of the reader, they force him to “create,” so to speak, his own book. Thus once again, in his old age, Aleixandre aligns himself with contemporary writing.53
The title of the book makes plain that the central theme of the Diálogos del conocimiento is the problem of knowledge: and the excerpts above show that the dynamics of the work come from the tension between rationalism and sensationalism, between life of the mind and life of the body, between thought and reality. With such theme, and with such dynamics, a reader might fear a boring series of abstractions, but Aleixandre avoids this danger. He draws on culture and literary history, and always on those resources of free association that he had learned in his “surrealist period.” Thus he creates a further source of tension from the play between abstract ideas and actual characters, between rational conceptions and irrational imagery, between the historically grounded Aleixandre of his social period and the highly subjective poet of Spanish surrealism. The Diálogos del conocimiento therefore become a synthesis of his youth revealed in books like La destrucción o el amor, of his later years revealed in books like Historia del corazón, and of his old age in a book like Poemas de la consumación. They are probably Aleixandre's most ambitious book and can be compared, in intention if not in achievement, to the last poem of so many major writers, from Virgil on, who tried to follow the works of their youth and middle age with a last crowning effort.
Now we may identify some of the reasons for Aleixandre's position as an important Spanish poet. Despite the variety of his writings, they have a unity stemming from the will to overcome all barriers between the I and the cosmos, between the I and humanity, and, finally, between the I and knowledge. Moreover, almost all of his books, from Ámbito on, illuminate his total work, which, in turn, illuminates each individual book. Indeed, Aleixandre's poetry has a kind of Dantesque quality,54 not only in its massiveness or in the frequent asperity of its verse, but in the long search for light in the midst of darkness, or of knowledge in the midst of despair. It is in this sense that Aleixandre is an ethical poet. It seems fitting, then, that in his last published book, Aleixandre's belief in the dynamic nature of the act of knowledge is embodied in a literary form dialectic by definition, namely the dialog, and that, by choosing this form, he places himself in one of the most ethical of literary traditions.
His work unified by such insight and by such thematic consistency, Aleixandre has been able to offer something unchangeable to each succeeding generation. Yet each succeeding generation has found in him, too, something different, because more than any other modern Spanish poet Aleixandre has had the ability to renew himself, and to keep in touch with the times. He might just as well be characterized with those words used to describe himself by Eugenio Montale—a poet who resembles Aleixandre in his spiritual longevity, in the protean quality of his work, and in his sense of history: “Ho seguito le vie che i miei tempi m'imponevano, domani altri seguiranno vie diverse; io stesso posso mutare.”55
Perhaps it is better, however, to let Aleixandre's own words speak for him: “Mañana … ¿Quien se atrevería a hablar de mañana? Si alguien volviese todavía la cabeza sobre mi obra lírica, no la quisiera demasiado desmerecedora de un juicio parecido a éste: En su tiempo no quedó del todo al margen de la corriente viva de la poesía: había enlazado con un ayer y no había sido materia interruptora para el mañana.”56
New York Times, 7 October 1977, p. 1; The Times (London), 9 October 1977, p. 12.
André Breton, Manifestes du surréalisme (Paris: Pauvert, n.d. ), p. 52.
Les Chants de Maldoror, “Chant sixième.”
Soledades, 11. 972-73.
Les Fleurs du mal, “Les Phares,” 11.29-32.
From “Noche sinfónica.”
See Gerard Durozoi and Bernard Lecherbonnier, Le Surréalisme (Paris: Larousse, 1972), p. 174.
From “Fuga a caballo.”
Marguerite Mertens-Stiénon, L'Occultisme du Zodiaque (Paris: Adyar, 1939).
Paul Diel, Le Symbolisme dans la mythologie grecque (Paris: Payot, 1966).
C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, Vol. V of his Collected Works (London: Bollingen Books, 1956).
Les Vases communicants (Paris: Editions des Cahiers libres, 1932), p. 81.
Arcane 17 (New York: Brentano's, 1945), p. 72.
Obras completas (Madrid: Aguilar, 1966), p. 1560.
Obras completas, p. 1474 and note.
Mis poemas mejores (Madrid: Gredos, 1976), p. 31.
Jean-Pierre Richard, Onze Études sur la poésie moderne (Paris: Seuil, 1964), pp. 130-34.
“[Pasión de la tierra] Es el libro mío más próximo al suprarrealismo, aunque quien lo escribiera no se haya sentido nunca poeta suprarrealista, porque no ha creído en lo estrictamente onírico, la escritura ‘automática,’ ni en la consiguiente abolición de la conciencia artística,” (Mis poemas mejores, p. 11). The Mexican poet and critic Octavio Paz, who once belonged to Breton's circle, also favors limiting the label “surrealist” to the French movement; consequently, he does not consider Aleixandre a surrealist poet. See his Los hijos del limo (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1974), p. 189. However, it should be pointed out that, since perfect automatism was probably never achieved in practice—with the possible exception of Desnos—“automatic writing” should not be an indispensable condition for literary surrealism. J. H. Matthews' Toward the Poetics of Surrealism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1976) makes the best case for a wider criterion.
To the English writers' excessive respect for tradition, J. H. Matthews adds their “exaltation of the amateur status,” and the lack of a charismatic leader like Breton. See his “Surrealism and England,” Comparative Literature Studies, 1 (1964-65), pp. 70-71. Herbert Read's well-founded claim for the existence of a “superrealist” current within English letters (Swift, Blake, Coleridge, Carroll—See Matthews, “Surrealism and England,” p. 67) confirms the importance of tradition in weakening the surrealist effort. Further evidence is found in the “Déclaration du groupe surréaliste en Angleterre,” Le Surréalisme en 1947 (Paris: Editions Pierre à Feu, 1947), pp. 45-46. One study of the surrealist element in twentieth-century English poetry is Paul C. Ray, The Surrealist Movement in England (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971).
Paul Ilie, The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Literature (Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press, 1968). His views are opposed by C. B. Morris, Surrealism in Spain: 1920-1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972) and by Octavio Paz, Los hijos del limo, p. 189.
At one point or another in their careers, Aleixandre and his poetic generation have paid homage to Golden Age figures such as San Juan de la Cruz, Fray Luis de León, Garcilaso, Góngora, and Quevedo.
Aleixandre has insisted on this point. See Vicente Granados, La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre (Málaga: Planeta, 1977), p. 110 and note 14. On the other hand, Aleixandre's friend Luis Cernuda believed that Aleixandre had read French surrealist publications. See Cernuda's Crítica, ensayos y evocaciones (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1970), p. 229.
Quoted by José Angel Valente, “El poder de la serpiente,” in José Luis Cano ed., Vicente Aleixandre (Madrid: Taurus, 1977), p. 170.
Isidore Ducasse went to France about the age of thirteen and there he completed his education. But he was already shaped by his childhood and early adolescence in Montevideo. According to his French classmates, he used to speak with longing of his freer life in America. His Chants de Maldoror show his enormous interest in the American fauna, though most of his knowledge is bookish. He never became a French citizen, and in 1867, three years before his death, he made a trip to Montevideo, probably to take care of his military obligations toward Uruguay. Uruguay left its mark, too, on his style, which shows a number of Hispanisms. And we know that he read in Spanish his all-important Homer—including the pseudo-Homeric stylistic treatise Arte de hablar. Moreover, he annotated his own copy of Obras de Homero in Spanish, not in French. I think it is fair to say that Lautréamont was a hybrid of French and Hispanic culture. See Jacques Lefrère's fascinating book Le Visage de Lautréamont (Paris: Pierre Horay, 1977). Although Hispanic culture left a much weaker imprint on Jules Laforgue (born in Montevideo, 1860), he too was a son of America.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, pp. 8-9.
ABC of Reading (New York: New Directions, 1960), pp. 73 and 81.
Dámaso Alonso, “El Nilo,” in José Luis Cano ed., Vicente Aleixandre, p. 17.
See Max Aub's unsympathetic assessment in his La poesía española contemporánea (México: Imprenta Universitaria, 1954), pp. 119, 120, 131-34.
Max Aub was also aware of this connection (La poesía española, p. 121 ff). In his praise of Machado's opposition to this kind of poetry, Luis Cernuda also mentions Ortega's ideas as part of the trend towards formalism. See his Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea (Madrid: Guadarrama, 1972), p. 91.
Cernuda, who was one of its members, has brilliantly studied these characteristics in his Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea, pp. 156-68. He calls it “generation of 1925.”
“Hay en Poeta en Nueva York un sentimiento de compasión, de solidaridad con lo que sufre, con lo comunmente despreciado y negligido. Este sentimiento es constante en Lorca, anterior y posterior a Poeta en Nueva York. Su expresión y la transcendencia que cobra en este libro es lo que ha cambiado y es aquí tan agudo y penetrante que es difícil encontrar un solo poema donde no pueda trazarse la expresión de dicho sentimiento”: Carlos Marcial de Onis, El surrealismo y cuatro poetas de la generación del 27 (Madrid: José Porrúa, S. A., 1974), p. 103.
“Las doctrinas estéticas de hacia 1927,” Alonso has said, “que para otros fueron tan estimables, a mí me resultaron heladoras de todo impulso creativo. Para expresarme con libertad necesité la terrible sacudida de la guerra española.” See his Poetas españoles contemporáneos (Madrid: Gredos, 1952), p. 169, n. 4. He observes, too, that his membership in the generation of 1927 has been more as a critic than as a poet.
Mis poemas mejores, p. 129. Before Sombra del paraíso Aleixandre had written a short book of poems, Mundo a solas (1934-1936), which serves as a stylistic transition between La destrucción o el amor and Sombra del paraíso. Since it is not one of Aleixandre's major books, it is not discussed here.
Leopoldo de Luis, “Otro acercamiento a Sombra del paraíso,” in José Luis Cano ed., Vicente Aleixandre, pp. 258-62, but mentioned much earlier by Max Aub, La poesía española, p. 157.
In 1953 Aleixandre published Nacimiento último, a collection of poems written in the course of the years. As its author has pointed out, it does not constitute an organic whole.
This type of poetry offered many shades: “existential,” “religious,” “civil,” “social.” A fine study and anthology is Leopoldo de Luis, Poesía social: antología (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1965). See also Dámaso Alonso, “Poesía arraigada y desarraigada,” in his Poetas españoles contemporáneos. I have dealt with the religious variety and its roots in the Golden Age and Unamuno. See my “La poesía desgarrada: de Quevedo a Dámaso Alonso,” Ínsula, 358 (1976), 13-14.
And, in the case of Eliot, by poems like “Burnt Norton.”
See Neruda's statements on his own poetic evolution and that of Vallejo in Robert Bly ed., Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 159 and 161.
In an interview with Robert Bly, Neruda acknowledged the decisive effect of the Civil War on his poetry: “The Civil War did help me and inspire me to live more near the people, to understand more and be more natural. For the first time I felt that I belonged in a community.” (Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, p. 162).
Pablo Neruda, “Sobre una poesía sin pureza,” Caballo verde para la poesía, 1 (1935), 1.
Louis MacNeice, preface to Modern Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938).
Modern Poetry, pp. 154-55.
But also the presence of “surrealist” imagery—used against surrealism!
After all, poetry should not be, he said, “too impure.”
Such is the title of a book by Blas de Otero, one of the most gifted of these poets.
For Antonio Machado as a precursor of this “communal” poetry (and as a poet therefore superior to Juan Ramón Jiménez), see the statements of Luis Cernuda in his Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea, p. 90. Also José M. Castellet's introduction to his Un cuarto de siglo de poesía española: Antología (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1966), pp. 57-64. Although biased, Castellet's book is one of the best descriptions of the opposition between the realist and Symbolist traditions in poetry. Machado's personal dilemma between his communal will and his Symbolist inclinations is the object of a fine study in P. Cerezo Galán, Palabra en el tiempo: poesía y filosofía en Antonio Machado (Madrid: Gredos, 1975), pp. 564-603.
For a detailed study of the nuances of this transition, and of many of the new poets, see José Olivio Jiménez's essay “De la poesía social a la poesía crítica” in his Diez años de poesía española: 1960-1970 (Madrid: Ínsula, 1972). This book is one of the most readable accounts of the poetry of the sixties.
Between 1958 and 1964 he wrote Retratos con nombre, a book that portrays friends of the poet in verse. The style is similar to that of En un vasto dominio.
For the relation between Machado and Sem Tob, see Segundo Serrano Poncela, “Machado y Don Sem Tob,” Cultura Universitaria, 66-67 (1959), 7-15. This sententiousness had been anticipated in En un vasto dominio: “Pero quien toca sabe / que toca un cielo / térreo. Y quien lo aprieta / no ignora cierto toca.” (from “Estar del cuerpo”). It will be developed at length in the Diálogos del conocimiento, whose dialectic structure reminds us very strongly of Machado's obsession with what he called “El problema del Sí y del No” (See his Juan de Mairena).
Guillermo Carnero, “‘Conocer’ y ‘Saber’ en Poemas de la consumación y Diálogos del conocimiento,” in José Luis Cano ed, Vicente Aleixandre, pp. 274-82.
See Darío Puccini, “Hacia una tipología de la contradicción: Vicente Aleixandre: ‘Diálogos del conocimiento,’” Papeles de Son Armadans, 241 (1976), p. 14.
Aleixandre has called them so. See Mis poemas mejores, p. 337.
Poemas de la consumación gave evidence of a comparable “textual self-consciousness.” “Las palabras,” for instance, comments on the validity of Aleixandre's writing: the poem thus contemplates itself.
This quality had been perceived by a sober Spanish critic, Ricardo Gullón; see his “Itinerario poético de Vicente Aleixandre,” in José Luis Cano ed., Vicente Aleixandre, p. 132.
Eugenio Montale, “Intenzioni (Intervista immaginaria),” in Marco Forti ed., Per conoscere Montale, (Milano: Mondadori, 1976), p. 84; rpt. from La Rassegna d'Italia, I, No. 1, January 1946.
Mis poemas mejores, p. 12.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2898
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 equation that love equals death. In spite of juxtaposing these and other dissimilarities, Aleixandre, through his very disorientation, which simulates the psychic processes themselves, and by indulging in a kind of free association, transmutes into artistic and understandable form a variety of thinly disguised wishes.
The sea, probably the most prevalent symbol of his poetry, stresses one important aspect of that subconscious process. Undoubtedly, during Aleixandre's youth, Málaga impressed the sea on his consciousness. Water (along with the sea and ocean) in dreams has the symbolic meaning of mother, and, in association with youthful innocence, happiness, and the breast, it is constantly used with this meaning in Aleixandre's poetry. Unconscious forces rather than surrealistic experimentation account for the recurring breast motif and accompanying fantasies. Indeed, Aleixandre himself rejects the label of surrealist.1 In this subconscious recall Aleixandre constantly juxtaposes the sea with the beach, moon, teeth, tongue, throat, and breast. In many of his poems he seems to use the sea as a surface on which to project his images in a manner analogous to the “dream screen.”
According to Isakower, a person falling asleep who sees dark masses approach and is unable to ascertain the division between his body and the masses, reproduces a little baby's sensations of falling asleep at the breast. This phenomenon is also associated with well-known hypnagogic manifestation of an auditory and tactile nature, involving mouth sensations and especially bodilessness, floating, and sinking. The drowser feels small in the presence of something large or heavy and may vaguely perceive something indefinite or shadowy and of vast size.2 Bertram D. Lewin, complementing this concept, postulates a dream screen as “the surface on to which a dream appears to be projected. It is the blank background, present in the dream, though not necessarily seen, and the visually perceived action in ordinary manifest dream content takes place on it or before it.”3 The representation of the mother's breast during nursing (the dream screen) may involve various solid or convex shapes or fluid objects which serve as screen equivalents and the imaginary fulfillment of a wish to sleep and a breast to sleep at. Later events and situations are projected onto the original blankness (an image of the breast during the infant's sleep) as if it were a cinematic screen. In other words the “dream screen has the metapsychological structure of a dream, forming the background or projection drop for the dream picture.”4
These phenomena are often accompanied by loss of ego boundaries, visions of white clouds, receding waves, vaporous mists, roses or pinkish color (the aureole of the breast), white and blue contrasts (the breast and the veins), and the constant implication of thirst related at the same time to concepts of dry, sandy desert wastes. A casual examination of Aleixandre's poetry reveals the presence of the above elements to an intrusive degree. In Ambit, his earliest collection, these symbols of blue and white interspersed with the idea of dust, mouth and dream, limitless forms, and especially the moon (a standard mother symbol of regeneration), which through its curved surface is homologous to a dream screen, are constant. The breast symbolism, mouth sensation, and ecstatic states often seem to relate to the withdrawn aspects and dry-thirst-tongue and mouth sensations.
More clearly, in the extra-rational Passion of the Earth Aleixandre combines his need for loving and being loved with breast fantasies in the prose poems “Love Is not Relief,” “Death or the Waiting Room,” and “Being of Hope and Rain,” which contains symbols of breast, teeth, new born child, lips, dryness, tongue, and food bag, together with a floating curtain like a sheet of rain and a concave mirror. “Life” shows us a moon-colored mermaid, her breast like a mouth: “she took out her wounded breast, split in two like a mouth, and she tried to kiss me on the dead shadow. … She didn't have another breast.” The poet rejects his death, related to that of the mermaid who gasps for breath on the surface of the sea. The idea of eating and being eaten by an object is also a way of becoming united with it; in this case, the presence of the mermaid, representative of the primal mother,5 is significant.
In “Yearning for the Day” the poet, on the surface of a bubble, cannot find “the flesh destined for him.” Lost on the ocean against the background of a wave composed of a handful of umbrellas, he wets his tongue in “the sub-sky, the ecstatic blue.” As he fuses with the ocean he views the potential threat of “the throats of the wet sirens,” and, merging with the larger whole, finds “my hand is a shore. My leg another.” The most striking aspect of what Isakower observed involves the blurring of the distinction between different regions of the body, between what is internal and external, and the amorphous character of the impressions conveyed by the sense organs. “Part of the perceptual apparatus observes the body ego as its boundaries become blurred and fused with the external world, and perceptions become localized as sensations in a particular body region.”6 Aleixandre misses a finger of his hand and is threatened by an earless monster who carries “instead of his word a short scissor, just right for cutting the open explanation. …” The defenseless poet delivers himself up to the powerful, threatening shears, possibly the manifest element of a dream which frightens the child (a typical awakener is the father's phallus), a true disturber which relates to repressed impulses which may break through as projections.7 Intruding preconscious or unconscious wishes that threaten to wake the sleeper form visual content and project the sleeper's ego onto the screen. The representation of the body or its parts in the visual content of the dream means that the part is awake and an intruder and disturber of sleep and pure fulfillment. In this poem, the poet indulges in a kind of autocannibalism: “I weep the whole head. It rolls through my breast and I laugh with my fingernails, with the two feet that are fanning me. …” Sinking and smothering sensations, or the loss of consciousness, are also found in fantasies of oral incorporation. A baby treats the breast as it does its own fingers, which it stuffs into its mouth, indulging in the identical autocannibalism of this poem. This type of anxiety is related to childhood fantasies about the prenatal state, an aspect of which is the child's imagining it entered into the mother by being swallowed.8 Paradoxically, sleep which brings pleasure also involves the anxiety of being eaten and dying. The young baby projects its self-aggression onto the breast, which it then fears as destructive. The poet is both buoyed up and supported by the waves and yet is threatened, atypical reaction of anxiety dreams about merging with a larger whole and perishing as an individual.
In “Soul under Water” the image of sinking and yet being supported by the immense sea continues: “If waves ascend, if you are soaked with all the sad melancholies that were flying avoiding your touch with their fine hollow wood, they will stop right in the throat, decapitating you with light, leaving your head like the flower. …”9 The room in which he finds himself moves on the fearful waves, and the poet is borne up: “An enormous extended sea holds me in the palm of its hand asks me for respect.” The wish to sleep seems opposed by other wishes which have escaped the ego's censorship and become conscious, a symbolism reaffirmed by “Love Suffered,” the last poem of this collection.
In Destruction or Love, “The Jungle and the Sea” shows us the human ego overwhelmed by elemental forces, repeating the anxious transmutation of the original pleasure of falling asleep, not only the active eating process, but (through the fierce animal attacks with swords and teeth) the passive idea of being eaten, also a part of the nursing situation.10 The fierce attacks and his need to punish the rejecting virgin forest, “love or punishment against the sterile trunks,” seem to involve a fear of a father and, in the fusion through primitive life with animals, may be a kind of rationalization of the wish (being eaten) “to get back again into the mother's animal womb.”11 Similar themes occur in “After Death,” complete with threatening tongues, a furious foam, and a sea which “robs breasts”; “Symphonic Night,” with tongue, “sweet taste,” and “breasts … harpshaped”; and “Total Love,” with a sea fusion, young teeth, feeding, and breast imagery.
The breast symbolism of “Sea on Earth” again suggests the dream screen. Aleixandre seems to use the sea as a surface on which to project his images:
The resonant sea turned into a lance lies on the dryness like a fish that's drowning, it clamors for that water that can be the kiss, that can be a breast to be torn and inundated.
But the dry moon doesn't respond to the reflection of the dry scales.
Then joy, the dark joy of dying, of comprehending that the world is a grain that will come apart, the one that was born for a divine water, for that immense sea that lies over the dust.
Joy will consist of coming apart like the miniscule, of turning into the severe fishbone, remains of an ocean that like the light went away, drop of sand that was a giant breast and that having left the throat like weeping lies here.
Aleixandre's pseudo-animistic theory holds that man returns in death to the place from which he came, to the sea which gave him birth. The state of sleep bears a marked resemblance to the prenatal state, an intrauterine regression which explains the dark joy of fusing with the sea, of returning to the womb. The “giant breast” gives the theoretical genetic origin of the screen, that is, the way it would look to a baby. Aleixandre's fantasy, in contrast to that of adult dreams in which the screen-ocean itself occupies part of the manifest content, is projected on the sea screen in many different forms at the same time. The gigantic breast which comes out of the poet's throat may be viewed as a withdrawal from the breast. It seems gigantic to the tiny observer, for the adult sees the hallucinated mass of extraordinary magnitude as a baby would view it. The dry, frustrating breast explains the “dry” ocean. A desert (camels are called ships of the desert) is a kind of dry ocean, and a dry moon, equally, symbolizes a dry breast. Strikingly, the dream screen frequently represents something inedible, “tasteless or even disagreeable to the mouth such as a … desert, or other wastes and barren tracts.”12 Throughout this poem Aleixandre stresses the relationship of the sea and dryness, as the dry moon fails to respond, and the immense sea lies on the dust. The dryness and sand typify thirst sensations, much as a gritty mouth would be projected onto the breast symbol.
Shadow of Paradise returns to an innocent world of infancy, to a Paradise beyond original sin and knowledge. One aspect of the invisible and formless but directly apprehended breast involves nebulous and ill-defined perceptions, ineffable experiences, and memories of a lost Paradise of contentment which compel a nostalgic return and attraction to infancy. Having only a momentary recall of Paradise, whose substance he has lost, the poet nonetheless evokes the sea and moon, a cosmic fusion of self with the material of the world, and the hidden beauty at the fount of life where naked creatures drank. The poet submerges himself in the womb of mother earth, in his Paradise where “The tongues of innocence / did not say words” and which is replete with breasts, “breasts of water,” “white teeth,” and the sea, moon, tongues, and throats. Man's tragedy is that to be born is to be cast out of Paradise, the mother's body where everything is given. As Otto Rank stresses, “the rest of life is taken up with efforts to replace this lost Paradise.”13
In “It is Not Enough,” the final poem of the volume and a summation of the metaphysical content of Aleixandre's trip to Paradise and fusion with the earth, we see a cloud through which purple lightning flashes and in which eyes shine with infinite sadness. The cloud appears and then withdraws, dense, dark, and closed, toward the far-off horizon. The poet feels deprived and miserable and exclaims:
Oh mother, mother, only in your arms I feel my misery! Only on your breast martyrized by my weeping I surrender my form, only in you I vanish.
Born of the sea and oppressed by his own bodily limits, he needs his mother's warmth, support, and beautiful breast:
The promise of God, the imagined loving forehead. How good from you, from your warm earthy flesh, to watch the pure waves of the beneficent divinity!
The poem fills many of the requisites for the dream screen. The sea appears as waves intangible to his hands. A weighty cloud stops above the water and then withdraws to a vanishing point on the horizon. The poet associates the cloud's withdrawal with a lost happiness, which he specifically connects with his mother and his mother's empty breast:
my mother, of warm darkness, breast alone where the void reigns, my love, my love, already you, you alone.
This kind of pure and holy joy, the ecstasy of an infant at his mother's breast, occurs before the child has learned to speak and is thus almost inexpressible, a “happiness without limits.” The poet rocked in “a swaying of sea, of whole stellar sea …,” associates his mother's breast with the promise of God. The horizon and the clouds floating away in a perspective leading to a vanishing point may well symbolize the withdrawn breast. The poet relates his ensuing emptiness to a lack of God, “I felt on my flesh an emptiness of God.” As Dr. Lewin points out:
The optical impressions produced by the nursing situation attain some permanence in the form of the dream screen, and later in development become associated with and attached on the representatives of concrete ideas. We are then naturally curious to know whether the nebulous and the intense but ill-defined perceptions enter into such unions too. … The invisible and formless elements become related to invisible and formless things, which are then perceived in the same direct immanent fashion. The invisible in the breast situation may be brought into juncture with God, the invisible, so that he may be perceived in the same way, directly.14
Aleixandre suffers a loss of identity or Ego in the absence of God and the breast, “… what absence of God on my fallen head / was keeping limitless vigil over my convulsed body?” He tells his mother that only in her bosom “I surrender my form, only in you I vanish.” The poet's use of “deshacer,” to vanish or be consumed, in connection with his mother's breast, recalls unhappy memories related to pleasurable ones in the primitive wish to sleep and to join the mother, to be one with her at the breast and in sleep, to lose individual consciousness or ego and thus, in a sense, to die.
Aleixandre's symbols often appear incomprehensible to the reader, whose sensibilities, nonetheless, quicken to empathize with those of the poet, inspired by the same enigmas which beset us all, as he seeks to recapture an unconscious knowledge and create a unity of perception.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis mejores poemas (Madrid, 1956) p. 10 and Fernando Charry Lara, La poesía neorromántica de Vicente Aleixandre (Bogotá, 1946), p. 31.
Otto Isakower, “A Contribution to the Patho-Psychology of Phenomena Associated with Falling Asleep,” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, XIX (1938), pp. 331-345.
Bertram D. Lewin, “Sleep, the Mouth, and the Dream Screen,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 15 (1946), p. 420.
Bertram D. Lewin, “Reconsiderations of the Dream Screen,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 22 (1953), pp. 174-99.
Otto Rank, The Trauma of Birth (New York, 1952), p. 149. See also Geza Roheim, Gates of the Dream (New York, 1952), p. 347. Roheim points out that these water beings devour their victims: “… the possible interpretation of these man-eating beings as the oral aggression in talion form …”
Isakower, p. 340.
See Bertram D. Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation (New York, 1950), p. 112; see also Lewin, “Sleep, the Mouth, and the Dream Screen,” pp. 427-433.
Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation, pp. 107-108.
Bertram D. Lewin, “Reconsiderations of the Dream Screen,” p. 187: “… the inside of a hollow space or concavity may represent the breast …”; see also Sigmund Freud, The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (New York, 1938), p. 372, in which he claims that boards are women and that “‘wood,’ generally speaking, seems, in accordance with its linguistic relations, to represent feminine matter.”
Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation, p. 11.
Rank, p. 149.
Lewin, “Reconsiderations,” p. 187.
Patrick Mullahy, Oedipus, Myth and Complex (New York, 1948), p. 163.
Lewin, “Reconsiderations,” p. 191.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9145
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 “telluric” or “existential” in order to define Aleixandre's surrealism and to make a connection between what is obviously a personal spiritual and psychological projection and broader literary manifestations. Ricardo Gullón believes that Aleixandre's surrealism is neither French nor complete.2 Carlos Bousoño also agrees that Aleixandre's surrealism “no fue nunca puro—ni aun en Pasión de la tierra—cada vez lo había de ser menos.”3 José Luis Cano also points out that Pasión de la tierra, written in 1928-1929, which seems to resemble the French school, was partly composed before the Spanish poet's contact with French writers.4 Even among those accepting Aleixandre's complete surrealism, no agreement exists as to its beginning or end in his poetic works. Villena believes that Pasión de la tierra marked “su inicio en el superrealismo”5 and that it continued at least through Mundo a solas.6 Guillermo Carnero, on the other hand, contends that even in Ambito an attitude “afín a la del superrealismo europeo debe ser admitida.”7 Angel del Río labels La destrucción o el amor as specific and frank surrealist poetry.8 For others Aleixandre was “el maestro indiscutible de esta corriente literaria”;9 uno de sus [surrealism's] más grandes poetas en cualquier idioma”;10 “the most fervent and definitely surrealistic Spanish poet,”11 and the one who remained faithful to surrealism as a form of expression for the longest time.12
But the position of Aleixandre himself remains unclear. André Breton in his first manifesto defined surrealism as a psychic automatism through which he proposed to express the real functioning of thought without control by reason, revealing the narrow relationship between the real and the imaginary. He talked about pure psychic automatism, the suspension of consciousness in order to express subconscious ideas and feelings.13 Aleixandre states that he never believed “en lo estrictamente onírico, la escritura automática, ni en la consiguiente abolición de la conciencia artística.”14 Furthermore, in a letter to Fernando Charry Lara he writes: “dice usted bien: Yo no soy un poeta superrealista.”15 Yet Aleixandre, in a poem dedicated to Breton's death in 1966, apparently acknowledges that La destrucción o el amor is surrealistic:
Oh desvarío: tierra, tú en tu voz Poetas. Sí Poeta en Nueva York. También, corriendo fiel, Un río, un amor. Allá Sobre los ángeles sonó el trueno. No; la luz. La destrucción.(16)
In 1971 Aleixandre published Poesía surrealista which contains, among other poems, “Quien baila se consuma,” of Diálogos del conocimiento, his latest volume of poetry. He also concedes that his total poetry contains irrational sequences, even though Pasión de la tierra was “el libro mío más próximo al superrealismo.”17 In his evaluation of that volume the poet speaks of a violent rupture with the poetry of the age and of subconscious elements: “Un mundo de movimientos casi subterráneos, donde los elementos subconscientes servían a la visión del caos original allí contemplado.”18 As for the poems themselves, a chaotic vision prevails and Aleixandre proceeds by association of ideas without selection, although he also views this volume as a struggle toward light and a book in which “todavía me reconozco.”19 His next collection, Espadas como labios (1932), also seems to reject history and anecdote. The subconscious association, freedom from spatial and temporal laws, and the apparent destruction of logic in a world where real things disintegrate might lead one to conclude that his subjective imagery reflects his surrealism.
Yet an examination of Aleixandre's poetry reveals the possibility of another explanation that gives coherence and a kind of logic to these supposedly incomprehensible early poems concerning the encounter of the self with the reality that surrounds and defines it. Aleixandre, unable to escape the personal limits imposed by illness and a feeling of impotence, cannot help but include overtones expressive of the special circumstances under which the poems were written; without negating the imaginative elements, we can better understand them if we apprehend the circumstantial ingredients. In April of 1925 a serious illness caused Aleixandre to retire to the countryside for two years. This illness left an indelible impression on his poetry which, while apparently evasive, also revealed a profound preoccupation with the poet's own physical necessities. Juan José Domenchina, commenting on this illness and withdrawal, labels this poetry “biological.”20 Max Aub believes that Aleixandre's illness left a mark on his poems, “desperate songs of unsatisfied love”.21 Dámaso Alonso saw in him a poet whom God touched with physical pain that left a mark on his body and soul.22 Aleixandre refers to his own illness and its effect on his career, emphasizing that his poetic consciousness “afloró con el cambio que años después una enfermedad larga y grave imprimió al rumbo de mi existencia. Edad: veintitantos años. Campo y soledad. … Este cambio total decidió de mi vida.”23
Aleixandre consciously admits to another great influence: “Pero he de confesar la profunda impresión que la lectura de un psicólogo de incisiva influencia me produjo en 1928, y el cambio de raíz que en mi modesta obra se produjo.”24 Whatever the unconscious fantasies and their intensification through Aleixandre's illness, he also accepted the direct influence of Freud's works and admits: “Hace tiempo que sé, aunque entonces no tuviera conciencia de ello, lo que este libro [Pasión de la tierra] debe a la lectura de un psicólogo [Freud] de vasta repercusión literaria, que yo acabara de realizar justamente por aquellos años.”25 A further serious illness in 1932 reinforced his reliance on a dream world of the unconscious where one might escape the reality of impotence. Freud's work appeared in Spanish in 1923. Though it is difficult to pinpoint the superficial knowledge of Freudian theories by Aleixandre as opposed to later direct study, in all of his poetry Dionysian efforts to recreate a reality through imagery struggle with Apollonian tendencies to control his subconscious fantasy world. Robert Bly, in a review in the New York Times (October, 1977) comments: “In his work you can see more clearly than in any poet in English the impact of Freud. He evokes what it was like for a Westerner to read Freud's testimony of the immense and persistent sexual energy trying to rise into every vein and capillary of life.” Aleixandre was never able to give an adequate explanation of his poetry, but he recognized it as based on subconscious desires and the need to relieve certain pressures. In En un vasto dominio (1962) he claims that he writes for everybody: “Para todos escribo. … Para ti y todo lo que en ti vive, / yo estoy escribiendo.”26 Yet in Diálogos del conocimiento (1974) we see a continuing dichotomy as in “Dos Vidas” he distinguishes between the poet who writes only “testimonio de mí” and the other who “entre los hombres eché a andar.”27 Although in their glorification of instinct and sexual expression surrealists bear a superficial resemblance to the Spanish poet, in reality Aleixandre does not share their radical transformation of values through total liberation of the unconscious, nor do his stylistic resources sever his poetry from the moral or human. Yet he conveys the feeling of Breton's second manifesto of having reached a point where opposites such as life and death are no longer perceived as contradictory. In surrealist poetry, metaphysical in nature, one should avoid equating techniques, such as automatic writing or collage, with the movement itself, though technique might be used to trigger the liberating mechanism of total love, beauty, and liberty. Breton himself later admitted that automatic writing was not the key.28 The function of the “juxtaposition of incongruities” is to express receptivity to a modified sensibility and to testify to the actualization of this change in a momentary vision of union. The major forces for union and vehicles for expressing awareness might be total love, liberty, contradiction of social constraints and exposure to free chance, and the perception of the marvelous in the universe. Surrealism does not translate symbols or deal in neuroses or personal exorcism. The imagery and concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis were used in varying degrees by the surrealists. But psychoanalysis assumes that neuroses result from the rejection by the conscious mind of factors which stay in the unconscious as dynamic repressions, causing conflicts which may then be resolved by analyzing these repressions through free association and dream interpretation. Aleixandre's poetry is often irrational, not by any means the same as surrealistic. He uses unexpected juxtapositions, but he does not really exploit chance effects.
Aleixandre reveals a total absorption in the material of his created world which comes, not from contrivance, but from deep necessity. The apparent rejected vision of the normal exterior eye cannot disguise the poet's participation in a reality which cannot exclude self. Indeed, many of Aleixandre's early poems seem analogues of the poet's psychological journey from annihilation, evasion, despair, and death to an affirmation of life and love and a striving toward light, even though his self-contained pattern of harmonies and disharmonies seems at times the paradigm of the dark forces at the very center of existence. In other words, his poetic vision seems to reject the material world, reality's affirmation in which the poet for a time felt he could not participate but which existed nonetheless for his subconscious experience in disguised form. The poet shared in this way the thirst for love and life.29 His is a poetry of thematic unity of death and love, employing a pattern of unusual images.
As Paul Ilie points out, each poem in itself may be incomprehensible, but as a group they reveal certain motifs and patterns.30 Let us, briefly, examine the story line. Ambito (1928), written during an illness, sensually examines fleeting aspects of time, and the poet, within his own boundary—the limits of his sickroom—creates poetry which contains “fuerzas que luego harían ostentación”31 and which also “ensancha en mi memoria y queda.”32 A recurring archetype which integrates all of Aleixandre's poetry—the sea—appears, and morning light, especially the interplay of light and darkness—the former phallic, the latter feminine—also fascinates the poet as he longs to possess the night.
In Pasión de la tierra the poet joins passion in its human existential force and earth. One sees here Aleixandre's anguish in his relationship to the material universe, which lacks order and offers no clear-cut solution for man, a victim of the world and civilization much as Aleixandre, sick and solitary, was a victim. The poet rejects death for life, discovering nonetheless that love offers no relief, for it is an empty gesture in the face of threatening night or death which offers pain together with its suggested joy. To be with the night brings the pleasure of maternal union, but to sleep at that breast is to lose consciousness, a kind of death. Aleixandre seeks to become one with basic elements by breaking the limits of form. Lost on the ocean of life, he recognizes that he cannot escape destiny, symbolized as a great serpent.
Espadas como labios again concerns the central themes of life, death and love. The poet petrifies and immobilizes the moment as he peruses dead roses and “coals of silence” (because they lack life-giving flame) and a series of other death representations. Here one encounters the poet's constant longing to be combined with a fear of not being. Though he continues to seek love and light as opposed to death and darkness, he also sees death as a rebirth, a kind of joy and awakening that wants to break the limits that prevent things from returning to earth. He recognizes that death may be a prolongation of life and that love takes many forms. The poet may seek in vain for truth and beauty in a hypocritical world where dreams are not fulfilled and may find true sexual and erotic expression in the more primitive and even threatening natural forces. Finally, the fusion with nature in flux, where a human arm can weigh more than a star, takes on new dimensions. Aleixandre momentarily becomes the universe, but he is constantly reminded of his tangible limits in an immobilized world.
So as we can see, the poet clearly conveys a connected narrative. His symbols represent a variety of sensual, erotic states involving a repressed sexuality, and a psychoanalytic examination of that symbolism reveals the poet's motivation behind and preoccupation with the equation that love equals death.33 Pathognomic in their psychological connations, anxieties and fantasies, these symbols are rooted in the painful dynamic of Aleixandre's own life. These early collections, especially, seem to have offered him the opportunity to sublimate various thinly disguised impulses, and his selection of relevant imagery reinforces the belief that in his case the unconscious influences were so overwhelming that his creative process was simply a transmutation of his fantasies into an artistically and socially acceptable form. Frederick Prescott has pointed out in The Poetic Mind that poetry may serve as a catharsis: “The catharsis is accomplished by a psychological analysis to which Stekel likens poetry, except that in poetry the patient ministers to himself.”34 Without accepting the absolute validity of psychoanalytic principles we may understand the unconscious motivations of which the poet himself may not have been aware, which when analyzed clarify certain distortions dwelling in the dark corners of the human mind and provide flashes of recognition of symbols that one knows or almost knows as his own.
As Freud points out, love and death instincts fuse and blend with one another and reveal themselves in an ambivalent attitude toward various objects, “for [in] the opposition between the two classes of instincts we may put the polarity of love and hate. There is no difficulty in finding a representative of Eros, but we must be grateful that we can find a representative of the elusive death instinct in the destruction to which hate points the way.”35 Imagination, according to Freud, is a refuge which provides a substitute pleasure for narcissistic wishes that the artist had to abandon in real life. He states:
An artist is originally a man who turns away from reality because he cannot come to terms without the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction which it at first demands, and he allows his erotic and ambitious wishes full play in the life of fantasy. He finds his way back to reality from this world of fantasy by making use of special gifts to mold his fantasies into truths of a new kind, which are valued by men as precious reflections of reality.36
“El amor no es relieve” of Pasión de la tierra [hereafter abbreviated as PC] may, in two lines, reveal clarly a technique which seems surrealistic37 but with a Freudian explanation: “En tu cintura no hay más que mi tacto quieto. Se te saldrá el corazón por la boca mientras la tormenta se hace morada” (PC, 151). The first sentence seems to bear no relationship to the second. Yet, if we substitute for calm touch not the meaning of amorous caress which the conscious mind translates but rather the sense of mortal pressure or squeezing, we can easily understand the frightening second image. We often hear expressions such as “I could squeeze you to pieces,” quite indicative of ambivalent emotions. It has been said that even cannibals have a devouring affection for their enemies. Emotionally then, squeezing fatally would cause the heart to leave through the throat. Obviously, if one has one's heart in the throat one is choking. So the image would come to mind of a purple face or a purple reality, hence a purple torment. Once again we see that Eros and Thanatos are identical, that love equals death. And so a caress becomes a purple torment because both are the same and both are death.
In Ambito Aleixandre sets the stage for the sea as a battleground between Eros and Thanatos. “Mar y aurora” shows us a living entity whose timid waves and passive foam awaken with the dawn. Gradually the sun's rays disperse the shadows and the sea becomes more active; the sunlight and the sea renew their daily symbolic relationship as the former indulges in its daily drinking of the waves. According to Jung, primitive belief held that the sea previously swallowed the old sun and like a woman gave birth the following day to a new sun.38 But in “Mar y noche” Aleixandre reveals a dark and threatening sea, viewed as a mouth, throat and gullet waiting eagerly to devour the night: “Boca-mar-toda ella, pide noche / … para sus fauces hórridas, y enseña / todos sus blancos dientes de espuma” (PC, 101-02). Seeking to swallow its enemy, the sea, chained to its black bed, vainly strains to free itself. The moment before falling asleep, when the sense of being engulfed is strongest, a dreamer may at times be threatened by the jaws of death; in these two poems Aleixandre produces a kind of primal relationship and reciprocal cannibalism, as the day drinks the sea and the sea devours the night with which Aleixandre identifies, again implying that the drive for life and the impulse to destruction may be mutually dependent. Death may be both good and bad, for the sea may represent, too, a timeless afterlife which blurs the distinction between annihilation and immortality.
Throughout, Aleixandre's works give us two basic images, one of tongue, teeth, warmth, dryness, wetness, ecstasy, and a host of maternal breast images, and the other of phallic impotence, a dark bewilderment of an enchained subjective self striving for expression in a world of frigidity and destruction. The fears of death and castration, as Ernest Jones shows, are extremely closely associated, and anxiety concerning indefinite survival of the personality constantly expresses the fear of a punitive impotence, a kind of death.39 Aleixandre's youth in Málaga impressed the sea on his consciousness so that it became for him the symbol of his mother. In psychoanalytic literature the sea quite usually has this meaning. His desire to return and merge with that happiness and all it represents implies his death as an individual, for he will be absorbed by a larger unit. But this absorption is to be resisted. In “No existe el hombre,” from Mundo a solas, Aleixandre specifies that the sea is not a bed where the body of a man can stretch out alone: “un mar no es un sudario para una muerte lúcida” (PC, 423). The sea is not a bed, a shroud. The regressively attractive mother symbol, the sea, is said not to be the very thing he holds it to be, a mechanism of denial or negation. Intra-uterine life, being held pre-mortal except by the Church, is easily equated with post-mortal life, so that life before birth equals in fantasy life after death, both longed-for and feared.
Pasión de la tierra continues the personal combination of death and sexuality. In “El amor no es relieve” the poet exclaims: “Te amo, te amo, no te amo. / Tierra y fuego en tus labios saben a muerte perdida” (PC, 152). In “Ser de esperanza y lluvia” a dying poet does not know whether life can be found in the sea, both love and death. In his hand he holds a breathing (life-giving) lung, but also “una cabeza rota ha dado a luz a dos serpientes vivas” (PC, 159), an obvious castration implication.40 “El amor padecido” again juxtaposes phallic symbolism, “para amar la forma perpendicular de uno mismo,” (PC, 211) with death imagery, a wounding love, oedipal concerns and a sea with jaws. Throughout, this collection relates the sensual to death and decay and shows the sea as both love and death, involving a continuing symbolism of round mouths, throats, teeth, rotten fish, and a passion of water and death.
Espadas como labios through its very title combines the erotic with the deadly, lips which kiss and love and swords which maim and kill, an erotic interplay with death which is “el tema principal de toda la poesía aleixandrina de la primera época: desde Ambito … a Nacimiento último. Se trata, como certera e insistentemente se ha dado en afirmar, del amor-pasión como impulso destructor.”41 A number of poems offer us a juxtaposition of love and death. In “El vals,” though the world may ignore “el vello de los pubis,” the “labios obscenos” convert into a kiss which “se convertirá en una espina que dispensará la muerte diciendo: Yo os amo” (PC, 236). In “En el fondo del pozo,” contemplation of the beloved's long hair lasts all too briefly as we see “la música cuajada en hielo súbito” and “un corazón, un juguete olvidado” (PC, 238-39). “El más bello amor” offers one of the poet's most powerful sexual fantasies. Here Aleixandre, rejecting the unsatisfying love of women, finds himself a beloved shark:
Así sin acabarse mudo ese acoplamiento sangriento respirando sobre todo una tinta espesa los besos son las manchas las extensibles manchas Una boca imponente como una fruta bestial como un puñal que de la arena amenaza el amor
The fish inhabiting the life-giving seas represent a vital sexual destructive capacity. Aleixandre views the instinctive attack here and elsewhere of primitive animals as a form of love, but the implied sexual force may also represent a passive masochistic gratification, for these symbols of virility are both loved and feared. Similarly in “Con todo respeto,” “el beso ardentísimo … nos quebranta los huesos” (PC, 81). Corresponding themes may be found in “Circuito” (224), where he seeks the love of “sirens of the sea”; in “Nacimiento último” (230-31), where he views the sea as eternal life and death; and in “Muñecas” (247-48), where he relates the pleasant-unpleasant aspects of physical love. Indeed, in almost all of the poems he dwells on destructive death imagery and the pleasure-pain involved in love.
To wish to be eaten or possessed by menacing animals often represents a death fantasy equivalent to a fear of castration;42 the neurotic dread of death is also primarily related to the fear of being devoured.43 The poet both seeks and rejects love and death, ambivalently revealing that through dying symbols of detumescence a life may ensue. Everywhere we find rotten fish, drowning fish, fish like stone, and, less frequently, fish colored with the flush of living. Water, sea and ocean may mean ‘mother’ in association with youthful innocence, happiness, the breast, absorption and death. The poet constantly juxtaposes sea, beach, moon, teeth, tongue, throat, and breast. In many of these poems he uses the sea as a surface on which to project his images in a manner analogous to the Isakower Phenomenon and the dream screen. According to Otto Isakower, a person falling asleep who sees dark masses approach and is unable to ascertain the division between the body and the masses reproduces a little baby's sensations of falling asleep at the breast. This phenomenon, also associated with well-known hypnagogic manifestations of an auditory and tactile nature, involves mouth sensations and especially bodilessness, floating, and sinking. The drowser feels small in the presence of something large or heavy and may vaguely perceive something indefinite or shadowy and of vast size.44 Bertram D. Lewin, complementing this concept, postulates a dream screen as the blank background present in the dream, and the visually perceived action in ordinary manifest dream content takes place on it or before it.45 The representation of the mother's breast during nursing (the dream screen) may involve various solid or convex shapes or fluid objects which serve as screen equivalents and the imaginary fulfillment of a wish to sleep and a breast to sleep at. Later events and situations are projected onto the original blankness (an image of the breast during the infant's sleep, as if it were a cinematic screen). In other words, the dream screen forms the background or projection drop for the dream picture.46 These phenomena are often accompanied by loss of ego boundaries, visions of white clouds, receding waves, vaporous mists, roses or pinkish color (the aureole of the breast), white and blue contrasts (the breast and the veins), and the constant implication of thirst related at the same time to concepts of dry, sandy desert wastes. A casual examination of Aleixandre's poetry reveals the presence of the above elements to an intrusive degree even in Ambito, which is replete with blue and white interspersed with dust, mouth, dream, limitless forms, and especially the moon (a standard mother symbol), which through its curved surface is homologous to a dream screen. The breast symbolism, mouth sensations, and ecstatic states often seem to relate to the withdrawn aspects and dry-thirst tongue and mouth sensation. In “Vida,” from Pasión de la tierra, a moon-colored mermaid, her breast like a mouth, divided in two “me quiso besar sobre la sombra muerta. Le faltaba otro seno” (PC, 149). The poet relates his death to the mermaid who gasps for breath on the surface of the sea. The idea of eating and being eaten by an object is of course also a way of becoming united with it. Mermaids quite often represent the primal mother, and as Géza Roheim points out in Gates of the Dream these water beings devour their victims, a kind of oral aggression in talion form, that is, the punishment is identical to the offense.47 Paradoxically, sleep which brings pleasure also involves the anxiety of being eaten and dying. The young baby projects its self-aggression onto the breast, which it then fears as destructive. In “Ansiedad para el día” (PC, 200-01) the poet, on the surface of a bubble, cannot find the flesh destined for him. Lost against the background of a wave composed of a handful of umbrellas, he wets his tongue in “the subheaven, the ecstatic blue,” a projection of the image of the breast onto the sky. As he fuses with the ocean he views the potential threat of “Las gargantas de las sirenas húmedas,” and, merging with the larger whole, finds “una orilla es mi mano. Otra mi pierna.” The most striking aspect of what Isakower observed involves the blurring of the distinction between different regions of the body, between what is internal and external, and the amorphous character of the impressions conveyed by the sense organs. “Part of the perceptual apparatus,” says Isakower, “observes the body ego as its boundaries become blurred and fused with the external world, and perceptions become localized as sensations in a particular body region.”48 Aleixandre misses a finger of his hand and is threatened by an earless monster who carried “en lugar de sus palabras una tijera breve, la justa para cortar la explicación abierta.” The poet surrenders to the threatening shears, possibly the manifest element of a frightening dream, a true disturber relating to repressed impulses that may break through as projections.49 Aleixandre indulges in a kind of autocannibalism: “Lloro la cabeza entera. Me rueda por el pecho y río con las uñas, con los dos pies que me abanican.” Sinking and smothering sensations or the loss of consciousness are also found in fantasies of oral incorporation or being eaten. A baby treats the breast as it does its own fingers or others which it stuffs into its mouth, indulging in the identical autocannibalism of the poem. This type of anxiety (recall the title of the poem) is related to childhood fantasies about the prenatal state, an aspect of which is the child's imagining it entered into the mother by being swallowed. The concept of mother earth in the total collection, indeed Aleixandre's fusion with the earth in a final death as an ultimate kind of love and possession, combines with Freudian preoccupations, especially those involving the sea and breast symbolism. The poet is supported by the waves and yet is threatened, a typical reaction of anxiety dreams about merging with a larger whole and perishing as an individual and one of the constants not only in Aleixandre's early poetry but throughout his work.
These images and the dream screen continue in Aleixandre's later poetry. In addition to the human ego overwhelmed by elemental forces, repeating the anxious transmutation of the original pleasure of falling asleep, not only the active eating process but (through fierce animal attacks with swords and teeth) the passive idea of being eaten also becomes a part of the nursing situation. Throughout the collection we see concepts involving seas that steal from breasts, tongues connected with “sweet savor,” and breasts in the form of harps, as Aleixandre constantly emphasizes feeding and breast imagery. One poem, among many, from his masterpiece La destrucción o el amor shows clearly his continuing maternal and dream screen symbolism: the breast of “Mar en la tierra.”
El resonante mar convertido en una lanza yace en lo seco como un pez que se ahoga, clama por esa agua que puede ser el beso, que puede ser un pecho que se rasgue y anegue. Pero, la seca luna no responde al reflejo de las escamas pálidas. …
Entonces la dicha, la oscura dicha de morir de comprender que el mundo es un grano que se deshará, el que nació para un agua divina, para ese mar inmenso que yace sobre el polvo. La dicha consistirá en deshacerse como lo minísculo, en transformarse en la severa espina, resto de un océano que como la luz se marchó gota de arena que fue un pecho gigante y que salida por la garganta como un sollozo aquí vace.
The state of sleep bears a marked resemblance to the prenatal state and uterine regression, which explains the dark joy of fusing with the sea, of returning to the womb. The “gigantic breast” gives the theoretical genetic origin of the screen, that is, the way it would look to a baby. The gigantic breast which comes out of the throat may be viewed as a withdrawal from the breast. It seems gigantic to the tiny observer, for the adult sees the hallucinated mass to be of extraordinary magnitude, as a baby would view it. The dry, frustrating breast explains the “dry” ocean. A desert (camels are called ships of the desert) is a kind of dry ocean, and a dry moon equally symbolizes a dry breast. Strikingly, the dream screen frequently represents something inedible, “tasteless or even disagreeable to the mouth such as a desert, or other wastes and barren tracts.”50 Through this poem, Aleixandre stresses the relationship of the sea and dryness, as the dry moon fails to respond and the immense sea lies on the dust. The dryness and sand typify thirst sensations, much as a gritty mouth would be projected onto the breast symbol.
Often, in fusing with mother earth, Aleixandre experiences both a pure and holy joy. In “No basta,” from Sombra del paraíso (1944), in which the poet associates the cloud's (breast's) withdrawal with a lost happiness, he tells Mother that only in her bosom “rindo mi bulto, sólo en ti me deshago” (PC, 578). The poet's use of deshacer (to vanish or be consumed) in connection with his mother's breast combines pleasant and unhappy memories related in the primitive wish to sleep and join Mother, to be one with her at the breast and in sleep, to lose individual consciousness or ego and thus, in a sense, to die.
La destrucción o el amor (1935) examines more closely a world of mystery and darkness whose basic fabric is erotic love in a universe of unchained telluric forces that may prove fatal to man, absorbing and destroying him. Human love is fleeting and only a final fusion with the earth will prove to be enduring. But one must accept the virgin forests and ferocious beasts and seek salvation in an identification with nature in all its forms, thus affirming rather than denying love for all creation. The limits between flora and fauna disappear in a new unity; the sea's fish appear to be birds; foam is hair; body is ocean; a heart is a mountain. This amorous unity includes poems like “La selva y el mar” (PC, 299-300), involving powerful destructive forces in a formless world in flux where each being wishes existentially to be the other. Through an erotic act they partially discover real essence; for these creatures—tigers, lions, eagles—represent a form of love: “al descubierto en los cuellos allá donde la arteria golpea, / donde no se sabe si es el amor o el odio / lo que reluce en los blancos colmillos / … la cobra que se parece al amor más ardiente.”
In other poems Aleixandre suggests that human love and the erotic force of nature are fragments of the same unity, as the poet dissolves in living flesh against a cosmic background where nature is both destroyed and engendered. In “Unidad en ella” Aleixandre clearly states:
Quiero amor o la muerte, quiero morir del todo,
Este beso en tus labios como una lenta espina
luz o espada mortal que sobre mi cuello amenaza.
In “Ven siempre, ven” the poet also longs for love or death: “Ven, ven, muerte, amor; ven pronto, te destruye; / ven, que quiero matar o amar o morir o darte todo” (PC, 316). In “Soy el destino” the poet continues: “Sí, te he querido como nunca. / ¿Por qué besar tus labios, si se sabe que la muerte está próxima, / si se sabe que amar es sólo olvidar la vida?” (PC, 375). In “Sólo morir de día” he again talks of “un amor que destruye” (PC, 386). The poet unifies light, water, and vegetation in a totality of testimony and experience, recreating emotional contexts on a level far beyond poetic reality, an intuition of his moment of creation but originating from ecstatic elements and profound fears of his subconscious.
From his earliest poetry Aleixandre has stressed the concept of limits or boundaries. Perhaps love can save one from society's mask, but to achieve fusion with the earth one must give up limiting structures. A hunger of being in everything impels to that autodestruction; in order to be everything or something one stops being what one really is. Thus Aleixandre sees nature as a physical whole in which violence and love are but two parts of the total picture of the primary forces of life. The poet contemplates the need for fusion and integration in the cosmic scheme of things for a final birth or death; everything attacks, destroys, for life is death.
Mundo a solas (1950) provides us still with tormented love as Aleixandre strives toward a virginal existence of light and purity in the face of an inevitable death which impedes progress to Paradise. In “Bulto sin amor” the poet loves intensely but when he attempts to embrace his loved one it becomes rock, hard, death. “Te amé … No sé. No sé que es el amor. / Te padecí gloriosamente como a la sangre misma, / como el doloroso martillo que hace vivir y mata” (PC, 427). In “Humano ardor,” he states that “Morir, morir es tener en los brazos un cuerpo / del que nunca salir se podrá como hombre” (PC, 434).
In Sombra del paraíso the poet continues to explore his limits. He evokes a Paradise where he may find lost happiness, but he must also be conscious of the darkness in his universe of light and beauty. As he recreates his love he achieves only a momentary glimpse of Paradise, not its substance—hence the title. This shadow world clothed in living and beautiful flesh may be an illusion, for purity implies the existence of a less innocent reality. Aleixandre discovers a fleeting virginal beauty in the ephemeral and transient qualities of nature, but he seeks relief from his human condition through love, a familiar human emotion. He communicates thus a poetic double vision, the instinctive one of innocence and the experienced one of adult knowledge, for he knows that his dawn creatures will become human ones for whom fate and death exist. In “El poeta” we learn that sexual energy has not abated, for the poet must still ward off the brutal attack of heavenly birds and face the loss of phallic power: “como se ve brillar el lomo de los calientes peces sin sonido” (PC, 463). Similarly, in “Destino trágico,” in an act of love his body falls “espumante en los senos del agua; / vi dos brazos largos surtir de la negra presencia / y vi vuestra blancura, oí el último grito.” In “Poderío de la noche” we see: “Unos labios inmensos cesaron de latir, y en sus bordes aun se ve deshacerse un aliento, una espuma” (PC, 483), as sexual energy leads to dissolution. “Caballera negra” offers us “Cabello negro, luto donde entierro mi boca, / oleaje doloroso donde mueren mis besos” (PC, 549); in “Ultimo amor” Aleixandre exclaims: “Amor, amor, tu ciega pesadumbre, / tu fulgurante gloria me destruye” (PC, 568). Finally, in “Sierpe de amor” (PC, 473-74)51 the poet, a serpent in Eden, longs to posses the naked, beautiful goddess, but the menace of light from her brow impedes his sliding like a tongue between her living breasts. Yet he penetrates her, bathing in her blood, a celestial destroying fire which will consume him. The serpent, usually associated with negative symbols, here becomes a symbol of both liberating love and death, surrendering to nature, the ultimate reality of the world. The serpent, a shadow, desires to die, that is to become light. To do so he kisses his beloved, mortally biting her, and so both at the same time are victims and vanquished, “Boca con boca muero, / respirando tu llama que me destruye.”
In Nacimiento último (1953) Aleixandre broadens and humanizes his perspectives of love and death. As the title shows, in the mind of the poet death is a final birth, for when man dies he finds his destiny. In a sense the volume marks a natural close to Aleixandre's cosmic cycle, for the only complete love lies in the final act of death, as he continues to seek love and find death: “decía un gemido y enmudecían los labios, / mientras las letras teñidas de un carmín en su boca / destellaban muy débiles, hasta que al fin cesaban” (“El moribundo,” (PC, 591). Aleixandre himself states: “Si bajo tal mirada muerte es amorosa destrucción y reintegración unitaria, a ese término, verdadero ‘nacimiento último,’ está dedicada esta sucesión de poemas finales.”52 The very titles convey the tone; in “Los amantes enterrados” (PC, 596), he reiterates “Siempre atados de amor, sin amor, muertos”; in “Acabó el amor” (PC, 600) “el amor, si fue puñal instantáneo que desangró mi pecho.”
In Historia del corazón (1954) Aleixandre, as he describes historical and existential man, also portrays his own life, desperate and lonely. The poet knows it is the only life he has and he must live it with joy. The collection explores human solidarity, and the poet alleviates his solitude by identifying with the life of the world, finally realizing that he may achieve authenticity through love. Increasingly he also becomes aware of death but faces it stoically. In spite of the more optimistic note, one still encounters a continuing association between Thanatos and Eros. In “Como el vilano” Aleixandre clutches for love but finds it only a shadow of reality; in “Sombra final” (PC, 697) he associates love, “beso / Alma o bulto sin luz, o letal hueso,” with death. In “La explosión” love is limited by the experience of one unique afternoon of infinite duration, but as the light dies it is as though life itself is ending: “Y luego en la oscuridad se pierden, y nunca ya se verán” (PC, 764). Finally, in “Mirada final” (PC, 782) Aleixandre recognizes his solitude and death, but he knows that to live, one must die.
In En un vasto dominio (1962) [hereafter abbreviated as EVD] he also sorrows at the thought of man's finality; he views him as a spatial being within a temporal framework but still material of the cosmos in flux. The poet seeks the answer in the vastest of dominions, that of man and his spirit, understood as the condensation and expression of a single material in which everything is integrated irrevocably. As he explores life from birth to death he discovers that reality cannot exist without limits,53 that “hesitant truth without borders is like a sad stain” (EVD, 48). Aleixandre sees himself in the parts of the body, in man's created objects, but we can also see his desire for youth and love through his recapitulation of those parts. It is now the human protagonist who has assumed a central role in the process of transformation and unification of matter.54
Poemas de la consumación (1968) [hereafter abbreviated as PdC] reflects the serene reencounter with Aleixandre's existence, as he returns to the primary and ultimate theme of his entire poetic output, the interrelationship of love, life, and death. Indeed, as one critic has noted, there are “notables puntos de semejanza … de algunos poemas … de Ambito con otros del último libro de Aleixandre (Poemas de la consumación).”55 He also reverts to one theme of Historia del corazón, that of old men from whom we can learn as they wait for death and dream of life, of which they are almost no longer a part. Aleixandre continues an inner-directed contemplation of old age and wisdom, seen as sterile and useless because he can only remember and not act; the poet expresses his sadness for something forever lost and now only half-remembered, the culminating reality of what was hope and a dream of innocence. Wisdom is useless in this confrontation, for youth, exulting in its transitory life, knows that to exist is enough. The poet's wisdom brings not life but death, the only truth. The sea for him is now a symbol of death, dryness, and defeat, but he has not surrendered completely to solitude and separation. Life is time, and man lives within this framework from birth to death. Old men know. The child strives to know. But Aleixandre realizes that words are not enough. They are pretty but they do not last. In “El poeta se acuerda de su vida” he realizes that words die like the beautiful night or dreams of yore.56 Once again death, both in the form of knowledge and love, is omnipresent. Aleixandre, presaging the dialogues of his last work, indulges in a continuous conflict, realizing once again the unhappy synergy; as in his earliest works he feels limited, by age now rather than the sick room. His repressions still pass in review, for he thinks of his life as wasted. Consciously he resists these ideas, but they enter in disguised form.
Thanatos and Eros continue to play a significant role. As Leopoldo de Luis states: “La carne es sueño si se la mira … pesadilla si se la siente … visión si se la huye … piedra si se la sueña (consumación y muerte).”57 In “Como la mar, los besos” Aleixandre notes: “Como un alga tus besos. / Mágicos en la luz, pues muertos tornan” (PdC, 30); in “Visión juvenil desde otros años” he writes: “el mundo rodando, / … es cual un beso, / aun después que aquel muere” (PdC, 32). Old age finds it difficult to accept love and life; living is loving and being loved. In “Supremo fondo” we see the sea “muy seca, cual su seno, y volada. / Su recuerdo son peces putrefactos al fondo / … miramos a los que amar ya muertos” (PdC, 50); in “Cueva de noche” a kiss becomes “oscuridad final que cubre en noche definitiva / tu luminosa aurora / … mi aurora funeral que en noche se abre” (PdC, 83). In this collection then, filled with mouth, lips, kisses, and love—a love vanished with the fires of youth—death and love combine, for “Soy quien finó, quien pronunció tu nombre / como forma / mientras moría” (“Presente, después,” PdC, 103).
Aleixandre's Diálogos del conocimiento [hereafter abbreviated as DC] consists of 14 poems in which two people talk, without listening to one another, in a kind of free association on the conflict between living and thought. Love and death form part of the knowledge the poet had from the beginning, and he continues to connect sensuality, love and death. For Guillermo Carnero “El amor es, para Aleixandre, junto a las manifestaciones de los sentidos, una necesidad, desde la ignorancia de conocer.”58 Also, says José Olivio Jiménez, in this collection Aleixandre continues the “irracionalismo expresivo que conocíamos en Aleixandre desde sus años de juventud.”59 Aleixandre again postulates a kind of destruction or love in these dialogues. One speaker always talks of hope and liberty, struggle and doubt; the other of fatality, desolation, and renunciation. Aleixandre wants to know the meaning of life and living, but his speakers, unable to communicate, speak only to themselves. These dialogues resemble the manic-depressive state; on the one hand libidinal impulses have access to consciousness; on the other, everything tends to the negation of life.
Aleixandre calls dynamic knowledge conocer, ‘to become acquainted with,’ and static knowledge is saber, but sometimes, as in the first dialogue, even conocer means death. Conocer involves sensation and seeking, difficult for those possessing knowledge. Yet to know, saber, is to die.60 Thus, to recall the fixed and limited past is to die. Again we see the paradox that one looks backward (toward death) while looking forward to live, reaffirming once more the central role of Eros (life), identical to Thanatos (death), a conclusion which is also a beginning.
Diálogos del conocimiento offers a refinement and restatement of previous collections. In En un vasto dominioAleixandre commented: “Boca que acaso supo / y conoció, o no'sabe, porque no conocer es saber último” (“Amarga boca,” EVD, 58). In these dialogues he also reemphasizes his previous identification with the cosmos, associating real objects with a strange reality of size or dimension in order to escape the circumscribing and imprisoning knowledge, his own preoccupations with a reality he would rather not face. In “Sonido de la guerra” Aleixandre mentions “My mineral body”; in “Después de la guerra” he stresses that the stars' light “is flesh like mine”; in “Misterio de la muerte del toro” he perceives in his hand “the order of some star.” He also reviews his concept of death as a force attracting life. In “Sonido de la guerra” blood lives only when it struggles to flow forth, but if it does, it dies. “Sólo sobre unos labios coloridos, / … se adivina / el bulto de la sangre. Y el amante puede besar y presentir, ¡sin verla!” (DC, 13). For the old lovers in the dialogue by that name, “Conocer es amar. Saber, morir. Dudé. Nunca el amor es vida” (DC, 26). The inquisitor in “El inquisidor, ante el espejo” associates Eros and Thanatos, “Luto de amor o muerte” (DC, 56), as does the dandy in “Diálogo de los enajenados,” who exclaims: “… amar desnudo es bello, … como los huesos conjugados de los amantes. Muertos. / Muertos, pues que se estrechan. Lo que suena es el hueso” (DC, 65). “Los amantes jóvenes” reinforces the idea: “donde mis labios tocan, no su verdad, su muerte” (DC, 85). Finally in “Quien baila se consuma” we discover “Un montón de lujuria, pero extinto, en la sombra” (DC, 146).
“Después de la guerra” contemplates the end of the planet, again an earth without human beings except, temporarily, two survivors, an old man and a girl. He knows that even “el alba ha muerto” (DC, 77); she exclaims: “Cómo germina el día entre mis senos” (DC, 78). She believes in the future; he knows that tomorrow has already past. In “La sombra” Aleixandre contemplates solitude as pleasure and man as a dream who creates nothing but the dream within which he is consumed. In the poem the boy once more returns to Mother earth: “A ti vuelvo, y a solas, y me entierro en tu seno” (DC, 131). Aleixandre continues to play with the concept of love and life, claiming that he who lives loves, but he who knows has already lived. To be young is to live, but one who never loved was never even born. Even the destroyers of life grow old. The soldier was young but now is old. The magician who once put the poison of not being in his brews is himself now alone in a world where nature itself has fled.
In his pursuit of ultimate knowledge of reality Aleixandre juxtaposes stubborn existential awareness with a vague transcendental intuition, visualizing love and death as coordinating elements of the universe, although love is still a metaphor of self-destruction. The poet knows that he cannot conquer death but nonetheless wants to live life to the full, for loving is an endless process in a fleeting world which leads to personal death; thus he continues to seek for love, for knowledge, for truth, and for hope. One finds, therefore, a continuing juxtaposition of incongruities in a vast dominion, an ambivalent psychological universe in which, essentially, the early anguish at limits imposed upon activity and creativity is once more reinforced in a continuing interplay of renovation and conservation. Aleixandre, inspired by the same enigmas that beset us all, through his irrational imagery imaginatively challenges his readers' established preconceptions as he seeks to recapture an unconscious knowledge and create a unity of perception. In the final analysis we may read into his personal vision of experience and inner emotions a communication of deeper significance, seeking those moral and psychological imperatives which constitute their human quality.
Dámaso Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos (Madrid: Gredos, 1952), p. 287.
Ricardo Gullón, “Itinerario poético de Vicente Aleixandre,” Papeles de Son Armadans, XI, Nos. 32-33 (1958), 197.
Carlos Bousoño, La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre (Madrid: Gredos, 1968), p. 208.
José Luis Cano, in Vicente Aleixandre, Espadas como labios—La destrucción o el amor (Madrid: Ed. Castalia, 1972), p. 20.
Luis Antonio de Villena, in Vicente Aleixandre, Pasión de la tierra (Madrid: Narcea, 1976), p. 32.
Luis Antonio de Villena, Insula, Nos. 368-69 (1977), 8.
Guillermo Carnero, “Ambito como proyecto del surrealismo aleixandrino,” Insula, No. 337 (1974), 12.
Angel del Río, “La poesía surrealista de Aleixandre,” Revista Hispánica Moderna, II (1935), 21.
Francisco Carenas and Alfredo Gómez Gil, “En torno a Vicente Aleixandre,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 270 (1972), 566.
Leopoldo de Luis, “Vicente Aleixandre: Antología total,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 310 (1976), 218.
Alberto Monterde, La poesía pura en la lírica española (Mexico: Impta. Universitaria, 1953), p. 105.
Luis Cernuda, Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea (Madrid: Ediciones Guadarrama, 1957), pp. 195-96.
André Breton, Manifestes du surréalisme (Paris: Pauvert, 1962), p. 40.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores (Madrid: Gredos, 1961), p. 11.
Fernando Charry Lara, Cuatro poetas del siglo veinte (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1947), p. 31.
Vicente Aleixandre, “Funeral,” in Antología total (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1975), p. 348.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 11.
Ibid., p. 10.
Ibid., p. 31.
Juan José Domenchina, Antología de la poesía española contemporánea (Mexico: UTEHA, 1947), p. 391.
Max Aub, La poesía española contemporánea (Mexico: Impta, Universitaria 1954), pp. 156-59.
Dámaso Alonso, Poetas españoles contemporáneos, p. 323.
Vicente Aleixandre, La destrucción o el amor (Madrid: Alhambra, 1945), p. 17.
Ibid., pp. 17-18.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 31.
Vicente Aleixandre, En un vasto dominio (Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1962), pp. 13-16. Further citations in the text are to this edition, hereafter referred to as EVD.
Vicente Aleixandre, Diálogos del conocimiento (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1976), p. 97. Further references in the text are to this edition, hereafter cited as DC.
André Breton, Manifestes du surréalisme, pp. 151ff.
Paul Ilie, The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Literature (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1968), pp. 43-44 concurs that Aleixandre is “concerned only with his own reality which consists of the way he articulates his feelings with the raw material of the outer world.”
Ibid., p. 45.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 10.
Vicente Aleixandre, Poesías completas (Madrid: Aguilar, 1960), p. 91. Further references in the text are to this edition, hereafter cited as PC.
As Carlos Bousoño states: “Si amor es destrucción, amor, cólera y odio pueden confundirse en la mentalidad aleixandrina.” See La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre, p. 70.
Frederick Clark Prescott, The Poetic Mind (New York: Macmillan, 1926), p. 276.
Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1961), XIX, 42.
Sigmund Freud, “Formulations of the Two Principles of Mental Functioning,” in The Standard Edition (London: Hogarth, 1958), XII, 224.
These lines were used by Carlos Bousoño in a lecture on Aleixandre's technique sponsored by the Spanish Institute (New York, Nov. 19, 1977).
Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1944), p. 237.
Ernest Jones, “The Psychology of Religion,” in Psychoanalysis Today, ed. Sandor Lorenz (New York: International Univ. Press, 1944), p. 317.
Paul Ilie, pp. 40-56, devotes an entire chapter to this aspect of Aleixandre's imagery.
Alejandro Amusco, “El motivo erótico en Espadas como labios de Vicente Aleixandre,” Insula, No. 361 (1976), 11.
See Bertram D. Lewin, The Psychoanalysis of Elation (New York: Norton, 1950), p. 104.
Ibid., p. 48.
Otto Isakower, “A Contribution to the Patho-Psychology of Phenomena Associated with Falling Asleep,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, XIX (1938), 331-45.
Bertram D. Lewin, “Sleep, the Mouth, and the Dream Screen,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, XV (1946), 420.
Bertram D. Lewin, “Reconsiderations of the Dream Screen,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, XXII (1953), 174-99.
Geza Roheim, Gates of the Dream (New York: International University Press, 1952), p. 347.
Isakower, p. 340.
Lewin, Psychoanalysis of Elation, p. 112.
Lewin, “Reconsiderations,” p. 187.
Vincente Cabrera, Tres poetas a la luz de la metáfora (Madrid: Gredos, 1975), pp. 120-22 has a good discussion of this poem.
Vicente Aleixandre, Mis poemas mejores, p. 153.
For a good discussion of this collection see José Olivio Jiménez, Cinco poetas del tiempo (Madrid: Insula, 1964).
For an elucidation of this point see José Angel Valente, “Vicente Aleixandre: la visión de la totalidad,” Indice de Artes y Letras, XVII (1963), 29-30.
Vicente Molina-Foix, “Vicente Aleixandre: 1924-1969,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 242 (1970), 282.
Vicente Aleixandre, Poemas de la consumación (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1974), p. 82. Further citations in the text are to this edition, hereafter referred to as PdC.
Leopoldo de Luis, “Poemas de la consumación,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 231 (1969), 718.
Guillermo Carnero, “Conocer y saber en Poemas de la consumación y Diálogos del conocimiento de Vicente Aleixandre,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 276 (1973), 574.
José Olivio Jiménez, “Aleixandre y sus Diálogos del conocimiento,” Insula, No. 331 (1974), 1.
For a good study of conocer-saber see Guillermo Carnero, Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, pp. 571-79.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4165
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 his mature years he abandoned the faith of his fathers without any spiritual crisis. Aleixandre is a middle class Spaniard with a certain skepticism towards his milieu's catholicism. Chagall had wandered through the whole world before he settled down and eventually chose France for his second fatherland, never losing his affection for his native Russia. Aleixandre never traveled: he lived a sedentary life, almost rooted in a few concrete parts of his country, always careful of the necessities demanded by what he used to call his “band iron health”, his “mala slud de hierro”. Chagall married twice: two happy experiences of felicity which decisively influenced his cosmic vision. Aleixandre remained a bachelor.
Different however they may be, the two lives nevertheless produced two oeuvres which unite in deep and intimate convergence. Each reflects fully and significantly the reality in which they are rooted, and in their coincidence, this significance is even more conspicuous.
TEEMING WITH LIFE
As the painting of Chagall, the poetry of Aleixandre is teeming with animals, always benevolent, always good—not even the serpent has threatening features. The artist depicts them regardless of their sizes, biological or emblematical aspects.
The poet is sensitive to the majesty of the eagle1 which appears as a frequent archetype, yet he does not neglect the puniness—somewhat repugnant—of the scarab: “Here the Verb eventually reaches also the tiny scarab …”2, and turns it into a poetic motive. For him all living creatures are good, dignified, through the very fact that they belong to Life, however marginal the locus they occupy in classificatory scales.
For Aleixandre the serpent is not necessarily sinister: in “Scythe of Love”3 it provided him with new metaphors for erotic experience. In other poems, such as “Like a snake”4, however, this animal symbolizes fatal love.
Fish, tigers, gazelas, lions, birds, each in their turn people the poetic universe of Vicente Aleixandre, almost always in a peaceful atmosphere, juxtaposed without manifesting any hostility toward each other—precisely as they are in the Eden-like harmony concretized in Chagall's pictures. For this painter has succeeded in capturing a cosmic peace which, before him, was only captured by Giotto, one of the few painters, capable of gazing at reality with candid eyes and to recreate the peace of the Origins.
The simultaneous coexistence of the lion and the calf, of the goat and the wolf—according to Messianic prophecy (Is., 11, 6-9) supposes an overcoming of the respective characters of the beasts: in other words, a coincidentia oppositorum. The great achievement of the painter and the poet alike consisted in showing the cosmic identification they both witnessed, an identification they gave expression to, at times in an even more expressive form.
ASSUMING THE TOTALITY
The poetry of Aleixandre is full of instances of identification between man and creatures of elements of the universe. Thus, the poet has a young woman speaking in the following manner:
I am the nightly moon, on high in my nudity but with fresh lips, but with fresh eyes(5)
Or again, in “Ultimate Birth”:
I am the sun or the answer I am this merry earth which never stints its reflexion(6)
And again in “I am destiny”, a poem which comes close to being a profession of faith:
I am the music which under its many hair emanates from the world during its mysterious flight, bird of innocence with blood on its wings which goes to die in an opressed chest.
I am destiny which summons all those who love, unique sea where all the radiant lovers come searching for its center, swinging in its circular waves which whirl like a rumorous and total rose(7)
The frequent alternatives, expressed through the Spanish o, U, “or … or”, do not represent a mere stylistic artifice. I believe that they indicate a similar intention of signification as that mentioned above: they express the idea of an “indifferentiation” capable of converting the whole cosmos into an enormous flux in which disparate identities and even contradictions are absorbed. The human counterpart of this all-comprehensive flux is our erotic perception whose most immediate expression comes to the fore in our encounter with Woman.
The poet, therefore, uses this verbal recourse in order to communicate to us his own manner of assuming totality: “The earth or the nail hurt …”8: “Its sad wind or gold which scarcely touching her passes”9: “Water or moon are the same: the impalpable at the tip of our fingers”10. A frequently repeated alternative of equivalent which is especially significant in itself, is that between love and death: “… this thirst for love or for death”11. Eros and Thanatos: one of the most universal expression of the union of contraries.
On the pictorial plane, Marc Chagall has at his disposal means which are even more variegated in order to give vent to the same ideas. The Surrealist experience—through which he passed without taking root in it, like a comet which goes through a galaxy—offered him the necessary freedom for combining forms which are never found together in everyday life: his frenetic coloristic fantasy enabled him to achieve the most brilliant pyrotechnics, extremely remote from all visual verisimilitude. The river can be red, the tree blue. He does this because of his love and his tenderness which enable him to discard common logic. “God forgive me” he wrote “if in my description I did not express all the ocean-like love that I feel, usually, toward the whole world”12.
Indeed, all the works of Chagall communicate this sense of cosmic identification and cosmic plenitude, his intimate taste for cosmic peace. This explains why the “coincidentia oppositorum” (often in the form of the androgyne, as is made manifest in some of his versions of the primeval pain, Adam and Eve) the interchangeability between beings and things, the mutual exchanges between attributes, forms and colors, the peaceful comradeship one finds in his compositions, etc., are constant characteristics of his work. Thus, Chagall concretizes for us a “refreshed” cosmos. He materializes the prophetic vision of Isaiah—Isaiah who on the poetical plane, many poetic landscapes of Aleixandre echo.
But one can find still more intimate affinities. The “total unity” which was mentioned above is epitomized in the idea of the body—the body experienced in sensual enjoyment and especially the body of Woman.
Nature is an organic symphony, a well-tempered “continuum”. Here is a song of Aleixandre, which is nothing less than an ophidian hymn:
The world goes round and round: chain of bodies or bloods in touch with one another when the entire skin took flight like an eagle who hides the sun. O, enjoy, love, love:(13)
There is nothing which is not comprehended by this totality—not even the recondite, such as subterraneous reality. In the poem “Under the earth” one reads:
Underneath the soil there is life, Humidity is the blood. There are small lombrics, like unborn children(14)
The rich inventiveness of Aleixandre produces innumerable metaphors: “Man shouts, deafening his sylvian heart”15: “… because of thy body of weeds combed by the wind …”16. All that is insinuated here is made more explicit when it is formulated anew by the poet: “the first names of love: sky, sand, sea”17.
But always, the body of woman is present. In “Under the primeval light”, the poet exults:
Oh, supreme instant of life: total noontime: Around thy waist a rosy girdle, thou repulses with thy hands the throbbing of great warm birds in thy breast, and surprises between loving lips the fugitive breeze of life. And all the time, thou feels on thy neck the slow turning of the celestial vault, Thou embraces a universe which is none other but thy self(18)
These verse, like many others by the young Aleixandre, constitute the transcription of the feminine bodies which Chagall paints through the mediation of a bountiful nature which is at once a mother and a womb, while these bodies form an integral part of this nature and are often almost “rooted” in it. Many time, Aleixandre associates with a river the form of the reclining woman—which immediately suggests the Chagall paintings where, at a short distance from a woman's body one describes the circumvolutions of the Seine. Aleixandre writes: “Thy nudity is offered like a river which escapes away”19: “When I contemplate thy reclining body (like a river whose flow never finishes …”20).
In Chagall as well as in the work of Aleixandre, the body of woman never completes a landscape or dominates a landscape: it is in itself “landscape”. … “The clear mass of a peaceable girl / naked on the lawn, was a beautiful landscape”21.
Nevertheless, one finds in Chagall a specific device which underlines this landscape-body: the pearly whiteness with which Chagall brings out the form of woman over and against the violent green, red or blue hues which explode around it. The body of woman receives a resplendent luminosity. It becomes an epiphany of light itself.
SPLENDOR OF THE BODY: THE SYMBOLISM OF LIGHT
In order to understand this epiphany, it is enough to bear in mind what the nudity of woman meant to the young Chagall and—through a sort of miracle comparable to the myth of “eternal youth”—never ceased to mean for him even in years of extreme old age. The painter, in his youth, felt before the first nude on which he cast his gaze, the nude body of his fiancée Bella, a fascination and a charm which suggested to him a sacred unction. “I even feared to approach her and to come closer, to touch this treasure”22. The posing Bella became a sudden revelation and this kept him at distance.
Similarly, the splendor of the body is expressed by Aleixandre in terms which suggest a similar awe. In “Triumph of Love” we read:
When a beloved body, surging upward in its nudity, glows like a stone like the hard stone set afire by the kisses(23)
It does not appear fortuitous that in the same poem should appear the theme of the Ascension (the symbol of sublimation): “Everything lives, lives through, survives and ascends”. Or again: “I know who loves and lives, who dies and whirls and flies away”.24 The couples of lovers in flight or hovering above ground are one of the favorite motifs of Chagall.
In “Birth of Love”, the luminous values of a body are described thus:
… all around a body transparent almost, sensual, swathed in humid lights, final lights of the twilight and which unleash, still matinal, their auroras(25)
The following exclamation of the poet, from “June in Paradise” seems a verbal manifesto of the Chagalian universe:
Innocance of the day: Strong bodies, warm bodies, love each other in plenitude under the free skies(26)
I would like to suggest that a Chagall album could appear with verses such as these as their only accompaniment: the mutual harmony between the two would be proof enough of their affinities.
Thus, light is concretized in the body of woman both in the painting of Chagall and in the poetry of Aleixandre. But light has always been the symbol of divinity. In this respect, Mircea Eliade wrote a revealing text: “Whatever the nature and the intensity of our experience of light, it is always part of the religious experience. Between all the different types of light-experiences … exists a common denominator: they project man out of his profane universe of historical situation and draw him into a universe which is qualitatively distinct: into a completely different, a transcendent and sacred world”.27 The work of Aleixandre provides us with an immediate confirmation of the preceding: his poem entitled “Light” leads this man—so far alien to religious experience—toward an intuition which can, indeed, be considered religious, since the poet feels in himself the interpolation of an Other, an ineffable Other:
“Tell me, tell me, who is He who calls me, who says to me, who clamours to me. …”28
It is characteristic that Chagall, the painter, eventually dedicates himself to the art of the stained glass, curbing his own creativity to have it serve a humble use of light. The stained-glass artist does not do anything but “causes” light to manifest itself in a particular manner. Better, even, he only propitiates its manifestation or “facilitates” it. It is not in vain that the great stained windows, from the medieval churches to—precisely—Chagall, have been a privileged mode of bringing about visual experiences of a religious character. The profound meaning of light in Chagall's work finds its ultimate explanation in his achievements as a stained glass creator—that is as a creator of epiphanies.
Moreover, certain origins of a cabalistic order are perceptible in his work: “The first creative act of God was not his “withdrawal” in order to make way for the world but simply, his distributing His Light on specific locations according to the resistance capacity of His creatures. Because of this, everything in nature, be it organic or non organic, in very human being, be he good or bad, everything encompasses to this day some “sacred sparkles”. The evil in this world, therefore, is merely a low proportion of good and there is no definite line of separation between the sacred and the profane”.29 The analogy between these ideas and the optimism of Chagall is obvious.
The artist completes the action of God: he diminishes the light through his use of glass panels and at the same time he filters it and quantifies it in just proportions. He collaborates in a divine achievement.
What are the means used by Chagall in order to render “present” his edenic vision? First of all, the primeval gaiety of his gamut of colors, the audacity with which he sets his colors on the canvas. Over and above his other qualities. Chagall is a born colorist and his passion for color stems from his feeling of being collaborator in a divine action. Intense electric blues, flamboyant reds, vivid yellows. But there is more to it than the pleasure at setting colors. This painting manifests a true ingenuity (nothing is more alien to Chagall than the art of the “naives” …). If paradise is the new reality—permanent discovery and primeval upheaval of the origins—this man who re-discovers continually the existential taste of the origins communicates through his discovery the edenic experience. His ingenuity is “ingenuous” almost in the etymological sense of the term: permanent re-commencing, inexhaustible re-birth. And also: freedom, that is: stylistic freedom. Chagall transcends the styles and remains “outside” them—this is the reason why he is unclassifiable—even though he borrows various formal elements now from the cubists, now from the expressionists and, above all, from the surrealists. But he is no surrealist. He does not remain captive of any formula but strides forward in juvenile desenvolture. This is the liberty of simplicity.
“The mystery of the world reveals: itself during youth—Mircea Eliade writes—and is generally forgotten in subsequent years. For maturity abolishes the mystery and suppresses the sacred from the universe and from human existence. Chagall knew how to salvage these revelations of youth. Doubtless, they are of a religious kind even if the artist is not always conscious of this.”30 Such is the powerful fondament of the creative youthfulness of Chagall. In a situation of total harmony he feels linked to the animal world in cordial comradeship: everything is quiet, cheerful and in his work as in his life. I have already observed that painful themes do not please him: even when it is necessary to represent such themes Chagall manages to “sweeten” them. This is especially visible in his numerous versions of the “original sin” or of the “expulsion from Eden”. For Chagall Eden is never lost: He returned time and again to treat these subjects but without bitterness, without tragedy, as though he meant to tell us that the disaster is not final, since the idea of salvation is born at the very instant of the fall—an intuition which, by the way, coincides with many exegeses of Genesis 3, 15, the so-called “protoevangelical” chapter of the Bible.
This warm sympathy with the entire created world—a transfer of the edenic atmosphere into the work of art—we find it beatifully expressed by Aleixandre:
In order to die one faint noise suffices that of another heart when it falls silent(31)
This too is love in its most genuine and simple form.
LIGHT AND AMOROUS UNION
Let us return one more time on the presence of the amorous impulse in the paintings of Chagall. He himself made this clear, not only through the achievement of his five pictures on the theme of the “Song of Songs” but also in his localization of these pictures—in a sort of sancta sanctorum in his “Museum Biblical Message” in Nice which makes them a “message within the message”.
Thus, this love—which becomes, as in Dante, the energy which sets in motion the entire creation—is condensed in altruism: in the emotional relation which links lovers. It is not surprising, therefore, that this relation should be resolved in “light”. In Chagall it is the all-comprehending light which inundates with colors all his compositions. In Aleixandre, the formula becomes the following:
Mouth against mouth I feel that turned light I swoon, turned into a glow which fulgurs in the air(32)
In other words: man transcends his own self and attains a quasi-divine order when he “splits” this self under the erotic impulse. His amorous abandon elevates him into the sphere of light.
Consequently, light, plenitude, identification, unity and paradise are concepts which mutually superimpose. The whole work of Marc Chagall becomes a sort of extended excursion into paradise seen as regenerated earth, reconciled creation; where light and color overwhelm man. Very like him, Vicente Aleixandre emphasizes the paradisiacal connotations which characterize a whole period of his life in one of his books entitled Shadow of Paradise.
The intimate fusion of the lovers which nature expresses through the biological act of sexual union takes in the work of Chagall the form of lovers who embrace each other and caress each other before taking flight or hovering in the sky, until, eventually, the figure of the androgyne—epitome of the idea of fusion—appears.
One must observe that sexual reality is never depicted in a realistic or brutal manner but is represented with oneiric delicacy it is suggested not “represented”. Neither is there a hint of grivoiserie, as with Picasso. Similarly, Aleixandre approaches with caution this august mystery. The poem in which he comes closest to it is the poem entitled “Unity in Her”—a title which is sufficient to reveal the contents.
Yet, at the base of erotic unity one finds also the interchangeability between death and life, as though the ultima ratio of the whole cosmos were condensed in this formula:
I want love or death, I want to die entirely, I want to be you, your blood, this roaring lava which … enprisons beautiful extreme limbs thus feeling the lovely limits of life(33)
What we have here is a feeling of “immersion” into the perfection of the Other: for the Other is intended as a luminous microcosm. The act of love is a communion with nature: here we have an intuition which is equally intense in Chagall and in Aleixandre. Yet, there are differences: Chagall remains in ecstasy before the delight of sexual union. On the contrary, Aleixandre goes deeper and encounters the presence of death, the opposite of amorous pleasure:
… I do not know, do not know, never never shall know, whether it is love only, whether it is crime, whether it is death(34)
In Chagall, the dominant tone is gaiety, irrepressible gaiety with its ebullient colors. It is an amorous gaiety yet at the same time a religious one, very much in the line of the Cabala. “Where man is lonely, without woman, there is no gaiety”—according to Safran. In such condition, man does not deserve to be called man and divine presence could not bear him: the presence of God, the shehina, can only occur where there is gaiety”35.
Starting from the union of love, Chagall progresses toward religion and even reaches mysticism. This is why he was in a state of happiness while interpreting the “Song of Songs”. On the contrary, Aleixandre, while peering always deeper into his own depths dimly perceives disquieting shadows.
WHERE ALEIXANDRE REMAINS ALONE
Indeed, the coincidence between the two artists stops here. It was inevitable that, from this point onward, two men so different one from the other should diverge. The poet avoided the experiments in plenitude and cosmic identification and his personal evolution led him to experience different states of mind, not all of them exulting. On the contrary, Chagall remained in a state of plenitude. Thus, these states of mind do not have the same meaning in the two biographies even though, in my effort to extract them from the flux of these biographies. I have considered them as part of one and the same reality. The poetry of Aleixandre evinces a certain disappointment with love, obvious in such poems as “Let us eat shadows”.36 When—in other poems—the lovers appear as united, their future does not appear in a very enticing perspective: “Here is the human couple, thou and I, felt the immensity of the sands which await us”.37
Chagall did not go through such bitter experiences: the paradise, the redeemed nature which he visited never disappointed him. This is why his artistic work transcends his own life and becomes a prophetic testimony—whereas that of Aleixandre is the testimony—honorable and poignant—of a subjective itinerary. But it is also the proof that the poet comprehends in his scope all the nuances of tormented, coleric, frenetic love: “Torments of Love”.38 “Weight without love”,39 Chagall knows only peaceful love, fecund love.
Chagall's contribution is the gift of unending hope. This painter, stemming from the ghettos of Old Russia, knowledgeable in all the miseries and all the sorrows, who went through the two most cruel wars in History and experienced in his flesh the tortures of his race, leaves behind him a work as enormous as it is unified, where nature is impregnated with human love while this love, in its turn, becomes light and signal of divine presence, while remaining part of nature. In so doing, Chagall does not break with the tradition of his people (indeed, he concretizes, thus, several traits of the Biblical prophets) but adjusts it to the convulsive world in which we live. “The Bible is like a resounding of nature”.40 In his pictures, Chagall expresses his faith that salvation has already taken place: “The Lord is here …”.
Vicente Aleixandre, “Las Aguilas”, from Antología Total, (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1977) p. 146.
“El escarabajo”, Ibid., p. 144.
“Sierpe de Amor”, Ibid., p. 177.
“Como sierpente”, Ibid., p. 194.
“La maja y la vieja”, Ibid., p. 383.
“Nacimiento último”, Ibid., p. 85.
“Soy el Destino”, Ibid., p. 138.
“Humana voz”, Ibid., p. 125.
“El sol victorioso”, Ibid., p. 159.
“Sólo morir de día”, Ibid., p. 142.
“Las águilas”, Ibid., p. 146.
Marc Chagall, Ma vie (Paris: Stock, 1983), le terme employed in the original French used is bêlant as a sheep “bêle”. It suggests something tender and fragile, a love which is not articulate but sincere.
V. Aleixandre, “Cobra”, Ibid., p. 144.
“Bajo Tierra”, Ibid., p. 157.
“Mundo inhumano”, Ibid., p. 161.
“El amor iracundo”, Ibid., p. 164.
“Mar del paraiso”, Ibid., p. 196.
“Bajo la luz primera”, Ibid., p. 236.
“Cuerpo de amor”, Ibid., p. 206.
“Ati, viva”, Ibid., p. 118.
“Luna del Paraiso”, Ibid., p. 193.
“Marc Chagall, op. cit., p. 111.
V. Aleixandre, “Triumfo del amor”, Op. cit., p. 132.
Ibid., p. 133.
“Nacimiento del amor”, Ibid., p. 180.
“Junio del paraiso”, Ibid., p. 232.
Mircea Eliade, “Experiencas de la luz mistica” in: Mefistofeles y el andrógino, (Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1984), p. 96.
Vicente Aleixandre, “La luz”, op. cit., p. 123.
Roy Mac Mullen, Le monde de Chagall (Lausanne: Gallimard, 1969), p. 65.
Mircea Eliade, Marc Chagall et l'amour du cosmos. Hommage à Marc Chagall (Milan, 1969), pp. 12-13.
Vicente Aleixandre, “Vida”, op. cit., p. 115.
“Sierpe de amor”, Ibid., p. 178.
“Unidad en alla”, Ibid., p. 112.
“Ultimo amor”, Ibid., p. 214.
Alexandre Safran, La Cabala, (Barcelona: Editiones Martinez Roca, 1980), p. 13.
Vicente Aleixandre, “Comemos sobra”, op. cit, p. 260.
“Entre dos oscuridades, un relámpago”, Ibid., p. 262.
Ibid., p. 162.
Ibid. p. 155.
Marc Chagall, Introd. al Cat. Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (Paris: Ministère des Affaires Culturelles, 1973), p. 9.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7006
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 1928-29, published in Mexico in 1935), broke with the traditional, initiating a poetic evolution that left Ámbito behind and somewhat marginalized, that is, until the appearance of Sombra del paraíso (1944) (1442-44). Sombra del paraíso's reformulation of themes, structures and concerns first seen in Ámbito, confirmed, for the poet, the latter work's place within his poetic evolution and, at the same time, reconciled the revolutionary and the traditional: “… en poesía, … la línea revolucionaria, si de veras genuina, acaba mostrando ser, haber sido, la única línea tradicional” (1444).
Aleixandre's understanding of the evolutionary nature of his poetry, an evolution that began in a “violent rupture” (1461) with the existing literary aesthetic, corresponds to José Ortega y Gasset's theory of cultural evolution, articulated in La deshumanización del arte. Ortega's theory assumes that even the richest artistic vein will inevitably be exhausted, and that artists must periodically set out in new directions. It incorporates breaking with the “traditional” within the evolutionary process of a culture. For Ortega, interestingly enough, this break with the past can be observed precisely in the aesthetic current that Aleixandre would later term “traditional.” This aesthetic, exemplified in literature by pure poetry, was described by Ortega as “new” (3: 359) and “iconoclastic” (3: 377) in 1925. Viewed in light of Ortega's evolutionary theory of culture, Ámbito, like Pasión de la tierra, appears to have participated in a contemporary literary current that began by renouncing the aesthetic that preceded it. Just as the purist aesthetic turned away from the vestiges of nineteenth-century art forms (Deshumanización 3: 359), so too, did the “impure” current, including the neo-romantic and surrealist literature with which Pasión has been identified, break with pure poetry. In this sense, both Ámbito and Pasión de la tierra can be associated with movements that were “revolutionary” at first, but that were incorporated into tradition.
While Ámbito and Pasión de la tierra both indicate Aleixandre's adherence to the Orteguian maxim that the artist must accept “el imperativo de trabajo que la época … impone” (Deshumanización 3: 360), the two works contrast in the way in which they relate to their respective periods. Unlike Pasión de la tierra, a work in which Aleixandre embarked on a largely uncharted literary adventure, and which remained unpublished in Spain until 1946, Ámbito was born into an already well-defined poetic, artistic and intellectual context. Ámbito's identification with the literary current of pure poetry, and beyond it, with what Ortega called the “dehumanization of art,” may account, in part, for Aleixandre's recollection of the work as “traditional” (1461). What kind of “tradition” did pure poetry represent? What was the “imperative” that the times imposed on Vicente Aleixandre and other poets writing in the mid-1920s in Spain? I believe that in order to answer these questions we need to examine not only the aesthetic of pure poetry, but also the philosophical ideas that reinforced that aesthetic in Spain.
Ortega y Gasset's belief that the arts and “pure science” are the first cultural areas to manifest changes in “la sensibilidad colectiva” (3: 378) implies that philosophy occupies a place alongside the arts in the vanguard of cultural evolution.1 Although Ortega does not pursue the question of a philosophical correspondence to the new aesthetic in La deshumanización del arte, his application of “unas gotas de fenomenología” (3: 360-63) to his study of the arts in the mid-1920s suggests the co-presence of phenomenology and pure poetry in Spanish intellectual life. I would propose, in fact, that phenomenology is the most likely philosophical counterpart of pure poetry and the other “dehumanized” art forms that Ortega describes. Ortega's vision of an intellectual climate in the 1920s, a climate conditioned by historical and biological processes, pre-disposes him and his followers to perceive parallels across the arts and sciences and even interrelationships among them, thus creating the potential for intertextuality between works of such distinct fields as philosophy and poetry. The suggestion of intertextuality can be observed in the writings of Ortega y Gasset and Fernando Vela as they comment on both poetry and philosophy, and also in the comparison of philosophical texts by Ortega with a poetic text by Aleixandre. Vicente Aleixandre's Ámbito, I propose, both exemplifies the purist ideal of an utterly poetic poetry, in many respects, yet also possesses a philosophical, and indeed, a phenomenological resonance.2
Vicente Aleixandre's Ámbito was critically received in Spain as a fine example of the “new” poetry of the 1920s. Juan Chabás, in his laudatory review of the work for the Revista de Occidente, includes Aleixandre among “esos cinco o seis poetas jóvenes que descienden en una línea más o menos directa de Juan Ramón Jiménez” (247). In addition to the “influencia esencial” of Juan Ramón, Chabás perceives in this initial Aleixandrian work “la influencia paralela del postsimbolismo francés, y nuestro siglo XVII andaluz” (247). Chabás' review suggests that Ámbito was written and received within a rich and complex literary atmosphere in which pure poetry enjoyed a prominent position. Critic Juan Cano corroborates the emergence of pure poetry in the second half of the 1920s as the predominant literary current that either appropriated or eclipsed elements from other literary sources (40).
Pure poetry was championed in Spain by Juan Ramón Jiménez, whose Segunda Antolojía, published in 1922, launched the purist movement in Spain. In his “Notas” at the end of the work, Juan Ramón exhibits an attitude toward his work that comes to characterize the Spanish purist aesthetic. He expresses the belief that the poet must demand of him/herself the same precision and “perfection” expected of a mathematician or scientist. “[E]l arte es ciencia,” he affirms. In assuming his artistic task, the Andalusian poet seeks to “reduce” his poetry to its “simplist” expression (“Lo conseguido con los menos elementos; es decir, lo neto, lo apuntado, lo sintético, lo justo” ). At the same time, “[lo] espontáneo” must be “sometid[o] a espurgo por la consciencia” (323). In effect, both simplicity and spontaneity are achieved in poetry through a rigorous process of refinement, according to Jiménez. Only in this way can they participate in the “perfection of form” at which the poet aims. Juan Ramón seeks in this perfection a transparency of form that allows the “content” to be perceived: “Perfección—sencillez, espontaneidad—de la forma, no es … sino aquella exactitud absoluta que la haga desaparecer, dejando existir sólo el contenido, ‘ser’ ella el contenido” (324).
Juan Ramón's poetic ideas were influential in the literary formation of the younger generation of writers, which included Rafael Alberti, Gerardo Diego, Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, and Vicente Aleixandre, among others. Outside Spain, Paul Valéry was, undoubtedly, the most authoritative model and theoretician of pure poetry. Valéry's cerebral style and emphasis on the transparency of form was admired by the younger Spanish poets, particularly by Jorge Guillén. The young Spanish poets also celebrated Stéphane Mallarmé as the originator of the literary current that culminated in pure poetry. In harmony with the purist aesthetic, the young Spanish writers developed a new appreciation of such “classical” poets as Fray Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz and Luis de Góngora, in whose work they recognized “modern” poetic values. Their understanding of pure poetry was broad enough to allow them to incorporate vanguard elements from ultraism and cubism, as Juan Cano has shown (107-108). The purist aesthetic, therefore, for all its exclusivist rhetoric exhalting “the minority” and its emphasis on the elimination of non-poetic elements from the poem, actually allowed, and even encouraged, the poets of Aleixandre's generation to synthesize elements from a number of poetic as well as extra-literary sources. Under the aegis of pure poetry these young poets were able to discover their own contemporary values in classical Spanish poetry, to sense their belonging, as well, to the more recent symbolist poetic current, and to look beyond literature to art and music for inspiration and dialogue. In these ways, certainly, the poets who embraced pure poetry in the 1920s worked at cementing their ties to selected segments of the Spanish and European literary traditions.
How may we describe the purist aesthetic of the 1920s in Spain? According to Antonio Blanch, pure poetry is “sinónimo de poesía esencial, autónoma y absoluta” (12). The desire for “autonomy” can be seen in the purist aspiration to create an utterly poetic poetry, apart from the world of nature, although not in opposition to it. The pure poets engage in a metapoetic task as they constitute and describe the poetic world as a realm of essence. In order to portray essential reality, they must refine the word of natural human discourse until it becomes “the poetic word.” In doing so, Blanch declares, “someten la palabra a sucesivas purificaciones hasta hacerla expresar la esencia de la realidad” (12). This refinement of the individual word is sustained throughout the entire process of poetic creation, which “está orientado a la producción de unas formas artísticas específicas, purificadas de toda adherencia no poética” (12).
The intellectual nature of the poet's experience, another key aspect of pure poetry, manifests itself in a variety of ways. The poetic attitude is characterized by alertness and by a heightened self-consciousness in the poet's contemplation of the world. Although the subject's imagination clearly is central to the generation of the poetic images, the process of poetic creation features a prominent role for the poet's rational faculties, in ordering and evaluating his/her experience of the world. The pure poet demonstrates his/her intellectual virtuosity in the visualization of abstract ideas or qualities while he/she reduces material objects to a linear form. The primarily visual nature of the poet's perception of essence, usually portrayed as an intellectual and not merely sensorial experience, parallels the philosophical intuition of essence.
Although there were a number of philosophical currents being discussed in Spanish intellectual circles and fora at the time Aleixandre was writing Ámbito, phenomenology was the most prominent. Even for the majority of Spanish intellectuals, who had no first-hand knowledge of Edmund Husserl's writings, phenomenology possessed a recognizable profile in the world of Spanish letters. It was known as a “science of essences” that claimed to rescue idealism from the stigma of subjectivism with its theory of intentionality. The phenomenological method, which promised a new way of looking at objects (Ortega, Meditaciones 1: 318) and a clear vision of essence through the process of epoché or bracketing of non-essential aspects of the object, was also familiar, if not always well-understood.3
José Ortega y Gasset, the dominant figure in the Spanish intellectual life of the 1920s, began to adapt phenomenology to his own philosophical thought at least as early as 1914, with his Meditaciones del Quijote. This work reveals his knowledge of Husserl's Logical Investigations and Ideas, as well as with Max Scheler's transferral of the phenomenological method to the realm of values (Morón-Arroyo 143). While Ortega turned away from phenomenology as philosophy in the 1920s, he continued to apply phenomenology as method to his historical and cultural investigations, according to both Morón-Arroyo (208) and Philip Silver (91). Under Ortega's direction, the Revista de Occidente published a number of works by phenomenologists and about phenomenology in the 1920s. The Revista also published poems by Vicente Aleixandre and other young poets during the same years. It seems probable, as well, that Ortega's observation of the new tendencies in poetry, and the arts in general, shaped the development of his own aesthetic ideas. Ciriaco Morón-Arroyo affirms that Ortega's description of contemporary literature, music and art in La deshumanización del arte reveals a certain sympathy with the new aesthetic (Morón-Arroyo 374).
Ortega y Gasset's theory of culture, as expressed in La deshumanización del arte, assumes that the same phenomena may be manifested in the art and the science/philosophy of a given time (3: 378).4 This assumption may account for the fact that phenomenology and pure poetry, in particular, were perceived as participating in a common cultural tendency in the 1920s. Fernando Vela, for example, a prominent contributor to the Revista de Occidente in these years, portrays in his articles a European intellectual atmosphere in which philosophy and literature appear as parts of a broader intellectual reality. In “Sobre el problema de la filosofia,” Vela points out that the self-conscious nature of contemporary philosophy makes of it not only “una creación incesante destinada a proseguirse por los filósofos, sino, a su vez, un objeto de estudio para los filósofos, la reflexión de una reflexión, la meditación de una meditación, la destilación de un producto ya destilado.” In these circumstances, says Vela, philosophy exhibits “el síntoma de una época que poetiza sobre la poesía, critica la crítica, novela la novela, y en todo paraleliza los reflejos intelectuales hasta lo infinito” (54-55).5
The self-reflective nature of phenomenology and contemporary poetry leads, according to Vela, to attempts by philosophers and poets to define their respective “disciplines.” Vela's description of the question posed by phenomenology, “¿cómo puede constituirse una filosofía de las filosofias?” (1927: 55), echoes his formulation of the fundamental question of pure poetry in a previous article: “¿cómo es posible una poesía en nuestra época?” (“La poesía pura” 1926: 221). By the same token, the pure poets' tendency to distinguish between their poetic experiences and those of the quotidian world is modeled in contemporary philosophy (“ciencia”), as Ortega y Gasset recognizes:
… el poeta joven, cuando poetiza, se propone simplemente ser poeta. Ya veremos cómo todo el arte nuevo, coincidiendo en esto con la nueva ciencia, con la nueva política, con la nueva vida, en fin, repugna ante todo la confusión de fronteras. Es un síntoma de pulcritud mental querer que las fronteras entre las cosas estén bien demarcadas. Vida es una cosa, poesía es otra …
(Deshumanización 3: 371)
Fernando Vela's articles “Sobre el problema de la filosofía” and “La poesía pura” raise additional parallels between phenomenology and pure poetry. Vela emphasizes the scientific nature of Husserlian philosophy, calling it “la ciencia de las esencias y de las relaciones esenciales” (1927: 64), while in his article on pure poetry, he speaks of Paul Valéry's formulation of the poet's task in strikingly similar terms: “Aislar, definir la poesía pura, es lo mismo que definir la esencia de la poesía … No se apresa una esencia sin una ciencia de esencias” (1926: 222). Valéry's concern for the apprehension of essential relationships in poetic creation is similarly stressed (1926: 226-27). Fernando Vela's language does not create, but merely reflects, the similarity between the discourse of the pure poets and that of phenomenologists; in his Segunda antolojía, Juan Ramón Jiménez also refers to poetry as a “science,” while Ortega y Gasset speaks of phenomenology as a science dealing with essences (I 253). Furthermore, the essences sought by means of a poetic purification or by phenomenological clarification are each characterized by their “fullness,” according to Jiménez (5) and Husserl (328-29).
An additional implication to be found in Vela's articles is that the pure poets and the phenomenologists have analogous modes of conceptualizing their tasks and pursuing their goals. Each group must assume the task of “making evident” an essential reality (1926: 225; 1927: 65), while effectively removing themselves as “personalities” from their work (1926: 225; 1927: 62). Both phenomenology and pure poetry involve a process or method for arriving at essence, ideally characterized by its rigor and precision, as well as by its movement toward “clarification.”6 Vela also emphasizes the common tendency of phenomenology and pure poetry to employ scientific terminology in defining their tasks (1926: 234, 239; 1927: 61-62).7 The idea of excluding nonessential elements (“distilling” and “isolating” the essence from its adherents in pure poetry, or “reducing” the consciousness of an intended object to a “residue” [Kohak 48] in phenomenology) is borrowed from chemistry. Mathematics, and in particular, geometry, serve as models for Edmund Husserl's early conceptualization of phenomenology, as well as for the pure poet's desire for exactitude and his/her will to construct an essential reality. In addition, both pure poetry and phenomenology purport to offer an objective, and not merely subjective, knowledge. In both phenomenology and pure poetry, the subject's immediate experience is submitted to conscious reflection (Blanch 118; Kohak 115-116). Pure poetry, while lacking the explicitly stated theory of intentionality (Ortega, “Conciencia” 2: 62-63), is characterized by the assumption that “consciousness” implies the awareness of an intended object (Cano Ballesta 16-23). Husserl's emphasis on intuition as “seeing” an essence-idea (Ideas 1) is echoed in pure poetry's tendency to transform abstract ideas into concrete, visible objects. In their desire to pursue their respective tasks with methodological rigor and precision, and in the claim for philosophical and poetic knowledge to be objective and even empirical, phenomenologists and pure poets respond to the challenge posed by positivism.8
Ortega y Gasset's understanding of the “irreality” of the poetic and the philosophical realms establishes a common ground between pure poetry and phenomenology, in particular. Ortega emphasizes the non-real quality of contemporary art and poetry, exemplified by the artist's “voluntad de estilo” (Deshumanización III 368). “[E]stilizar es deformar lo real, desrealizar” (3: 368). On the one hand, the tendency of poets and artists to accentuate differences with “the real world” is shared by phenomenology, as we have already seen. On the other hand, Ortega suggests a more direct similarity between philosophy and poetry with regard to the idea of “irreality.” In his “Conciencia, objeto y las tres distancias de éste” (1915), Ortega establishes the validity of “irreal” things, such as the centaur, as objects of philosophical and psychological reflection. Here he admits the possibility of both the real and the non-real being objects of consciousness, recognizing in a subject's fantasy, just as in his/her perception, “modos diversos de llegar … al ser” (2: 62). In a later work, Ideas y creencias (1940), Ortega continues to insist that science and philosophy share with poetry a dependence on fantasy (5: 403). Ortega's vindication of the centaur (2: 61-62), his readiness to accept “irreal” things as objects of consciousness, and his argument, recognizing the role of fantasy in philosophical thinking all can be found in Edmund Husserl's Ideas.9
Vicente Aleixandre's prose piece, “Mundo poético” (1927), a contemporary of Ámbito, provides an example of how the discourses of poetry and philosophy in the 1920s may overlap. “Mundo poético” contains a number of images and ideas related to pure poetry. First, it represents the world as an ideal space, akin to that of mathematics (Blanch 151): “Tu mundo es geometría, poeta. Es una forma transparente, de aristas vivísimas …” (1647). This world's form is pure: well-defined, yet transparent. The description of a state of heightened awareness through which the poet may achieve a clear intuition of the essential world also characterizes pure poetry: “Tu flor no envenena ni adormece. ¡Qué alerta estoy oliéndola! Me sube hasta la frente, penetrante, e inunda de claridad todo su aspecto, lo registra hasta sus últimas iluminadas zonas. Es una embriaguez de serenidad, de conciencia, de intuida visión, de estado. Caminar por tu mundo no es trabajo, es placer inteligente” (164).
Even as Aleixandre's “Mundo poético” represents aspects of pure poetry, it exhibits signs of intertextuality with two works by Ortega y Gasset. Aleixandre's description of the pleasure afforded by the poetic experience replicates Ortega y Gasset's portrayal of the new aesthetic pleasure of the 1920s as a “placer inteligente” in La deshumanización del arte (3: 369). Other suggestions of intertextuality emerge from the juxtaposition of “Mundo poético” and Ortega's eulogy of Max Scheler, published in the Revista de Occidente in 1928. In his evaluation of Scheler's contribution to philosophy, Ortega portrays the German thinker as an “original” man, “Adán del nuevo Paraíso” (4: 510), who uses phenomenology's new way of looking at the world to search for essences: “Fácil es comprender la embriaguez del primero [Scheler] que usó esta nueva óptica. Todo en su derredor se henchía de sentido, todo era esencial, todo definible, de aristas inequívocas, todo diamante” (4: 510). Ortega praises Scheler's work for invariably expressing something “esencial, claro, evidente y, por tanto, hecho de luminosa serenidad” (4: 510-511). His only qualification of this praise recalls Aleixandre's choice of words in reference to the poet's task above: “Pero tenía que decir tantas serenidades, que se atropellaba, que iba dando tumbos, ebrio de claridades, beodo de evidencias, borracho de serenidad” (4: 511). Aleixandre's emphasis on luminosity and on the clarity of the poet's vision, his use of the word “aristas” to illuminate the transparency, yet the definition of the poetic space, and his combination of the state of inebriation with that of serenity all coincide with Ortega's evaluation of Scheler's phenomenological experience of the philosophical realm.
In these two texts, Ortega and Aleixandre also portray the world, viewed from the perspectives of phenomenology and pure poetry, in similar ways. With Husserlian phenomenology, says Ortega, “el mundo se cuajó y empezó a rezumar sentido por todos los poros. Los poros son las cosas, todas las cosas, las lejanas y solemnes, lo mismo que las humildes y más próximas … Cada una de estas cosas comenzó tranquila y resueltamente a ser lo que era” (4: 509-10). In Aleixandre's poetic world, as well, things possess their own being: “Parece como que todas las cosas tienen su luz en ellas y ellas se dan su aurora y su poniente. Su noche. De día ellas nacen. No nace el día. Nacen las cosas. Una asunción de formas nos dice que se ha hecho el día. La calidad de su materia es siempre comprobable. Hay una dureza en su constancia que las hace evidentes, heridoras” (1648). Aleixandre's concern for the essential “things” of the world, and on the clear evidence of their form and matter, parallels Ortega's description of the phenomenologist's search for essence and his confidence that this can be made evident. Moreover, the poet's belief that the essential things have “their light in them” suggests that they possess their own meaning or sense (“sentido”), as Ortega affirms. The apparent intertextuality between statements by Aleixandre and Ortega demonstrates that they, poet and philosopher, shared certain common concerns and a common “language” for those concerns.
Some of the ways in which Vicente Aleixandre's Ámbito belongs to the realm of pure poetry involve areas in which the purist aesthetic parallels phenomenology. There are several elements linking Vicente Aleixandre's Ámbito to pure poetry that also concord with aspects of phenomenology. These include, first, the conceptualization of the poet's experience of things as taking place in an intellectual space often represented as an area circumscribed by a horizon;10 the subject's experience in this poetic world is clearly self-reflective, even as he contemplates the things around him. Second, within this space the poet encounters things and beings as essence and as sense. Sight functions as a model for the intuition of essence. Third, the poet's tendency to capture things at clearly defined moments or from particular perspectives, especially as the things come into being or recreate themselves in the fullness of their being. These three aspects of Aleixandre's poetry, isolated in my description above, are intertwined in the poems that I discuss below.
In Ámbito, as the title suggests, the poet contemplates and explores the space that surrounds him. The “ambit” he describes often corresponds to that of nature, yet self-consciously distinguishes itself from nature. The appearance of “real worldliness” is created primarily through the constant interplay of space (often a land or seascape) and time (night and day). The poet avails himself of ideas borrowed from human perception of the world of nature, such as perspective, horizon, form, number, and time in his experience of the poetic world. His vision of this world, however, with its alteration of normal causality, its tendency to reduce sometimes massive material objects to mere lines and planes while endowing the abstract with corporality, and its interplay of presence and absence, calls attention to the “irreality” of this pure poetry.
The poem “Idea,” for example, evokes an immense seascape that illustrates the invisible internal process of poetic creation:
Hay un temblor de aguas en la frente. Y va emergiendo, exacta, la limpia imagen, pensamiento, marino casco, barca.
The image's emergence from the (poet's) forehead, exactly formed, like the goddess Athena from the forehead of Zeus, stresses the intellectual aspect of poetic creation and suggests that this creation is independent of natural human generation. The image is identified with thought, reinforcing the ideal quality of the image, yet is identified, as well, with the “casco,” which elicits the double association with a cranium and with a boat. The horizontal expanse implied by the reference to the sea divides the poetic space into upper (aerial) and lower (submarine) realms. The being alternately portrayed as image/thought/head/boat appears to float on the surface of the water, while above, ideas appear in a flock, and below, a secret ship surges up from the depths of the sea.
Arriba ideas en bandada, albeantes. Pero abajo la intacta nave secreta surge, de un fondo submarino botado invento, gracia.
According to Aleixandre's depiction of poetic creation, the more cerebral image and ideas must be followed by “grace,” which acts as a dual force, incorporating the vital eros and the rational logos. This force appears to “impregnate,” in effect, the virginal ideas in order for the image to become word.
Un momento detiene [la nave secreta] su firmeza balanceada en la suave plenitud de la onda. Polariza los hilos de los vientos en su mástil agudo, y los rasga de un tirón violento, mar afuera, inflamada de marcha, de ciencia, de victoria.
Although Aleixandre inverts the Platonic identification of the sky with the masculine and that of the submarine with the feminine, he maintains a balance by situating the masculine force of “grace” within the “marina entraña” while placing the vaguely feminine “ideas” in the air, with the image floating on the surface of the water. The formulation of the singular “idea” suggested by the title of the poem is identified with the pronunciation of the poetic word, simultaneously articulated by the tongue and disarticulated from the world in which it had been submerged. The newly formed idea moves
Hasta el confin externo—lengua—, cuchilla que la exime de su marina entraña, y del total paisaje, profundo y retrasado, la desgarra.
In this poem Aleixandre evokes various elements of the Classical Hellenic tradition. He combines the Platonic dialectic of the rational and the non-rational with allusions to classical Greek myth and cosmovision, accentuates the Neoplatonic penchant for using the external world of nature as a model for the internal poetic world, and employs the vertical axis representing the Neoplatonic aspiration to rise to a higher level of being. He refashions these elements of the Idealist philosophical/literary tradition from his modern perspective, and uses them to project a meta-poetic vision of creation. At the same time, the process of making conscious the unconscious, of bringing a seemingly remote object from a non-rational state in which it is undifferentiated from its surroundings, into the light of clear reflection, in which it is distinct from its surroundings, parallels the clarification realized by phenomenology, as well.
In Ámbito the world is portrayed at certain well-defined moments, particularly at dawn or, at the opposite extreme, at sunset or twilight. Aleixandre also favors the experience of the night, as well as the fullness of midday, manifested in the poem “Viaje.” In this poem the subject is privileged to experience the day as a journey whose aerial movement through space seems to follow the arch of the sun:
Qué clara luz en la mañana dura! Diligencias de tiempo impulsan lisas mi cuerpo. El suelo plano patina blanco despidiendo el bulto mío, que sobrenada inmóvil hacia nortes abiertos en redondo, azules.
The poet's experience of the fullness of the world and the accompanying images of the amplification of the world's limits recall Ortega y Gasset's association of plenitude with the image of an expanding horizon: “El horizonte es una línea biológica, un órgano viviente de nuestro ser; mientras gozamos de plenitud, el horizonte emigra, se dilata, ondula elástico casi al compás de nuestra respiración. En cambio, cuando el horizonte se fija es que se ha anquilosado y que nosotros ingresamos en la vejez” (III 367). In “Viaje” the poet experiences the expansion of the world as he follows the sun's trajectory. The poet's body, at first floating over the smooth plane of the earth, soon participates in the upward and (implicitly) northward movement of the sun until it reaches the zenith of midday, high above the land or water:
Esquirlas. Luz. ¡Oh mediodía tirante! El bulto se alza a muelle comba ¿de agua?, de campo verde, alcores corvos —sumo un momento, coronante, alegre, casi azules las manos altas—…
The plenitude of the day seems to endow the poet with a special perception that allows him to experience the moment even as he looks back towards the east (“¡Qué oriente!”) and is aware of the “luces últimas” that await in the west. The day, meanwhile, continues its spiraling course:
Impasible insinúa hacia su norte inqueridas espiras. Elementos de aire, de sol, de cielo, rompedores del orden pretendido, vierten fuera accidentes, miradas, torpes lazos
The pouring out of “accidents,” “glances,” and “clumsy links” eliminates non-essential elements from the poetic atmosphere, and confirms the certainty and the evidence of the poet's and the day's destiny:
Voy en bulto cierto, a firme lejanía, disparado de líneas, bajo palmas de cielo abierto empujadoras, agrias. Si te acogen, ¡oh bulto!, con destino evidencia de luces últimas, estática plenitud de ondas altas, abrigante voluta de la noche, rinde viaje —¡calma!—sobre ti mismo y da tu giro perfecto, entero, de la estela dura eximido, difícil, que has vencido flotadora y que resta inerme, sólida.
Aleixandre's visualization of the invisible, and his reduction of the poetic world to planes and lines, while celebrating the fullness of the experience of the day, in addition to his emphasis on the clarity and purity of the atmosphere and the certainty and evidence of his experience all correspond to Spanish pure poetry of the 1920s. At the same time, Edmund Husserl's dependence on “seeing” an idea or essence, his predilection, especially early in his philosophy, for geometrical concepts and language, his confidence in the certainty and the evidence of the phenomenological method, his epoché or bracketing of the non-essential, and his affirmation of the fullness of the clarified essence also parallel the purist qualities of Aleixandre's “Viaje.”
The promise and, indeed, the imminence of intuition of an essential landscape is manifested in “Campo.” Here the poet commands a panoramic view of the landscape. The distance between the poet and his object allows him to visualize things and beings within the totality suggested by the title, Ámbito. The poet's contemplation of the countryside becomes a reflection on the nature of perception and knowledge:
Mañana vieja. Filosofía. Nueva mirada hacia el cielo viejo. Con mi mano los hilos recogidos a un punto nuevo, exacto, verdadero.
Campo, ¿Qué espero?
Definición que aguardo de todo lo disperso. Suprema vibración de los hilos finos, en el viento atados a mi frente, sonora en el silencio.
The poet has gathered a multitude of threads leading from “all dispersed things” to a central point described as “new, exact, true.” The threads trace the poet's line of vision to the objects in the distance and also suggest a return movement of the objects to the poet's forehead. A tension is created by the poet's expectation of a definition of the dispersed objects in terms of their form and meaning.
The discovery of essence, a concern shared by pure poetry and phenomenology, becomes explicit in “Retrato,” a poem that complements and seems to complete “Campo.” “Retrato” records the experience of a young man, the poet, who is privileged to see “the essence of things … become concrete … in his hands,” as he contemplates a landscape:
Este muchacho ha visto la esencia de las cosas, una tarde, entre sus manos concretarse. ..... Sus ojos copian tierra y viento y agua, que devuelven, precisos, campo al reflejarse.
Once again, the poet is situated high above a landscape which he both contemplates and constitutes. The poet's vision perceives or “copies” the objects, “land,” “wind,” and “water,” which are returned to their place of origin transformed into “field” or “countryside.” The poet's utterance, pronouncing the sense of the object of contemplation, presides over the field:
Su lengua—sal y carne— dice y calla. La frase se dilata, en ámbito se expande y cierra ya el sentido, allá en lo alto —terraza de su frente—, sobre el vivaz paisaje.
This poem portrays the circular poetic process of perception, understanding, and creation of an object. “Retrato,” like “Viaje,” shares with phenomenology the use of a special seeing of essential reality that seeks to uncover the sense of that reality.
Finally, Aleixandre's preference for moments that become transparent as a process of creation (“Idea”), of understanding (“Retrato”), or as the self-conscious approximation to the fullness of being (“Viaje”) place him squarely within the purist aesthetic, but also in line with phenomenology. The suggested movement, often from obscure depths to the surface, from an undifferentiated background to the clear definition of objects in a landscape, and often from the darkness of night to the light of day (“Luz,” “Voces,” “Alba”) has been called the “clarification of the creative consciousness” by Gustavo Correa (43). While Correa traces this clarification to Mallarmé (43), in the poetic realm, I believe that such a process, concerned with the portrayal of essential things that manifest themselves as meaning and equally concerned, self-consciously, with the way in which the subject apprehends reality, can be found also in phenomenology.
It seems clear that as Ámbito conforms to the purist aesthetic, it also manifests certain parallels with phenomenology. In doing so, Ámbito is not unique, but demonstrates that pure poets and phenomenologists shared similar values, objectives and even theoretical models. In some respects, it is necessary to “bracket” the facts of Aleixandre's early break with pure poetry, his long-maintained inconformity with its minority aesthetic, and his recollection of his first work as “traditional,” in order to focus on Ámbito's place within the literary and intellectual reality in which it was written. Ámbito's primary relationship to pure poetry, but also its link to phenomenology, in addition to the parallels between pure poetry and phenomenology, indicate that the intellectual reality to which Ámbito belongs may be broader and more interrelated than critics have recognized heretofore.
The context in which Ortega invokes the “ciencia pura” suggests that the term includes philosophy:
… he indicado que el arte y la ciencia pura, precisamente por ser las actividades más libres, menos estrechamente sometidas a las condiciones sociales de cada época, son los primeros hechos donde puede vislumbrarse cualquier cambio de la sensibilidad colectiva. Si el hombre modifica su actitud radical ante la vida comenzará por manifestar el nuevo temperamento en la creación artística y en sus emanacíones ideológicas (my emphasis)
(Deshumanización 3: 378)
Ortega's writing generally stresses the linkage of philosophy and science. In Meditaciones del Quijote (1914), he equates philosophy with science (1: 318), while in “Pleamar filosófica” (1925) (3: 344), he stresses the return of “science” to philosophy.
Dionisio Cañas traces Claudio Rodríguez's concern for “the things themselves” to Husserlian phenomenology:
Husserl había hecho su emblema filosófico de esta frase: ¡A las cosas mismas! La fenomenología intentará volver a descubrir la cosa en sí, en su estar siendo, en su participar del ser del mundo -lugar del gran encuentro de todo ser, incluyendo, claro está, el del hombre. Esta certeza hacia el ser del mundo repercutió, directa o indirectamente, en la poesía, dándole, independientemente de los contextos histórico-sociales de cada país o cultura, una vitalidad universal al pensamiento poético.
I suggest that the phenomenology's “point and time of entry” into the Spanish poetic realm may have coincided with the development of pure poetry in the 1920s. Vicente Aleixandre, a mentor of younger poets like Claudio Rodríguez, may have mediated, to some extent, in the transmission of phenomenological elements to Rodríguez.
In a manuscript unpublished until 1990, Ortega y Gasset complains that Eugenio D'Ors critiques phenomenology, and particularly the phenomenological idea of consciousness, without understanding them (“Sobre la fenomenología” 14-28).
In La deshumanización del arte, Ortega sees in the new attitude toward art, “uno de los rasgos más generales en el nuevo modo de sentir la existencia: lo que he llamado tiempo hace el sentido deportivo y festival de la vida” (3: 194-95). In his article “Pleamar filosófica,” published the same year as Deshumanización, Ortega makes a similar statement regarding philosophy: “La nueva pleamar filosófica revela que un nuevo tipo de hombre inicia su dominación. Yo he procurado reiteradamente y desde distintas vertientes sugerir su perfil: es el hombre para quien la vida tiene un sentido deportivo y festivo” (3: 348).
Vela's article covers contemporary German philosophy in general, giving special importance to the thought of Husserl and Scheler, while reserving a place for Ortega y Gasset in a philosophical discourse dominated by phenomenology.
The phenomenological clarification is a complex process that requires the identification and bracketing of non-essential aspects of an object in order to allow the idea to manifest itself as essence. I do not wish to imply that the pure poets seek to perform a phenomenological “reduction” to essence in their poetry, but to suggest that the pure poetry and phenomenology, both conscious of belonging to the Western idealist tradition, describe their objectives and their methods for achieving those objectives in similar ways.
The enthusiasm for science was not limited to pure poetry alone, but was shared by cubism, futurism and later ultraism, as Juan Cano Ballesta affirms:
El espíritu científico y la euforia industrializadora de la época impregnan a las letras de racionalidad. El escritor se mantiene alerta. Se entrega a la fría y matizada transcripción de los sentimientos más sutiles, pero trata de evitar que su personalidad invada torrencialmente el poema y lo haga rebosar de sentimientos, emociones, datos biográficos, puntos de vista, reacciones … incluso intenta ausentarse de él para que sólo quede limpia la palabra pregnante del sentido. Los manifiestos ultraistas hablan de distanciamiento sentimental frente a la obra, y hasta llegan a sugerir la total desaparición del artista.
Erazim Kohák discusses Husserl's reaction to the empiricism of the positivists, which limited “experience” to that gained through sense perception (154-155). Ortega y Gasset also reviews phenomenology's opposition to the exclusive claims of positivism in his eulogy of Max Scheler (4: 508).
Husserl, like Ortega, uses the centaur to demonstrate the possibility that a fanciful construction may be a legitimate object of consciousness (Ideas 43). Husserl also affirms the validity of the “irreal,” which he considers independent of “matters of fact” (11), and declares the adequacy of fantasy for the intuition of essence (157-159).
While Edmund Husserl was primarily concerned with defining phenomenology's “field of experience” as separate from the ego's experience of the natural world, his references to the “horizon” of each experience (Ideas 51-55), his references to the ego's “perspective” on an intended object (Ideas 86-87), and his play with the idea of bringing remote or unclear objects into focus (Ideas 197) demonstrate that he depended on concepts taken from everyday perception of the natural world in order to describe that ideal space. Ortega y Gasset relates the image of the horizon, as the delimitation of the “world” to be viewed by philosophers and scientists, to his theory of perspectivism (El tema de nuestro tiempo 3: 202-203).
Aleixandre, Vicente. Obras completas. Madrid: Aguilar, 1968.
Blanch, Antonio. La poesía pura española. Madrid: Gredos, 1976.
Cano Ballesta, Juan. Literatura y tecnología: las letras españolas ante la revolución industrial, 1900-1933. Madrid: Orígenes, 1972.
Cañas, Dionisio. Poesía y percepción. (Francisco Brines, Claudio Rodríguez y José Ángel Valente). Madrid: Hiperión, 1984.
Correa, Gustavo. “Conciencia poética y clarividencia.” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 352-354 (1979): 41-74.
Chabás, Juan. “Vicente Aleixandre: Ámbito.” Revista de Occidente 21 (1928): 246-49.
Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Tr. F. Kersten. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982.
Jiménez, Juan Ramón. Segunda antolojía poética (1898-1918). Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1952.
Kohák, Erazim. Idea and Experience. Edmund Husserl's Project of Phenomenology in “Ideas I”. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.
Ledesma Ramos, Ramiro. “La fenomenología en España.” La Gaceta Literaria 71 (1929): 467.
Metzger, Arnold. “La situación presente de la fenomenología.” Revista de Occidente 22 (1928): 177-201.
———. “La situación presente de la fenomenología.” Revista de Occidente 23 (1929): 178-209.
Morón-Arroyo, Ciriaco. El sistema de Ortega y Gasset. Madrid: Alcalá, 1968.
Ortega y Gasset, José. “Conciencia, objeto y las tres distancias de éste.” Obras completas, 9 vols. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1963. 2: 61-66.
———. La deshumanización del arte e ideas sobre la novela. Obras completas 3: 353-386.
———. Ideas y creencias. Obras completas 5: 379-489.
———. “Max Scheler—Un embriagado en esencias (1874-1928).” Obras completas 4: 507-511.
———. Meditaciones del Quijote. Obras completas 3: 309-400.
———. “Sobre la fenomenología.” Revista de Occidente 108 (1990): 13-28.
———. El tema de nuestro tiempo. Obras completas 3: 143-203.
Silver, Philip. Ortega as Phenomenologist. The Genesis of “Meditations on Quixote.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.
Vela, Fernando. “La poesía pura.” Revista de Occidente 14 (1926): 217-40.
———. “Sobre el problema de la filosofía.” Revista de Occidente 15 (1927): 49-68.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6289
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 toward his own writing has been taken into account by critics only as it illustrates his world view. I propose, however, that Aleixandre's belief in the unity of his poetic works is as significant for his understanding of literature as his belief in the unity of all creation is for his understanding of the world. Indeed, Aleixandre's presupposition of the unity of his work underlies several key aspects of his self-reading, such as his tendency to interpret the sense or meaning of his poetry, his emphasis on the stylistic and thematic evolution of his work, the recognition of his multiple perspectives on the world and the consciousness of his poetry's dialogue with tradition. This combination of elements, all of which reinforce the idea of unity, links Aleixandre's reading of his poetry to hermeneutical and phenomenological interpretations of literature.1 Because of the intertwining of these two critical threads in Aleixandre's thinking, I have adopted Mario Valdés's term “phenomenological hermeneutics” to describe the poet's reading of his work.2
In his comments about literature Vicente Aleixandre alternates between assuming the unity of the world as a given, and concluding that unity is the sense of the world. At the same time, he implies that the wholeness of his own work mirrors that of the world. In “Prólogo y notas previas a Mis poemas mejores,” for example, he affirms, “El tema de la mayoría de los libros del poeta era, si la expresión no parece desmedida, la Creación, la naturaleza entera, yo diría mejor su unidad, y el hombre quedaba confundido con ella, elemento de ese cosmos del que sustancialmente no se diferenciaba” (538). In effect, Aleixandre's use of the word “theme” here approaches hermeneutical theorists' use of the term “sense.” Pere Gimferrer's evaluation of Aleixandre's complete poetic works, emphasizes the link between “unity” as theme and “unity” as sense:
Desde sus inicios … la poesía de Aleixandre puede resumirse en una palabra: unidad. Cada ser [referring to the being of each work], en la luz total—inseparable de la tiniebla total—, es idéntico a los otros, y todos son el poeta: el ojo que, ciego, se ve a sí mismo, la palabra que se designa al designar el mundo, la pasión erótica que se reencuentra en los cuerpos ajenos, la percepción que asume la unidad de mente y materia. Conocimiento de lo unitario, fragor y quietud de un cosmos hecho idea, de una idea que es el cosmos.
In this passage Gimferrer superimposes Aleixandre's unifying vision of the world onto the sense of his poetic texts as a whole. My analysis begins, in effect, with Gimferrer's conclusion that the sense of Aleixandre's poetry is its unity. My purpose is not to determine whether this conclusion is sound, but to describe the nature and the parameters of Vicente Aleixandre's efforts to promote the idea of his works' wholeness.
In his reading of his own and others' poetry, Aleixandre assumes both the unity of the works of an individual writer, and the “unity of sense” of texts written by different poets of a particular time and place.3 His most explicit reference to a unity of sense, a concept employed in both phenomenology and hermeneutics (Husserl 128-29), occurs in his lecture “Algunos caracteres de la nueva poesía española.” Here he affirms that the various kinds of poetry being cultivated at the time in Spain can be construed as a unit: “Hoy, como ayer, se hacen en nuestra lengua, por españoles, muchos tipos de poesía aparentemente incongruentes. Pero no somos pocos los que creemos con fe viva que la literatura de una generación (y abriendo el círculo, la de una época, la de un siglo, la de un pueblo) es siempre congruente, es una obra, una unidad artística, cuyo sentido sólo es cabalmente aprehensible vista desde el armonioso conjunto” (492). This search for a sense that lends coherence to a single or multiple texts and Aleixandre's belief that the sense of a work can be perceived only from the concept of the “wholeness” of that work form part of an attitude common to hermeneutics (Gadamer 60) and phenomenology (Husserl, Ideas 80).
Aleixandre defines the critical task he undertakes for the aforesaid lecture as “aislar, en lo poético, lo que llamaríamos unidad espiritual del tiempo propuesto, dentro de la variedad aparentemente caótica de sus dispersas manifestaciones” (491-92). His critical method, “isolating” a unity of sense from the multiplicity of literary phenomena, in addition to his implicit reference to a pattern of relationships or a “congruity” parallels the method of phenomenological analysis. In addition, his assertion that the varied poetic manifestations of the day and the unique focus of each writer harmonize with the idea of the unity of poetic works corresponds to Husserl's reconciliation of multiple appearances and perspectives with the understanding of the unity of an intended object (87-88).
As a reader of his own poetry, Vicente Aleixandre engages in a variety of interpretive practices that support the idea of his works' unity. In the first of these, he converts what might be considered prominent themes of his work, such as love, “aspiration to light,” communication or knowledge, into the sense of his work.4 Aleixandre arrives at love or “aspiration to light” as meanings through a kind of poetic “reduction” to essence. In “Dos poemas y un comentario,” for example, he declares that his belief in the unity of the world, over and above its diversity, underlies all of his poetic work to date (650). In order to illustrate this unity, the poet/critic affirms that in his poetic vision the world, with its “formas diversas” (“mares, montes, ríos, selva, fauna”), “está reducido a una sustancia única que el poeta llama amor” (650). By means of this poetic distillation, Aleixandre arrives at a common substance, love, that in turn generates an opposite movement of expansion on the part of each being toward an all-encompassing unity: “En esta poética, todo aspira, hasta los seres inanimados, a un enlazamiento, más exactamente, a una integración amorosa” (650). Through this integration, Aleixandre asserts, the beings of the world acquire a transcendent being or meaning. They participate in “una consumación amante general en que destrucción o amor, unificadores, tienen una sola significación” (650). Aleixandre's description of his poetry, with his emphasis on a “reduction” that subsequently allows for a fullness of meaning, all within a structure of unity suggests a phenomenological understanding of literature.5
Aleixandre not only sees love as a unifying theme in his own work, but emphasizes its role in uniting the Western poetic tradition. In his speech “En la vida del poeta: el amor y la poesía” before the Real Academia Española (395-423), he examines love poetry from medieval times to the Romantic period, concluding that in each moment love has been “un intento de comunión con lo absoluto: esto ser ciegamente el amor en el hombre” (422). As with his own poetry, Aleixandre pursues the idea of the unity of tradition by linking together a variety of poetic visions of love:
No importa desde qué posición espiritual o temporal descendida y transmitida: un neoplatonismo, una tradición petrarquesca, una delineación provenzal o una sede romántica. Sigue siendo lo mismo. Por sobre lo mudable, por sobre el color, por sobre la línea, por sobre el espacio y el tiempo, más allá de la variante perspectiva, la fiel poesía, hija de la constante naturaleza humana, nos estará rindiendo el tronco que no se muda: la unidad del amor, en la unidad del hombre.
Aleixandre presents love here as an attitude that works toward unity on different levels, first as a concern shared by all people, secondly, as an attitude of seeking communion with the absolute, and finally as a theme that allows us to perceive and confirm the unity of our tradition. His portrayal of love as a dominant theme that is inextricably tied to the unity of the world and to that of the body of his own works is echoed in his vision of the European poetic tradition. This clearly suggests that Aleixandre sees his own work in the mainstream of the larger tradition. The expansion that he describes from diverse, individual expressions of love to love as a multidimensional attitude permeating the various stages of his career, and beyond, to the Western tradition, itself united by aspects of love, illustrates our poet's tendency to place the individual within an expanding structure of sense.
While in some moments of Aleixandre's poetic creation the poetic subject's attitude of love manifests itself as a desire for union with the other, usually portrayed as the beloved (652), at other times it is expressed as a feeling of solidarity, based upon the recognition of the self in the other (542), or as an attitude or experience of knowledge (669). In each of these manifestations, love establishes a relatedness among beings which reinforces the overall unity of the world. By the same token, the poet's development of new understandings of love and the linking of love with the other major Aleixandrian themes of communication and knowledge serve to maintain a sense of the unity and continuity of the poet's work across different stages of his career, as we shall see below.
In a second poetic “reduction,” Aleixandre speaks of his poetic trajectory as an “aspiración a la luz” (541, 546). This image is invoked by Aleixandre to describe his poetry from the mid-1940s on. Like the theme of love, that of light transcends the individual differences among the various Aleixandrian works, while adding the idea of a coherent progression, beginning with the “black light” of Pasión de la tierra, passing through the “red light” of La destrucción o el amor, on to the “white light” of Sombra del paraíso, and finally to the transparency of Historia del corazón (542). On at least three occasions Aleixandre refers to the gradual movement from darkness to light as a “proceso de clarificación,” employing a term with phenomenological overtones, to describe one of the principal characteristics of his poetic evolution (530, 537, 548).6 Aleixandre appears to refer to a process at work in his poetry across time, an evolutionary process in which the poet moves, intellectually and stylistically, from zones of darkness to those of light. This process accounts both for the gradual movement from non-rational to increasingly rational poetic thinking as well as for the poet's departure from the “difficult” language of such works as Pasión de la tierra and Espadas como labios, to the language of Historia del corazón, which, by comparison, courts the reader's understanding.
Ironically, Aleixandre invokes the process of clarification as he reflects upon the meaning of Pasión de la tierra, the work that initiated his exploration of his inner world and his use of nonrational modes of expression (528). In the prologue of the first Spanish edition of Pasión de la tierra, published twelve years after its composition, Aleixandre confesses that while he only recently discovered “la claridad y el espacio celeste, … desde la angustia de las sombras, desde la turbiedad de las grandes grietas terráqueas estaba presentida la coherencia del total mundo poético” (528). Once again, Aleixandre's affirmation of the underlying presence of a “coherence” that would become evident only later, in the context of the poet's entire creation, points to a phenomenological and hermeneutical reading on his part.
Vicente Aleixandre's mid-life conversion to the belief that the poet belongs to a social as well as to a literary community leads him to a third interpretation of poetry as communication. His desire to communicate with his readers can be seen first in his introductory remarks to the second edition of La destrucción o el amor and to the first Spanish edition of Pasión de la tierra. In the former, Aleixandre emphasizes his long-standing commitment to the universal themes of “love,” “sadness,” “hate,” or “death,” that “essentially unite” humankind (525). Portraying himself as a poet of the majority, he distances himself from a “minority” aesthetic that tends to limit poetic materials and to exclude “unprepared” readers (525). In his introduction to Pasión de la tierra, a work that Aleixandre considers in retrospect to be inaccessible to all but the most prepared readers, he attempts to explain what he intended in terms that contemporary readers would understand. Underlining the human quality of Pasión de la tierra, he appeals to the readers' ethical consciousness and invites them to make an effort to recognize themselves in this poetry (530).
Over the years Aleixandre comes to conceive of a greater social role for the poet, beyond the invocation of themes common to all people, to the convocation of a “human community” (508). In this way, his poetic search for unity becomes transformed into a meta-poetic task. This attitude toward poetry places Aleixandre in line with other contemporary writers who affirm the need for the poet to fulfill a social as well as literary role in post-civil war Spain. By adhering to this view of the poet's task, he is able to see himself, once again, as part of the mainstream of contemporary Spanish poetry. Thus, the idea of poetry as communication links up with the theme of the unity of beings in the world and reinforces the unity that Aleixandre seeks with his poetic tradition.7
While the importance of knowledge has been highlighted more by literary critics than by Aleixandre himself, it too has served to unite the various works and periods of the poet. In contrast to the theme of communication, which appears almost halfway through Aleixandre's poetic career, knowledge as theme and as intellectual process figures in a number of his works, including Ambito, Sombra del paraíso and even Pasión de la tierra. It becomes most prominent, however, in the last stage of his career, with Poemas de la consumación and Diálogos del conocimiento, as José Olivio Jiménez has demonstrated (55-59). Although Aleixandre dwells little on knowledge as an isolated aspect of his poetry, it is clear he sees it as being interconnected with the themes of light, love, and even communication. Knowledge for him is associated with the image of light, whether the gaining of knowledge is sudden, as with a moment of “illumination” or occurs as a gradual process of “clarification.” Likewise, his understanding of his poetry as “una forma del conocimiento amoroso” relates knowledge of the other to the theme of love (669). The pronunciation of this aphorism linking love and knowledge in “Poesía, comunicación,” from 1951, implies that both erotic union with the other and communication with the other can be understood as forms of knowledge. Because of the ways in which knowledge can define various modes of relating to the world and because of the way it combines with the other Aleixandrian themes, it, like love and aspiration to light, weaves its own pattern of relationships that binds individual works to the whole.
It seems appropriate to consider Vicente Aleixandre's “reduction” of his poetry to a single although expandable sense, such as “love” or “aspiration to light,” as part of a more general tendency on his part to seek and to evoke a world of meaning. As such, Aleixandre's interpretation of his poetry parallels the phenomenologist's rendering of the intended object “a meaning for consciousness” through the reduction (Ricoeur, Conflict 257). In addition, the fact that Aleixandre foregrounds the attitude of love and the aspiration to light in the interpretation of his poetry suggests that these meanings hold a special and personal significance for him. His reduction, in this way, departs from the purely phenomenological focus on the intended object and traces a hermeneutical circle in what Ricoeur calls a “return to the self by way of its other” (Conflict 261).
Aleixandre's contemplation of his poetry as a whole places him at a distance from his individual works and, to an extent, from himself as creator of the texts. The frequent reference to himself in the third person, as “the poet,” demonstrates his recognition of the “otherness” of his own creation. This attitude, however, does not represent Aleixandre's alienation, but prepares the way for a new understanding of his work. As in Paul Ricoeur's dialectic of distanciation and appropriation, the distance assumed by Aleixandre allows him to perceive the meaning of his work on another level, not as a “possession,” but as a “dispossession of the egoistic and narcissistic ego” (Theory 94). Yet, as Ricoeur affirms, this appropriation promises a new understanding of the self, which Aleixandre seems to celebrate as he embraces the idea of his poetry as multiple perspectives on the theme of love, on the one hand, and as a gradual movement toward light and clarity, on the other. In this way Aleixandre's reading forms part of the pursuit of self-knowledge in the latter part of his poetic career.
Vicente Aleixandre's self-reading shares with phenomenology and hermeneutics not only the belief in the unity and the “unity of sense” of an intended object, in this case the poet's own work, but also the idea of the unitary flow of a subject's mental experiences. Aleixandre uses the image of a current or stream primarily to describe his poetic evolution which he describes as his consciousness of the world, unfolding and transforming itself in time (540). He suggests that his poetry exemplifies the idea of “un estilo en movimiento” (541). “La evolución continuada, sin saltos,” [of this style], “mostrar … la unidad presidente, en cada momento reconocible” (541). Aleixandre's idea of the temporal flow of consciousness, sustaining itself as a unit, parallels Edmund Husserl's description of the ego's temporal field or “stream of mental processes” as “the whole, essentially unified, and strictly self-contained stream of temporal unities of mental processes” (196).
Aleixandre's understanding of the relationship of his individual works to the whole is analogous to Husserl's idea of single moments within the stream of mental processes. On the one hand, the poet recognizes the individual identity of each of his works and affirms his solidarity with them, yet on the other, insists that they be viewed as part of the organic body of his work: “un poema extraído del organismo a que pertenece mutila, no ese cuerpo general, sino el poema mismo, que no significa igual separado de su contexto” (543). According to Husserl, “every mental process belonging to the stream … has an essence of its own which can be seized upon intuitively” (69). At the same time, Husserl asserts, “no concrete mental process can be accepted as a self-sufficient one in the full sense of the term. Each is ‘in need of supplementation’ with respect to prescribed concatenation …” (198).
Just as Aleixandre insists that his poetry be perceived as following a smooth and continuous course in its own right, he is also concerned that it belong within the flow of contemporary poetry. In “Prólogo y notas previas a Mis poemas mejores,” he manifests the desire to be remembered as a participant in the most vital literary currents of the moment, but also as a poet who is conscious of his debt to the past and his responsibility to the future. He expresses this in a kind of literary epitaph, referring to himself, as he frequently does, in the third person: “En su tiempo no quedó del todo al margen de la corriente viva de la poesía: había enlazado con un ayer y no había sido materia interruptora para el mañana” (543). In my opinion, Aleixandre's projection of his ideal relationship with the poetic tradition is similar to Hans-Georg Gadamer's conception of belonging: “Tradition is not simply a precondition into which we come, but we produce it ourselves, inasmuch as we understand, participate in the evolution of tradition and hence further determine it ourselves” (261). In the formulation of his participation in the flow of literary tradition, Aleixandre shares with both Husserl and Gadamer the assumption that any single experience in the present presupposes a “before,” a past experience which gives rise to it, and an “after,” a future experience toward which it is directed.
Aleixandre's recognition of the critical difficulties posed for the subject (as creator or reader) by the flow of experience also suggests a link to phenomenology.8 When asked to choose poems for an anthology of his “best poetry,” he protests, “El poeta es su propio transcurrir anímico, y no existe el momento absolutamente inmóvil desde el que situarse para elegir fuera del tiempo” (543). In this understanding, too, his thinking parallels that of Husserl who recognizes, “my whole stream of mental processes is, finally, a unity of mental processes, which, of essential necessity, cannot be seized upon completely in a perceiving which ‘swims along with it’” (97). For Aleixandre, the fact that his judgement is necessarily situated in a “here and now” means that any selection of past works will be colored by his present experience or perspective: “Cuando el lírico escoge lo hace desde su propia fluidez en curso. Lo que, quiéralo o no, equivale un poco a decir desde la etapa suya que vive. Sé bien que una selección … no sería la misma ayer, como no mostraría probablemente idéntico cuerpo si congregada mañana” (544). Despite his skepticism with regard to the importance of his selection, Aleixandre complies with his publisher's request, but not without playfully undermining the validity of the entire enterprise: “He aquí, pues, algunos de los poemas que en este momento yo reuniría para representar … una posible fisonomía, reteniéndola un instante, ahora mismo, antes que sea otra la que en el instante siguiente yo hubiese de recoger, sorprendiéndola en la mudable corriente” (544). Yet, this is not the last word; the poet follows with a more positive statement of what he intends with his selection: “He preferido … dar una imagen del caz (sin más interrupción que la que lleva el hecho de escoger, separar), para que se pueda seguir el dibujo del cauce y, dentro de él, parada un instante, de su corriente” (544). Clearly, Aleixandre's doubt is limited to the possibility of his choosing poems that constitute the proper coordinates for the “course” of his poetry without his being able to occupy a position outside the flow. The poet affirms, however, the belief in the existence of his poetic creation as a kind of being that unfolds in time, and whose trajectory can be perceived.
Vicente Aleixandre's awareness of his assumption of different perspectives as writer and as reader jibes with Wolfgang Iser's application of Husserl's “stream of mental processes” to the experience of the reader: “Every articulate reading moment,” affirms Iser, “entails a switch of perspective, and this constitutes an inseparable combination of differentiated perspectives, foreshortened memories, present modifications, and future expectations” (116). Like Aleixandre, Iser speaks of the moments in which the subject “intends” its object as perspectives. Iser then goes on to explore the structure of the subject's cognitive experience: “Thus, in the time-flow of the reading process, past and future continually converge in the present moment, and the synthetizing operations of the wandering viewpoint enable the text to pass through the reader's mind as an ever-expanding network of connections” (116).
Iser's idea of the interaction of the past and the future with the present is exemplified in Vicente Aleixandre's critique of two of his poems, the first of which formed part of an existing collection, while the second was part of a work in progress. In his critique, written in 1950, Aleixandre reflects on “A ti, viva,” published in La destrucción o el amor fifteen years earlier, and on “Mano entregada,” from Historia del corazón, not published until four years later. His comments make it clear that he has chosen these two poems because the similarities linking the two, as well as the differences that separate them, serve to illustrate an aspect of his poetic evolution. While Aleixandre expresses the belief that La destrucción o el amor is the work that most completely develops the theme of love to date (649-50), he announces that in Historia del corazón he returns to the theme of love, albeit with a new, more limited focus on the poet's intimate experience with his beloved. At this point a footnote, added with the publication of Aleixandre's Obras completas, indicates that the poet subsequently pursued another course in Historia del corazón (652). In 1950, however, it seems that Aleixandre was conscious of an evolutionary line in his poetry that established a special relationship between a past work (La destrucción o el amor) and a future one (Historia del corazón). From his viewing point at that time, which after all was “in the stream,” the poet formulated an expectation for the future that was not entirely fulfilled. Historia del corazón actually came to incarnate Aleixandre's idea of poetry as communication and as an expression of solidarity with others. Not surprisingly, his later interpretations of his poetic trajectory deemphasize the link between La destrucción and Historia. Aleixandre's reflection/projection of 1950 shows that he reads his own poetry much as Iser's subject reads a novel, pausing at times to integrate new information into the already existing structures, to reinterpret the past in light of present discoveries, and to anticipate events to come.
The protagonism of perspective in Vicente Aleixandre's thinking as poet and as reader of poetry is worth noting, both because his systematic play with perspective is one of the most original features of his poetic creation, and also because his use of perspective illustrates another aspect of his phenomenological approach to poetry.9 As a reader, Aleixandre uses the term “perspective” primarily to describe the standpoint from which he views works written years earlier (491, 531, 538, 550). This temporal distance allows the poet/reader to distinguish qualities of individual texts or his work as a whole that may not have been evident to him as the work was unfolding. More importantly, perhaps, this distance allows him to understand the ways in which the works relate to each other and assume their place within the total poetic creation.
When reflecting on his artistic intentions for a particular work, Aleixandre often highlights the multiple perspectives assumed by his poetic subject as he contemplates the world (557, 558, 563). In one such instance, in 1962, Aleixandre comments on what he calls the “variada perspectiva” of Sombra del paraíso (563). This variety of perspectives is closely connected to the meaning of the work in his eyes: “Sombra del paraíso intenta ser un cántico de la aurora del mundo desde el hombre presente … es un canto a la luz desde la conciencia de la oscuridad” (563). The primary perspective, then, is that of a subject who is simultaneously conscious of his present condition in a reality characterized by darkness, and of a previously existing world illuminated by the light of dawn. Aleixandre goes on to say that the dawn, “esa primera edad del universo,” is sometimes identified with his own personal experience as a child in Málaga (563). On another level, Aleixandre intimates, this dawn represents the world before the arrival of humankind. Yet another perspective taken in Sombra is that in which the poet sees “la realidad actual humana desde la resplandeciente luz del paraíso” (563). The last perspective described by Aleixandre is that in which the poet considers “el hombre perecedero actual, desde la conciencia de su precariedad y su fin” (563). The creation of parallel structures, such as the dawn of the day and the beginning of the world, the newly created world and the poet's childhood, darkness and the consciousness of death's presence or imminence, in addition to the spatial and temporal interweaving of these structures through changes in perspective produce the impression of a complex, yet united poetic world. To this end Aleixandre employs multiple perspectives in what Iser terms a “network of connections” (118), through which the poetic world can expand while maintaining its unity.
In comments on his last two works, Poemas de la consumación and Diálogos del conocimiento, Aleixandre also addresses the way in which his poetic perspective influences the theme and style of the texts. Poemas de la consumación, he affirms, “intenta cantar con grave voz y ademán consecuente la situación del viejo que vive la plena conciencia de la juventud como el equivalente de la única vida” (557). This simultaneous consciousness of the present and the past affords the poet a special knowledge, which he terms “una sombría iluminación” (557). At the same time, Aleixandre combines the idea of perspective with that of the evolutionary flow of his poetic trajectory in order to situate Poemas de la consumación with regard to his previous work. He explains that after writing three works (Historia del corazón, Retratos con nombre and En un vasto dominio) that belong to the new literary “realism” of the late 1940s and the 1950s, he felt called to employ non-rational elements in his verses once again. He takes care to inform the reader, however, that this does not constitute a return to his use of the irrational in texts like Espadas como labios or La destrucción o el amor (557), but corresponds to an attempt to “irracionalizar el elemento expresivo ‘desde’ la experiencia del realismo” (557). This distinction between the “pre-realist” and the “post-realist” stages allows the dialectic between the rational and the non-rational to proceed in an orderly fashion within the evolutionary course of Aleixandre's poetry.
Aleixandre's reading of his poetry from different temporal and thematic perspectives establishes various patterns of relationships among his works. From the perspective of poetry as love, La destrucción o el amor, Sombra del paraíso and Historia del corazón each stand out as distinctive formulations of the poet's love of the “other.” As individual works, they also model the unity that Aleixandre seeks for all of his poetic creation. He speaks of these three works, in particular, as texts that were conceived of as organic wholes or that most clearly function as integral units. From the perspective of Aleixandre's poetry as a process of clarification, the sequence of works from Pasión de la tierra to Historia del corazón are linked together. Aleixandre modifies the linear image suggested by this process by affirming that his poetry “se muerde la cola” (524) as Sombra del paraíso doubles back to confirm the place of Ambito within his poetic evolution. Aleixandre's work, viewed from the perspective of knowledge, becomes a circle, with Poemas de la consumación and Diálogos del conocimiento returning to a central theme of Ambito. Finally, the idea of poetry as communication joins together such texts as Historia del corazón, Los encuentros, and Aleixandre's own prologues, as well as his published correspondence with other poets.
Vicente Aleixandre's changing critical perspectives yield a variety of scenarios, each of which reveals a special pattern of relationship among the poet's works. The interweaving of these perspectives and the concomitant play of approximation and distanciation as works are moved into the foreground or recede into the background lend Aleixandre's poetry a rich texture. As a result, Aleixandre's poetic trajectory appears, not merely as a temporal flowing, but as a structure possessing the complexity, as well as the dimensions of length, breadth and depth to model the world effectively (Iser 116).
A close examination of Vicente Aleixandre's affirmation of the unity of his poetic creation reveals that he pursues this unity actively in his reading of his own poetry. While Aleixandre's role as reader appears to mirror his role as poet in this respect, the systematic nature of his reading suggests that it is informed not only by a poetic vision, but also by critical theory. Aleixandre's emphasis on the coherence of his work and his tendency to focus on its unity of sense, his understanding of individual poems and books of poetry as perspectives on the world, and his view of his entire poetic trajectory as a stream of experience, all point to the presence of phenomenological hermeneutics in his self-reading.
Critical hermeneutics interprets the sense of literary works. In twentieth-century hermeneutics, this interpretation deals primarily with the elucidation of the reader's experience of the work, in contrast with nineteenth-century attempts to reconstruct an author's intentions. The idea of the unity of experience is basic to both hermeneutical and phenomenological investigations, according to Hans Georg Gadamer (59-60). Hermeneutical theory, in particular, has focused on the author's relationship to a literary or cultural tradition.
Valdés asserts that if “hermeneutics is a reflective theory of interpretation, then phenomenological hermeneutics is a reflective theory of interpretation grounded in the presuppositions of phenomenological philosophy.” The primary presupposition corresponds to Heidegger's discovery that each being is a “being-in-the-world” (Valdés 59). Paul Ricoeur, like Valdés, recognizes the grounding of much of twentieth century hermeneutics in phenomenology (Hermeneutics 101).
Several of the elements that I shall discuss (unity of sense, reduction, process of clarification, stream of experience, and perspective), may figure in hermeneutical investigations, but can be traced to phenomenology.
José Olivio Jiménez's “una aventura hacia el conocimiento” first called attention to Aleixandre's tendency to “reduce” his poetry to a single sense. Jiménez identifies three stages in Aleixandre's poetic development, “comunión,” “comunicación” and “conocimiento” (57), which he places within Aleixandre's overall search for knowledge.
Husserl understands the reduction as an “operation necessary to make “pure” consciousness, and subsequently the whole phenomenological region, accessible to us” (66), and expresses its goal as “the acquisition of a new region of Being …” (101). Paul Ricoeur interprets and attempts to clarify Husserl's ideas on the reduction: “Husserl saw in the reduction the primordial philosophical act by which consciousness cuts itself off from the world and constitutes itself as an absolute; after reduction, every being is a meaning for consciousness …” (Conflict 257). According to Ricoeur's analysis, the Husserlian transcendental reduction “transmutes every question about being into a question about the sense of being. … Our relation to the world becomes apparent as a result of reduction; in and through reduction every being comes to be described as a phenomenon, as appearance, thus as a meaning to be made explicit” (Conflict 246-47). It is this rendering of a sense that has clear ontological significance for the subject that I see at work in Vicente Aleixandre's interpretation of his own work.
In phenomenology, the term is used to refer to a method for arriving at essence (Husserl, Ideas 156-57). For Aleixandre, there is some indication that in certain works, such as Sombra del paraíso, he engages in such a clarification as he “makes evident” an essential reality.
Santiago Daydí-Tolson emphasizes both Aleixandre's sense of belonging to a poetic tradition (2) and the fact that the poet's work, itself, models the flow of tradition because of its association with a series of twentieth-century literary movements (5, 7, 22).
Although Dorion Cairns criticizes W. R. Boyce Gibson for translating Husserl's Erlebnis as “experience,” insisting that the expression “mental processes” is more exact (46), Ortega y Gasset translates the term as vivencia in Spanish (Phenomenology and Art 110), while Paul Ricouer opts for le vécu in French (Idées 522). These Spanish and French translations, as well as the English “experience” suggest a broader understanding of Erlebnis than Husserl might have intended. This broader sense of the word has been assumed and further developed by hermeneutics.
Critics Carlos Bousoño (18) and Leopoldo de Luis (10) view Aleixandre's systematic use of perspective as an important contribution to the richness of his poetic production. Ciriaco Morón-Arroyo addresses the importance of perspective for José Ortega y Gasset, whose philosophy was a probable catalyst for Aleixandre's own use of perspective (233-43).
Aleixandre, Vicente. Obras completas II. Madrid: Aguilar, 1978.
Bousoño, Carlos. “Grandeza y evolución en Aleixandre.” Insula 458-59 (enero-febrero 1985): 1, 18-19.
Cairns, Dorion. Guide for Translating Husserl. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973.
Daydí-Tolson, Santiago. “Vicente Aleixandre: A New Voice of Tradition.” Vicente Aleixandre, A Critical Appraisal. Ed. Santiago Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, MI: Bilingual Press, 1981. 1-35.
de Luis, Leopoldo. Vicente Aleixandre: Antología poética. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1989.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: The Seabury Press, 1975.
Gimferrer, Pere. Lo mejor de Vicente Aleixandre. Antología total. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1989.
Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book. General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Trans. F. Kersten. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982.
———. Idées directrices pour une phénoménologie. Trans. Paul Ricoeur. Paris: Gallimard, 1950.
Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.
Jiménez, José Olivio. “Una aventura hacia el conocimiento.” Vicente Aleixandre, A Critical Appraisal. Ed. Santiago Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti: Bilingual Press, 1981. 55-85.
Morón-Arroyo, Ciriaco. El sistema de Ortega y Gasset. Madrid: Ediciones Alcal, 1968.
Ortega y Gasset, José. Phenomenology and Art. Trans. Philip W. Silver. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.
Ricoeur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Ed. and trans. John B. Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
———. Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning. Fort Worth: The Texas Christian UP, 1976.
———. The Conflict of Interpretations. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1974.
Silver, Philip W. Ortega as Phenomenologist. The Genesis of Meditations on Quixote. New York: Columbia UP, 1978.
Valdés, Mario. Phenomenological Hermeneutics and the Study of Literature. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6089
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 paraíso revealed to the poet signs of the existential concern developed most fully in his recent work, Historia del corazón (1954) (2: 552). In addition to recognizing Sombra's role in maintaining the evolutionary flow of his poetry, Aleixandre attributes to it the restoration of his prodigal first work, Ambito (1928), to the otherwise united body of his poetic creation. In light of the poetic course described by Pasión de la tierra, Espadas como labios (1932), and La destrucción o el amor (1935), Aleixandre had come to view Ambito as marginalized, belonging more to a period of Spanish literature, than to his personal poetic history (2: 522-523, 527). His mature work, Sombra del paraíso, however, features his now unmistakably original poetic style; although it manifests themes and structures treated in Ambito, it makes the poet realize the latter work's place within his poetic trajectory. Aleixandre's return to Ambito via Sombra del paraíso ensures that his first work be “recogido y como ingresado en la corriente general” of his poetry (2: 544).
Aleixandre concludes that, thanks to Sombra del paraíso's confirmation of Ambito's place in the evolutionary flow of his work, “todo está rescatado” (2: 524). But the poet's eagerness to see in Sombra del paraíso the deferred bridging of an apparent disjuncture between Ambito and the works that follow it raises some questions. In what sense does Sombra “return” to Ambito? What aspect of Ambito is “saved” through this return? What about the differences between Ambito and Sombra del paraíso? Might they, like the similarities between the two texts, be congruent with Aleixandre's poetic evolution?
The idea of Sombra del paraíso's return to Ambito is supported by several substantive similarities between the two works. Both feature the poet's contemplation of an essential world imbued with logos; both display images of clarity and purity as positive values; in each work the poet's experience of the world is frequently formulated in epistemological terms, and the dialectic of light and darkness serves as a thematic and a structural device. The evident similarities between the two works, however, are not attributable to parallel aesthetics. Whereas Ambito appears under the aegis of pure poetry, Sombra del paraíso's publication coincides with Aleixandre's reiteration of his longstanding nonconformity with the purist aesthetic. He pointedly distances himself from the “poetas de ‘minoría,” who focus on “esquisitos temas estrictos,” “refinadas parcialidades” and “decantadas esencias,” counting himself among the poets who address “lo permanente del hombre, … lo que esencialmente une, … lo primario, … lo elemental humano” (2: 525).1 Given Aleixandre's sustained departure from the purist aesthetic beginning soon after the publication of Ambito, how are we to understand the poet's search for essence, his love of light and purity, and his often epistemological “approach” to the other in Sombra del paraíso?
The lack of correspondence between the aesthetics of Ambito and Sombra is arguably compensated by a thread of continuity in the philosophical underpinnings of the two works. In another study, I have traced the search for essence in Ambito, the valuing of clear, pure, and precise language, the poet's perspectivism and his emphasis on the intellectual experience of the intuited object. All of these are consistent with the aesthetic of pure poetry and are linked to phenomenology, which had as its primary theoretician at the time Edmund Husserl.2 In Sombra del paraíso, on the other hand, Aleixandre's poetic concern for human being and existence, his advocation of a harmonious relationship between man and nature, and his sense of the crisis in contemporary culture correspond more closely to such Husserlian beneficiaries as José Ortega y Gasset, Max Scheler, and Martin Heidegger. Each of these philosophers adapted aspects of the phenomenological method to their own investigations into culture and art and ethics (Ortega), philosophical anthropology and sociology (Scheler), and existence (Heidegger). In this sense, Sombra del paraíso may be situated, as Carlos Bousoño has asserted,3 within the intellectual sphere of Ortega's El tema de nuestro tiempo (1924). At the same time, however, Aleixandre's elaboration of positive and negative values in Sombra suggests a direct link to Scheler's ethics and philosophical anthropology. Moreover, Aleixandre's portrayal of a problematic human existence and his acute awareness of its temporality already reechoes themes from Heidegger's Being and Time, a work the significance of which was recognized in Spain long before its publication in Spanish in 1951.4 In addition, Sombra del paraíso's poetic evocation of an original world permeated by logos anticipates the philosophical search for a poetic logos that Richard Kearney observes in Martin Heidegger's later work (Kearney 41-42).
In Sombra del paraíso, Aleixandre clearly has shifted from the primarily intellectual interest in essence displayed in Ambito to a more personal and passionate concern for being in light of his consciousness of existence. While Ambito's metapoetic reflections mirror the meta-philosophical concerns associated with phenomenology, Sombra del paraíso's anthropological resonance corresponds to the tendency of Spanish intellectuals of the 1930s and 1940s to focus on “human” questions. In this sense, the differences between Ambito and Sombra del paraíso parallel the differences that Richard Kearney perceives between the Husserlian phenomenology of ideas and Heidegger's phenomenology of existence (Kearney 30-31).
The treatment of ontological questions also addressed by contemporary philosophers is, according to María Zambrano, a trademark of modern poetry. The “pure” poets, she affirms, model their attempts to sharpen and clarify their consciousness of the poetic world after philosophical thinking (Filosofía y poesía 82): “Paul Valéry significa un paso decisivo y quizá la identificación más total hasta ahora de pensamiento y poesía, desde el lado poético, en su culto a la lucidez” (83). Valéry and the “pure” poets, she believes, look to philosophy for the qualities of clarity and precision they seek for their poetic creation: “La poesía anhela y necesita de la claridad y de la precisión. Una poesía que se contente con la vaguedad del ensueño, sería (Valéry tiene entera razón) un contrasentido” (96). Zambrano sees in the purist appropriation of the lucidity of philosophical thinking a new attempt to fulfill what she considers to be the traditional poetic task of recovering original human experience in the world: “Para precisar el sueño virginal de la existencia, el sueño de la inocencia en que el espíritu todavía no sabe de sí, ni de su poder, la poesía necesita toda la lucidez de que es capaz un ser humano; necesita toda la luz del mundo …” (96). Although Zambrano credits the “pure” poets with the development of a thought and a language capable of realizing this ambitious undertaking, these poets, Aleixandre included, did not propose or carry out such an adventure under the banner of pure poetry. The task María Zambrano outlines above, however, does correspond closely, as we shall see, to that assumed by Aleixandre in Sombra del paraíso.
Vicente Aleixandre criticizes the purist aesthetic's exclusion of “humanity” and its lack of concern for human existence, whereas María Zambrano's analysis notes pure poetry's discovery of a language that might be used to evoke aspects of “original” human experience. Zambrano recognizes the “pure” poet's pursuit of ontological objectives that could lead to subsequent renderings of human experience of the world. In spite of Aleixandre's rejection of the elitist attitude and of the rarified atmosphere that he associates with pure poetry, he, like Zambrano, manages to see more than just these qualities in that poetry. Aleixandre has implied that the part of Ambito “saved” by Sombra del paraíso is the part that had gone unrecognized until the appearance of the latter work and was truly “his.” It might equally be argued that in Sombra del paraíso Aleixandre salvages some of the language and techniques of pure poetry, which he appropriates and refashions to address the question of being in the world.
One of the qualities of Sombra del paraíso linking the work to Ambito is the portrayal of a natural world populated by pure essences or beings. In both works, the clarity of the poet's perception of the world is associated with the transparency of early morning or with a bright meridian light. In Sombra's “Criaturas en la aurora” (1: 487-89) and “Primavera en la tierra” (1: 519-21), as well as Ambito's “Luz” (1: 138-39), “En el alba” (1: 148-49), and “Voces” (1: 118-19), the clarifying effect of the morning light produces the delineation of essential forms, allowing the “things themselves” to become manifested. Ambito's suggestion of the pristine quality of the essential things and the promise of their fullness of being is accentuated in Sombra del paraíso. Aleixandre's “Primavera en la tierra” is, perhaps, the poem that most vividly portrays the fullness of being enjoyed by the creatures of paradise:
Todo el mundo creado resonaba con la amarilla gloria de la luz cambiante. Pájaros de colores, con azules y rojas y verdes y amatistas, coloreadas alas con plumas como el beso, saturaban la bóveda palpitante de dicha, batiente como seno, como plumaje o seno, como la piel turgente que los besos tiñeran.
Los árboles saturados colgaban densamente cargados de una savia encendida. Flores pujantes, hálito repentino de una tierra gozosa, abrían su misterio, su boca suspirante, labios rojos que el sol dulcemente quemaba. Todo abría su cáliz bajo la luz caliente.
The image of light in this Aleixandrian poem, as in Husserl's account of the intuition of essence, constitutes the perfect condition under which essence may reveal itself “as a purely given something itself, completely and precisely as it is in itself (Husserl 154). The manifestation of the things themselves, as Pere Gimferrer observes, corresponds to “un mundo acorde con su sentido” (21). Clearly, the fullness of being that characterizes the original world in “Primavera en la tierra” constitutes, a fullness of meaning as well.
There are some significant differences between Ambito and Sombra del paraíso with regard to their portrayal of essential reality. In Ambito, first of all, the poet's experience of the world was primarily intellectual and functioned as a metaphor for his experience of poetic creation, in keeping with the “purist” esthetic of the 20s. The transparency of the poetic atmosphere, the clear delineation of forms and the purity and even the innocence of nature exemplify the precision and clarity of poetic thought and the purity of the poetic consciousness and of its intended objects. In Sombra del paraíso, however, lived experience is valued over the intellectual. The fullness of being enjoyed by the creatures of paradise is achieved precisely because of their lack of self-consciousness. Their experience is brought to consciousness or “clarified” in the poet's reflection on the past.
A second difference between Ambito and Sombra lies in the poet's attitude toward the world he contemplates. The cool self-consciousness through which the poet of Ambito maintains detachment from the world is replaced by a more emotional sense of commitment to the world in Sombra del paraíso. Although Aleixandre continues Ambito's quest for poetic knowledge in Sombra del paraíso, this knowledge is shaped by a kind of poetic wisdom, deriving, in part, from the poet's awareness of the loss of paradise, manifested in “Criaturas en la aurora.”
Vosotros conocisteis la generosa luz de la inocencia.
Entre las flores silvestres recogisteis cada mañana el último, el pálido eco de la postrer estrella. Bebisteis ese cristalino fulgor, que con una mano purísima dice adiós a los hombres detrás de la fantástica presencia montañosa. Bajo el azul naciente, entre las luces nuevas, entre los puros céfiros primeros, que vencían a fuerza de candor a la noche, amanecisteis cada día, porque cada día la túnica casi húmeda se desgarraba virginalmente para amaros, desnuda, pura, inviolada.
The finite nature of this luminous, essential, and vital reality, illustrated by the use of successive preterites (conocisteis, recogisteis, bebisteis, amanecisteis), established a temporal distance between the poet and the lost world. The very remoteness of this world, made present in the poet's consciousness, contributes to its quality of purity. Whereas in Ambito the purity of the poetry was accentuated by the emotional distance that the poet maintained from the world he observed, in Sombra del paraíso, purity is evoked through the emotional charge of the poet's language and through his saturation of the poems with images of positive value. In the passage from “Criaturas en la aurora,” quoted above, the sense of purity created through the use of such words as “inocencia,” “candor,” “virginalmente,” “desnuda,” “pura,” “inviolada,” derives not only from their individual meanings, but from their cumulative effect. At the same time, Aleixandre's emphasis on the participation of all things in the purity and essentiality of paradise creates a poetic atmosphere characterized by purity.
In Sombra's “paradisiacal” poems, Aleixandre carries out what María Zambrano considers to be the poet's mission—to recapture the lost plenitude of original existence: “La poesía quiere reconquistar el sueño primero, cuando el hombre no había despertado en la caída; el sueño de la inocencia anterior a la pubertad. Poesía es reintegración, reconciliación, abrazo que cierra en unidad al ser humano con el ensueño de donde saliera, borrando las distancias” (Zambrano 96).5 Aleixandre, for his part, evokes the innocence, plenitude, and integration with nature enjoyed by original beings, momentarily “erasing distances” in “Criaturas en la aurora”:
No había lluvia, pero unos dulces brazos parecían presidir a los aires, y vuestros cuellos sentían su hechicera presencia, mientras decíais palabras a las que el sol naciente daba magia de plumas.
El placer no tomaba el temeroso nombre de placer, ni el turbio espesor de los bosques hendidos, sino la embriagadora nitidez de las cañadas abiertas donde la luz se desliza con sencillez de pájaro.
Por eso os amo, inocentes, amorosos seres mortales de un mundo virginal que diariamente se repetía cuando la vida sonaba en las gargantas felices de las aves, los ríos, los aires y los hombres.
Aleixandre's lucid portrayal of original existence suggests that he has carried out the poetic task of “reconquistar el sueño primero.” Zambrano's understanding of original existence corresponds closely to Aleixandre's evocation of the unity of all beings, of pleasures reconciled with innocence, and of the vitality of nature.
The systematic opposition of a vital past and a sterile present reality in Sombra del paraíso reveals an ordering of the poetic world according to positive and negative values. Aleixandre's attention to values recalls Max Scheler's ethical theory, which recognizes the existence of values structured along opposing positive and negative poles. In Scheler's theory, each value possesses an essence that situates it within the entire realm of values (Ethics 15). For Scheler, the relative superiority or inferiority of a value is not determined by one's perception or reception, but “is [merely] apprehended in a special act of value-cognition: the act of preferring.” Certainly, Aleixandre's portrayal of original reality in consistently superlative terms demonstrates the high value it holds for him. Aleixandre's preference for the purity, innocence, integrity and unity of original reality in Sombra del paraíso manifests his quest for a poetic, as well as a human, ethic based on values. In this sense, the poetic values that Aleixandre displays in Sombra provide a continuity between the pure but somewhat “dehumanized” aesthetic of Ambito and the human and ethical concerns that characterize the later poetry of Historia del corazón.6
Sombra del paraíso, like Ambito, evokes a poetic realm of essences; but it departs from the latter in its identification of the essential with a particular, and original, time and place—earthly paradise. The concept of the “original,” embraces the essential and the existential, the spiritual and the material. Whereas Aleixandre evokes the “essential” and vital nature of original being in “Criaturas en la aurora” (1: 487-489), in “Alhombre” (1: 576-577) he focuses on the material, terrestrial origins of human kind (1: 577) and on its inevitable return to the earth in death. The poem “Hijos de los compos,” provides one of the rare instances in which contemporary existence is portrayed as original. In this poem, the harmonious relationship of the “children of the fields” with nature affords them a privileged existence among contemporary peoples:
día a día gastáis vuestras fuerzas, y la noche benévola os vela nutricia y en el alba otra vez brotáis enteros.
Appearing as fruits of the land they cultivate, “Musculares, vegetales, pesados como el roble,” they are nurtured by the sun and the earth:
Y en vuestra frente tenéis la huella intensa y cruda del beso diario del sol, que día a día os madura, hasta haceros oscuros y dulces como la tierra misma, en la que, ya colmados, una noche uniforme vuestro cuerpo tendéis.
For these people, the passage of time and the constant repetition of everyday life do not wear away the fullness of existence, but form part of a process of maturation that both provides for their regeneration in their children (“Hijos vuestros, menudas sombras humanas: cadenas / que desde vuestra limitada existencia arrojáis … al mañana” [1: 584]), and culminates in the reintegration of their being into the substance of the earth. Aleixandre's concern for the spiritual and material origins of humankind, his construction of an original space and time in which human and other beings live in harmony, and his identification of the original with a world of sense and coherence links him to the poetic task described by María Zambrano as well as to the “anthropological” current in contemporary philosophy.
There is a continuity between Sombra del paraíso and Ambito in the poet's contemplation of the world and in his way of viewing the objects of the world as “intentional.” In both works the poet relates to things as a knowing subject to an object. In contrast with his relative detachment from the surrounding world in Ambito, he exhibits a more emotional, committed attitude toward the other in Sombra del paraíso. Although the range of feeling extends to suffering and despair, at one extreme, the poet's knowledge of the world is informed, primarily, by his love for the beings and the elements of the world, which colors and enhances his knowledge of them. In “Plenitud del amor,” the poet's love coincides with his initial perception of the beloved:
Qué fresco y nuevo encanto, qué dulce perfil rubio emerge de la tarde sin nieblas?
This enchanting figure engages the poet in lovemaking, throughout which he experiences her as a tree, the surf, the earth, and the sky. Through his love the poet is immersed in the passionate, dynamic interrelationships of natural elements; then he is released, once again, to a state of conscious repose in which he becomes aware of his own transformation and his integration into nature.
Después del amor, de la felicidad, activa del amor, reposado, Tendido, imitando descuidadamente un arroyo, yo reflejo las nubes, los pájaros, las futuras estrellas, a tu laco, oh reciente, oh viva, oh entregada; y me miro en tu cuerpo, en forma blanda, dulcísima, apagada, como se contempla la tarde que colmadamente termina.
The poet's communion with the beloved and, through her, with elements of nature (sky, birds, stars) corresponds, on the one hand, to a Platonic understanding of love. Aleixandre's formulation of the role of love in “Plenitud del amor,” however, also corresponds rather closely to José Ortega y Gasset's description of love as a force that relates the lover not only to the beloved, but to other beings in a larger structure of unity: “el amor nos liga a las cosas, aun cuando sea pasajeramente … aquello que decimos amar se nos presenta como algo imprescindible … lo consideramos como una parte de nosotros mismos. Hay, por consiguiente, en el amor una ampliación de la individualidad que absorbe otras cosas dentro de ésta, que las funde con nosotros.”7 The “amplification” of individual being, resulting in the fusion with the beloved is present in Aleixandre's “Plenitud del amor,” and in other poems of Sombra. Moreover, Aleixandre's sense of experiencing a coherent natural world through his intimacy with the beloved parallels Ortega's description of the essential structure woven by love:
Tal ligamen y compenetración nos hace internarnos profundamente en las propiedades de lo amado. Lo vemos entero, se nos revela en todo su valor. Entonces advertimos que lo amado es, a su vez, parte de otra cosa, que necesita de ella, que está ligado a ella. Imprescindible para nosotros. De este modo va ligando el amor cosa a cosa y todo a nosotros, en firme estructura esencial.
Aleixandre's beloved, like Ortega's theoretical object of love, establishes a vital link between the poet and the elements of nature identified with her. For both Ortega and Aleixandre love facilitates both an enhanced way of being and a special kind of knowledge.
Sombra del paraíso shares with Ambito the cultivation of poetic techniques that relate it to phenomenology. The first of these is Aleixandre's tendency to view the world from a variety of perspectives. In Ambito his use of perspective is characterized by a physical or emotional distance from the intended object, whereas in Sombra his “perspectivism” involves a more complex interplay of distanciation and approximation between the poet and his object. In “El desnudo” (510-12), the poet's initial perception of the nude from a distance contains a promise of intimacy between the two. In sections II and III of the poem, the nude is portrayed in a series of relationships—with the water, the air and the earth, as well as with a variety of flora and fauna, while the poet appears to be alternately at a distance and in close contact with her. In section IV the proximity of the poet to the nude is contradicted by the “words of farewell” he traces on her body and by her moribund attitude.
The distance implicit in the idea of perspective figures in both Ambito and Sombra del paraíso, even though the latter text often combines the idea of physical distance with an emotional liaison or a sense of solidarity. In “Hijos de los campos,” for example, the fact that the poet “sees” the “children of the fields” as sense or meaning presupposes the distance implicit in a subject-object relationship:
Yo os veo como la verdad más profunda, modestos y únicos habitantes del mundo, última expresión de noble corteza, por la que todavía la tierra puede hablar con palabras.
Likewise, in “El río,” the distance separating the poet from the river he contemplates allows him to perceive the river's relationship to the sky it mirrors, to the flora and fauna that populate its borders, and to the poet himself. The final verses summarize the meaning of the river for the poet:
¡Oh río que como luz hoy veo, que como brazo hoy veo de amor que a mí me llama!
The love and solidarity that Aleixandre feels for other beings does not impede his treatment of them as “intentional” objects. On the contrary, his love for them enhances his attention to them and encourages their manifestation of themselves as meaning for him.
In addition to his methodic use of perspective (with the accompanying interplay of approximation and distanciation) and to his tendency to portray his intentional objects as meaning, Aleixandre uses a third poetic technique that embodies an aspect of phenomenological “reduction.” In “Destino de la carne,” his elaborate description of an ideal and illusory reality, negated by his actual perception, illustrates Ludwig Landgrebe's affirmation that, for the phenomenologist, the thing perceived most often be viewed in light of what he or she does not perceive.8 Aleixandre's poetic technique, portraying what Landgrebe terms “not so, but otherwise” (125-26), is, perhaps, most pronounced in “Estino de la carne,” in which roughly one third of the poem depicts acts that do not occur and images that are not seen:
No, no es eso. No miro del otro lado del horizonte un cielo. No contemplo unos ojos tranquilos, poderosos, que aquietan a las aguas feroces que aquí braman. No miro esa cascada de luces que descienden de una boca hasta un pecho, hasta unas manos blandas, finitas, que a este mundo contienen, atesoran.
In these opening verses, the poet first elaborates on the ideal, pristine reality that is not the object of his contemplation, before reporting what he does see—the seemingly lifeless bodies being cast upon the beach by “un océano sin origen.”
Todos, multiplicados, repetidos, sucesivos, amontonáis la carne, la vida, sin esperanza, monótonamente iguales bajo los cielos hoscos que impasibles se heredan.
The poem ends as it begins, with the unseen, that is, the possibility of transcending this sterile cycle:
no se ve, no, ese rápido esquife, ágil velero que con quilla de acero, rasgue, sesgue, abra sangre de luz y raudo escape hacia el hondo horizonte, hacia el origen último de la vida, …
In “Destino de la carne,” the pathos of the poet's perception of inanimate human bodies adrift in a hopeless existence is increased by its juxtaposition with an ideal reality. Aleixandre's description of two opposing experiences results in a kind of unity, as Landgrebe theorizes (125), because both the anticipated or desired experience and the actual one must be considered in light of each other. As with Landgrebe's “not so, but otherwise,” Aleixandre's contrast of the world's present tiredness (1: 580) with its absent vitality (1: 580-81) assumes the oneness of the world, both within and without the poet's consciousness.
Another Aleixandrian technique from Sombra del paraíso associated with the phenomenological method is the poet's studied separation of the essential from the existential realm. The Spanish philosopher José Luis Aranguren seems to allude, somewhat obliquely, to Aleixandre's use of this device in his definition of the classical poet in “Poesía y existencia” (1949): “para el hombre clásico, a la poesía se accede … mediante una torsión o conversión del espíritu hacia la presencia esencial de un mundo ‘inocente,’ ‘paradisíaco,’ todavía inmaculado por el sudor de la existencia.” For Aranguren, who affirms the priority of existence, the consciousness of an essential world requires a willed movement away from the consciousness of existence: “El estado poético de ánimo se obtendría, pues, simplemente, poniendo entre paréntesis el coeficiente de cotidianidad, la dura realidad del trabajo, de la preocupación, del dolor, de la muerte; lo que queda, eso es la poesía” (1).9 Although Aleixandre clearly addresses the problem of existence in Sombra del paraíso, he does “parenthesize” contemporary human existence, as Aranguren says, in order to portray an ideal essential world, just as he maintains the essential separate from his description of modern human existence in the world.
The alternating poetic perspectives on contemporary human experience and on original reality produce a kind of dialectic of the essential and the existential in Sombra del paraíso. On the one hand, the essentialist vision of a primordial reality gives way to the reality established with the exile of humanity from paradise and the introduction of time as an irrevocable movement toward death. On the other hand, Aleixandre's description of Sombra del paraíso as a “cantico a la luz desde la conciencia de la oscuridad” (2: 563) indicates a reversal of that movement, making the problem of human existence in the world prior to the celebration of light in the poet's consciousness. Both movements suggest that Aleixandre has turned his attention to the meaning of individual and collective existence in the world. In this sense, Sombra del paraíso is in step with the mature work of Ortega and Scheler, as well as with Heidegger's philosophy of existence.
Any attempt to understand the special relationship that Vicente Aleixandre perceives between Sombra del paraíso and Ambito must reconcile the notable similarities with the differences in the poet's world view and in the aesthetics operating ostensibly in each work. Certain phenomenological resonances in Ambito and Sombra del paraíso can arguably account for both the similarities and the differences between the works. Aleixandre's evocation of essences in both works, as well as his use of perspective, his bracketing of aspects of existence, and his attitude toward his objects of contemplation all bear traces of phenomenological theory. Whereas Ambito shares pure poetry's correspondence with the Husserlian phenomenology of ideas, Sombra del paraíso parallels Scheler's and Ortega's application of phenomenology as method to the more “human” spheres of anthropology, sociology, history and culture. Aleixandre's acute awareness of death in Sombra places the work in relation to Heidegger's phenomenology of existence, while, at the same time, his quest of origins leads him to salvage a number of purist poetic values. Both links between Ambito and Sombra del paraíso, as well as some of the discontinuities separating them, support the idea of the internal coherence of Aleixandre's poetic creation. They also demonstrate the correspondence of his poetic trajectory with the course of Spanish and European philosophical thought in the twentieth century.
Stéphane Mallarmé, cited by Aleixandre as an example of a “poeta de minoría,” was much celebrated by the cultivators of pure poetry in Spain in the 1920s.
In “Pure Poetry, Phenomenology and Vicente Aleixandre's Ambito,” forthcoming in the Revista Hispánica Moderna, I argue that Ambito's identification with pure poetry reinforces the link between this initial Aleixandrian work and phenomenology.
Bousoño situates Aleixandre's works from Pasión de la tierra through Sombra del paraíso to Nacimiento ultimo within the general current of “elementalismo” or “vitalismo,” citing Ortega's El tema de nuestro tiempo as the philosophical counterpart of this current (18). The latter text is one in which Max Scheler believes that Ortega follows a line of thinking first established in his own earlier works (Ethics xxxiii).
In his article “Ultimas tendencias de la filosofía en Alemania,” published in La Gaceta Literaria in 1928, E. Schramm refers to the expansion from Husserl's phenomenology of ideas to Scheler's ethics and on to Heidegger's ontology. Arnold Metzger focuses on the origins of Husserl's philosophy in “La situación presente de la fenomenología,” published in successive issues of the Revista de Occidente (1928-1929), although he also mentions Max Scheler and recognizes the importance of Heidegger's recently published Being and time. Ramiro Ledesma Ramos reports on Heidegger's thought in “¿Qué es metafísica? Notas sobre Heidegger,” published in two issues of La Gaceta Literaria in 1930. Even though Heidegger's Being and Time was not published in Spanish until well after 1929, some of his ideas were being interpreted in Spain relatively soon after the publication of his work in Germany.
Juan Cano Ballesta believes that in Sombra del paraíso Aleixandre assumes a similar poetic mission, which the former describes as “tratar de salvar, de recuperar aquellos maravillosos sueños que no llegaron a realizarse, aquellas ilusiones segadas, aquellas felicidades destrozadas” (114). In carrying out this mission, Cano suggests, Aleixandre makes use of elements of classical literature, the Virgilian locus amoenus, for example, and classical philosophy, primarily that of Plato (115, 119-120). Cano suggests that Aleixandre's evocation of paradise and his association of that ideal time with childhood can be traced, in modern times, to Baudelaire (118). My own argument does not dispute the impact of the French poet on Aleixandre but attempts to establish links between Aleixandre and contemporary literature and philosophy.
Carlos Bousoño underlines the “ethical character” of Aleixandre's poetry as a whole, although he argues that this aspect of the poet's work was “masked” until Historia del corazón (46). One reason why Aleixandre's ethical concern seemed veiled in Sombra del paraíso is that, like Scheler's, this concern is based on values, while the concern of Historia del corazón is based more explicitly on existence. Scheler's Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values was not published in Spain until 1941, when Sombra del paraíso was being written. But some of his ideas on values were expressed in “Ordo amoris,” an essay published in Spain in 1934.
Ortega's theory of love clearly derives, to some extent, from Plato and Pascal, as he acknowledges. It also bears a considerable resemblance to those of Max Scheler, as I suggest in “Antropología filosófica en Sombra del paraíso de Vicente Aleixandre.”
Bousoño calls this Aleixandrian practice a “negación cuasiafirmativa” (341-43) and traces its use to Luis de Góngora. Bousoño also relates this particular poetic construction to other instances of the juxtaposition of negation and affirmation (337-41), which Aleixandre may have found in Góngora, but which he adapts to his “modern” poetic consciousness. I believe that Aleixandre's use of the “not so, but otherwise” formulation, although not necessarily borrowed from phenomenology, parallels Husserl's and Landgrebe's systematic use of a similar technique and their discovery that the juxtaposed opposites constitute a kind of unity (Landgrebe 125).
In Aranguren's critique of classicism and romanticism, he establishes that each seeks to create a poetic realm that excludes the problem of existence in the world. He refers to Vicente Aleixandre only as an example of this exclusion: “Una prueba indirecta de la enorme distancia a que se queda todavía el superrealismo de la vida, la encontramos en la evolución poética de Vicente Aleixandre, que desde una postura afín a éste en el libro Espadas como labios, retrocede en su última obra, en busca de una mayor temperatura humana, hasta la imagen clásica del “paraíso”, sentido, a la manera romántica, no sólo como “paraíso perdido”, sino también … como recuerdo personal, infantil recuerdo” (2). There is a subtle tone of reproach throughout the article directed at both the “classical” and the “romantic” poetics because of their failure to deal with the question of existence. Aranguren praises younger poets like Leopoldo Panero, Luis Felipe Vivanco, Luis Rosales and José María Valverde whose work, following the lead of philosophers like Heidegger and Sartre, is dedicated to existential themes.
Aleixandre, Vicente. Obras completas. 2 vols. Madrid: Aguilar, 1978.
Aranguren, José Luis L. “Poesía y Existencia.” Insula 42 (15 Junio 1949): 1-3.
Bousoño, Carlos. “Grandeza y evolución en Aleixandre.” Insula 458-59 (Enero-Febrero 1985): 1, 18-19.
———. La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre. Madrid: Gredos, 1968.
Cano Ballesta, Juan. “La utopía paradisíaca de Vicente Aleixandre.” Homenaje a Juan López-Morillas. Madrid: Castalia, 1982.
Gimferrer, Pere. Lo mejor de Vicente Aleixandre. Antología total. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1989.
Heidegger, Martin. El ser y el tiempo. Tr. José Gaos. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1951.
Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. I. Tr. F. Kersten. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982.
Jiménez, José Olivio. “Una aventura hacia el conocimiento.” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 352-54 (1979): 11-40.
Kearney, Richard. Modern Movements in European Philosophy. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1986.
Landgrebe, Ludwig. The Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Ed. and Intro. Donn Welton. London: Cornell UP, 1981.
Ledesma Ramos, Ramiro. “¿Qué es metafísica? Notas sobre Heidegger.” La Gaceta Literaria II. 75 (Madrid. 1 febrero 1930): 43.
———. “¿Qué es metafísica? Notas sobre Heidegger.” La Gaceta Literaria II. 76 (Madrid. 15 febrero 1930): 61.
———. “¿Qué es metafísica? Notas sobre Heidegger.” La Gaceta Literaria II. 79 (Madrid. 1 abril 1930): 114.
Metzger, Arnold. “La situación presente de la fenomenología.” La Revista de Occidente 22 (Madrid, 1928): 177-201.
———. “La situación presente de la fenomenología.” La Revista de Occidente 23 (Madrid, 1929): 178-209.
Ortega y Gasset, José. Meditaciones del Quijote. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1969.
Poust, Alice. “Antropoligía filosófica en Sombra del paraíso de Vicente Aleixandre.” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 15.2 (1991): 267-282.
———. “Pure Poetry, Phenomenology and Vicente Aleixandre's Ambito.” Revista Hispánica Moderna. Forthcoming.
Scheler, Max. Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal Ethics of Values. Tr. Manfred S. Frings and Roger L. Funk. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973.
———. “Ordo amoris” Muerte y supervivencia. Trans. X. Zubiri. Madrid. Revista de Occidente, 1934.
Schramm, E. “Ultimas tendencias de la filosofía en Alemania.” La Gaceta Literaria 33 (Madrid. 1 mayo 1928): 209.
Zambrano, María. Filosofía y poesía. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1987.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6146
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. Rarely do we encounter analyses that rise above generalized thematic explorations or sporadic stylistic commentaries. For over fifty years critics have suggested a hidden coherence to Aleixandre while evading in-depth, concrete explications of individual poems.1 For example, both Paul Ilie and Kessel Schwartz agree that “each poem in itself may be incomprehensible, but as a group they reveal certain motifs and patterns” (Ilie 109, Schwartz 204). Such collective approaches, although not without merit, have tended to devalue specific interpretations that may open Aleixandre's text to new possibilities. To compound this problem, and perhaps as a result, critics have often portrayed Aleixandre as a relatively unsophisticated artist. Santiago Daydí-Tolson and Pere Gimferrer consider the “irrationalism” of Pasión de la tierra and Espadas como labios as reflective of an immature and uncertain stage in Aleixandre's life (Daydí-Tolson 13-15); and in a more recent study, Philip Silver has reinforced this view of Aleixandre as a somewhat ingenuous poet.2
In the pages that follow, I shall attempt to rescue Aleixandre from these confining judgments by offering a specific explication of what many consider the thematic and stylistic center of the poet's text—“El vals.” I will investigate some of the conditions of the poem's contradictions (rather than simply reproducing them as manifest content), and by abandoning the focus on Aleixandre's overt expression of rebellion and addressing his text's more covert expressions I will suggest that the poet should be granted a linguistic and theoretical self-awareness not heretofore perceived. I would argue along with Jonathan Mayhew that Aleixandre's “very distrust of words obliges him to consider the question of language in a way that a more obviously logophilic poet would not” (Mayhew 304). I would further maintain that Aleixandre's theoretical considerations of Freudianism and Surrealism force him to reexamine the question of sexuality, and often in conjunction with the very question of language. Indeed, I would even claim that Aleixandre anticipates the modern theoretical enemies of the philosophy of presence.
Let us begin with the basic logic of the text as movement, as an apparent progression from the repressing bourgeois waltz towards a liberating personal sexual encounter.3 The opening lines of contrast (“hermosa como la piedra” and “oh difunta / Oh viva”4) offer us a sense of the powerful dialectic at work in the poem. Aleixandre posits two worlds or discourses: an external world of manners and polite conversation, and an unconscious world of sexual desire, or what Lacan might call that “other” discourse. The superficial world of the dance does not acknowledge sexuality: “ignora el vello de los pubis / ignora la risa que sale del esternón como una gran batuta.” [This physical and emotional representation of an erection comes as no surprise given Aleixandre's fondness for Freud.5] The voice indicates the poet's participation in the dialectic, but it also signals a preference among the two discourses. The speaker finds the actual music of the rigidly structured waltz as irritating as the guests' social exchanges: “Esta orquesta que agita / mis cuidados como una neglegencia / como un elegante biendecir de buen tono.” Aleixandre further expresses disdain for the ornamentation of the bourgeoisie with a figuratively, as well as acoustically, violent and perverted diction that exposes the falsity of the women's make-up (“Unas olas de afrecho / un poco de serrín en los ojos”6), their dresses (“unas faldas largas hechas de colas de cocodrilos”), and their facial expressions (“unas lenguas o unas sonrisas hechas con caparazones de cangrejos”). The play inherent in “caparazones” implies that reason or truth has been covered. Moreover, if we recall that the verb “capar” also means “to castrate,” the false or self-deceiving behavior of the bourgeoisie becomes a kind of violence against the “truth” of sexuality which remains unacceptable, or even beaten into submission.
Lines 15-16 contain a paradoxical metapoetical commentary that deserves special attention, and we will return to them when we consider the problem of genre. These lines express, with appropriately mundane narration, the desire to unveil the superficiality of the guests, to get beyond this boring charade. They further indicate the presence of two discourses (conscious and unconscious) and the poet's wish to transcend or unite the two. Subsequently, Aleixandre portrays the interaction of the sexes at the dance as a kind of mating ritual. The women, although flustered and apprehensive, repress their sexual desire (they seem “wet” in the erotic sense) and hide their emotional involvement in the selection process: “Las damas aguardan su momento sentadas sobre una lágrima / disimulando la humedad a fuerza de abanico insistente.” [We also note the “insistence” of the unconscious phallic function of the “abanico.”] Equally pathetic, the men parade their sexuality (“bigotes” providing the phallic function here): “Y los caballeros abandonados de sus traseros / quieren atraer todas las miradas a la fuerza hacia sus bigotes.”
These lines refer to the “behinds” of both sexes, and in so doing, suggest a physical self-ignorance that coincides with a psychological one. In other words, we have the following analogy: rear (buttock or even “tail” as in “colas de cocodrilos” and “colas de plomo”) is to front (face) as unconscious is to conscious. The poet takes the position of an analyst (and in this way a sympathetic, if scientific, observer) who comprehends the two separate discourses at work. He sees beyond the ornamental social discourse, and reveals for us the repressed sexual discourse, of which the participants are not conscious (“abandonados”), that will assert itself as the poem progresses. Already we sense a secret desire or sexual force (the “fuerza” of lines 18 and 20) that lurks behind the dance and the poem, not yet ready to explode. In this sense, the “colas de cocodrilos” hint at the repressed sexual and violent animal in each of the guests, and with their conversion to “colas de plomo,” we may take these “colas” as marks of the phallic function—symbols of the fixed subjection to the law of the phallus.7
With the arrival of the waltz we begin the dizzying spiral towards the liberation of the sexual act at the conclusion of the poem (Barral 147). The chaotic images come at us with increasing rapidity and incoherence, as if we actually move from the perspective of observers to that of willful (perhaps even guilty) participants, being swept into the whirling center of the dance itself. And all the while the rebellious commentary continues. Physical collision during the dance is like a dry, dead version of the sexual encounter: “es un entrechocar de conchas de tacones de espumas o de dentaduras postizas.” The semantic contrast between the images of the fluid, idyllic sea and the hardness of the shells, dentures, rocks, etc. stands as an organizational reflection of the dialectic sexuality/repression.8 We may take the sea here as that primordial place where life began, as well as that prenatal state in our distant past—that state of pure union for which we all yearn.9 The waltz imitates the waves of the sea, and so attempts to transcend this distance, but Aleixandre reveals it as no more than an imitation or a substitution, still incapable of fulfilling that desire. The dance inhibits, even restricts, the unconscious desires represented by the now marginalized sea (“Es una playa sin ondas”), and it paradoxically solidifies or congeals any true movement (“Es todo lo revuelto que arriba”). Rather than drawing the dancers out to embrace the chaotic waves of their Danubian unconscious, the waltz brings them into port. In effect, it can only tempt or tease, but never satisfy.
The poet seems to physically tear at the irritating social scene with the irrational chiasmus of lines 25-26. A false “sweetness” settles over the dance and its participants (“dulces tartas,” “‘cabello de ángel,’”10 “un dulce ‘sí,’” “Un polvillo de azúcar”) as lines 25-33 reveal the perversion of the well-man nered guests. We can sense a kind of introverted panic or Sartrian nausea overcoming the poet as he observes this intensifying display of bourgeois interaction: the social kiss (“un beso sorprendido en el instante que se hacía ‘cabello de ángel’”), the toast (“un dulce ‘sí’ de cristal pintado de verde”), the make-up (“Un polvillo de azúcar sobre las frentes”), the uncomfortable dress (“fruncen los vestidos hechos de esparto querido”), and, above all, the hollow manners and speech (“las manos se acortan más redondeadas que nunca” and “las palabras limadas”). We note the caustic sarcasm of “blancura cándida” in the sense of an “open (or naïve) emptiness.” The heads of the dancers are clouds and the women's skirts almost fly, but in each case repression re-asserts itself: the music “es una larga goma” and the skirts are “de plomo.”
Suddenly, the sexuality of the poem that has remained relatively subtle, although present in a repressed sense, manifests itself. Indeed, the poem itself seems to function like an encounter with the experience of sex, proceeding from a cautious, clothed seduction towards a gradually intensifying focus on the genitalia. The dance has slowly elicited a sexual desire which can now hardly control itself: “el estrépito / se ha convertido en los corazones en oleadas de sangre / en un licor si blanco que sabe a memoria o a cita.” We may take the “white liquor” as both semen and mother's milk that one “tastes” as well as “knows.” In a Lacanian sense, this neatly unites the sexual quest with the quest for maternal union. From here the poem climaxes (“ha llegado el instante”) in a series of chaotic and sexually charged images that will serve as our departure point from the overt rebellion of the poem to its more covert contradictions.
Let us look again at the idea of the poem as movement from repression and ornamentation towards revelation and liberation; or, another way, as the assertion of that “other” discourse. That some sort of truth lies at the poem's conclusion is revealed not only by the poem's increasingly naked sexuality (“un licor si blanco” as semen, and “los vellos van a pinchar los labios obscenos que saben” as oral sex11), but also in its diction. The verb “convertirse,” employed three times in the last 14 lines of the poem, implies a shift towards actuality—an opening (“las ventanas en gritos”) or an illumination (“¡las luces en socorro!”12). The use of the verb “saber” as “taste” in the imaging of oral sex suggests the presence of some greater knowledge obtained through the sexual act of these final moments, and it also points to the first part of the poem as a kind of acquaintance, or “conocimiento,” that appears superficial in light of the poem's conclusion.13 “Adiós,” which appears three times in lines 38-39, indicates revelation in its religious sense of “to God.” Leaving falsity inevitably means moving towards truth. Moreover, “adiós” injects a religious significance into the words “sangre,” “licor,” “sabe,” “ángel,” “espina,” “beso,” and the image of the hands “más redondeadas que nunca,” all of which now collectively suggest a parallel between oral sex and communion with God—a sexual Eucharist or epiphany. The poem has arrived at the moment of religious/sexual “truth” seen in the circular perfection of the “bola enorme.”
In this sense, we may take the poem as Aleixandre's personal proposal of a kind of utopia based on sexual liberation. I use the politically charged term “utopia” because it is now appropriate to consider the full implications of another aspect of the poem's complexity—its socio-economic commentary. Like the picaresque authors of the 16th and 17th centuries (and other members of the Generation of '27, such as Alberti in his “Invitación al arpa”) Aleixandre concerns himself with a bourgeoisie that wishes to recast the social order and assume the locus of the aristocracy (i.e.—“medrar”) thereby corrupting or falsifying the latter's values. Aleixandre's particular love/hate relationship with the bourgeoisie, however, stems from his perception of the fundamental paradox of this class' situation: the bourgeoisie would embrace the very hierarchy and values that it seeks to modify in order to re-establish itself as the new aristocracy. The poet, himself caught in a Bloomian struggle against the historical hierarchy of literature, can sympathize with the bourgeoisie's desire to rebel as well as with its unavoidable hypocritical betrayal of that rebellion. For the class must emulate the aristocracy it would appropriate and transform just as Aleixandre cannot escape the legacies of Garcilaso, Góngora, and the like. Both poet and class are trapped in the unresolvable contrast between a rebellion against power and a tyrannical use of that very power. Thus, as we have seen, “El vals” resonates the dialectical struggles between movement and quiescence, between the agitating and the static, between the “viva” and the “difunta.”
With the conclusion of the poem Aleixandre reveals his comprehension that any movement towards revelation or liberation (be it sexual, socio-economic, linguistic, or even poetic) must remain problematic. In effect, the instant of revelation never arrives as the future tense devours progress: “el preciso momento de la desnudez cabeza abajo / cuando los vellos van a pinchar los labios,” “el momento en que los vestidos se convertirán en aves,” and “y ese beso que estaba (en el rincón) entre dos bocas / se convertirá en una espina que dispensará la muerte” (my emphasis). The moment of truth seems always already postponed.14 We note the frustration involved in the attempt to reach this point in time as the poet mentions “instante” or “momento” five times in just four lines; and we sense his microscopic pursuit of Zeno's paradox when he says “el preciso momento,” trying to make a moment even more precise. Yet even such revelation, just out of reach, appears deadly. The social kiss leads to the sexual act embodied in the phallic symbol “espina” which then violently dispenses death. The entire process of stripping away the falsity of the bourgeoisie—the clothes, the manners, the makeup, the dance—will end (and has literally ended for the poem) in a furious sexual rush towards annihilation. It is as if the whole process has proved self-destructive. Discovery becomes apocalypse (which we know from the Greek to be the deadly lifting of the veil); the climax truly becomes an anti-climax.
Exploring all of the implications of this conclusion would be maddening. Of particular interest, however, is the poem's self-referential nature, its metapoetical subversion of language itself and thereby of the processes of artistic transmission and artistic creation. Like Lacan, Aleixandre uses sexuality as a reflection or even creation of language—as another avenue to suggest that endlessly returning moment of symbolization. Indeed, we cannot avoid the text's linkage of sexuality and language apparent in the title of the collection (Espadas como labios15) and in the focus on the speech of the guests at the waltz (“palabras limadas,” “un elegante biendecir de buen tono,” and “un dulce ‘sí’”). Moreover, Aleixandre explicitly ties the sexual climax to language: In this way, the always already veiled sexual truth of the phallus implies the always already veiled linguistic truth of the endless chain of signifiers; or put another way, Aleixandre unites the search for the source of sexual meaning or satisfaction with the search for a stable point in the structure of language. Likewise, the conversion of “las ventanas en gritos” (which occurs at the instant of oral sex) hints at the endless “opening” of language, where one word or sign can only ever point to another, and the quest for original or true “meaning” ultimately leads one to a frustrating primal “grito.” The text becomes violently self-reflexive because it is itself a structure of signification. The poem recognizes itself as an enemy of presence and therein as an enemy of its own presence as well as of what it seeks to reveal or convey, and Aleixandre becomes a wordsmith who is highly conscious of his fleeting metal.16
With all of this in mind it is interesting to compare Aleixandre's conclusion of “El vals” to Lacan's interpretation of the “meaning” of the phallus:
All these propositions merely veil over the fact that the phallus can only play its role as veiled, that is, as in itself a sign of the latency with which everything signifiable is struck as soon as it is raised (aufgehoben) to the function of signifier.
The phallus is the signifier of this Aufhebung itself which it inaugurates (initiates) by its own disappearance. This is why the demon of Scham (shame) in the ancient mysteries rises up exactly at the moment when the phallus is unveiled (cf. the famous painting of the Villa of Pompei).
It then becomes a bar which, at the hands of this demon, strikes the signified, branding it as the bastard offspring of its signifying concatenation.
We can see how Aleixandre's “espina” functions remarkably like Lacan's phallus in that it violently turns on the text's erotic quest for meaning. The word “espina” itself also means “duda” or “dificultad,” and so contains the ephemeral, self-erasing qualities of Lacan's perpetually veiled (unknowable or forever doubtful) phallus with its “signifying concatenation.” The concate nation of “como” (lines 1-8), “o” (lines 11-14), and “de” (line 23), along with the poet's flowing metaphors (lines 22-24), gropingly suggest this same chain of signification. Aleixandre seems to acknowledge the inability of language to find any fixed point of meaning, that its structure is artificial and base on an infinite succession of difference, not truth. The sexual parallel to this linguistic situation is imposed by the Law of the phallus—that undiscoverable dispenser of difference. Indeed, the guests seem “branded” by the phallus subjected to an ignorant existence driven by desire, eternally burdened by “colas de cocodrilos” and “colas de plomo.” They remain condemned to their sexuality and unaware of both its origin and its presence—a presence which itself proves “doubtful,” a “duda” or “dificultad.”17 In this light, the violent re-assertion of the phallus crushes (or “strikes”) the quest for a true union through sexual (again oral) intercourse “entre dos”; and, on an individual level, it undermines any attempt to reunite the splintered subject, to make oneself conscious of one's unconscious discourse, or to return to that state of prenatal wholeness. This is why the phallus “dispensará la muerte diciendo Yo os amo” (my emphasis). But not only does the phallus dispense death by reasserting differance (postponed or “futurized” difference), it does so through language—“diciendo …” Text here becomes sex, and both are shams, fabrications, or lies of presence that can only function through their inability to reveal, through their eternal frustration of desire.
This constant sense of displacement or slippage pervades the poem. “En un licor si blanco que sabe a memoria o a cita,” by referring to mother's milk or semen, posits sex and maternal union as possible resolutions to the falsity of the waltz, or as “readings” of the “meaning” of the dance. Nevertheless, “blanco” implies an absence in its lack of color and anticipates the poem's fruitless resolution—one in which “presence” destroys. Moreover, the fulfillment (“que sabe”) of desire remains uncertain, for it is a residue of the past (“a memoria”) condemned to the future (“a cita”). Numerous other indications of this effect of deferment permeate the text in the form of “veils” such as “faldas,” “caparazones,” and “abanicos.”
We have already seen how time functions in the poem as an endless displacement that can never realize itself. Likewise, we find a physical displacement that cannot “arrive” at any satisfactory place or residence of “truth.” The place of the dance gives way to the place of the sexual encounter which offers no more resolution than the “rincón” at the dance. We note how the poet mingles this concept of physical displacement with that of linguistic and temporal displacement: “ese beso que estaba (en el rincón) entre dos bocas / se convertirá en una espina / que dispensará la muerte.” The parentheses here linguistically “contain” the physical space of the kiss in the same marginalized, always already removed way that society, the “rincón,” and the text itself contained (and contains) the kiss. The kiss remains ossified, even oppressed, in a state of periphery or deferment. Thus the revelation of the phallus and the moment and the place and the text of that revelation are always already removed or veiled.
This distance in both time and space functions semiotically as the human (the reader's and the poet's) experience of unfolding absence. Ultimately, this experience is one of “betrayal” which extends from the linguistic to the ontological. Aesthetically, this betrayal tantalizes and arouses desire on the part of the reader, i.e.—it allows art to function. Painful as it may be, this erotic betrayal of language generates poetry or text. We have seen how “El vals” concludes with an erotic postponement of meaning, and perhaps Aleixandre's most important and transcendent imagery in this respect revolves around the Christian betrayal. We may extend the erotic inversion of the Eucharist to our understanding of the last four lines of the poem. The “beso” that becomes the “espina” now resonates the kiss of Judas (perhaps the ultimate betrayal of Western culture!), and the spine may now refer to the “espina santa” or the “corona de espinas.” The betrayal of Christ is of course “double” or “two-faced” in that it is at once “of” as well as “by” Christ. What greater postponement than the return of the messiah or the promise of life after death? The Christian betrayal may be seen as generative simply because it allows for salvation and “meaning” in life (indeed, Judas may be seen as the true Christ just as Satan may be considered the true artist or Man himself).18 Furthermore, the artist/poet is the ultimate betrayer or “tropist” as a creator who presents us with an ever-evasive sign system subject to infinite interpretation. In this sense, the words “Yo os amo,” by way of the love of Christ and God for Man (the “reader” of the religious tragedy), become the words of Aleixandre the poet/creator. They serve as a subtle apostrophe to the reader whereby Aleixandre acknowledges the faith that we have brought to his text (in accepting meaning or “presence” where there can only ever be “absence”), and also forgives our violence against his text when we hermeneutically “sacrifice” the poem.
A brief look at the problem of genre will add yet another dimension to the above. The question of Surrealism and Freudianism remained a permanent problem for Aleixandre and his contact with both schools would seem indisputable.19 But despite the stylistic presence of both “isms,” Aleixandre's text is not “escritura automática” or “free-association.” Or is it? How can writing ever be (or be anything but) automatic? The actual distance of “El vals” from the unconscious remains impossible to determine. In fact both Surrealism and Freudianism are paradoxical in this respect, for to perceive the imperceptible or to express the inexpressible entails encoding that which is supposedly beyond all codes. Can one translate the ultimate translation? How can the unconscious be made conscious if the conscious implies an unconscious? Will there not always be another dimension to what is presented as the “other dimension? Both Freudianism and Surrealism (perhaps unwittingly) present an end to the infinite concatenation of meaning at the same time that they continually suggest its existence. Aleixandre's avant-garde flight from the restrictive, simplistic symbolization of “modernismo” (“Adiós adiós esmeralda amatista o misterio”) brings him to the spiraling paradox of Surrealism. Perhaps his unwillingness to accept Surrealism (as well as his conclusion to “El vals”) indicates his awareness of the problem that in an infinite chain of symbolization, none of the various “poéticas vanguardistas” can ever be a “truer” discourse or representation than “modernismo” or any other aesthetic system.20 Nevertheless, the particular brand of “aware” Surrealism found in Spain would seem to be the ideal genre for the avant garde poet who remains hyper-sensitive to his aesthetic heritage. For the artist caught between imitation and creation, this type of Surrealism is consciously “two-faced” in that it embraces both extremes. It easily fragments and incorporates a massive spectrum of the aesthetic past (thus acknowledging the Renaissance principle of “imitatio” or emulation), while at the same moment it re-forms the material of the past in an egocentric (because eccentric and esoteric) and original creation (thus acknowledging the Renaissance principle of “inventio” and ultimately the Romantic idea of the artist genius).
We may now reconsider the metapoetical commentary of lines 15-16: “Todo lo que está suficientemente visto / no puede sorprender a nadie.” At the same instant that these lines appear as a sort of Surrealist manifesto they also express the paradox of the Surrealist position. They surprise us precisely because they contrast so sharply with the surreal imagery that surrounds them. This serves as ironic commentary on Surrealism's intent to unsettle, for the reader inevitably becomes desensitized to surrealist imagery, and the artist creates his problem of “how to shock?” as he attempts to solve it. Moreover, if Surrealism takes the revelation of the unconscious as one of its goals, then its love of irrational expression subverts that very revelation. Denial leads inevitably to assertion and art cannot help but become artificial.
In the particular situation of “El vals,” the poem inevitably becomes the very dance that it seeks to subvert. “El vals” becomes “el vals” or “El vals”. … In other words, the transparency that “El vals” seeks to achieve vies with its own linguistic innovation. “El vals” is not only about poetry writing, it subverts poetry writing. In this sense, “espina” comes to represent the phallus by way of the pen—a link suggested by the artificial presence of parentheses in the poem's concluding moment. The poem admits that the waltz (the music, the dance, as well as the social event) unconsciously expresses repressed sexual urges, and in so doing it points to itself as nothing more or less than a similar discourse—a form of art likened to the waltz. Every progression or shift in the poem (social to private, artificial to real, invisible to visible, hollow manners to sexual encounter, clothing to nudity, bourgeoisie to aristocracy, inspiration to expression, etc.) is ultimately subverted. If the waltz is “todo lo revuelto que arriba” and “una playa sin ondas,” the poem “El vals” is likewise a dead end (literally) or a dead ending—a “ceasing” in motion—in its quest to reveal the unrevealable. This textual self-reflexivity appears perhaps most overtly in the concluding line “Yo os amo,” which suddenly brings the entire focus of the poem onto its creator and foregrounds the poet's empathetic identification with his human subjects who are themselves subjected to a law which decenters and divides.
Whether we consider Barthes' idea of an endlessly shifting sign system with no consistent state of (un)dress, no finality to the act of unveiling, or Lacan's “contract of desire,” we perceive that solidifying these processes means death. To end the act of symbolization, to break the concatenation of meaning, or to discover the final “truth” is to destroy. Like Lacan, Aleixandre cannot accept substitutes for the “THING” or any “object” of desire, and like Barthes, he acknowledges that the true erotic nature of his text lies in its plurality of registers. The futuristic and impossible death that concludes “El vals” is that imaginary impossible castration that occurs when the phallus is revealed or when plurality is terminated. And the union of love with that murder is the acknowledgment that the process of revelation is at once suicidal and human or “difunta” and “viva.”
There are only two well-known articles that treat “El vals” exclusively: Carlos Barral's short and sentimental “Memoria de un poema,” in Vicente Aleixandre, Ed. José Luis Cano, Madrid: Taurus, 1977, pp. 144-147; and Jorge Urrutia's more extensive, if reductive, “La palabra que estalla (a la vista): ‘El vals’, de Aleixandre,” Insula, Nos. 368-9, July-Aug. (1977), p. 14. Other critics merely cite the poem as an example of the particular “pattern” or “motif” that concerns them. These range from the more general (C.B. Morris' A Generation of Spanish Poets, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969; or Carlos Bousoño's La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre, Madrid: Insula, 1950) to the more specific (Alejandro Amusco's “El motivo erótico en Espadas como labios de Vicente Aleixandre,” Insula, No. 361, Dec. (1976), pp. 1, 12; or Hernán Galilea's “El mar en la poesía de Vicente Aleixandre,” in Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, Ed. Santiago Daydí-Tolson, Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 238-244).
See Philip Silver's La casa de Anteo, Madrid: Taurus, 1985. Jonathan Mayhew does much to dismiss this unfair characterization in his “‘Límites y espejo’: Linguistic Self-Consciousness in the Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre,” MLN, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Mar. 1990), pp. 303-315.
This is generally accepted by critics, although not expressed in such terms, for they seem to miss the sexual undercurrent. Daydí-Tolson writes that “El vals” refers “to a false world of social disguises and cruel insensibility which constitutes a constant motive in Aleixandre's view of creation: some manifestations of life are false and therefore nonexistent” (24); and Urrutia writes of “la necesidad para el poeta de seperarse de una sociedad que ignora la verdad, el amor físico y la risa sincera” (14).
All quotations of “El vals” are from Gerardo Diego's anthology Poesía española contemporánea, Madrid: Taurus, 1987, pp. 477-479, which preserves the absence of punctuation in the original version.
For more on Aleixandre's erotic diction see Amusco's “El motivo erótico,” and Yolanda Novo Villaverde, “Pasión de la tierra y Espadas como labios: Aspectos cosmovisionarios y simbología surrealista” in Vicente Aleixandre, Ed. Daydí-Tolson, pp. 122-144.
Urrutia also sees women's makeup here: “los rostros cubiertos […] por maquillajes similares a olas de afrecho” (14, Urrutia's emphasis).
Schwartz, who takes a Freudian approach to Aleixandre, points out that “to wish to be eaten or possessed by menacing animals often represents a death fantasy equivalent to a fear of castration” (208).
Urrutia indicates these “dos campos semánticos directores del poema: el mar y la dureza” (14), but does not consider their link to the womb or the phallus.
“Water, sea, and ocean may mean ‘mother’ in association with youthful innocence, happiness, the breast, absorption, and death” (Schwartz 208).
The line “un beso sorprendido en el instante que se hacía ‘cabello de ángel’” has puzzled me for some time. According to Ilie, Aleixandre's “search for understanding [is] symbolized by a parallel imagery of wings, angels, and heavenly bodies” (105). In this light, the kiss seems interrupted by the inhibiting waltz just before it is able to transcend the falsity of its social setting. Moreover, the common phrase “cabello de ángel” acts as a kind of surrealistic “moment”—a brief glimpse behind the lie of everyday language.
Both Amusco (12) and Novo Villaverde (136) support the interpretation of these lines as oral sex.
Daydí-Tolson (17) and Ilie (104) find “luz” to represent the desired end of Aleixandre's quests.
Guillermo Carnero investigates the relation “conocer/saber” in his “Conocer y saber en Poemas de la consumación y Diálogos del conocimiento de Vicente Aleixandre,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 276 (1973), pp. 571-579. He sees “saber” as a static and deadly form of knowledge while “conocer” remains dynamic and alive. We may expand and invert the value of this relation by seeing it as a reflection of the quest for the self, or for total knowledge—that point of pure transcendence and total destruction. “Saber” is the ultimate and impossible end of “conocer.”
See also this article's epigraph, the first four lines of “Vida” published in 1935, three years after “El vals.” If we take “un pájaro de papel” as a poem and “tiempo de los besos” as the sexual act, then these lines seem to acknowledge the “always already distant” as intrinsic to sexuality, language, and art (“besos o pájaros tarde o pronto o nunca”)—wisdom perhaps gained through the experience of “El vals.”
Gustavo Correa analyzes the subversive quality of this title in “Los títulos de los libros de poesía de Vicente Aleixandre,” in Vicente Aleixandre, Ed. Daydí-Tolson, pp. 88-89, but he does not consider the phallic importance of “espadas.” I would like to add the deconstructive and homosexual implications of “como” as the first person indicative of “comer,” which links sexuality to the ephemerality of language. See also note 16 and my discussion of Lacan's phallus.
This adds meaning to the rubric of Espadas como labios which is a quotation from Byron: “What is a poet? What is he worth? What does he do? He is a babbler.” This is more than a surrealist's apology, it is Aleixandre's philosophical position.
The word “espina” can also mean “fishbone,” which combines the quest for the phallus with the desire for maternal union with the sea. As Schwartz (208) vaguely puts it: “The fish inhabiting the life-giving seas represent a vital sexual destructive capacity.” I would add that the sea is associated with endlessness or infinity, the termination of with would reveal a dead (and deadly) fishbone.
The Christian betrayal mirrors the betrayal of the phallus. Judas seeks to unveil and to test that which refuses to be tested, and instead of revealing awesome phallic power, Christ vanishes behind death—once again leaving faith in His wake as the impenetrable center of human existence.
Aleixandre's debt is well known. Bousoño quotes a personal letter in which the poet writes: “Joyce, Rimbaud, confluyeron casi simultáneamente en mis lecturas. … Freud, en 1928, abrió, sajó honduras de la psique con un borbotar de vida profunda más que nunca escuchable” (15). Aleixandre also refers to Freud as “psicólogo de vasta repercusión literaria” in his introduction to Pasión de la tierra, in his Obras completas, Madrid: Aguilar, 1968, p. 1461.
Critics are constantly rescuing Aleixandre from the surrealist label: see, for example, Schwartz (200-204), or Daydí-Tolson (8-9). In this rush to differentiate the poet from the French school, critics often miss the paradoxical implications of their own arguments. Schwartz states that “in reality Aleixandre does not share their [the surrealists'] radical transformation of values through total liberation of the unconscious” (203). At what point is one's unconscious totally liberated? Daydí-Tolson seems to stumble onto the problem, but fails to consider it in relation to Aleixandre's particular vision of Surrealism: “This voice of the unconscious follows its own rules, if it is possible to use such a term in reference to a discourse apparently devoid of any form of predetermined governing pattern” (8).
Aleixandre, Vicente. Obras completas. Madrid: Aguilar, 1968.
Amusco, Alejandro. “El motivo erótico en Espadas como labios de Vicente Aleixandre, Insula, No. 361, Dec. (1976): 1, 12.
Barral, Carlos. “Memoria de un poema.” In Vicente Aleixandre. Madrid: Insula, 1950
Bousoño, Carlos. La poesía de Vicente Aleixandre. Madrid: Insula, 1950.
Carnero, Guillermo. “Conocer y saber en Poemas de la consumación y Diálogos de conocimiento de Vicente Aleixandre.” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, No. 27 (1973): 571-579.
Correa, Gustavo. “Los títulos de los libros de poesía de Vicente Aleixandre.” In Vicente Aleixandre. Ed. Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp 88-89.
Daydí-Tolson, Santiago. “A New Voice of Tradition.” In Vicente Aleixandre. Ed. Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 13-15.
———Ed. Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981.
Diego, Gerardo. Ed. Poesía española contemporánea. Madrid: Taurus, 1987.
Galilea, Hernán. “El mar en la poesía de Vicente Aleixandre.” In Vicente Aleixandre. Ed. Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 238-244.
Gimferrer, Pere. Prologue to Antología total. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1976.
Ilie, Paul. “Decent and Castration.” In Vicente Aleixandre. Ed. Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 104-121.
Lacan, Jacques. “The meaning of the phallus.” In Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne. Ed. Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose. New York Norton, 1982.
Mayhew, Jonathan. “‘Límites y espejo’: Linguistic Self-Consciousness in the Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre.” MLN, Vol. 105, No. 2, Mar. (1990): 303-315.
Morris, C. B. A Generation of Spanish Poets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.
Novo Villaverde, Yolanda. “Pasión de la tierra y Espadas como labios: Aspectos cosmovisionarios y simbología surrealista.” In Vicente Aleixandre. Ed. Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 122-144.
Schwartz, Kessel. “Eros and Thanatos: The poetry of Vicente Aleixandre—Surrealism or Freudianism?” In Vicente Aleixandre. Ed. Daydí-Tolson. Ypsilanti, Michigan: Bilingual Press, 1981, pp. 200-220.
Silver, Philip. La casa de Anteo. Madrid: Taurus, 1985.
Urrutia, Jorge. “La palabra que estalla (a la vista): ‘El vals’, de Vicente Aleixandre.” Insula, Nos. 368-369, July-Aug. (1977): 14.
Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 278
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 levels of meaning in the book.
———. “Vicente Aleixandre: Glass Hair, Metal Butterfly.” In Metal Butterflies and Poisonous Lights: The Language of Surrealism in Lorca, Alberti, Cernuda, and Aleixandre, pp. 203-40. Arncroach, Anstruther, Scotland: La Sirena, 1998.
Discusses surrealism and irrationalism in Aleixandre's poetry.
Ilie, Paul. “Descent and Castration (Aleixandre).” In The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Literature: An Interpretation of Basic Trends from Post-Romanticism to the Spanish Vanguard, pp. 40-56. Ann Arbor, Michigan.: University of Michigan Press, 1968.
Presents an overview of Aleixandre's place in modern Spanish surrealist poetry.
Schwartz, Kessel. “The Sea, Love, and Death in the Poetry of Aleixandre.” Hispania 50, No. 2 (May 1967): 219-28.
Explores Freudian symbolism in Aleixandre's poetry.
———. “Symbolic Lips in the Early Poetry of Vicente Aleixandre.” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos 5, No. 2 (Winter 1981): 185-200.
Argues that Aleixandre's images of lips are metaphors for human emotional experience.
Additional coverage of Aleixandre's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88, 114; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 26; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 9, 36; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 108; DISCovering Authors Modules: Poets; Hispanic Literature Criticism, Vol. 1; Hispanic Writers, Vol. 2; Major 20th-Century Writers, Editions 1 and 2; and Poetry Criticism, Vol. 15.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support