BÉCQUER AND BECQUERIAN POETRY
 



Antonio de Trueba

 
    1.-  If 1840 was the year in which Romanticism culminated, 1850 marked the beginning of a new epoch. The two most important innovations were I: the imitation of folkloric poetry, often Andalucian -cap. 2- and II: the assimilation of German poetry , especially Intermezzo by Heinrich Heine -cap.3-.
 
    2.-  Ventura Ruiz Aguilera (1820-1881), from Salamanca, published National Echos in 1849, marking the path of popular poetry.
 
   José Selgas (1822-1882), born in Murcia, consolidated this trend in his books The Spring in 1850 and The Summer (1853), which is closer to a song.
 
   The Basque Antonio de Trueba (1821-1889) asserted his popular literary authority in the prologue of The Book of Songs of 1852.

Eulogio Florentino Sanz
   Vicente Barrantes (1829-1898) was born in Badajoz and published his Spanish Ballads in 1853, a genre which he defined by using other traditional trends.
 
    3.-  The first Castilian version of Heinrich Heine´s poetry is owed to Eulogio Florentino Sanz, (1825-1881), born in Ávila and ambassador in Berlin. Some of his verses appear to be literally copied by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. But there is also a translation by Mariano Gil Sanz and numerous copies by Ángel María Dacarrete, Arístides Pongiglioni and the great friend of Bécquer´s, Augusto Ferrán (1835-1880), from Madrid, whose book of poems Solitude (1861) presents a prologue by Gustavo Adolfo, which can be considered a poetic art.
    4.-  Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer is the name adopted by G.A. Domínguez Bastida. He was born in Seville in 1836 and died in Madrid in 1871. Spanish contemporary poetry sprung from Bécquer, and his Rhymes are recited off by heart by the contemporary poets.
 
    4.a.-  He was born into a family of artists and like his brother Valeriano, followed his father´s artistic vocation. Orphaned, he was taken charge of by his godmother.

 

Rhymes of 1871
   We know that Gustavo was a follower of Alberto Lista and friend of another Sevillian Narciso Campillo and of Julio Nombela from Madrid, whom he met in Seville.
It was with them that he wrote his first literary essays, partially conserved, and with whom he decided to go to Madrid in 1854.
 
   Life in the capital involved a few years of misery and hunger. The theatre and zarzuela (light opera) were the genres which allowed one to earn a modest living. Then the History of the Temples of Spain project arose, which had to be interrupted due to lack of subsidies after the first volume was published in 1857.

Photograph of
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer
   During these years, Gustavo met the artist Julia Espín, although little is known about their friendship. Also during this time, he suffered a life-threatening illness, the origin of which has been disputed.
 
   In 1859, the future Rhyme XIII was published in the magazine El Nene and in 1860, Rhyme XV in the Album of fashionable young ladies and couriers. The same year saw the start of his literary letters in El Contemporáneo, where he edited his Prologue to Solitude by Augusto Ferrán in 1861, a book of poems which imitated the popular verse. Here, Bécquer expressed his ideas about poetry and its different types. This year saw the appearance of Rhymes LXI, XXIII and LXII. He married Casta Esteban from Soria, whom he met during his travels around Soria and Aragon. They were to have several children and a turbulent relationship and various separations and a brief final reunion.

Rhyme XV,
according to the
Book of the Sparrows
   By 1868, Gustavo had published various pieces of prose - Legends, the Letters from my Cell-; the future Rhymes XXVII, V, XI, XXIV, II, XVI and LXIXIX and finally, he re-edited Rhymes XV and XXIII twice. During his lifetime, only Rhyme IV would be published, in 1870.

Portrait of Bécquer
by his brother Valeriano
   1868 was the year which precipitated the crisis. The minister González Bravo, who was willing to publish Bécquer´s Poetry at his own cost, lost the poet´s manuscript as a consequence of the ransacking of his house during the Revolution of that year. Gustavo´s marriage ended for good and father lived with his children, accompanied by his brother Valeriano, whose personal situation was very similar to that of the poet´s.
 
   In Toledo, in 1869, Gustavo tried to recuperate his lost poems from memory, which he copied into a manuscript entitled Book of the Sparrows and which was practically lost in the National Library in Madrid from its acquisition in 1896 until 1914.

Cover of
Book of the Sparrows

(on click Rhyme I)
   In September 1870, his brother Valeriano died, which plunged Gustavo into a crisis he was never to be able to come out of. His wife returned to his side, and in December the poet became gravely ill. He died on the 22nd December of that year in Claudio Coello Street, in Madrid.

Gustavo Adolfo draw
   As a result of his death and in order to help his widow and fatherless children, his friends published some Works, some of which were published in 1871 in two volumes. The LXXVI Rhymes took up a few pages in the second volume.
 
   The Book of the Sparrows, which was intended to be a source for the edition, contained three more poems which were not included in the Works of 1871, but were published under the control and care of his friend Ramón Rodríguez Correa.
    4.b.-  Bécquer´s poetry impressed from the outset. The charm of his verses is inexplicable. They speak of its evocative power, of its bareness, of its apparent simplicity, etc. What is certain is that Gustavo was a poet, painter and probably musician too. These are some of the values which can be read in his works: musical quality, imagination and a spirituality so overwhelming that it can only be explained through spiritualism, a theosophical trend which started in Spain during this epoch. The syntactic parallelism, use of personal pronouns, the conciseness and populism always found themselves depending on the deepest human values, which cannot be totally explained by talking of presymbolism. Bécquer was a man observant of the changes of his time, anxious about tongues and civilisations - he was interested in Sanskrit -, absorbed in and sensitive to nuances and feelings in his own soul. Perhaps his relationships with influential characters like Narváez and definitely González Bravo also opened paths for him to follow, which we still do not totally know today.

Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo
    5.-  Apparently, Bécquer´s death created a void which could only be filled by the contribution of the new Hispano-American Modernist poetry. However, it was not all a literay desert.
 
   We remember that several top ranking poets were still alive in 1870, like Zorrilla or Campoamor and that Rosalía de Castro still hadn´t published her masterpiece in Castilian.
 
   The classicist poets bear mentioning, at the head of which we find Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo (1856-1912) from Santander, who wrote on a wide variety of subjects, who was a follower of Horace and a critical literary influence.

Beginning of a poem
by Zayas Beaumont
   But the most vital trend in poetry is that which we know as Premodernism, represented by names such as Ricardo Gil (1855-1908), Manuel Reina (1856-1905) from Cordoba, Salvador Rueda (1857-1933) from Malaga, or Antonio de Zayas Beaumont (1871-1941). With these we were to see a new aesthetic doctrine and a new century.

D.Miguel Pérez Rosado.
Ph. D. in Hispanic Philology.