END OF THE CENTURY: MODERNIST POETRY
 



 

Poetry by F. Villaespesa

    1.-  The end of the 19th century could be characterised by the loss of great poets, like Bécquer, Zorrilla or Campoamor, if it were not for the appearance of a new generation, whose three main representatives are Manuel Reina, Ricardo o Gil and Salvador Rueda.
 
   In this poetry, we see an interest in themes like luxury, sensuality, erotism, etc.
 
   Ricardo Gil (1858-1908) published a second book of poems in 1898, The Music Box, with Becquerian undertones, and a liking for oriental themes. We see the appearance of artificial paradises, in works like Morphine: the addiction to this drug serves as moral considerations which are not very convincing.
 
   Manuel Reina Montilla (1856-1905), was born in Cordoba. In Uneasy Life (1894), we see influences from Baudelaire or E.A.Poe. He wrote on cultural or post-romantic themes, such as bacchanalia or the masked ball.

Salvador Rueda
   Salvador Rueda from Malaga (1857-1933), is probably the most brilliant poet among this group. From 1883, we have his book In a Mad Rush. Spanish Chants and his poem "Catalepsia", about themes related to spiritualism.
 
   These are the predecessors of Modernism, whose splendour condemned them to be forgotten.
    Francisco Villaespesa (1877-1936) from Almeria, author of The King of Thule´s Cup (1898) and Tristitiae Rerum (1906), allows us to understand the bad reputation -vice and sexual and moral or social deprivation- which Modernism of that time had, according to the middle-class.

Rubén Darío
    2.-  Félix Rubén García Sarmiento, known as Rubén Darío (1867-1916) was the first poet of his time in Spain. He was born in Nicaragua and lived in Chile and Argentina, travelling to Spain and Paris from time to time. He settled in Spain in 1898, from where he hardly moved until shortly before his death, when he returned to Nicaragua.
 
   In 1888 Blue... appeared, a book which collected the poet´s prose (stories) and verse, and whose title refers to the French poet, Mallarmé. Its pages are dedicated to Parnasianism - the French movement which paid tribute to forms - in Spain.

Blue... second edition
dedicated to Juan Valera

   Profane Prose (1896), is his second masterpiece and justifies the opinion that Rubén brought Spanish poetry back out of the crisis caused by the disappearance of Bécquer.

Profane Prose
   The tone of this book was new for Spanish literature. It showed assimilation of French Parnasianism in poems like Sonatina; direct dealings with Verlaine in his Prayer for the Dead; interest in Greek civilisation in The Centaurs´ Conversation, although screened by the rococo gardens of Versailles; his attraction to the esoteric in Epicurus´s Amphoras, a section which was added in the second edition; medievalism, in which even the book´s title, Ite, missa est shows his liking for the exotic, erotism, etc.
Chants of Life and Hope
   To this they added less frequent stanzas and verses: the alexandrine - of 14 syllables - which plays on reproducing the sonnet´s rhymes, and which were also collected in verses of "arte menor" (4 lines each of 6 or 8 syllables), etc. This book was dedicated to Rubén Darío.

Rubén Darío
   Chants of Life and Hope (1905) is our Nicaraguan´s most important work. Poems in which erotism is mixed with death - Fate - he also adds his worry about the future for the Hispanic, against the threat from the United States. There are still some Parnassian compositions, like the Triumphant March, albeit with a conscience of the political future.
 
   Rubén changed Spanish poetry by using new themes, words and cultural possibilities.
    3.-  The poetry of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) goes unnoticed at times, because of the extensiveness of the rest of his work. He was born in Galicia, in Villanueva de Arosa, and was a complex person, absorbed in the aesthetic and contradictory in his politics.

Valle-Inclán, as seen
by Ignacio Zuloaga
   In 1930, he decided to group all his poetry under the title Lyrical Keys . These begin with Aromas of Legend (1907), in which the poet carefully shows the Gallician landscape, both aethetically and skillfully, ending his poems in verse written in this language.
 
   The Passenger (1920) passes on the decadence of his time and the confused and chaotic ideas which Valle-Inclán got from teosophy. It opens with a series of "rosas", which seize you with their surprising, although somewhat inconsistent verses.

Cover by Ricardo Baroja for
a work by Valle-Inclán
   Valle-Inclán´s poetic masterpiece is Kif´s Pipe (1919), in which modernist elements are deformed into the grotesque. This is the only poetic example that the poet left of the macabre story, an almost exclusively theatrical genre. Kif´s Pipe is, for many, the impasse to which the Parnassian aethestic of modernist decadence reached. His last poem, Key XVII. The Herbalist Shop, is a song about drugs, the artificial paradises of this generation.

Miguel de Unamuno
    4.-  "Modernist guy" is what some of his enemies called Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936), born in Bilbao. In spite of the criticism which the author himself made of modernism, he is considered a modernist in a religious sense: something similar to heretic or at least, reformist. He cultivated this image himself. His political development was from the left or anarchism towards an individualism which is difficult to classify. His personality was in constant opposition with everything which existed. Within politics, he fought against Sabino Arana´s Basque nationalism, Primo de Rivera´s dictatorship and, after a brief indecision, Franco´s, coup against the state.
   His poetry shares similar characteristics: interest in content as opposed to form, predominance of the idea, search for the vital and ideological, mixture of thought and feelings, etc. This resulted in a breaking of the conventional moulds, in a naked poetry, in a direct language and in need to express oneself above all the linguistic and literary norms. Its themes: the family, the fatherland, death, eternal life and finally, human existance.
   His first book, Poetry, was published in 1907. Long before that, Unamuno had been given a pat on the back by Juan Valera. In this first work, he already considered his poetry a necesity of expression and demonstrates that this is the genre in which he excells, in poems like Poetic Credo.
 
   1911 saw the appearance of Rosary of Lyrical Sonnets, which for him, assumed total dedication to literature. Among his most surprising works, we read Velázquez´s Christ (1920). His confessions - which is what he considered all his lyrics - continue in Spanish Adventures and Visions, from Fuerteventura to Paris and Ballads from Exile, between 1922 and 1927.
 
   From 1928 until his death, he devoted himself to collections of verse/poetic diary, posthumus and complicated to interpret, although this is his poetic masterpiece.

Cover of the first
book of Poetry
by Unamuno
   He read the English poets, Coleridge, Wordsworth and William Blake, along with Byron and Keats; the Italians, Leopardi, Dante - always -, and his admired Kierkegaard. He studied Bécquer. Unamuno directly influenced Antonio Machado and indirectly, generations of post-war poetry up until modern times.

Helios (1903-1904)
    5.-  On the mainland, poets were writing literary magazines, one of the most important being Helios (1903-1904). It was founded by the poet Gregorio Martínez Sierra (1881-1947) and María Martínez Sierra, his wife and authoress of a few works signed by her husband, Pedro González-Blanco, Ramón Pérez de Ayala (1880-1962), who started his poetical carreer with The Peace of the Path in 1904, and, the soul of the magazine, Juan Ramón Jiménez.
 
   Its pages deal with politics - with articles by Ortega y Gasset, with philosophy - that of Nietzsche (1844-1900), a popular philosopher among that generation, and Plotinus (205-270), with teosophy, with European and American literature, but above all, poetry and literature.

Rebirth (1907)
   Amongst its collaborators, we see the names of Alejandro Sawa, Manuel y Antonio Machado, Miguel de Unamuno and also Rubén Darío. We shall deal with some of these later.
 
   The spirit of the magazine returned in 1907, with Rebirth, a publication which lasted about a year.

Cover of Ninfeas
     6.-  The universal Andalusian, Juan Ramón Jiménez Mantecón (1881-1958), was born in Moguer. The year 1900 was crucial in his life and work, when he received recognition by Rubén Darío and Francisco Villaespesa in Madrid, but the death of his father led him to a depression from which he was hardly to recover for the rest of his life.
 
   His first works, Ninfeas (1900), Sad Arias (1903) or even Magic and Sorrowful Poems (1911) followed the symbolist trend of countryside and solitude. Symbolism, which originated in France, searches for the knowledge of the human soul, by way of its equivalences.
   A second stage - only announced in 1911 - began with his Diary of a Recently Married Poet of 1916, written after getting married in the United States to the American Zenobia Camprubí. This book imparts his intellectual poetry, his image of the sea as a symbol and his reflection on names. Eternities (1916-17) presented the fight for semantic precision, in his famous poem Intelligence, give me the exact name for things! and the analysis of his poetry in Wine, First, Pure. He wrote naked and essentialist poetry, perhaps symbolist or impressionist. Between 1914 and 1917, he drew up his poetic prose, Platero and I.
Edition of the Diary
of a recently married poet

1953 Edition of Platero and I
   The 30´s were the years of the Republic and the Civil War, which obliged the poet and Zenobia to move to the United States, with frequent visits to Latin America, until they settled in Puerto Rico, where they lived the rest of their lives. Before this move, Juan Ramón had started his poetic line in which the intellectual developed into the theological. The poet achieved a universe - his poetry - in which he would be God or the creator of gods. From "La estación total", written between 1923 and 1936, to Desired and Desiring God (1949) helped towards his deity, along lines similar to those of Unamuno. Rivers which Overflow, from the 50´s, recollects the reality of death, which cruelly took his wife, Zenobia, in 1956, the pain of which wasn`t softened by him being awarded the Nobel Prize that same year. Juan Ramón Jiménez was to live two years more.

Antonio Machado
    7.-  The brothers, Manuel and Antonio Machado were very close throughout their lives. Today we acknowlege the literary superiority of the second over the first.
 
   Antonio Machado Ruiz (1875-1939) was born in Seville. He studied in the "Institución Libre de Enseñanza", where his father worked, and later he lived in Madrid, Segovia, Baeza and especially, Soria. His defence of the Republic and his membership of the Socialist Party, obliged him to move to Valencia during the Civil War. From there he went to France, where he died in 1939. He has been used, excessively at times, as a symbol of Spanish political liberty.

Extended Edition of Solitudes
(On click "Go alone dreaming roads")
   Antonio Machado published his Solitudes in 1902, which was re-edited in 1907 as Solitudes. Galleries. Other Poems. It is perhaps the best example of symbolism in Spanish poetry. It depicts the poet walking through fields or a park at dusk , wrapped in his dreams, mixing the countryside with his thoughts. Motifs, like the fountain appear, a symbol of life with which he speaks.

Edition of Fields of Castilla
   Fields of Castilla (1912), opens with a self portrait, in which the poet considers himself at the edge of poetry of his time, and shows later, the profound influence which Unamuno had exercised since 1903 - in the pages of Helios - through which Antonio would write a more meaningful and direct poetry. These poems reflect his ideas about Castilla, being a rough and tremendous land. Soria is the object of these observations. Unamuno later softened the harshness of his observations once he became acquainted with the area, and after the death of his young Sorian wife, Leonor.
 
   The story included in the book Alvargonzález´s Land was an attempt to copy the traditional Romancero (collection of ballads), which had originally been written in prose.
   New Songs (1924) is a complex and very varied book, which shows this poet´s desire to constantly change. He took up old themes, like Soria or popular verse, but we can see an almost experimental tone in philosophical maxims, thoughts, etc., noted down in short poems of four verses. We note the influence of Henry Bergson and the Portuguese, Fernando Pessoa, in Apocryphal Anthology, on various poets who have existed.
 
   We are reminded of the "estrofa machadiana" a combination of verses of seven and eleven syllables - the traditional silva - used with absolute freedom and which allows the poet convenient and direct expression.

Cover by Juan Gris of Soul
   The poetry of Manuel Machado Ruiz (1874-1947) is often being recovered and then forgotten. Having been a member of Franco´s party prejudiced him, unlike his brother. His first significant work was Soul (1900), which was rewritten in 1907 as Soul. Museum. Songs. and opens with his self portrait Adelfos. His descriptions of paintings in books like Apollo (Pictorial Theatre) (1911), are brilliant.

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