Miguel Hernández: Wretched Wars
The Spanish poet, Miguel Hernández (October 30, 1910-March 28, 1942), born in Orihuela (Spain), to a poor family and given little formal education, published his first book of poetry at 23, and gained considerable fame before his death. He spent his childhood as a goatherd and farmhand, and was, for the most part, self-taught, although he did receive basic education in state schools and with the Jesuits. He was introduced to literature by Ramon Sije. As a youth, he greatly admired Góngora, who was an influence in Hernández’s early works. As many Spanish poets of his time, he was deeply influenced by the European vanguards, remarkably by Surrealism. However, although he used novel images and concepts in his verses, he never abandoned classical, popular rithms and rhymes. Two of his most famous poems were inspired by the death of his friends Ignacio Sanchez Mejías and Ramon Sije.
During the Spanish Civil War he campaigned in favour of the Republic, writing poetry and adressing the troops deployed to the front. Unlike others, after the Republican surrender he could not escape Spain. The poet was arrested multiple times after the war for his anti-fascist sympathies, and eventually sentenced to death. His death sentence, however, was commuted for 30 years, leading the poet to live in multiple jails under extraordinarily harsh conditions until eventually succumbing to tuberculosis in 1942. Just before he died, he scrawled his last verse on the wall of the hospital: Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends: let me take my leave of the sun and the fields. Some of his verses were kept by his jailors.
While in jail, the poet produced an extraordinary amount of poetry, much of it in the form of simple songs, which he collected in his papers and sent to his wife and others. These poems are now known as his Cancionero y romancero de ausencia (Songs and Ballads of Absence). In these works, the poet writes not only of the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War and his own incarceration, but also of the death of an infant son and the struggle of his wife and another son to survive in poverty. The intensity and simplicity of the poems, combined with the extraordinary situation of the poet, give them remarkable power.
Perhaps the best known work of the poet is a poem called Nanas de cebolla (Onion Lullaby), a poem in which Hernández replies to a letter from his wife in which she told him that she was surviving on bread and onions. In the poem, the poet envisions his son breastfeeding on his mother’s onion blood (sangre de cebolla), and uses the child’s laughter as a counterpoint to the mother’s desperation. In this as in other poems, the poet turns his wife’s body into a mythic symbol of desperation and hope, of regenerative power desperately needed in a broken Spain.
Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_Hern%C3%A1ndez
(From ‘Cancionero y romancero de ausencias 1941)
To the International Soldier Fallen in Spain
If there are men who contain a soul without frontiers,
a brow scattered with universal hair,
covered with horizons, ships, and mountain chains,
with sand and with snow, then you are one of those.
Fatherlands called to you with all their banners,
so that your breath filled with beautiful movements.
You wanted to quench the thirst of panthers
and fluttered full against their abuses.
With a taste of all suns and seas,
Spain beckons you because in her you realize
your majesty like a tree that embraces a continent.
Around your bones, the olive groves will grow,
unfolding their iron roots in the ground,
embracing men universally, faithfully.
Song of the Soldier Husband
(From ‘El Viento del Pueblo’, 1937)
I have sown your womb with love and seed,