July 6, 2011

Alfonso Reyes

Alfonso Reyes [Mexico]

Regarded as one of the great modern Spanish poets, Alfonso Reyes was born in Monterrey, Neuvo León on May 17, 1889. His father, Bernardo Reyes was an important government official, serving first as the governor of Nuevo León and later as the Secretary of War and Navy under Porfirio Diaz.

Educated in Mexico City, Reyes joined with other young intellectuals, in 1909 founding, with Dominican Republic critic Pedro Henríquez Ureña (1884-1946), Antonio Caso, and José Vasconcelos, the Ateneo de la Juventud (Athenaeum of Youth) literary society in order to promote new cultural and aesthetic ideals in education. He began writing essays, poetry, fiction, and other works, publishing his book, Cuestiones estéticas, a work on contemporary aesthetics, in 1911. In 1912 he wrote "La Cena," considered the forerunner of Latin American surrealism and later magical realism.

In that same year Reyes was named the Secretary of the Escuela Nacional de Altos Estudios at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

In 1913, Reyes obtained law degree. In that same year his father was killed while participating in an attempted coup d'état.

Later that year, the writer was posted to Mexico's diplomatic service in France. But when Germany invaded in 1914, Reyes moved to Madrid so that he pursue a career as a journalist, translation, critic and writer. Among his essays of his period was the renowned "Visión de Anáhuac," with its epigraph, "Viajero: has llegado a la región más transparente del aire," which later would contribute to the title of Carlos Fuentes' novel La región mas transparente.

In 1920 Reyes was asked to return to the diplomatic services, becoming the second secreatry in Spain. From 1924-1927 he served in France, becoming ambassador to Argentina and 1927-1930 and again in 1936-1937. He became ambassador to Brazil from 1930-1937 and again in 1938.

In 1939 he retired from diplomatic service, organizing what today is El Colegio de México, while dedicating himself to writing and teaching.

Reyes wrote seven books of poetry, numerous works of nonfiction, and four longer fictions,
as well other writings. Jorge Luis Borges has described Reyes as "the greatest prose writer in the Spanish language of any age."


Huellas (México: A. Botas e. hiho,1922); Infgenia cruel [dramatic poem] (Madrid: Editorial Satumino Calleja, 1924); Pausa (Paris: Soc. génér. d'impr. et d'édit, 1926); Romances del Río de Enero (Maestricht, Netherlands: Oficinas gráficas 'Halcyon' (A. A. M. Stols, 1933); Yerbas del Tarahumara (1934); Minuta, juego poético (Maestricht, Netherlands: Oficinas gráficas 'Halcyon' (A. A. M. Stols, 1935); Golfo de México (Buenos Aires, 1935); Otra Voz (México: Fabula, 1936); Canatada en la tumba de Federico García Lorca ([n.p.] L. Seoane, 1937); Algunos poems, 1925-1939 (México: Nueva Voz, 1941); Obra poética (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1952)


selections in Octavio Paz, ed. Mexican Poetry: An Anthology, trans. by Samuel Beckett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958/reprinted New York: Grove Press, 1985).

For a short homage to Alfonso Reyes in Spanish, click below:

The Menace of the Flower

Flower of drowsiness,
lull me but love me not.

How you profuse your perfume,
how overdo your rouge,
flower who kohl your lids
and exhale your soul in the sun!

Flower of drowsiness.

There is one resembles you
in your deceiving blush,
and too because she has
black eyelashes like you.

Flower of drowsiness.

There is one resembles you...

(And I tremble alone to see
your hand in mine,
tremble lest you turn
into a woman one day?)

—Translated from the Spanish by Samuel Beckett



Sometimes an effluence rises,
made of nothing, from the ground.
Suddenly, hiddenly
a cedar sighs its scent.

We who are a secret's
tenuous dissolution,
our soul no sooner yields
than dream wells over.

What a poor thing the wandering
reason, when in the still,
sunlight seems to fall
upon me from your memory!

—Translated from the Spanish by Samuel Beckett


For another poem by Alfonson Reyes, click below:

"The Menace of the Flower" and "Scarcely..."
English language translation ©1985 by Grove Press


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