August 11, 2022

Miguel Hernández (Spain) 1910-1942

Miguel Hernández (Spain)



Born into a peasant family in Orihuela in southeastern Spain, Miguel Hernández spent much of his youth as a goatherd and other farming tasks. But as young boy Hernández determined to become a poet, despite his father's attempts to dissuade him and to follow more practical activities. At the age of nine he began his schooling at the school annex for poor children, Escuela del Ave María. By 1923, at age of 13, the young student, excited by Spanish literature, was honored by an invitation to study at the nearby Colegio de Santo Domingo de Orihuela, attended previously by the novelist Gabriel Miró. The Jesuits who ran school encouraged him to seek the priesthood, but at the age of 15, his father took him out of school to help in herding and selling milk.

     In the years immediately after leaving school Hernández befriend members and friends of the Fenoll family, who ran the local bakery. Carlos Fenoll and Sijé (Martín Gutierrez) were drawn to Hernández because of his poetry and quickness of mind, and together these three regularly met, reading their plays and poetry to one another. Sijé, in particular, became Hernández's mentor, encouraging him to study Spanish poetry in depth and arranging for him to perform his poetry at the Casino.

     In 1931 the young poet traveled to Madrid to make his way among the more cosmopolitan writers; but he found the large metropolis unfriendly, and returned to his country home. One of Hernández's poems was published just before his return in Gaceta Literaria, but the attention it brought was not enough to keep him longer in Madrid. He borrowed a railway ticket from a friend; without the legal travel documents, however, he was arrested en route by the Guardia Civil and imprisoned.

     Back in Oriheula he worked as a bookkeeper for a fabric company and, later, as a clerk in a notary's office. He continued his study, during this period, of the Spanish poetic tradition, in particular Góngora and his imitators, Gerardo Diego and Rafael Alberti (see PIP Anthology, volume 1). Although in the more sophisticated circles the Góngora tradition was waning, the young poet, through a loan from the publisher Raimundo de los Reyes, published his first book Perito en lunas (1933). Accordingly, the book did not receive the attention he expected, and the hermetic style of the poems was beyond most uninitiated readers.

     Although the book was not successful it did push Hernández toward a full career as a poet.

     In 1934, through a local benefit performance on his behalf, the young poet was able to afford to return to Madrid, living modestly in the city. He was now known by several poets and gained deeper acquaintance to García Lorca, Alberti, Jorge Guillén (PIP Anthology, volume 1), Luis Cernada, and others. Two other poets he now met, Pablo Neruda (PIP Anthology, volume 2) and Vicente Aleixandre, became important figures in his life, particularly Aleixandre, who, as Hernández as drawn further into the group of poets with Republican and socialist leanings, replaced Sijé—with whom Hernández had a gradually and long falling out—as his mentor.

     In 1936 Hernández was again arrested during a trip to San Fernando del Jarama for not having the proper identification papers. Only a phone call to Neruda in Madrid secured his release. This second arrest would radically affect the rest of his life. For in July of that year an uprising led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the North African province of Melilla caused services in Spain to come to a standstill. Lorca, visiting his Andalusia, was captured by the military and killed along with others in Granada. By September Madrid was in the throes of the Spanish Civil War, and Hernández enrolled in the Fifth Regiment of the Republican forces fighting the Nationalists and Franco near the town of Cubas. Taken ill, he returned to Madrid where he joined the First Calvary Company of the Peasants' Battalion and read poetry daily on radio. As cultural affairs officer, he also traveled extensively, reading to the soldiers new war poems as he wrote them. In November, he performed with a Cuban officer, Pablo de la Torriente Brau at an event attended by Alberti and others. Three weeks later Brau was killed. Others were also fast disappearing: Neruda accepted a post in Paris and the great poet Macado moved to Valencia; Ortega left Spain and Unamuno died in December, under house arrest.

     In March of 1937 Hernández married his beloved girlfriend from Oriheula, Josefina. In April he was forced to return to his regiment, and four days later he heard the news that Josefina's mother had died. Working on the proofs of his next book, Viento del pueblo, Hernández tried to release his mind from the series of tragic events surrounding him.

     Viento del pueblo was published to mostly positive reviews, and in the months just before Hernández had become deeper and deeper involved in the Republican activities, including participation in a International Writers' Congress (which included notables André Malraux, Octavio Paz, César Vallejo, Stephen Spender, and Jean Cassou) and a trip to the Fifth Festival of Soviet Theater in Moscow. The new book showed the influence of his Madrid friends and war activities. The formal concerns of his first volume were abandoned as he wrote in free verse and used employed more popular forms such as the romance and political commentary. As his first son was born, Hernández was already at work on his next volume, El hombre accecha, which would be published in 1939. Ten months later the son died, and the father fell sick in Benicasim, while writing one of his most memorable poems, "A mi higi" ("To My Son"). His second son was born in January 1939, at a time when the exodus of of people fleeing the country was quickly mounting. Machado's death in France in January was another event to strongly effect Hernández; although he collected the galleys for El hombre accecha, the book was never bound nor published. He now felt fear for his own and family's survival. In April he crossed the border to Portugal, but was spotted by a police patrol and arrested. Soon after, he was send to Torrijos Prison in Madrid, where he was held from May to September. Keeping in touch with Aleixandre, Hernández received as much support as possible, but things grew worse and his wife was denied her mother's pension. Hernández was released, possibly by bureaucratic mistake, in September; but as he traveled to Josefina in Cox, his enemies in the Franco-supporting Oriheula were already plotting. While visting the Sijé family in Orihuela, Hernández was arrested and imprisoned. In December 1939 he was transferred to the Conde de Poreno Prison in Madrid, where in the company of fellow prisoner Buero Vallejo, the poet continued to discuss his art and write.

     For the next two years, in and out of solitary confinement, Hernández was kept in prison, where he wrote long letters to his wife and son and composed more poetry. He 1942, suffering from tuberculosis, he died.





Perito en lunas (Murcia: Sudeste, 1933); En rayo que no cesa (Madrid: Héroe, 1936); Viento del pueblo (Valencia: Socorro Rojo, 1937); El hombre acecha (Valencia: Subsecretaría de Propaganda, 1939); Sino sangriento y otros poems (Havana: Verónica/Altolaguirre, 1939); Seis poems inéditos y nueve más, edited by Vicente Ramos and Manuel Molina (Alicante: Ifach, 1951); Anthología poética de Miguel Hernández, edited by Francisco Martínez Marín (Orihuela: Aura, 1951); Obra escogida, edited by Arturo del Hoyo (Madrid: Aguilar, 1952); Cancionero y romancero de ausencias, edited by Elvio Romero (Madrid: Arión, 1957); Los mejores versons de Miguel Hernández, edited by Manuel Molina (Buenos Aires: Nuestra América, 1958); Los hijos de la piedra (Buenos Aires: Quetzal, 1959); Obras completas, edited by Elvio Romero and Andrés Ramón Vázquez (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1960); Antología, edited by María de Gracia Ifach, 1961); Canto de independencia (Havana: Tertulia, 1962); Poemas de adolescencia: Perito en lunas; Otros poemas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963); El hombre acecha; Cancionero y romancero de ausencias; Últimos poems (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963); Imagen de tu hella; El rayo que no ceas; Viento del pueblo; El Siblo vulnerado; Otros poemas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1963); Poemas, edited by José Luis Cano and Josefina Manresa (Barcelona: Plaza & Janés, 1964); Poesía (Havana: Consejo Nacional de Cultura, 1964); Poesías, edited by Jacinto Luis Guereña (Paris: Seghers, 1964; Madrid: Taurus, 1967; enlarged, Madrid: Narcea, 1973); Unos poemas olvidados de Miguel Hernández, selected by A. Fernández Molina (Caracas: Universal, 1967); Cinco sonetos inéditos, compiled by Dario Puccini (Caracas: Revisa Nacional de Cultura, 1968); Poemas de amor, edited by Leopoldo de Luis (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1969); Obra poética completa, edited by Luis and Jorge Urrutia (Bilbao: Zero, 1976); Poesía y prosa de guerra y otros textos olvidados, edited by Cano Ballesta and Robert Marrast (Pomplona: Peralta, 1977); Poemas sociales de guerra y de muerte, edited by Leopoldo Luis (Madrid: Alianza, 1977); Poesías completas, edited by Sánchez Vidal (Madrid: Aguilar, 1979)





Songbook of Absences: Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, trans. by Thomas C. Jones, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Charioteer, 1972); Miguel Hernández and Blas de Otero: Selected Poems, edited by Timothy Baland and Hardie St. Martin [trans. by Timothy Baland, Hardie St. Martin, Robert Bly, and James Wright] (Boston: Beacon, 1972); Unceasing Lightning, trans. by Michael Smith (Dublin: Dedalus, 1986); Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, edited by Timothy Baland [trans. by Timothy Baland, Robert Bly, Hardie St. Martin, and James Wright] (Fredonia, New York: White Pine Press, 1989); The Unending Lighting: Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, trans. by Edwin Honig (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1990); I have Lots of Heart: Selected Poems, trans. by Don Share (Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Bloodaxe Books, 1997)






You tossed me a lemon, it was so sour,

with a warm hand, it was so white,

it never bruised the fruit's skin

but the bitterness was what I could taste.


With one golden blow, my blood

was aroused from slow sweetness

to a fever hot pitch when that hard teat

bit back at the tip of my tongue.


But glancing up to see you smile

at what the lemony act had made

of my maliciously sly intent


I felt my blood sink in my shirt,

and that soft and jaundiced breast

squirt a peculiarly sharp pain.


Translated from Spanish by Douglas Messerli



(from El rayo que no cesa, 1936)






It kills me, you're so pure and chaste:

though I confess, my love, I'm guilty,

I snatched that kiss; yes, it was I

who sipped the flower of your face.


I sipped the flower of your face,

and since that great day and deed

your face, so weighty and so scrupulous,

droops, falling like a yellow leaf.


The ghost of that delinquent kiss

now haunts your cheekbone, growing ever

dark, heavy and immense.



How jealously you stay awake!

How zealously you watch my lips

against (God forbid) another break!


Translated from the Spanish by Edwin Honig


(from El rayo que no cesa, 1936)





Child of the Night


Laughing and playing in the sharp light od day,

the child I twice wanted to be sank into the night.

He no longer wanted the light. What for? He wouldn't leave

those silences, that dark gloom, again.


I wanted to be...What for? I wanted to come joyfully

into the heart of the sphere of all that exists.

I wanted to bring with me laughter, most beautiful thing.

I died smiling, serenely sad.


Child twice a child: a third time on the way.

Circle once again that opaque world of the womb.

Stay back, love. Stay back, child, since I wouldn't

come out where light meets its heavy sorrow.


I go back to the shaping air that fed my unawareness.

I go circling back, aware of my cover of sleep.

In a sensuous, dark transparency,

to roam an interior space, October to October.


Womb: core flesh of all that exists.

Vault eternally dark, whether blue or red.

Night of nights, in whose depts one feels

the voice of roots, the breath of heights.


Under your skin I press on, the distance is blood.

My body swings in a dense constellation.

The universe sets off its floating echoes

in the place where the history of man is written.


To gaze and see surrounding solitude, mountain,

sea, through the window of one full heart

that yesterday grieved not to be a horizon

opening on a world less changeable, transient.


To hoard, for no reason, the stone and the child:

just to live one day without wings in the dark.

Pillar of frightening salt, cut off

without fresh air or fire. No. Life, go back.


But something has desperately hurtled me on.

In the past, the downing of time, I fall.

I am hurled out of the night. And in the wounding light

naked I weep again, as I always have wept.


—Translated from the Spanish by Edwin Honig


(from Cancionero y romancero de ausencias, 1958)




Lullaby of the Onion


An onion is frost

shut tight and poor.

Frost of your days

and my nights.

Hunger and onion,

black ice and frost

large and round.


My child lay there

in his cardle of hunger

and nursed on

the blood of an onion.

But your blood

was a frost of sugar

an onion and hunger.


Dissolved into moon,

a dark-haired woman

lets trickle by trickle

spill over the cradle.

Little one, laugh,

you can eat up the moon

whenever you want.


Lark of my house,

laugh again and again,

Laughter's the light

of the world in your eyes.

Keep laughing so that

in my soul when it hears you

space will be conquered.


Your laughter frees me,

lends me wings,

cancels loneliness,

tears down my prison,

lets my mouth fly, lets

heart touch your lips

flashing lightning.


Laughter's your most

victorious weapon,

conquering flowers

and larks,

rivallilng suns,

future of all my bones

and my love.


Flesh quivering,

suddenly blinking,

child never blushed

with such color.

So many linnets

flutter, fly up

from your body.


I awoke from being a child:

you never waken.

My mouth is sad.

You always laugh!

In your cradle always

defending laughter

feather by feather.


Keep soaring so high

and so far

you become flesh

of the just-born sky.

If I could only

go back to the start

of your flight!


Eight months and your laughter,

five lemon blossoms.

Five of the tiniest


Those five teeth of yours

five adolescent



Tomorrow they'll arrive at

the frontier of kissing

when you will sense

in your teeth a weapon,

sense fire flow down

from those teeth

avidly seeking a center,


Little one, fly on

the double moon of the breast:

it, an onion sad and poor;

you, fed and content.

Do not falter.

Never mind what happens

or what's to come.


Translated from the Spanish by Edwin Honig


(from Cancionero y romancero de ausencias, 1958)




"[You tossed me a lemon, it was so sour]," Copyright ©2000 by Douglas Messerli. Printed by permission.


"[It kills me, you're so pure and chaste:]," "Child of the Night," "Lullaby of the Onion"

Reprinted from The Unending Lightning: The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, trans. by Edwin Honig (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: The Sheep Meadow Press, 1990). Copyright ©1990 by Edwin Honig. Reprinted by permission of The Sheep Meadow Press.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very nice =)
I've stared reading this because I was boring and alone in my Buenos Aires apartment, but I found it very interesting , and I wanted to thank you... So, thanks for sharing!!