The Nobel Literature Prize announced for Juan Ramón Jiménez
his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an
example of high spirit and artistical purity.
A long life consecrated to poetry and to beauty has been honored
in 1956 with the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is an old gardener,
this Juan Ramón, who has dedicated half a century to the creation
of a new rose, a white mystical rose, which will bear his name.
Jardines lejanos, 1904,
is one of his books from the beginning of the century. In the
southern parts of Andalusia, far off the route from Jerez to
Seville well known to Swedish tourists, the poet was born in
1881. But his poetry is not a strong and intoxicating wine,
and his work not a grandiose mosque turned into a cathedral.
It makes you think, rather, of one of those gardens circled
by high, whitewashed walls which you see marking a landscape.
He who stops a moment and goes in with his camera runs the risk
of being deceived. There is nothing singular or picturesque
here, only the usual things: fruit trees and the air which vibrates
on passing through them, the pond that reflects the sun and
the moon, a bird singing. No small minaret has been transformed
into an ivory tower in this fertile garden planted in the soil
of Arab culture. But the visitor who lingers will notice that
the passivity within the walls is deceiving, that the isolation
is only of the circumstantial and transitory, of what pretends
to be present. He will not fail to observe that the rose has
a radiance which demands sharper senses and a new sensibility.
There is a beauty which is more than the play and delight of
the senses; in front of the visitor the silent gardener suddenly
appears like a strict director of souls. At the entrance of
the Juanramonian garden the tourist ought to observe the same
rules as on entering a mosque: wash his hands and rinse his
mouth in the fountain for ablutions, take off his shoes, etc.
The year in which Ramón Jiménez
began to publish his melodious verses was, in the history of
Spain, a year for an examination of conscience. On 10 December
1898, in Paris, was signed the treaty with the United States
by which Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines,
as well as what remained of its navy and its prestige. By a
stroke of the pen the remnants of a whole colonial empire were
eliminated. In Madrid a group of writers took up the pen to
reconquer, in their fashion, the world within the boundaries
of Spain. Some of them ultimately attained their goals. The
Machado brothers, Valle-Inclán, and Unamuno were among them.
The "modernists", as they called themselves, had in turn grouped
themselves around their leader, the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío,
visiting in Spain. It was Darío also who, at the beginning of
the century, sponsored the first book of verses of the new poet,
Juan Ramón Jiménez, a book which bore the scarcely martial title,
Almas de violeta (Souls of Violet), 1900.
He was not an audacious creator
who would present himself on stage in full light. His song arrived,
timid and intimate, from a penumbral background, and spoke of
the moon and of melancholy with echoes of Schumann and Chopin.
He wept with Heine and with his countryman, inspired by Heine,
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the exquisite poet to whom some shortsighted
admirers gave the name, "golden-haired Nordic King". In the
manner of Verlaine he murmured his Arias tristes, 1903,
in a half-voice. When, little by little but with sure step,
he had freed himself from the gentle, captivating arms of French
symbolism, the characteristic features of music and intimacy
would remain forever impressed on him.
Music and painting we
can note that, in Seville, the young student also studied to
be a painter. Just as we speak of the blue and rose periods
of Picasso, who was born in the same year, as the historians
of literature have called attention to the predominance of different
colors in the work of Ramón Jiménez. To the first period belong
all the poems in yellow and green the famous green poem
of his disciple Garcia Lorca has its origin here. Later, white
predominates, and the nakedness of white characterizes the brilliant,
decisive epoch which includes what has been called the second
poetic style of Juan Ramón. Here we witness the long period
of plenitude of a poet of light. Far off are the melancholy
mood-pictures, far off also the anecdotal themes. The poems
treat only of poetry and love, and of the landscape and the
sea which are identified with poetry and love. A formal asceticism
carried to perfection, rejecting every exterior embellishment
of the verse, will be the road that will lead to the simplicity
that is the supreme form of art, the poetry that the poet calls
This "second style of Juan Ramón"
reaches its full development in Diario de un poeta recién
casado in 1917. In this year the newly-wed poet made his
first trip to America and his diary is full of an infinite feeling
for the sea, full of oceanic poetry. His books Eternidades,
1918, and Piedra y cielo, 1919 mark new stages toward
the longed-for identification of the "I" with the world; poetry
and thought have the purpose of finding "the exact name for
things". Gradually the poems become more concise, naked, transparent;
they are, in fact, maxims and aphorisms of the mystical poetics
of Juan Ramón.
In his constant zeal to surpass
previous achievements, Ramón Jiménez has made a clean slate
of his earliest production and has radically modified old poems,
gathering those meriting his approval into extensive anthologies.
After his volumes Belleza and Poesía in 1923,
in his zeal to experiment with new forms, he abandoned the publication
of his works in book form and often published without title
or author's name, in the form of sheets or leaflets scattered
by the wind. In 1936 the civil war interrupted the projected
edition of his works in twenty-one volumes. Animal de fondo
(Animal of Depth), 1949, the last book from his period of exile,
is, if read by itself, a sample of a work in progress. Today,
therefore, it is still premature to discuss this phase which,
in literary history, will perhaps carry the title "the last
style of Juan Ramón".
Far away, in what was the colony
of Puerto Rico, he is afflicted today by an immense sorrow.
It will not be possible for us to see his thin face with its
profound eyes and to ask ourselves if it has been taken directly
from a painting by El Greco. We find a less solemn self-portrait
in the delightfulbook, Platero y yo, 1914. There, dressed
in mourning, the poet passes with his Nazarene beard, riding
his little donkey while the gypsy children shout at the top
of their voices: The madman! The madman! The madman! ... And
in truth it is not always easy to distinguish a madman from
a poet. But for like spirits the madness of this man has been
eminent wisdom. Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas,
and others who have written their names in the recent history
of Spanish poetry have been his disciples; Federico Garcia Lorca
is one of them, and so are the Latin American poets, with Gabriela
Mistral at their head. I cite the statement of a Swedish journalist
on being informed of the Nobel Prize in Literature for this
year: "Jua n Ramón Jiménez is a born poet, one of those who
are born one day with the same simplicity with which the sun's
rays shine, one who purely and simply has been born and has
given of himself, unconscious of his natural talents. We do
not know when such a poet is born. We know only that one day
we find him, we see him, we hear him, just as one day we see
a plant flower. We call this a miracle".
In the annals of the Nobel Prize,
Spanish literature has been one of the distant gardens. Very
rarely have we cast a glance inside. The 1956 laureate is the
last survivor of the famous "generation of 1898". For a generation
of poets on both sides of the ocean which separates, and at
the same time, unites the Hispanic countries, he has been a
master - the master, in effect. When the Swedish Academy renders
homage to Juan Ramón Jiménez, it renders homage also to an entire
epoch in the glorious Spanish literature.
| Juan Ramón Jiménez
Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958)
belonged to the group of writers who, in the wake of Spain's
loss of her colonies to the United States (1898), staged a literary
revival. The leader of this group of modernistas, as they called
themselves, Rubén Darío, helped Juan Ramón to publish Almas
de violeta (1900), his first volume of poetry.
The years between 1905 to 1912
Ramón Jiménez spent at his birthplace, Moguer, where he wrote
Elejías puras (1908), La soledad sonora (1911),
and Poemas mágicos y dolientes (1911). His early poetry
was influenced by German Romanticism and French Symbolism. It
is strongly visual and dominated by the colours yellow and green.
His later style, decisive, formally ascetic, and dominated by
white, emerges in the poetic prose of his delicate Platero
y yo (1914), and is fully developed in Diario de un poeta
recién casado (1917), written during a trip to the United
States, as well as in Eternidades (1918), Piedra y
cielo (1919), Poesía (1923), and Belleza (1923).
In the twenties, Ramón Jiménez
became the acknowledged master of the new generation of poets.
He was active as a critic as well as an editor of literary journals.
In 1930 he retired to Seville to devote himself to the revision
of his earlier work.
Six years later, as the result
of the Spanish Civil War, he left Spain for Puerto Rico and
Cuba. He remained in Cuba for three years and, in 1939, went
to the United States, which became his residence until 1951,
when he moved definitely to Puerto Rico.
During these years Juan Ramón
taught at various universities and published Españoles de
tres mundos (1942), a book of prose portraits, and several
collections of poems, among them Voces de mi copla (1945),
and Animal de fondo. The latter book, perhaps his best,
clearly reveals the religious preoccupations that filled the
last years of the poet's life. Ramón Jiménez died in Puerto
Rico in 1958.