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By Vincente Aleixandre
Translated from the Spanish
Edited by Lewis Hyde
New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1979
ISBN # 0-06-010059-1
281 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2013

Introduction XIII-XVIII (author not named)

The poems in this volume are presented in date order and the earlier poems, up into the 1940s are primarily within the influence of the surrealist movement. In Aleixandre’s case this especially meant:

Aleixandre’s early surrealism was less an affirmation of the surreal than a turning away from reality – what the introduction call “an odd escape.”

He wrote in secret until at the age of 27 he had an illness and spent 2 years in the mountains to recover. After than interlude in which he concentrated more on just his poetry, he wrote full-time.

He was never a political poet and stayed in Spain during the Civil War.

Corbett offers a few comments on the poems

The early poems, those from the period of his significant influence by surrealism were poems beyond my ability to make much sense of. I experienced them as very pessimistic and filled with private images that would seem to me no one but Aleixandre would know what they meant. I found the reading of them quite trying and I could only seldom make sense of most of the poems even though I gave considerable time and effort to try to “hear” what it was Aleixandre was saying.

In the early poems I found Aleixandre’s ability to take almost any topic and turn into something that points out the sad or destructive in nature to be utterly fascinating and so completely contrary to my own optimistic nature, that I was constantly both reading him and quarreling with him – “no wait, there is the beautiful in that too . . .” but he’d never listen. I love eagles and find them majestic, powerful, graceful and inspiring. But Aleixandre sees a different being:

“The moment’s coming when happiness will be a matter
of stripping the skin from human bodies,
when the gloating eye of the sky
will see the truth as nothing but blood turning in gyres.”

Aleixandre, in the earlier poems, seems to pick the darkest or saddest bits of nature, when seen from the human perspective, and compare them with our own lives and world. I think his reputation for a sort of pessimistic outlook is justified. However, one exception to this is his poem “What Happens to All Flesh.” Here is a poem which could well be read as pessimistic, yet in this particular case I don’t see his message as sad or negative, rather, as the way things are. He denies any form of individual afterlife and emphasizes the eternal “reuse” of basic materials, even of our bodies, to come to new uses when each of us gives up that material in death. Gloomy, perhaps, but I don’t see this poem as “pessimistic.”

His “City of Paradise: For Malaga, my city” is a peon to his own city of birth. It is touching, positive, an exultation. This is quite unusual since there has been so much pessimism in his writing to this point.

The section of the book called “Poems with White Light” (pp. 141 ff) seems to have marked a dramatic change in his poetry. Gone is the earlier pessimism with the obscure language and images. The early poems in this section are largely love poems which are white hot with passion and positivity, and a great deal of clarity of images and meaning.

My reading experience dramatically changed with these poems. Now he was writing poetry in an everyday language, but sensitive, revealing, gripping, passionate and powerful. I had arrived at an Aleixandre I could read, understand and appreciate.

After the early dark and pessimistic poems, it was a delight to read things like the opening lines of “In The Square”

“It’s beautiful, beautifully simple and sure, deeply exhilarating
to find yourself out in the sun in the crowd, lifted
and carried, caught up and pushed and pulled along in the noise.”

“Whom I Write For” is a magnificent poem. In essence he writes for those who don’t read him, but he writes to record and preserve them. Marvelous poem.

In the later poems there is a sense of the unity of all matter, human and other over time. All being is, in some sense, one being in its different and changing manifestations. This theme is repeated in poem after poem and well done at that!

My experience was like reading two very different poets in one book, the early Aleixandre and the latter. Obviously from my notes, I connected with the latter Aleixandre and was simply lost and mystified by the earlier Aleixandre. I’m not blaming Aleixandre for that, just reporting my own experience in reading him. I know my own limits, but also loved to be stretched when I can possibly take the bait. There was no such need with the second half of the book, the later poems. They were in the heart of the sort of poetry that delights me so.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett