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|Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958)|
Spanish poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956. Jiménez made his birthplace, Moguer in Southern Spain, famous by his series of prose poems of a young writer and his donkey, Platero y yo (1914, Platero and I: an Andalusian Elegy), one of the classics of modern Spanish literature. Jiménez's early work was ornamental, romantic, and often filled with dreams of love. During his second period, from 1917, he wrote "naked" poetry, in which the images were reduced to their essence. A central theme was the oneness and beauty of the world. Although in his time Jiménez exerted a wide influence on Spanish poets, his literary status has not endured to the same degree as that of Federico García Lorca.
"Platero, if you were to come to the kindergarten with the rest of the children, you'd learn the alphabet and you'd draw pothooks.You'd know as much as the donkey in the waxworks—the friend of the mermaid, the one wreathed with cloth flowers seen through the glass that shows her, all pink, flesh-color, and gold, in her green element—and you'd know more that the doctor and the priest in Palos, Platero." (in Platero and I, translated by Stanley Appelbaum)
Juan Ramón Jiménez was born in Moguer, the son of Victor Jiménez y Jiménez, a prosperous wine dealer, and Purificación Mantecón y Lopez Parejo. Jiménez began to write early, producing his first poems at the age of seven. He attended a Jesuit Academy in Cádiz (1891-96), and then studied law at the University of Seville, showing there an interest in painting. However, Jiménez soon abandoned his studies, and also stopped painting, to devote himself entirely to literature.
Jiménez's first two books drew from the fin de siècle decadence. In 1900 he was invited to Madrid by the poets Francisco Villaespesa (1877-1935) and Rubén Darío (1867-1916), who had seen his verses in Vida nueva, a Madrid review. Darío, a Nicaraguan who lived long period of his life in Spain, had a deep influence on Jiménez's work. He became a member of the modernist literary circles and founded two literary reviews, Helios (1902) and Renacimiento (1906). Helios appeared for only one year, but it has much cultural-historical importance due to Jiménez's work.
When Jiménez's father died in 1900, he fell into a depression and returned to Moguer. By 1914, the family had lost most of their property. Jiménez's preoccupation with death lasted the rest of his life. Poetry, the experience of beauty, became for him a means of struggling against nothingness. To recover from his first bout of mental illness, Jiménez was sent to a sanatorium in France. For a period he lived in the Madrid home of his principal doctor. Between the ages 24 and 31 he published nine volumes of poetry. Later he also revised early verses, trying to find perfection of expression, but knowing he would never reach it. Among the early collections were Almas de violeta (Violet Souls), Ninfeas (Water Lilies), both from 1900, Rimas (1902), Arias tristes (1903, Sad Airs), Jardines lejanos (1904, Distant Gardens), and Pastorales (1905). These works reveal the poet's mastery of metaphor and skill in capturing impressionistic images of nature. Impressionism also fascinated him in painting and he often listened Beethoven's VIth symphony and piano sonatas.
From 1905 to 1911 Jiménez lived in Moguer and wrote several collections of poetry. In Elejías puras (1908) and Baladas de primavera (1910) Jiménez continued to experiment with different meters. He moved to Madrid in 1912, translated with Zenobia Camprubí Aymar, a Puerto Rican educated in America and Spain, the work of the Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore. Zenobia and Jiménez also admired greatly Robert Frost's verse.
Platero and I,
a pastoral prose poem, dates from this period. The 1917 edition of the
book bore the subtitle "Elegía andaluza" (Andalusia Elegy). Platero
follows the narrator on his trips to town and to countryside, its
silent company is a contrast to his impessionistic thoughts. Its name
("silvery") refers to its color. The donkey is "small, thick-coated,
soft; so spongy on the outside you'd say he was all of cotton,
boneless. Only the jet mirrors of his eyes are hard as two
black-crystal scarabs." After Platero's death he visits its grave and
asks, "do you still remember me?" Full of hidden meanings and
symbolism, the censors of the Franco regiment decided to play it safe
and cancelled a film version of the book in the mid-1950s. Jean Giono's
script based on the story from 1959 was never produced, but in the
1960s the Spanish director Alfredo Castellón finally managed to adapt
the book into a movie.
In 1916, Jiménez sailed in pursuit of Zanobia Camprubi to New York, and married her. On the honeymoon Zenobia read her husband translations of American poets. This was the first crucial sea voyage in his life – the second happened in 1948. The sea, which led his thoughts to nothingness, led to publication of Diario de un poeta recién casado (1917), which the author himself considered his finest work. With Zanobia, he lived in Madrid until 1936. Many verses from this period sound almost like prose. Eternidades meant a new direction in Jiménez's literary production. He decided to return to the simplicity of his earlier poetry. In Belleza (1923) he contemplated the writer's relationship to beauty.
Jiménez worked from the 1910s for the next twenty years as a
critic and editor at various literary journals. Juan Guerrero Ruiz
(1893-1955) became his lifelong friend and worked as the secretary of
Jiménez's magazine Indice, in which many of the writers of
the Generation of 1927 made their appearance. His influence was seen on
the early works of Vicente Aleixandre, and on other members of the
Generation of 1927; in the 1920s Jiménez also met in Madrid the young
García Lorca, who studied law at the
university. However, his contacts with the new generation of
writers deteriorated rapidly as he became increasingly dissatisfied
with their work and his preoccupation with his own "obra" started to
In the early and mid-thirties, Jiménez's unique position as a kind of supreme literary judge came into public debate. From 1923 to 1936 he did not publish any books of new poetry and broke with many of his loyal friends and protégés, among them Rafael Alberti (1902–99). After Pablo Neruda became a center of attention and the first edition of his Residencia en la tierra (1933) gained a huge success, Jiménez expressed his critical views on Neruda's poetry (Perfume and Poison: A Study of the Relationship between José Bergamín and Juan Ramón Jiménez by Nigel Dennis, 1985, p. 77). To keep his solitude, he would say to people who phoned him, "Juan Ramón is not at home today." When Buñuel, Dalí, and Lorca visited him in Madrid, he said that he saw in them the trio of the future. Afterwards they thanked Jiménez by calling him a son of a bitch in a letter and dragging his whole work through the mud, including Platero y yo.
After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Republican
government appointed Jiménez honorary cultural attaché to the United
States. From 1939, when Franco's forces won control of Spain, he
remained abroad. For a period in the late 1930s, Jiménez had a
residency in Cuba. In his introduction for La poesía
cubana en 1936, he pointed out the influence of Walt Whitman,
Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Frost, and Carl
Sandburg on Cuban poets. At that time Jiménez regarded Frost and
E.A. Robinson as America's most important poets. Moreover, in his
Moguer library Jiménez had copies of two of Masters's
collections of poetry: The Great Valley from 1916 and Toward
the Gulf from 1918. He was also familiar with Spoon River
Between January 1939 and October 1942, Jiménez lived in Coral Gables, Florida, and moved then to the Washington are. Eventually, in 1951, he settled with his wife in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he lectured and gave classes at the university in Río Piedras. However, Jiménez never considered himself a writer in exile, but a servant of poetry. In 1956, three days before his wife died of ovarian cancer, Jiménez won the Nobel Prize. He never recovered and died in San Juan on May 29, 1958.
Jiménez's poetic output was immense; he considered his whole oeuvre to be one huge unfinished poem, which he tirelessly rewrote. In Tercera antología poética (1957), his poetic summa, he collected 720 poems from all periods. Jiménez's other works include Sonetos espirituales 1914-1915 (1916), Piedra y cielo (1919), Poesía en verso 1917-1923 (1923), Poesía en prosa y verso (1932), Voces de mi copla (1945), Animal de fondo (1947). La estación total (1946), which appeared in Buenos Aires, was ignored in Spain. Jiménez's last book was Dios deseando y deseante (1949, God Desired and Desiring), a testament and identification with all that is beautiful and creative in nature. As a Platonist, Jiménez believed in a universal consciousness that existed apart from individual consciousness. Colors and music were central to his work. In one poem Jiménez compared music to a "naked woman, running wildly in a clear night."
For further reading: A Study Guide for Juan Ramon Jimenez's "Platero and I," project editor: Sara Constantakis (2016); 'Jiménez, Juan Ramón (1881-1958)' by Eric Reinholtz, in The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry: 1900 to the Present, ed. by R. Victoria Arana (2008); Juan Ramón Jiménez en su obra by Enrique Díez-Canedo (2007); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 2, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Self and Image in Juan Ramón Jiménez by J.C. Wilcox (1986); Perfume and Poison: A Study of the Relationship between José Bergamín and Juan Ramón Jiménez by Nigel Dennis (1985); Word and Work in the Poetry of Juan Ramón Jiménez by M. Coke-Enguidanos (1982); Vida y obra de Juan Ramón Jiménez by G. Palau de Nemes (1974, 2 vols.); Juan Ramón Jiménez by H.T. Young (1967); Circle of Time by P. Olson (1967); La obra en prosa de Juan Ramón Jiménez by M.P. Predmore (1966); Estudios sobre Juan Ramón Jiménez by R. Gullón (1969); La segunda época de Juan Ramón Jiménez by A. Sánchez-Barbudo (1962); The Selected Writings of Juan Ramón Jiménez by H.R. Hays (1957)