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Vicente Aleixandre (1898-1984)


Spanish poet, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1977. Vicente Aleixandre has been called an existentialist, a mystic pantheist, and a neoromantic. Although Aleixandre did not consider himself an orthodox surrealist, his poems contained surrealistic images and Freudian subconscious associations. Central motifs are erotic love, solitude, time, and death. From his mid-20s, Alexaindre suffered from kidney tuberculosis.

"The poet, the truly determinative poet, is always a revealer; he is, essentially, a seer, a prophet. But his "prophecy" is of course not a prophecy about the future; for it may have to do with the past: it is a prophecy without time. Illuminator, aimer of light, chastiser of mankind, the poet is the possessor of a Sesame which in a mysterious way is, so to speak, the word of his destiny." (from Nobel Lecture, 1977)

Vicente Aleixandre was born in Seville into a well-to-do family. He was the only son of Cirilo Aleixander Ballester, a civil engineer, and Elvira Merlo Garcia de Pruneda, the daughter of the district military superintendent; she died in 1934. Aleixandre grew up in Málaga, and later depicted its sunny landscape in his poems. After moving in 1909 with his parents and sister to Madrid, Aleixandre attended the Colegio Teresiano, from which he received his high school diploma in 1913. The following year he entered the University of Madrid, where he studied law. Upon graduation in 1920, he became an assistant professor at the School of Mercantile Management in Madrid. He then worked for the Andalusian Railways, and wrote poetry for his own pleasure.

In his late 20s, Aleixandre started to have serious problems with his health. He became semi-invalid in a few years and retired to his father's house in the countryside. There he evoted himself entirely to writing. "Solitude and meditation gave me an awareness, a perspective which I have never lost: that of solidarity with the rest of mankind." Withdrawn and in delicate health, Aleixandre wrote secretly until his first poems were published by friends in 1926 in the magazine Revista de Occidente. The next year Aleixandre settled in a small villa on the northern outskirts of Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life. Before turning to poetry, most of his reading  focused on history and  the nineteenth-century realists.

Aleixandre's early works, which appeared in 'little magazines' flourishing throughout Spain, were written under the influence of Darío, Antonio Machado, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. In 1928 he made his debut with Ámbito (Ambit), a crystalline collection of poems of nature and love. The poems are arranged in a series of sequences and explore a world in which real things disintegrate.

Around this time Alexaindre started to read the works of Sigmund Freud, whose influence is seen in the collection Pasión de la tierra (1935). Other writers the Generation of 1927 read and discussed  included James Joyce and the French surrealists.

La destrucción o el amor (1935) was about erotic love and death – it is considered Aleixandre's poetic masterpiece and one of the most intense works of all 20th-century Hispanic poetry. In these early collections the central vision was, in the author's words, "the amorous unity of the universe". A poem about a heroic Republican soldier, printed in 1936 in Rafael Alberti's El mono azul (The Blue Monkey), was later used as a proof of his disloyalty against Franco's  government.

In 1933 Aleixandre won the Premio Nacional de literatura. Like others of the Generación del 27 (Generation of 1927) in Spain (Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén), Aleixandre went through a surrealistic period in the 1930s. During the Spanish Civil War Aleixandre lived in the Republican zone. Tubercular nephritis kept him bedfast.  The family home was destroyed in bombings. Aleixandre's house was near the University of Madrid, on Calle Velingtonia. Lorca had visited the house, nicknamed "Casa de los poetas" (House of the Poets), on several occasions. Also Neruda was a regular caller. Most of the central figures of the Generation of 1927 left Spain, but Aleixandre stayed in Madrid due to the chronic kidney disease from which he had suffered from since his youth. Of his closest friends, only the poet and literary critic Dámaso Alonso remained in Spain. Lorca was murdered by fascist soldiers.

Never submitting to Franco's regime, and known for his political indepencence, Aleixandre's works were not printed for some time. After the ban was lifted, he published several collections of poems. Sombra del Paraíso (1944, Shadow of Paradise), which he had began already in 1939, anticipated many of the themes of his later works. In this collection pleasure and pain are mixed with nostalgia for paradise lost. "Yes, poet, love and grief are your kingdom. / Yours is mortal flesh that quickened by the spirit / blazes in the night or rises up at mighty noon, / immense prophetic tongue that licking at the sky / illumines words that bring death to men." (from 'The Poet') "Sí, poeta: el amor y el dolor son tu reino / Carne mortal la tuya, que, arrebatada por el espíritu, / arde en la noche o se eleva en el mediodía poderoso, / immensa lengua profética que lamiendo los cielos / ilumina palabras que dan muerte a los hombres."

Mundo a solas, written in the 1930s, was published in 1950. Historia del corazón (1954) focused on human solidarity. In En un vasto dominio (1962) Aleixandre connected the theme of death with a cosmic and historical framework. In the experimental Diálogos del conocimiento (1974) two people confront one another, one speaker always talks of hope and struggle, and the other of desolation and renunciation. Where is truth, Aleixandre asks. Can one reach it?

Aleixandre never married and never made public his own sexual orientation. According to the poet Luis Antonio de Villena and the journalist, novelist and  playwright Vicente Molina Foix, the issue was a delicate matter with him. ('Aleixandre, Vicente (1898-1984)' by Alberto Mira, in  Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day, edited by Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, 2001, pp. 7-8) He lived a fairly uneventful life but his house on Calle Velingtonia (now renamed Calle de Vicente Aleixandre) was the mecca for aspiring young writers. The house is noted for the ceder tree Alexaindre planted in the garden in 1927.

Over the years, Aleixandre emerged from his inner exile every now and then to speak against totalitarianism, repression, and censorship.  In 1949 he was elected to the Royal Academy of the Language, which secured his position as a writer of national stature. Nevertheless, he was nearly imprisoned by the regime when General Jorge Vigón, Minister of Agriculture, accused him of being a communist. Aleixandre received the Critics Prize in 1963, 1969, and 1975. Too weak to attend the Nobel ceremonies, Aleixandre was represented by his friend and younger colleague, the poet and translator Justo Jorge Padron (b. 1943). Aleixandre died of kidney failure in Madrid on December 14, in 1984.

For further reading: 'City of Paradise' by Eric Reinholtz, in Encyclopedia of World Poetry: 1900 to the Present by R. Victoria Arana (2013); Vicente Aleixandre's Stream of Lyric Consciousness by Daniel Murphy (2001); 'Vicente Aleixandre (Merlo) 1898-1984' by Michael P. Iarocci, in Encyclopedia of Literary Translation Into English: Volume I: A-L, edited by Olive Classe (2000); 'Aleixandre ,Vicente,' in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 1, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); 'Introduction' by Hugh A. Harter, in Shadow of Paradise by Vicente Aleixandre (1987); Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal by S. Daydi-Tolson (1981); Critical Views on Vicente Aleixandre by V. Cabrera and H. Boyer (1979); Vida y obra de Vicente Aleixandre by L. de Luis (1978); La Poesía de Vicente Aleixandre by C. Bousoño (1977); La parola poetica di Vicente Aleixandre by D. Puccini (1976); Cinco Poetas del Tiempo by J.O. Jiménez (1972); Vicente Aleixandre by K. Schwartz (1970); The Surrealist Mode in Spanish Literature by P. Ilie (1968)

Selected works:

  • Ámbito, 1928 [Ambit
  • Espadas como labios, 1932 [Swords Like Lips]
  • La destrucción o el amor, 1934
    - Destruction or Love: A Selection from La destrucción o el amor (translated by Robert G. Mowry, 2000)
  • Pasión de la tierra, 1935 [Passion of the Earth]
  • Poemas paradisiacos, 1942
  • Sombra del Paraíso, 1944
    - Shadow of Paradise (translated by Hugh A. Harter, 1987)
  • Mundo a solas, 1950
    - World Alone (translated by Lewis Hyde and David Unger, 1982)
  • Vida del poeta: el amor y la poesía, 1950
  • Nacimiento último, 1953
  • Historia del corazón, 1954 [History of the Heart]
  • Algunos caracteres de la nueva poesía española, 1955
  • Mis poemas mejores, 1956
  • Los encuentros, 1958
  • Poemas amorosos, 1960
  • Ciudad del Paraíso, 1960
  • Poesías completas, 1960
  • Antigua Casa Madrileña, 1961
  • Picasso, 1961 - Picasso (tr. 1969)
  • En un vasto dominio, 1962 [In a Vast Domain]
  • Retratos con nombre, 1965
  • Presencias / Poesía, 1965
  • Poemas de la consumación, 1968 [Poems of Consummation]
  • Obras completas, 1968
  • Poems, 1969
  • Poesía surrealista, 1970
  • Diálogos del conocimiento, 1973 [Dialogues of Insight]
  • The Cave of Night, 1976 (translated by Joeffrey Bartman; parallel texts)
  • Twenty Poems, 1977 (translated by Lewis Hyde and Robert Bly)
  • Obras completas, 1978 (2 vols.)
  • Poems / Poema, 1978 (bilingual ed.)
  • A Bird of Paper, 1979 (translated by Willis Barnstone, David Garrison)
  • A Longing for the Light: Selected Poems of Vicente Aleixandre, 1979 (edited by Lewis Hyde)
  • The Crackling Sun: Selected Poems, 1981 (translated by Louis Bourne)
  • Prosas recobradas, 1986 (edited by Alejandro Duque Amusco)
  • Nuevos poemas varios, 1987 (eds. Irma Emiliozzi and Alejandro Duque Amusco)
  • Pasión de la tierra, 1987 (edited by Gabriele Morelli)
  • Ámbito, 1990 (edited by Alejandro Duque Amusco)
  • En gran noche. Últimos poemas, 1991 (eds. Carlos Bousoño and Alejandro Duque Amusco)
  • Mire los muros, 1991
  • Mundo a solas, 1998 (edited by Alejandro Duque Amusco)
  • Correspondencia a la Generación del 27 (1928-1984) / Vicente Aleixandre, 2001 (edited by Irma Emiliozzi)
  • Poesías completas, 2001 (edited by Alejandro Duque)
  • Prosas completas, 2002 (edited by Alejandro Duque)
  • Málaga, 2002
  • Cartas de Vicente Aleixandre a José Antonio Muñoz Rojas, (1937-1984), 2005 (edited by Irma Emiliozzi)
  • Antología de la poesía oral traumática, cósmica y tanática de Vicente Aleixandre, 2005
  • Cartas a Jaime Siles (1969-1984) / Vicente Aleixandre, 2006 (edited by Irma Emiliozzi)
  • Nombre escondido: antología esencial, 1928-1984, 2009 (edited by Alejandro Duque Amusco)
  • Vicente Aleixandre: cartas a Albano Martins, 2012 (estudio y edición de Blas Sánchez Dueñas; notas de Albano Martins; traducción de Ana María da Costa Toscano)
  • Cartas de Vicente Aleixandre a Eduardo Moreiras, 2016 (Aurora López, Andrés Pociña, eds.)
  • Poesía completa, 2017 (edición de Alejandro Sanz)
  • La inteligencia a sus pies, 2017 (prólogo, selección y notas, Emili Piera)
  • Cartas italianas, 2018 (edición y prólogo de Giancarlo Depretis)
  • Visitar todos los cielos: cartas a Gregorio Prieto (1924-1981) / Vicente Aleixandre, 2020  (edición e introducción de Víctor Fernández)

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