previous post in this series, today I want to feature a tribute to Hernández penned by the Mexican writer Octavio Paz, Nobel Laureate for Literature (1990, see his bio at the Nobel Prize website). Octavio Paz first met Miguel Hernández in 1937 when visiting Spain to participate in the International Congress of Anti-Fascist Writers in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. This piece was written in November 1942, just a few months after Hernández had succumbed to tuberculosis in woeful conditions in a Spanish penitentiary, while serving out a 30 year prison term, which had been commuted from a death sentence. His 'crime' was none other than his active support for the democratically elected Spanish Republic against the military uprising led by Franco that brought on the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939.
It is titled Recoged esa Voz (Gather this Voice):
In a prison in the village of his birth, Orihuela, Miguel Hernández has died. He died alone, in a hostile Spain that has become enemy of the Spain where he lived out his youth, adversary of the Spain that rang with his generosity. Let others curse his torturers; let others analyze and study his poetry. I want to remember him.As noted by the translator, Ted Genoways, to understand Paz's statement above that "...I cannot say now how they were or what those verses said", it is important to know that Miguel Hernández's war poems had been banned in Spain and were largely unavailable.
I first encountered him singing songs of the Spanish people, in 1937. He spoke in a low voice, a bit untrained, a bit like an innocent animal: sounding like the countryside, like a deep echo repeating through the valleys, like a stone falling from a cliff. He had dark eyes, hazel and clear, not twisted or intellectual; his mouth, like his hands and his heart, was large and, like them, simple and fleshy, made of mud by pure and clumsy hands; of average height, sort of robust, he was agile, with agility born of the blood and the muscles, with the agile gravity of the earthly; one could see he was more akin to the somber colts and the melancholy bullocks than to his tormented intellectual companions; he kept his head almost shaved and wore corduroy pants and espadrilles; he looked like a soldier or a farmer. In the lobby of that hotel in Valencia, full of smoke, of vanity and, also, of rightful passion. Miguel Hernández sang with his deep voice and his singing was as if all the trees were singing. It was as if one tree, the tree of a nascent and millenary Spain, were beginning to sing its song anew. Not the poplar, not the olive tree, nor the oak, not the apple, nor the orange, but all of those together, fusing their saps, their smells and their leaves in this tree of flesh and voice. It is impossible to remember him in words; more than in memory, “in the flavor of time he is written”.
Later I heard him recite poems of love and war. Through verses —and I cannot say now how they were or what those verses said— as if through a curtain of luxurious light, one could hear a moaning or lowing, one could hear the death throes of a tender and powerful animal, a bull perhaps, dying in the afternoon, raising its eyes astonished toward the passive, ghost-like spectators. And now I don’t want to remember him anymore, now that I remember him so well. I know that we were friends; that we walked amid the ruins of Madrid and of Valencia, at night, near the sea, or the intricate side streets; I know that he liked to climb trees and eat watermelon, in taverns frequented by soldiers; I know that later I saw him in Paris and that his presence was like a ray of sunlight, a shock of wheat, in the black city. I remember everything, but I don’t want to remember … I don’t want to remember you, Miguel, great friend of so few days, miraculous and outside of time, days of passion, when I discovered you, as I discovered Spain, and I discovered a part of myself, a rough and tender root, that made me both larger and more ancient. Let others remember you. Let me forget you, because forgetting is pure and true, forgetting our good times gives us the strength to continue living in this world of compromises and reverences, of salutes and ceremonies, fetid and rotting. Let me forget you, so that in this forgetting your voice can continue to grow, stolen now from your body and in the memory of those of us who knew you, free and tall on the wind, unchained from time and from your misery.
Mexico, 1942 (translated by Ted Genoways)
|Octavia Paz & Elena Garro, Spain, 1937.|
wow. those are some stirring words...to be remembered so deeply...ReplyDelete
What a powerful tribute from Paz, Lorenzo. That he begins by wanting to remember him and ends by wanting to forget him, so that he can bear to go on ... speaks to the conflict and tortured turmoil Miguel's death stirred in Paz.ReplyDelete
I felt such sympatico as I read the words about how their relationship was 'outside of time' - 'unchained from time' ... So much that is valued in a life, when remembered, seems outside of time ... unsullied by a beginning and and end ... in the true sense of eternal.
I would love to hear what Hernandez means to YOU, dear Lorenzo.
This was a moving tribute by Octavio Paz. Forgive me for sounding pessimistic, but the words that most resonate with me — perhaps because they still seem relevant to certain current situations — are these: "Let me forget you, because forgetting is pure and true, forgetting our good times gives us the strength to continue living in this world of compromises and reverences, of salutes and ceremonies, fetid and rotting." Thanks for sharing this lovely tribute with us.ReplyDelete
Memory of Trees is the title of the book written by my friend Gayla about her family's Minnesota farm, I'm thinking of her and the book because we just reconnected last night. That phrase seems fitting for Paz's recollection of Hernández too, all the trees together, and their leaves that rustle and sing. After reading your posts, I think I'll always think of him scrambling up trees in a flash. Maybe that was his perspective taking, and maybe the trees whispered truth to him.ReplyDelete
Interesting stuff, thanks :)ReplyDelete
What a beautifully written tribute. So touching. I try to imagine the difficulties he endured--the older I get, the more fortunate I constantly realize I am. People live through amazing things. What a legacy he leaves behind him.ReplyDelete
Poetry, history, your posts are deep, Lorenzo, and so filling. Thank you for this post!ReplyDelete
I love Paz's description of Hernandez. Another excellent post, LLL. I'm enjoying this series.ReplyDelete
"And now I don't want to remember him anymore, now that I remember him so well." Such grief in that statement,the grief of a friend for someone with whom he shared a deep connection. And later amplified in the beautiful passage George quoted, the grief for the poet.ReplyDelete
Another poast to be savored and thought on. Thank you, Lorenzo.
I have so many thoughts when I read this, Lorenzo. First, I appreciate that you posted it. I am overwhelmed when I think of a very talented man whose last breath was painfully spent in prison. It is so wrong. I cannot truly understand that horror, because I am lucky to have freedom of speech. It is a precious gift—one that could be taken away.ReplyDelete
I also feel a deep sadness for Octavio Paz. His words are a beautiful tribute, but the sadness and loss are heartbreaking. The world lost a great poet, but he lost a dear friend. I love his description of Hernández:
“…he was agile, with agility born of the blood and the muscles, with the agile gravity of the earthly; one could see he was more akin to the somber colts and the melancholy bullocks than to his tormented intellectual companions; he kept his head almost shaved and wore corduroy pants and espadrilles; he looked like a soldier or a farmer.”
The good news is that Hernández lives on. His words remain, no matter what evil people tried to do. Thank you for sharing the gift.
paz' description of paris as a 'black city' leapt off the page, as did so many of his words. thank you for sharing this stunning tribute, and also for introducing elena garro.ReplyDelete
Thinking of all things gratitude of course,ReplyDelete
even though I am Canadian and we've had our harvest celebration.
Grateful for you, for this corner of intrigue and inspiration and beauty.
hope you are well,
We have so much to learn-- compassion and understanding - forgiveness, humility -- his works live on through your posting for his remembrance and others who continue to commemorate him. This read here causes me to ponder and reflect on my own existence for this man gave so much.
a sober reflection and a small glimpse into a man's soul.
A moving tribute by Paz, Lorenzo. I like the way Hernandez looks like an animal, a soldier or a farmer, rather than a poet or intellectual.ReplyDelete
Just dropping in again to say hello and thinking of you. I hope you are well. I will keep checking every week to see when you post. Your words are beautiful. Take care, my friend.ReplyDelete
A stirring tribute filled with passionate adoration. It's understandable how one may want to forget in hopes of numbing the pain.ReplyDelete