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.