Sunday, November 7

A salt-wizened truth between blue and singing

This is part of a series of posts commemorating Spanish poet Miguel Hernández on the occasion of his centenary (30 October 2010). For more background and previous posts on the man of whom his friend Pablo Neruda proclaimed "his was the face of Spain", click on the sketch of him by Benjamín Palencia on the sidebar to the right.

Prison portrait of Miguel Hernández
by Antonio Buero Vallejo
 The portrait to the left is probably the 'classic' image of the man known in his lifetime as the goatherd poet, the poet of the people, the poet of the revolution. It was drawn while he was in prison, by one of his cellmates, the playwright Antonio Buero Vallejo, who, like Miguel, was sentenced to death for his support for the Spanish Republic before and during the Civil War. Unlike Miguel Hernández, Buero Vallejo did manage to make it out of prison alive, after spending six years behind bars. It is signed and dated (January 25, 1940). Click here for more on Buero Vallejo.

In 1933, Miguel Hernández wrote a short piece entitled Mi concepto del poema ('My Idea of a Poem').

What is a poem? A beautiful affected lie. An insinuated truth. Only by insinuating it will a truth not appear a lie. A truth as precious and hidden as anything from a mine. One needs to be a miner of poems to see in its Ethiopias of darkness its Indias of light. A salt-wizened truth situated between blue and singing. Who sees that the sea in truth is white? Nobody. Nevertheless it exists, it flutters, it alludes in its sculpted spume to the color of the crescent moon. The clear sea — would it be as beautiful as its secret if it were suddenly clarified? Its greater beauty lies in its secrecy. The poem cannot present itself to us as either Venus or naked. Naked poems have only the anatomy of poems. And who could make something more horrible than a bare skeleton? Guard, poets, the secret of the poem: a sphinx. Let them learn to tear it away like bark from a tree. Oh, like the orange: what a delicious secret under its planetary circumference! Except in the case of prophetic poetry for which clarity is essential [...] guard yourselves, poets, against fruits without skins, seas without salt. The poem has to work as with the Holy Sacrament .... When will the poet come with a poem in his fingers, like a priest with the host, saying "Here is GOD" and we will believe it? (translated by Ted Genoways)


  1. ha. i like the excerpt...guard the secret...well somedays it hides from me...and others i am lucky to stumble upon it....and i was thinking salt as well today...smiles.

  2. The overall effect of that Idea of a Poem is something to post on the wall above my desk as a reminder before writing. But each individual sentence packs such suggestiveness that I want to pause after each and begin a tangential comment. Could you provide that please, a comment capability for each of his thoughts in that paragraph, like one of those flow charts?

    He really says it, how it's about showing, not telling, and letting what is hidden unveil itself. Keeping the skins on and the salt in. Onward, ho!

    I really can't tell you how grateful I am that you're offering these golden posts about Hernández, for I feel that by getting to know him here, I'm getting to know Spain.

  3. Hernandez has brilliantly captured the essence of what a poem should be ... something akin to romance, don't you think? It is so often what is left unsaid, what is left to the imagination that tempts, captivates, entrances and mesmerizes.

    It is also a demonstration of respect for the reader's imagination, that will be more enthralled if there is space left ( by the secret, the mystery) for him/her to weave in their own connection to the situation or feeling as they decipher the poet's intent.

    Like dear Ruth, I think I shall copy and print this quote to be able to refer to it frequently. Thank you Lorenzo.

  4. A very interesting quote from Miguel. The opening lines remind me of something said by Picasso about great art being a lie that reveals the truth. It's ironic, isn't it? People who can't deal with the truth directly can often come to terms with it through the medium of art, whether the art be painting, poetry, film, or something else.

  5. I too will have to copy this quote, for I have read it now three times. Like all fine things in life it takes a while for the senses to fully embrace the beauty, but once it does, the fake the false or anything less then would never do, once you experience the real.


  6. It is a privilege to be able to offer these poems, writing and fragments of the life of Miguel Hernández to my blog readers and friends. Ruth's idea of posting this particular piece on the wall strikes me as especially moving when I recall that he wrote some of his best known poems in jail. To make it past the censors, some were recited to cell mates who transcribed the poems and smuggled them out. Others he wrote on the walls of his cell. It seems fitting that poets today will post on their walls guidance on the essence of poems written by a jailed man who wrote his verses on prison walls.

    I think your point, Bonnie, on respecting the readers by saying less, to actively engage their imagination and thus communicate more, is very well put.

  7. This is my idea of a poem, as well. I adore the notion of the reader peeling a poem like an orange. A poem should contain a secret deep inside, to be unclothed. I love this.

    This image of Hernandez is particularly compelling.

  8. The quote is brilliant, it elucidates so many truths I feel when I write, that poetry is truth, veiled truth, but so many other things, layers of thoughts, some secrets, some not, and Hernandez sums it up perfectly. Gracias, Lorenzo.

  9. I am not a poet by any means, but these words can be applied to any art, including the art of raising children. I love the idea of an insinuated truth, like a Socratic dialogue.

    I love the phrase you chose for the post title:
    "A salt-wizened truth situated between blue and singing."

  10. ohhhh

    this is so evocative.

    these words:

    guard yourselves, poets, against fruits without skins, seas without salt

    will stay with me.

    thank you for this

  11. I am so new to poetry. Or at least the ones with "skins" or "salt". For far to long I have avoided poetry because it makes one think, to dissect it. I had a perfect example today at Willow's blog. I think I was one of the first people to read it, but I came back later in the day to read other people's comments in order to understand it. As I read poetry, good poetry maybe I will get better at interpreting. But something else I understand, poetry is easier the more one knows of history, literature, and such. I guess I need to immerse myself in a lot of reading and learning.

  12. In response to Margaret's good, honest comment, she has caught a couple of important things: Good poems get better the more we read them, and reading good poems, a lot, helps us understand better and also to write better.

    Again, Lorenzo, I want to say that I'm grateful for your poetic (think of that descriptively, as well as the poem-writing kind) presence in blogland, because of the beauty here, and also the poem-writing engines you helped rekindle up in me, and keep rekindling with posts like this.

  13. the power of words to ignite something , to illuminate, to twist and turn me.
    thank you for providing these today.
    I will copy them . And peel and peel and inhale and never wish to quench my thirst.

    Sometimes I feel so completely out of my league ... sometimes I feel so completely as one. and for those moments... I am forever grateful.

  14. Inhaling deeply. Oh, yeah! Lorenzo, this is wonderful. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. The history, the man, the poetry. I love "Mi concepto del poema!" It is so brilliant...and so true.

    I also love Ruth's first comment. I feel that same gratitude every time I come here and read. In teaching us about Hernández, you also teach us about Spain. It is beautiful. Thank you very much!

  15. Copied, pasted, printed, posted. It calls up both a couple of lines of Neruda's that stuck ("for love goes into the making of a poem/as flour goes into the making of bread") and the words of a teacher who said that the art of fiction was to "make the lie believable."
    Odd what sticks in the mind.
    Profound, what you have given us. Yes, I learn more about Spain, and about art (visual, spoken, tuned, written) from you every day. Please keep teaching. Thank you.

  16. I mean posted on my wall. Nowhere else.


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