Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday's poems: Miguel Hernandez

"Here I have a voice impassioned,
here I have a life
embattled and angered,
here I have a rumor,
but here I have a life"

Miguel Fernandez
Gather This Voice/Take up this Cry

"Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends. Let me take my leave of the sun and fields"
The last words of Miguel Hernandez scribbled on the prison hospital walls just before he died in 1942.
Miguel Hernandez (1910-1942) was a 20th Century Spanish poet, playwright and political activist. Hernandez is one of the finest poets of the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)and is now recognized as one of the great Spanish poets.

During the Spanish Civil War Hernandez  campaigned against the fascist forces led by General Franco. He enrolled in the Fifth Regiment, part of the Republican forces fighting Franco and the Nationalists and joined the First Calvary Company as a cultural-affairs officer, reading his poetry daily on the radio. He traveled extensively organizing cultural events and reading his poetry at rallies and on the front lines to Republican forces  fighting the fascists. 

After the victory of Franco's fascists Hernandez and his family suffered terribly.  He was arrested and imprisoned many times and eventually sentenced to death for his  anti-fascist political activities and his poetry. The death sentence was commuted to 30 years  imprisonment. The years of struggle and hardship and the harshness of his incarceration took its toll and he died in 1942 of tuberculosis.

Much of Hernandez's poetry was written during the destruction and terror of the Spanish Civil War. His poetry is a direct result of the brutality of the conflict and subsequent savage reprisals and executions. He produced an immense amount of poetry during his imprisonment. 

Hernandez's poetry and his example of committed political struggle against the forces of tyranny and injustice had immense influence on other poets, particularly the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who was in Spain at the time and was a friend and colleague of Hernandez.

His family continue to fight for justice and to clear his name. In 2010 they filed a law suit in the Spanish Supreme Cort seeking annulment of the guilty verdicts against him. 

You can read more about Fernandez here, here, here 

English translations of his poems are here, here and here
From Lullabies of the Onion (written from inside prison to his infant son)
 Lark of my house,
keep laughing.
The laughter in your eyes
is the light of the world.
Laugh so much
that my soul, hearing you,
will beat in space.

Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips   
I wrote in the sand

I wrote in the sand

the three names of life:

life, death, love.

A wave from the sea,

so many times lapping gently back and forth,

gusted in and rubbed us out.

Eternal darkness
I who believed that the light was mine
now find myself thrown into darkness.
Ember of the sun, starry, fiery
joy of foam, of light, of desire.

Blood, light, rounded, mature:
swift yearning, with neither shape nor shadow.
Outside, light is buried in light.
I feel darkness alone shines on me.

Darkness alone. With no star. With no sky.
Beings. Bulks. Tangible bodies
within the flightless breeze,
within the tree of impossibilities.

Purple frowns, mourning passions.
Teeth thirsty to be red.
Darkness of absolute bitterness.
Bodies like blinded wells.

There is not enough space. Laughter has collapsed.
It is no longer possible to reach upwards.
The heart strains impatiently
to broaden the narrow blackness.

Flesh without direction which goes in waves
towards the sinister, vacant night.
Who is the ray of sunlight that can break in?
I search. I find no sign of day.

Only the glow of clenched fists,
the gleam of teeth lying in wait.
Teeth and fists from all sides.
Mountains close together, as if shaking hands.

Opaque is the struggle with no thirst for tomorrow.
Muffled heartbeats, so far away!
I am a prison with a window
over a great, roaring solitude.

I am an open window, listening,
trying to see life through the gloom.
But there is a ray of sunlight in the struggle
which always conquers darkness.

Winds of the people carry me along
Winds of the people carry me along,
winds of the people pull me along,
they sprinkle my heart about
and bring air to my throat.

Oxen bow down their brows,
impotent and meek,
when punished:
lions raise theirs
and at the same time they inflict punishment
with their clamorous claws.

I am not from a people of oxen,
I am from a people who embody
ancient settlements of lions,
high passes of eagles
and mountain ranges of bulls
bearing pride as their flag.
Oxen never prospered
on the barren plains of Spain.

Who said they would throw a yoke
round the neck of this race?
Who has ever yoked or hobbled
a hurricane,
or who has held lightning
prisoner in a cage?

Asturians of bravery,
Basques of reinforced stone,
Valencians of joy
and Castilians of soul,
worked like the earth
and with the grace of wings;
Andalusians of lightning
born amongst guitars
and forged on the
torrential anvils of tears;
Extremadurans of rye,
Galicians of rain and calm,
Catalans of firmness,
Aragonese of age-old caste,
Murcians of dynamite
planted like fruit trees,
Leonese, Navarrans, masters
of hunger, sweat and the axe,
kings of the mines,
lords of labour,
men who, amongst the roots,
like valiant roots yourselves,
go from life to death,
from nothing to nothing:
there are people who, like weeds,
want to put a yoke on you,
a yoke which you must leave
broken across their backs.

Twilight of the oxen
dawn is breaking.

Oxen die clothed
in humility and the smell of the stable:
eagles, lions
and bulls die clothed in pride,
and behind them, the sky
neither clouds over nor comes to an end.
The death-agony of oxen
has a small face,
that of the male animal
enlarges all of creation.

If I die, may I die
with my head held high.
Dead and twenty times dead,
my mouth against the wild grass,
I will have my teeth clenched
and my jaw resolute.

Singing I await death,
for there are nightingales that sing
above the guns
and in the midst of battles.

No comments: