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Cernuda and the poetic imagination: "Primeras poesías" as metaphysical poetry

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CERNUDA AND THE POETIC IMAGINATION:
PRIMERAS POESÍAS AS METAPHYSICAL POETRY
Brian Hughes
Universidad de Alicante
Since Cernuda first published his collected works, in 1936, under the
overall title La realidad y el
deseo,
there has been a persistent critical
tendency to limit the range of study of the poetry to certain well-defined
thematic áreas within a broadly Romantic framework. Nevertheless,
certain aspects of the poetry, for example its artistic self-consciousness,
its metaphysical (and not merely 'contemplative') nature, and the accu-
racy
as distinct from the delicacy of its expression would perhaps
be more evident and more admired if the two terms 'realidad' and
'deseo' were taken more strictly in the context in which Cernuda first
publicly discussed them. Let us examine what he wrote:
El instinto poético se despertó en mí gracias a la percepcións
aguda de la realidad, experimentando, con un ecos hondo, la her-
mosura y atracción del mundo circundante [...]. Y lo que hacíans
agónico aquel deseo era el reconocimiento tácito de su imposible satis-
facción [...]. El deseo me llevaba hacia la realidad que se ofrecía ante
mis ojos como si sólo con su posesión pudiera alcanzar certeza de mi
317
propia vida. Mas como esa posesión jamás la he alcanzado sino de mo-
do precario, de ahí la corriente contraria, de hostilidad ante el irónico
atractivo de la realidad [...] concluyo que la realidad exterior es un espe-
jismo y lo único cierto mi propio deseo de poseerla. Así, pues, la esencia
del problema poético, a mi entender, la constituye el conflicto entre rea-
lidad y deseo, entre apariencia y verdad, permitiéndonos alcanzar
algu-
na vislumbre de la imagen completa del mundo que ignoramos, de la
'idea divina del mundo que yace al fondo de la apariencia' según la frase
de Fichte d).
Leaving aside the question of the exact nature of Cernuda's 'visión',
of his seeing things as if for the first time, which he never satisfactorily
explained,
I would like to draw attention to two main features of this
statement. In the first place, Cernuda is primarily, if not exclusively,
concerned with the urge to find poetic expression for his mental or psy-
chic experiences, or rather these experiences manifest themselves as a
desire to express the world poetically. His statement is not offered as a
philosophic analysis of perception; indeed, as such an analysis, it would
be superficial and vulgar in the extreme, a little as if Jorge Guillen were
to append, as an explanatory footnote of his famous 'El mundo está
bien/Hecho', a list of those modern conveniences he finds to his taste.
No,
Cernuda's remarks have an aesthetic purpose, and constitute as
coherent a description as he can give of the awakening and continuing
working in him of the creative faculty. As such, they are comparable in
intention to Coleridge's analysis of the Esemplastic Imagination, rather
than to Unamuno's description of the bipartite división of the universe
into a species of Immanent
Will,
on the one hand, and individual
stri-
vin'g,
on the other.
Secondly, I detect in the expression «el conflicto entre realidad y de-
seo,
entre apariencia y verdad» an ¡mperfect parallelism, the result of
rhetoric triumphing over analysis, so that the incautious reader is invited
to equate 'realidad' with 'apariencia' and 'deseo' with 'verdad'. But, as
is evident from the overall context, this is not quite what Cernuda
means, for there is a
third,
unnamed but obviously critical faculty
(Coleridge's Imagination? Keats's Fancy?) which leads him to the
'reconocimiento tácito' of the impossibility of satisfying desire. As a re-
sult of the operation of this faculty there arises the principie of irony,
which both irreconcilably separates desire from reality and divides re-
di Luis Cernuda,
Palabras
antes de una lectura; in
Prosa
Completa,
Barral Barcelona
1975,
p. 872.
318
ality ¡tself ¡nto two warring factions (or perhaps merely reveáis the two
faces of reality): the reality which ¡s 'hermosura', and the reality which ¡s
mere fictitious appearance.
Putting these two ¡deas together, we may say that the conflict be-
tween reality and desire provides the possibility of poetic expression,
whilst the related conflict between reality and appearance is the outcome
of specific observation and the cause of such expression. In Cernu-
da's own words, «dicho conflicto entre apariencia y verdad, que el po-
eta pretende resolver en su obra» (2).
There is, however, a marked tendency to see in the title, and henee in
the poetry itself, merely a modern form of Platonism, or alternatively to
continué Cernuda's series of polar opposites in directions he probably
never ¡ntended (e.g. Silver's (3) prelapsian/post-lapsian; Aguirre's
conscious/unconscious, etc.). Besides, the context in which Cernuda's
remarks appear ¡na discussion of the creative urge and the poetic
process itself is too often overlooked or insufficiently stressed. There
is,
thirdly, the point that those poems dealing with the dichotomy (by
no means all of them do) suggest that reality, far from being the poet's
enemy, produces, in its altérnate dimensions of mirage and divine idea,
the tensions that the poet exploits to créate the poignaney and the para-
doxical beauty of the 'imagen completa del mundo'.
A passage from poem Vil of Donde habite el olvido, which is often
quoted to demónstrate the reality v. desire opposition in its reduced re-
ality v. appearance versión, will do equally well for my purpose:
Cuando la muerte quiera
Una verdad quitar de entre mis manos,
Las hallará vacías, como en la adolescencia
Ardientes de deseo, tendidas hacia el aire.
Certainly these lines describe the inimical forces of reality in eternal
recession from the vainly grasping hands of the poet, and the image of
the hands stretching out imploringly but encountering only air unques-
tíonably contributes towards this interpretation. Ñor can we fail to
noti-
(2)
¡bid.,
p. 873.
(3) See P. Silver, 'Et in Arcadia Ego': A Study of the Poetry of Luis
Cernuda,
passim;
and J.M. Aguirre,
'Primeras poesías
de Luis Cernuda', in Luis Cernuda (El Escritor y la
Crítica), Taurus, Madrid, 1977 (ed. Harris).
319
ce the stress laid on the continued thwarting of desire ¡n the past
('adolescencia'), present ('ardientes') and future ('muerte'). But we
must notice too that the ardour with which the hands crave satisfaction
is undiminished by frustation, and that 'verdad' is associated not with
desire but with the emptiness of the hands: the truth is not something
sepárate from the gesture of the hands, but rather the gesture itself, or
better
still,
the image ¡n the poem is the truth.
Thus,
in addition to expressing bitterness at the frustration of desire,
these lines find their place in the 'Death, where is thy sting?' tradition, in
which death is upbraided, but also exulted over. The poet's victory over
death is symbolised, paradoxically, by the very absence of any tangible
possession of which death might rob him, so that the poem is an affir-
mation of the eternity of what Wordsworth called 'man's uncon-
querable mind'. Moreover, the poem itself and this a theme which
Cernuda was to develop more fully later, almost certainly having learned
many of its possibilities in Shakespeare's sonnets is a living instance
of the higher truth resulting from the tensions between the opposing.
forces in the universe and their reflections in the poet's mind.
Salinas (4), in his comentary on this poem, offers the standard ¡n-
terpretation of desire frustated by reality, and, misquoting 'recientes'
for 'ardientes', he discusses the 'profunda significación poética' of the
image.
From this distorsión, he develops the idea that the only mean-
ingful thing that exists is 'el desear anhelante, aunque no pueda apresar
nunca una verdad'. This misunderstanding is significant, since Salinas
clearly sees only one dimensión of the 'realidad/deseo' opposition, and
by confusing the crucial 'ardientes' with the comparatively neutral
'recientes' (which he may have remembered from 'Va la brisa reciente')
he fails to see the ambivalence of 'verdad'.
The coincidence in Cernuda's lines of death, desire and ardour awa-
ken,
for me, an echo of Quevedo's 'Cerrar podrá mis ojos...' (Quevedo,
in one form or another, is often to be sensed hovering in the back-
ground of Cernuda's poetry). Apart from these coincidences of detail,
both poems present the same affirmation of the power of desire over
death (Quevedo's 'venas' and 'medula' are unplatonically preserved
with his 'alma' in 'Serán cenizas tendrán sentido') and generally, the
same passionate sense of the meanness of death, which cannot affect
(4) Pedro Salinas, Luis
Cernuda,
poeta, in Literatura
española
Siglo XX, Alianza Edito-
rial,
Madrid,
1979, pp. 215-6.
320
the love of the one or the unrepentant desire of the other. There ¡s aiso
in both an undramatic acceptance of the ¡nevitability of death ('Cerrar
podrá'; 'las hallará') which is, however, the reverse of quietist, since
both poems gain ¡n ¡ntensity thanks to the greatly increased importance
of what of life ¡s affirmed against the beggarly depradations of death.
This attitude towards reality and death ¡s the ultímate reality ¡n the
second,
¡ronic sense is constant in Cernuda's poetry, but we cannot
overstress the importance of the división of reality into two áreas, only
one of which is hostile. As F. Charry Lara (5) explains:
la insatisfacción del deseo conduce asimismo aun sentimiento
de lucha contra lo
real.
Se comprende la razón por la que sea
tam-
bién,
esencialmente, una poesía de soledad.
This struggle is carried on by desire against those áreas of reality that
are recalcitrant to it, or are themselves ugly, distorted or otherwise des-
picable in a word, undesirable. For, clearly, the relationship obtaining
between the two great principies must be, in the first place, a comple-
mentary one; and it is only later that the
third,
critical principie (which,
as I have suggested, might be regarded as the poetic imagination) inter-
venes, and selectively apportions to opposite corners of Cernuda's po-
etic universe those aspects of reality which are objects, respectively, of
desire and revulsión.
In consequence one cannot accept the assertions of Harris (6) and Sil-
ver (7) that Cernuda's 'characteristic reaction in the face of difficulties' is
one of evasión. In the first place, one can hardly be said to be 'evading'
what one simply rejects. Secondly, to reply to Harris's objection to po-
em VIII of Primeras poesías (8), is ¡t relevant to speak of 'evasión' when
the poem itself is a revelation of an attitude (in this case 'la fuga hacia
dentro')? And would it not be preferable to state that the poem affirms,
rather than betrays, the attitude? Thirdly, why seems it so particular in
him? Such strategies are virtually the hallmark of Romantic poets
think, e.g., of Baudelaire's 'Anywhere out of this world' or Keats's 'how
crude and sore/The journey homeward to habitual self. We are surely
(5) F. Charry Lara 'Luis Cernuda', ¡n Luis Cernuda (Taurus), p. 60.
(6) D. Harris, Luis
Cernuda:
A Study ofthe
Poetry,
Támesis Books, London, 1973, pas-
sim.
(7) Silver, op. cit., p. 131.
(8) Harris, op. cit., p. 28.
321
not to condemn them all for unmanliness, ¡ndolence, escapism or over-
sensitivity. The 'flight ¡nwards' not only enables the subject to hold
tigh-
tly on to the one thing that seems secure, tangible, even noble, ¡n a f luc-
tuating,
lunatic or discredited world, but also provides the necessary
aesthetic distance from actuality which the poem ¡s designed to bridge.
The
-
metaphysical side of the question ¡s surely deeper than such
purely psychological criticism allows; moreover, such criticism unne-
cessarily restricts the scope of the thought, ¡n Primeras poesías particu-
larly, by assuming without sufficient warrant that they are mere adoles-
cent outpourings, with all the limitations that ¡mplies. They are rather
philosophic poems with an adolescent protagonist (9), and there is occa-
sionally a gap, one of irony, between the language, which allows us to
read beyond itself, and the adolescent's ability to comprehend it the
same gap that lies between the two Cernudas, poet and protagonist, if
indeed it is his own experience he has in mind.
José Bergamín (10) describes Perfil del aire as an 'ingenuo, espontá-
neo,
sencillo y coherente pensar poético...'. Let us examine the ope-
ning stanza of poem 1, bearing this remark in mind:
Va la brisa reciente
Por el espacio esbelta
Y entre las hojas cantando
Abre una primavera.
This first stanza consists of a cluster of images forming a complete
métaphor of considerable complexity. The breeze stirs the leaves; the
rustle is a kind of song, confused with the singing of birds; and this, ta-
ken in conjunction with the adjective 'reciente', suggests the final no-
tion of spring. All of this is deliberately cumulative, clearly the contrary
of linear development. Moreover, if we pause to take in the formal and
syntactic features, we discover a delibérate foreshortening of grammati-
cal and metrical ordonnance: 'va', a present tense, is qualified by the
temporal adjective 'reciente'; 'esbelta', grammatically aligned with
'brisa',
is held back until after the masculine 'espacio', which becomes
(9) Yet J.M. Capote Benot, ¡n El período
sevillano de
Luis
Cernuda
(Gredos, Madrid, p.
142) holds that this first book is 'hasta cierto punto el libro de un adolescente', basing this
on the fact that the poet 'desde un principio (...) orientó su poesía hacia una expresión co-
loquial'.
(10) J. Bergamín, La
Gaceta
Literaria (1 de junio de 1927, p. 7).
322
tinged with its possibilities; and the enjambement between lines 3 and 4
allows 'cantando' to apply, with equal logic, to 'brisa', 'hojas' and
'primavera'. In addition, the article accompanying 'primavera' is the ind-
finite 'una' instead of the expected 'la', suggesting that the spring invol-
ved may be not only the season, but also a figurative sense of newness
and freshness. Finally, 'abre' may bs taken with either 'brisa' or
'primavera', so that the total sense of the stanza ¡ncludes not merely a
'smiling landscape' and a 'vague observer'
CID
but rather a conception
of the natural world involving highly unusual elements of temporal,
logi-
cal and aesthetic organisation. So much so that the presiding cons-
ciousness, the adolescent of standard criticism, does not immediately,
or even principally, appear to us as an adolescent, but essentially as a
poet.
It may be argued that Cernuda himself recognised that this book was
'el libro de un adolescente,ns adolescente de lo que lo era mi
edad al componerlo'; But against that he asserts that it was also 'el libro
de un poeta que, desde el punto de vista de la expresión, sabías o
menos adonde iba' (12).
It is, therefore, a matter of the emphasis one is prepared to place on
the aesthetic, as opposed to the adolescent, element in this collection.
One might very well fee) that the adolescent nature of the early poems
has been exaggerated, and more rewarding approaches, in consequen-
ce,
neglected. In the case of the poem we have been looking at, the de-
libérate and creative confusión of the images in the first stanza is to be-
come a motif throughout Primeras poesías and Égloga, Elegía, Oda, and
in particular, the association of feathers (or birds), song and dreams
with poetry, along with descriptions of the coming of day and night, are
a central concern of the collection. In the final stanza, the window be-
comes a locus of poetic revelation, and the word 'soñando', a key word
in this book and, indeed, throughout Cernuda's poetry, is here first
clearly associated, as ¡s sleep in Keats, with the very foundation of po-
etic inspiration. In this light, it is scarcely accidental that this book,
which Cernuda prepared so carefully for the press and subjected to
such rigorous examination and correction, should begin with a breeze
and end with an enchanted dream.
If we seem to be spending a great deal of time on this first poem, that
is because this poetry repays cióse scrutiny. It should be clear from the
(11) Harris, op. cit., p. 23.
(12) Cernuda, op. cit., p. 900.
323
outset that Primeras poesías cannot be got quickly out of the way with a
genuflexión to ¡ts disarming simplicity, ¡ts youthful freshness and ¡ts de-
licate charm. One might notice here, for example.
Como dichas primeras
Primeras golondrinas.
The repeated adjective, as well as giving cadenee and rhythmical
point to the poem, associates the birds with joy, and their newness, ta-
ken along with the first stanza, with joy ¡n creation.
What is more, the repetition of the adjective draws attention to the
respective nouns, one of which is abstract and the other concrete. A
tensión is thus created by the application of the same modifier to two
different categories of noun, and this is only the first of many instances
of similar syntactic distributions by means of which Cernuda makes lan-
guage itself part of the meaning of his early poetry. We may further no-
tice how word like 'huye' (i.14), 'anegándose' (1.15) and 'restituye' (i.18)
are early signs of a tendeney, which Cernuda never abandoned, to en-
dow his landscapes with life and volition 'deseo' ¡f one likes. In this
particular case, the observer's own life is minimally represented as
'indolencia presente', but despite the frequeney of oceurrence of this
and related states of mind, both in the poetry and in sketches of Cernu-
da personally which contemporaries have left us, there is no reason to
read into ¡t the state of moral and spiritual lassitude which critics com-
monly detect. The ñame for that state in Cernuda's poetry is 'hastío';
henee,
'indolencia' is a positive state, associated with creativity, where-
as 'hastío', in addition to its ordinary meaning, isfrequently found in the
environment of sterility and creative and moral incapacity.
Besides, if the observer is ¡ndolent, the distance is also 'sleeping'; the
poet eagerly seizes on this fundamental similarity between himself and
external nature to point out that, just as the tree serves as a focus or
point of concentration in the empty landscape, so his own 'fervor'
which is therefore the source of his observation alerts him to the
beauty of his surroundings. This adds point to the last stanza: the win-
dow comes to represent the point of contact between the poet's inner
life and the external world of nature, seen, in the mimetic universe of
the poem, as a mirror of the
soul;
reciprocally, the poet's mind reflects
nature. The objective and subjective elements thus meet and fuse, and
the last stanza brings together a definite point in the real world, less
tan-
gible realities (stars and air), and the intangible world of dreams, imagi-
nation and rapt contemplation.
324
Touching this last point, there is a long series of words running the
gamutfrom rapture ('embeleso') to prostration ('hastío'), and ¡ncluding
'indolencia', 'ingrávido', 'sueño', 'dormir', 'vacío', 'calma', etc.
Although in some cases the words are virtually interchangeable, there is
a constant and consistent opposition between states of 'embeleso' and
'indolencia', which are almost always pleasurable and creative, and
those of 'hastío' and 'vaciedad', which are inevitably anguished and re-
lated to sterility.
From his window, the protagonist of these poems has a limited view
of a narrow range of objects and experiences. He contemplates the
dawn or the sunset («esto es», as Ricardo Molina (13) notes, «breves y
marcadas fases de tránsito, los (momentos) elegidos por Cernuda, o
mejor aún, los presentes en su espíritu como símbolos cotidianos del
irrefrenable devenir»); he watches the sun beat down on an almost
empty and motionless landscape; he sees the rain or the fog send peo-
pie present only as a 'desbandada' or 'desvarío' diving for cover;
he watches the lamplight spill out into the darkness of the night; or he
takes notice of isolated objects in his room. But if the outside world is
vaguely drawn, reflecting perhaps the paucity of the observer's expe-
rience,
his inner life is a ferment of desire, hope and despondency, and
the poems reveal a tendency ¡n him to confuse both these states of
mind
(14)
and the internal and external planes of existence. This leads to
further sets of divisions in the objects of cognizance, particularly betwe-
en body and
soul,
but also between heaven and earth, and even bet-
ween 'alma' and 'vida' in the envoi that closes poem XX:
Canción mía, ¿qué te doy
Si alma y vida son ajenas?
where 'alma' signifies the individual and his
desires,
whilst 'vida' is an al-
ternative expression for 'realidad'.
Uniting all these seemingly disparate elements is the 'mirada' which,
even at this early stage, is as fundamental in both Cernuda's poetic the-
ory and in his expression as the more prestigious 'deseo', 'amor',
(13) R. Molina, 'La conciencia trágica del tiempo, clave esencial de la poesía de Luis
Cernuda', in Luis Cernuda (Taurus), p. 104.
(14) Harris has noted «the equivocal relation between noun and adjective, as in 'calma
vacía'
[...] a technique Cernuda frequently employs to express the emotíonal ambivalence
of the adolescent». [Study, p. 25).
325
'olvido', 'embeleso', 'soledad', etc. Anticipating a remark of Leopoldo
Panero's, one wonders whether this 'mirada' and the later 'mirada inte-
rior' are not essentially the same, and whether it may not have been the
discovery of the description of the 'inward eye/That is the bliss of
soli-
tude'
¡n Wordsworth which first attracted Cernuda to the English poet.
Though ¡t is tacitly present ¡n every poem in P.P., the window itself
being a species of eye, the window of the soul as well as of the room, its
function emerges most clearly from its use in Poem
XVIII:
Alzada resucita
Tal otra vez la casa;
Los tiempos son idénticos,
Distintas las miradas.
This poem illustrates the deceptive simplicity of P.P. Ostensibly, it
describes the coming of night which, depriving the poet of his occupa-
tion of observing the world outside, leaves him bored and listless, and
makes him aware of an oppressive sense of ¡mprisonment within the
walls of his room, as well as of the rain beating against a window-pane,
a lapse of memory (¿He cerrado la puerta?), solitude and frustration. As
the day declines, the setting reasserts itself, bringing the familiar sense
of inertia and lifelessness
(11.
2 & 3), which are, however, unaccompa-
nied by 'palabras crueles'. Here, 'crueles' seems to be used predicati-
vely, i.e. we are dealing not with specific cruel words, but with words in
general,
which are of their nature cruel, particularly for the poet, whose
task it is to struggle with them. The mind is now forced to contémplate
the narrow limits imposed upon it, and, in the typical movement of
P.P., retreats within in search of adequate expression for the expe-
rience.
In the stanza I have quoted, the language is arresting, in particu-
lar the phrase 'otra vez'; in the next line, the poet takes it literally and
denies it ¡s 'otra', declaring that time is always the same and it is we who
change. This clearly anticipates
No es el amor quien muere
Somos nosotros mismos.
(Donde habite el olvido, XII)
Time,
like love, is in the eye of the beholder; for inanimate nature, it is
non-existent, and everything is identical to itself, always and every-
where.
The tense of the question, '¿He cerrado la puerta?', serves to under-
line this. There are very few past tenses in the book, and Cernuda is al-
326
most equally sparing with personal pronouns. Obviously, he intends to
stress the fact that memory is only possible for minds conditioned by
time,
so that 'olvido' opens vast vistas of emptiness and absence,
described as bare and airless. Air, being part of timeless nature, has no
place in this dimensión. The concluding stranza completes the desola-
tion:
Pero nadie suspira.
Un llanto entre las manos
Sólo.
Silencio. Nada.
La oscuridad temblando.
The reiterative use of negatives almost suggest a positive sense of
'nadie',
akin to Lewis Carroll's wordplay in Through the Looking-glass.
The soundless wailing is 'entre las manos', i.e. enclosed in itself, both
impenetrable and incommunicable, and therefore nothing. This
equating of grief with silence and nothingness is repeated in the equally
sardonic 'No es nada, es un suspiro' from Invocaciones (p. 180), though
in the later poem the negation has become even more systematic:
No es nada, es un suspiro
Pero nunca sació nadie esa nada
Ni nadie supo nunca de qué alta roca nace.
Cernuda's awareness of the multiplicity of the categories of non-
being rivals Quevedo's or Donne's ('absence, darknesse, death, thinges
that are Not') and derives from the steadiness and perspicacity of the
gaze he directed on things, ¡nward and outward. The emphasis placed,
in this poem from P.P., on the 'mirada' as not only awareness, but
awareness in time, together with the rather breathtaking reversal of lo-
gic implicit in 'Los tiempos son idénticos/Distintas las miradas', are
indi-
cations that the presiding consciousness in this poetry is not adoles-
cent, but highly critical, ironic and fully mature.
The 'mirada' is also active in the poem 'Desengaño indolente' (III), in
which it anxiously scans the world for some encouraging
sign;
here,
too,
we find the elements of solitude so essential in this poetry for
the exact perspective on things which it provides inertia, and the
awareness of time passing:
El afán entre muros
Debatiéndose aislado
Sin ayer mi mañana
Yace en un limbo extático.
327
Evidently, if sleep banishes time from the consciousness, the implica-
tion ¡s that time is normally present to the waking mind, and this is
emphasised:
El tiempo en las estrellas.
Desterrada la historia.
El cuerpo se adormece
Aguardando su aurora.
The división of mind and body is also a separation of time from the
earth,
and it is noteworthy that time and history should join the depar-
ted light of day (as in Poem XXI) or the displaced darkness of night
(Poem XV) in the ethereal regions. These rhythmic successions in the
natural world are a further unifying element in P.P., underscoring the
sets of dualities and polar opposites we have noted: body/soul,
subject/object, creativity/sterility, etc., all, in this mimetic universe,
subjected to the watchful 'mirada', which we are now in position to
equate with the discerning or critical principie we have already postula-
ted as the intermediary between the two great principies of reality and
desire.
The frequent oxymorons to which Harris alludes in mentioning 'calma
vacía',
have a similar organising función. We have noted 'limbo extáti-
co',
which is picked up in Poem
XIII,
in the phrase 'inmóvil paroxismo',
and,
though less forceful, perhaps, there is the 'desengaño indolente' of
the poem we have just considered. We can perhaps now begin to see
the aesthetic, as opposed to the emotional, bent of the poems in this
collection.
Moreover, 'calma vacía' almost inevitably recalls Words-
worth to the English reader: the protagonist of this poem, and many
others in the book, is 'in vacant or in pensive mood', and following our
argument that, in this mood, the 'mirada' is at its most active, the reve-
laron of the coincidences between Cernuda's and Wordsworth's ac-
counts of the creative imagination and the workings of the poetic mind
is almost eery in its completeness.
Nevertheless, one may agree that the dreams of the protagonist, if
not exactly sterile, are marred by a suspicion of their unrealisability:
La almohada no abre
Los espacios risueños;
Dice sólo, voz triste,
Que alientan allá lejos.
328
This ¡mage, or group of ¡mages, was frequent ¡n this period, and
con-
tinúes to be frequent until Cernuda develops a distaste for 'lo ingenioso
en poesía' about 1934 or 1935. One last example of its occurrence will
give us a final clue as to how I believe Cernuda meant these images to
be understood: it is in Poem XVI ('La noche a la ventana'):
Levanta entre las hojas,
,
mi aurora futura;
No dejes que me anegue
El sueño entre sus plumas
The important Cernudian word 'anegar' indicates the state of total
absorption or rapture brought on by the contemplation of beauty.
(Happiness in this poetry is inseparable from the sense of attraction, oc-
curring only as a consequence of the 'embeleso' of artistic or sexual
selflessness). Which condition, it has been suggested, is associated
with the aesthetic response, in its turn associated with dreams and fe-
athers. But in the first two lines, the 'aurora futura' a hypothetical
manifestación of reality, and not of desire is similarly associated with
a
bird,
taking flight from a tree on this occasion. Rather than expressing
a desire to escape from emotional sterility or the emptiness of a merely
aesthetic dream, thesé lines show, on the contrary, a desire to invest re-
ality with the perfection of dream. Dreams,
then,
like other related sta-
tes in which the fancy is free, offer a visión of the world in which 'goces
y sonrisas' abound, and henee encourage desire by opening vistas of
possible joy ('espacios risueños'). But awakening, or brought abruptly
back to reality, as we saw in 'Los muros, nada más', the poet is disillu-
sioned by the abyss between dream and actuality, and this deception
brings on a mood of fitful langour in which the gap between hope and
reality is almost as great as the continued yearning ('El afán entre mu-
ros') which together form the condition described as 'limbo extático' -
«almost»,
because the adjective shows that the state is closer to heaven
than to
hell.
A similar state of ¡mperfect happiness is suggested by the line 'Como
flor en la sombra', from 'desengaño indolente'. Like the flower in sha-
dow, the joy to which desire aspires cartnot be possessed in all its per-
fection,
so that the poet can perceive of a perfection which he cannot
attain.
We may notice, in passing, that in this case Cernuda has mana-
ged to find an adequate physical image for a purely mental state, as oc-
curs in English 'methaphysical' poetry. But on other occasions he fails
to find appropriate images, and it is this abstraction of much of the
thought in P.P., rather than the nebulousness of the emotions, which
329
has led to critical dissatisfaction, and, I believe, misunderstanding. We
must not dismiss the dreams as sterile, since this would be a failure to
register the paradox ¡n 'Desengaño indolente.../El sueño fie/ nos
brin-
da'.
(My underlining).
This is a statement of the major theme of Cernuda's poetry: imagina-
tion and the higher faculties of the mind are faithful to the superior vi-
sión of the 'reality that lies behind appearance', whereas, as the world
wags,
we can expect only disillusionment. Henee the poet pleads with
the dawn in 'La noche a la ventana':
No dejes que me anegue
El sueño entre sus plumas.
He is aware that dream without reality would be as destructive as re-
ality without the dream: each needs the complement which the other
provides, and the poem itself is the result of the tensions between them.
To say that the dreams in these poems are sterile is to ignore the fact
that reality without them is quite as barren. The marvellously precise
expression of the poem underlines this: the senses awaken, or rather,
like flowers, bloom
'Frentea un mundo'.
The preposition oceupies the crucial initial position, and its forcé is
thereby intensified. We thus have two flowers, the one (desire) bloom-
ing in shadow, whilst the other (the bodily senses) blooms over against
the world, demanding satisfaction. Desire is beating at the walls of the
flesh Centre muchos/Debatiéndose aislado'), in an image that recurs in-
sistently throughout P.P., and which, as commentators agree, derives
from Reverdy, though it was a Romantic commonplace.
It is unlikely, however, that Reverdy was more than a passng in-
fluence on Cernuda, and even then only in a few details from a few po-
ems,
predominantly the night pieces. It is difficult to accept the view
that Cernuda learnt restraint and the importance of the direct colloquial
style from Reverdy, partly because it is not entírely clear that these are
permanent features of the French poet's style, but principally because
they simply do not exits in the early Cernuda. And despite Cernuda's
insistence that in composing his first poems 'me ayudaron algunas
cualidades suyas' (de Reverdy), 'en favor de las cuales estaba yo predis-
puesto: desnudez, pureza (sea lo que sea lo que esta palabra) tan abu-
330
sada,
suscite hoy en la mente del lector) reticencia,' (15) it must be said
that there are other forms or verbal complexity than mere ornamenta-
tion.
I suppose Cernuda had in mind the ostentation of Rubén Darío and
his successors when he upheld the colloquial style against 'lo folklórico
y lo pedantesco', but both 'Perfil del Aire' and
Primeras
poesías are
pretty dense, though ¡n another sense: in the sense in which Quevedo,
Góngora or Mallarmé are also dense.
For if the externáis of P.P. are, on the whole, fairly typical of the
Twenties (Cubism, incipient post-Modernism, a certain note of abstrac-
tion) there are unmistakable resonances of the Baroque style, or styles,
and of the Symbolist tradition of intellectual imagery, which Cernuda, in
common with others of his generation, made his own. More than Re-
verdy's, and incomparably more than Juan Ramón Jiménez's, it was
this poetry of dense imagery, abstract thought and subtle cadenees that
influenced the young Cernuda, who continued to develop it in Égloga,
Elegía,
Oda, and did not fully escape its fascination even in the Surreal-
ist poems of Un río, un amor and Los
placeres
prohibidos. As Gullón
pointed out, and as others such as Bodini and Ferraté have confirmed,
Cernuda's surrealism was anything but automatic, uncontrolled or
merely modish. The use of imagery in poems like 'He venido para ver' or
'Unos cuerpos son como flores' from 'Los
placeres
prohibidos' owes a
great deal to the precisión Cernuda learned from his early masters, and
which he had already turned to such account in
P.P.
Furthermore it was
in these poets that Cernuda discovered the qualities of plástic imagery
combined with intense intellectual activity that he later so much ad-
mired,
divested of ornament, in the English Metaphysicals.
(15) Cernuda, Prosa, pp
900-1.
331
Article
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Fifth delivery of the Español en Red project. This electronic bibliography on so called «Generation of 27» provides links to the income of the digest, organized according to the poetical paths of Veintisiete. Quinta entrega del proyecto Español en Red. Esta bibliografía electrónica sobre la llamada «Generación del 27», proporciona enlaces a las entradas del repertorio, organizado según las trayectorias poéticas del Veintisiete.
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