Miguel Hernández: “One of the most open-hearted and heart-breaking Spanish-language poets”

March 30, 2009
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Saturday was the anniversary of the death, in jail, of Spanish poet Miguel Hernández (1910-1942). In the Spanish-speaking world, Miguel Hernández is regarded as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century, equal in distinction to Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. He has never received his just acclaim, however, in the English-speaking world, a victim of the artistic oppression exercised during the period of Francisco Franco’s totalitarian regime. Determined to silence the writer Neruda fondly referred to as his “wonderful boy,” Franco sentenced Hernández to death, citing as his crime only that he was “poet and soldier to the mother country.” Despite the fact that complete and accurate versions of his work were difficult to obtain even in Spanish for nearly fifty years, Hernández went on to achieve legendary status.
In 2001, the Press published The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, offering to English-speaking readers the poet’s extraordinary oeuvre in an authoritative bilingual edition. Featuring some of the most tender and vigorous poetry on war, death, and social injustice written in the past century, nearly half of the poems in this volume appear in English for the first time, making it the most comprehensive bilingual collection of Hernández’s work available. Arranged chronologically, it presents Hernández’s remarkable emotional range as well as his stylistic evolution from the Romantic shepherd poet to poet of the prison cell. Thorough annotations and introductory essays illuminate the biographical basis for many of Hernández’s poems, while a foreword by Robert Bly and an afterword by Octavio Paz provide a striking frame for the work of this essential poet.
To commemorate the poet’s passing, read three poems, translated by Ted Genoways, from the collection to experience verse that poet Edward Hirsch (to which the quote in the blog title is also attributed) heralded in the Washington Post Book World as “emotionally charged poetry, which is so filled with human difficulties, so full of the earth and the spirit of freedom.”

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