Books for the News, Poetry

Delayed Justice for Hernández?

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In 1939, Miguel Hernández, one of Spain’s greatest modern poets, was sentenced to death under Franco’s regime for his left-wing sympathies. Though the sentence was commuted to 30 years, the poet never saw freedom again and died of tuberculosis in a Spanish jail in 1942.
Last week, the poet’s family filed a lawsuit in the Spanish Supreme Court, asking that Hernández’s guilty verdict be expunged from the record. As The Independent explains, “In March, the family had a posthumous ‘declaration of reparation’ from the Spanish government. But they are not satisfied. ‘We want something more, that they void the death sentence, so we can take away that burden,’ his daughter-in-law, Lucía Izquierdo, said. ‘That’s why we are asking that justice be served, that they hand down a ruling of innocent.'”
In the U. S., Hernández’s name remains less well known than that of Federico Garcia Lorca, despite Hernández’s renown as a poet of equal distinction, in part because he was a victim of artistic oppression exercised during Franco’s totalitarian regime. For many years, complete and accurate versions of his work were difficult to obtain even in Spanish. Yet despite this, Hernández went on to achieve legendary status in his home country and beyond.
In 2001, the University of Chicago Press published The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández: A Bilingual Edition, making available the poet’s extraordinary oeuvre to English-speaking audiences. 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, The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández 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.
Read three poems from the collection.